It will be callaloo versus cou-cou at the Queen’s Park Oval in Port of Spain tomorrow. The menu looks appetising.
Short as it was, there is no question that the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB), new sponsors NAGICO and many fans would be happy that the final of the two-week Super50 tournament features Trinidad & Tobago and Barbados.
Not everyone would be that pleased, however, including a couple former West Indies players now working as radio and television analysts. After Trinidad & Tobago dismissed Jamaica for the third lowest-ever regional one-day total of 49 in 24.2 overs – it was also Jamaica’s lowest total – before winning by seven wickets in the first semi-final on Wednesday, Barbados duly silenced the critics including former West Indies fast bowlers Colin Croft and Tony Gray with a solid, confident seven-wicket victory as well over Guyana yesterday as they chased 182.
Make no bones about it. For countless years, Barbados have been the envy of other regional teams simply because of their rich cricketing history. And having been fortunate to travel and cover first-class and one-day tournaments throughout the region in my more than three decades as a sports journalist, I can attest to the way this wonderful nation is viewed.
Perhaps that’s why analysts like Croft and Gray, both of whom in my opinion do not know the true strength and depth of the Barbados side, picked Guyana to win yesterday. There are others as well who can only point to the names they know well from a batting perspective and hence suggested it would have been a stern test for Barbados.
Look ladies and gentlemen, the only so-called “real” tail-ender in the Barbados team is fast bowler Fidel Edwards and he, too, can hold his own. The bowling is strong all-round.
Barbados may not boast of the most 50-over titles when compared with their record 21 in the first-class four-day championship ever since sponsorship started in 1966 with Shell, but they do have the record for competing in the most limited overs finals since the inception in 1976. That number now reads 18 including five titles, one of which was shared.
Tomorrow’s final will be Barbados’ eighth against Trinidad & Tobago, who hold a psychological advantage of having won five times. Barbados beat their long-standing rivals in the first two finals in 1976 and 1977 and lost in 1979, 1981, 1990, 1992 and 2008.
Based on recent form, however, including a 28-run win against their opponents in the opening Zone ‘B’ match on February 2, Barbados should have the confidence to inflict another defeat on Dwayne Bravo’s team. Trinidad & Tobago will be contesting their 15th regional one-day final – the second most in the tournament – having been champions on nine occasions, plus one shared.
Apart from the finals listed against Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados were also finalists in 1982, 1987, 1988, 1994, 1995, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2010.
As stated in my column a couple weeks ago, one anticipated that there would be only sizeable crowds when Trinidad & Tobago were playing. It has gone true to form and now with some relief, the organisers are certain to have the biggest crowd for the tournament tomorrow.
In fact, according to a report in the Trinidad Express today, the treasurer of the Trinidad & Tobago Cricket Board Sukesh Maniam said tickets were selling “fast”. Maniam stated that around 3,500 of the approximately 6,500 for the final were already sold and the rest were expected to be gobbled up today. Later, a WICB release stated that close to 6,000 tickets had been sold by mid-day and organisers believed all 12,000 would be taken before tomorrow’s 2 p.m. start.
That’s lovely. So what about the final itself? Barbados must first be highly commended for reaching this stage against the background of the sending home of one of their leading batsmen and former captain Kirk Edwards just hours before the start of their first match because he failed to sign for his match kit. When a side can put a potentially distracting issue behind it and play like a unit speaks volumes.
Kevin Stoute’s first stint as captain has clearly been a testing one, not helped by the fact that he has scored just 14 runs from three innings at an average of 4.66. What is evident, however, is the fact that senior players in the team are offering advice and there appears to be unity. There were some detractors who felt that the side could not make an impact once Kirk Edwards was missing.
Sorry, guys! Dwayne Smith’s attacking batting at the top of the innings has been telling. Against Trinidad & Tobago he scored 83 off 72 balls, and then smashed 61 off 37 balls off Guyana en route to the second highest overall aggregate of 149 – just two runs behind Guyanese Ramnaresh Sarwan. Smith also recorded the fastest half-century of the tournament. It came against Guyana off 33 balls and contained seven fours and three sixes by which time the score was 73 without loss off 11.2 overs with Kraigg Brathwaite then on 15. When Smith fell, the score was 81 off 12 overs.
Brathwaite, who eventually finished on 55 not out, has been playing the way he knows best – solid and dependable. One-day cricket is not only about bashing the ball and he is certainly not one to gift his wicket. No wonder he is at the top of the overall averages with 86.00 even though his strike rate of 37.22 is nothing to write home about.
Fidel Edwards bowled with spirit to break the back of the Guyana batting and after finishing with four for 16 and effecting two run outs, he could count himself unlucky not to have at least a share of the Player-of-the-Match award, which went to Smith. It was also refreshing to see Kenroy Williams batting with a level head to score 40 not out after he got his his first match of the tournament in place of specialist batsman Rashidi Boucher who has a virus.
With off-spinner Sunil Narine in the Trinidad & Tobago and making his presence felt after missing the match against Barbados because of duties with Cape Cobras in the Big Bash League in Australia, the approach of the Barbados batsmen will be most interesting tomorrow. Narine has the best overall economy rate of 1.74 from 26.2 overs, while picking up six wickets at 7.66 runs apiece. Respect is due but the batsmen should not unduly become bogged down against him. Hopefully, it will be a memorable final. – Keith Holder