It could not have been more agonising for Barbados to lose by one wicket to Jamaica in their WICB first-class semi-final showdown at Kensington Oval.
Going into the match on a high last Saturday after capturing the President’s Trophy, Barbados were unquestionably favoured to get the better of the Jamaicans as they eyed the Headley/Weekes Trophy as well.
Admittedly, however, the Barbadians were let down by their batting in both innings although they must be commended for a strong fightback with the ball on the fourth and final day before Jamaica triumphed ten minutes after the scheduled lunch interval.
After winning the toss on a hard, true pitch, Barbados were bowled out for 245 on the opening day. From thereon, it was always going to be a battle to get back into the match.
Was it a matter of complacency or lack of tactics and awareness on the part of some of the batsmen, bearing in mind that batting and bowling points were critical in the event of a draw?
While praise must be given to Shane Dowrich, who made an unbeaten 69 and Ashley Nurse (45) for a solid seventh wicket partnership of 101 after Barbados were 134 for six in the first innings, the approach by the tail-enders left a lot to be desired as the last three wickets fell for one run.
Surely it would have been a psychological advantage to score 250 and gain a second batting point. That having been lost, the onus then turned to the bowlers.
Jamaica, too, were under pressure at 140 for six before the experienced pair of captain Tamar Lambert and David Bernard put on 114 for the seventh wicket.
Lambert, who survived an early caught and bowled chance to left-arm spinner Sulieman Benn, hit a memorable century (121) while Bernard made 42 as Jamaica managed a first innings lead of 57.
In the Barbados second innings of 223, Jonathan Carter emerged from a lean period with the bat to hit a splendid hundred (111) but there were again failures from some of the key batsmen and the problems were compounded by another dismal effort towards the end as the last three wickets crashed without a run scored.
When Jamaica closed the third day on 106 for two, it looked a foregone conclusion that they would wrap up victory with ease before lunch as the overnight pair of Jermaine Blackwood, who was on 53 and Andre McCarthy, then on 41, had batted enterprisingly.
But once Benn removed McCarthy for 43 and medium-pacer Kevin Stoute accounted for Blackwood (64), Jamaica lost wickets steadily and virtually panicked. They plunged to 155 for nine before the level heads of Bernard and Nikita Miller took them into the final against the Windward Islands at Beausejour in St. Lucia starting tomorrow.
Stoute, surprisingly given the ball at the start of the final day, bowled his heart out to finish with five for 29 off 16 overs, while Benn picked up three for 78 to follow his five for 102 in the first innings. They were the only bowlers used on the last day.
The Windwards beat Trinidad & Tobago by 234 runs in the other semi-final at the Queen’s Park Oval in Port-of-Spain.
As far as the battle for the President’s Trophy was concerned, it was a close finish between the top two teams and a great relief for Barbados.
Barbados ended on 82 points – just two points ahead of Trinidad & Tobago in the seven-team championship. They were followed by the Windward Islands on 65, Jamaica 59, Combined Campuses & Colleges (CCC) 49, Leeward Islands 42 and Guyana 29.
Prior to the last round, Trinidad & Tobago were in the lead on 72 points with Barbados on 65. The Windward Islands had already finished their matches.
Based on the performances of their opponents ahead of that final series, Trinidad & Tobago would have been favoured to beat Guyana at the Guyana National Stadium in Providence and Barbados were expected to do likewise against the Leeward Islands at the Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Ground in Antigua.
As it turned out, Barbados duly won by an innings and 49 runs with a day and two sessions to spare and anxiously awaited the fate of Trinidad & Tobago. In the end, rain played a big part on the final day and resulted in a draw as Guyana, who were set 225 to win, ended on 80 for three from an overnight 17 for one.
While it can be argued that the rain denied Trinidad & Tobago an excellent chance of pressing for a win, Guyana may reckon that they could have also pulled off a victory. Call it speculation.
It is always easy to look at what transpires at the very end but from an overall perspective, Barbados can contend that they were in a strong position as well to beat CCC in the third round at the 3Ws Oval had the rain not virtually washed out the entire third day’s play when only 14 balls were possible.
After that series, Barbados were fourth in the table on 27 points from three matches with Jamaica at the top on 35 from two matches, followed by Trinidad & Tobago on 34, also from two matches and the Windward Islands on 29 from three games. The Leeward Islands were on 22 (three matches), Guyana 13 (three matches) and CCC, ten (two matches).
From thereon, Barbados truly stepped up. They demolished Trinidad & Tobago by an innings and 160 runs at Kensington Oval with more than a day to spare to jump into the lead on 46 points, closely followed by the Windward Islands.
Barbados then crushed Jamaica by 245 runs at Sabina Park in Kingston before their success against the Leeward Islands.
Considering that they lost by nine wickets to the Windward Islands in the opening round in St. Lucia – a defeat which came in the post-lunch session on the third day – Barbados had to lift their standard of play, and they quickly hit back with a 136-run win over Guyana inside three days at Providence.
Since 1966 when the regional first-class championship was played under the banner of Shell and the count began for titles, the dominance of Barbados has been tremendous. Their record number of titles now stands at 22.
Generally, it was a very good year for Barbados, having won the NAGICO Super50 title as well in Trinidad & Tobago in February.
When the board of management of the Barbados Cricket Association appointed two new captains in Stoute and Kraigg Brathwaite for both tournaments, eyebrows were raised.
Lest we forget, Kirk Edwards, an established batsman and Test player, was at the helm last season and would have been the choice of the selection panel to retain the job.
In the circumstances, team unity was vital and based on what took place on the field, both Stoute and Brathwaite were able to get the necessary support, especially from senior players.
At the age of 21, Brathwaite was the youngest ever Barbados first-class captain since 1966. Some of his tactics appeared baffling but there is always room for improvement.
Professionalism and commitment were two key words used by the Barbados coach Henderson Springer in reflecting on the success and team manager Hartley Reid also pointed to the fact that the players were united.
From a batting perspective, it was refreshing that the likes of Carlos Brathwaite, Nurse and Dowrich all recorded maiden first-class centuries.
Nurse had a good all-round season, scoring 298 runs (ave: 42.57) and taking 32 wickets with his off-breaks at 18.43 runs apiece.
Carlos Brathwaite made 292 runs (ave: 29.20) and as
a fast-medium bowler picked up 12 wickets (ave: 18.75), while Dowrich had the second highest aggregate for his team of 358 runs (ave: 39.77).
Despite scoring the most runs (471) at an average of 42.81, opener Kraigg Brathwaite, however, would have been a bit disappointed that he did not record a century. Three times he fell in the 90s (91 v CCC; 91 again v Jamaica and 92 v Leeward Islands). He was also dismissed for 82 against the Windward Islands.
In four matches, Kirk Edwards hit two centuries en route to an aggregate of 299 (ave: 74.75).
The spinners – Nurse and Benn – bore the brunt of the bowling. Benn sent down 261.5 overs and took 37 wickets at 15.45 runs each, while Nurse bowled 215 overs.
Of the fast bowlers, Miguel Cummins appeared to be not fully fit and took only five wickets from 51 overs, while Tino Best lost his place in the side after managing just one wicket for 140 runs in three matches.
For a team blessed with pacers, the selectors would have always been challenged in relation to how they performed and when to rotate them. Jason Holder played three matches on either side of West Indies duties and commitments to the Indian Premier League and Fidel Edwards turned out in only the last two matches.
Apart from his century in the semi-finals, the talented Carter would have been disappointed with a modest return of 278 runs at an average of 27.80. He and Kraigg Brathwaite had the most innings (11) for Barbados.
Opener Rashidi Boucher was dropped after three matches (82 runs; ave: 16.40) and replaced by left-hander Omar Phillips, who made 229 runs (ave: 38.16).
Roston Chase and Stoute in particular were short of runs, while Shai Hope was given two matches.
Overall, it was a fine season for Barbados.
(Keith Holder is a veteran, award-winning freelance sports journalist, who has been covering local, regional and international cricket since 1980 as a writer and commentator. He has compiled statistics on the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) Division 1 (now Elite) championship for over three decades and is responsible for editing the BCA website (www.bcacricket.org). Holder is also the host of the cricket Talk Show, Mid Wicket, on the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation 100.7 FM on Tuesday nights.)