Barbadian cricket fans can mark extremely hard when they believe the national team has let them down in a big way.
Such was the case after the defending champions failed to reach the semi-finals of the Nagico Super50 Championship in Trinidad & Tobago earlier this week.
While some critics believed it was always going to be a big challenge for Barbados Pride to retain the title in the absence of six top players, five of whom are on duty with the West Indies in South Africa for the One-Day International series, the side still had a strong enough mixture of youth and experience to rise to the occasion.
It was not just a matter of losing two of their three preliminary matches in Zone ‘A’ but the manner.
Following a washout in the opening match against Combined Campuses & Colleges (CCC) Marooners at the National Cricket Centre in Couva, Barbados knew that beating Guyana Jaguars and Windward Islands Volcanoes would be crucial in advancing to the last four.
In a rain-shortened match at Queen’s Park Oval, having scored 168 for four off 36 overs, Barbados were well on course for victory when Guyana were tottering on 77 for seven after 19 overs.
Gradually, there was a recovery, led ironically by Barbadian Raymon Reifer and Veerasammy Permaul, who added 51 in 10.1 overs for the eighth wicket before pacer Javon Searles bowled Permaul for 11.
At 128 for eight in the 30th over, Barbados were still favoured to win but Player-of-the-Match Reifer, unbeaten with 84 off 105 balls including five fours and three sixes, and Devendra Bishoo, who made 26 not out off 22 deliveries, gave Guyana the glory by two wickets with four balls to spare.
So where did Barbados go wrong? It is always easy to reflect after the fact and immediately one would suggest that veteran fast bowler Fidel Edwards and Searles should have been brought back earlier when Reifer and Permaul were settling in against left-arm spinners Ryan Hinds and Jomel Warrican.
Yet, even after Searles made the breakthrough, it was very evident that the tactics in bowling to Bishoo left a lot to be desired as the batsman was given room to play freely between third man and point. The basics were not applied.
In the circumstances, Kevin Stoute, captaining the side for the second straight season, found himself at the centre of criticism. A captain needs as much support as possible from his players, especially those who are seasoned. That was missing.
Last year, the likes of Dwayne Smith and Sulieman Benn offered plenty advice and that was crystal clear. Both are now in South Africa with the West Indies team, along with the new ODI captain Jason Holder, Carlos Brathwaite and Jonathan Carter, while Kemar Roach is recovering from an ankle injury.
Of the present side, however, one expected to see more of an input on the field from former captains Hinds and Kirk Edwards, as well as vice-captain Kraigg Brathwaite, who is the Barbados four-day skipper and a current Test player. But for whatever reasons, there are some senior players who tend to adopt a hands-off attitude when there is a crisis.
And in analysing the Barbados bowling against Guyana, Stoute could have even given himself a couple more overs after picking up the key wicket of Shivnarine Chanderpaul to leave the score on 32 for three in the ninth over. Of the six bowlers used, he took one for 15 off four overs and was the only one to concede less than four runs an over.
Off-spinner Ashley Nurse was not his usual self, going for 23 runs off four overs.
It was vital for Barbados to not only get wickets but also restrict the scoring rate as much as possible. But they appeared somewhat relaxed after grabbing the seventh wicket and eventually found themselves in a panic.
Reifer, however, must be commended for the determination he showed against bowlers he knows extremely well from local domestic competitions. The bowlers, too, should have known his strengths and weaknesses.
Another bone of contention related to the selection of the side. With the knowledge that the overs were being reduced, it was felt in some quarters that veteran pacer Tino Best should have played instead of Nurse or even first choice wicket-keeper Shane Dowrich, thus allowing Shai Hope to take the gloves.
A bit more purpose was also required in the batting after Brathwaite, who topscored with 73 off 101 balls including six fours and one six and Hope (26) had added 67 in 19 overs for the first wicket.
Once there were failures from Kirk Edwards (seven) and Shamarh Brooks (six), a lot was required of Hinds, who got 37 not out off 36 balls and Nurse with 11 not out off 11 balls. And with wickets in hand, another 15 or 20 runs should have been scored.
With the agony of defeat against Guyana, there was every need to pull the choke against the Windward Islands at Shaw Park for what was then seen as a virtual knockout as Guyana, who had already beaten the Windwards, were favoured to wipe out CCC as well at Queen’s Park following a washout in the CCC-Windward Islands match in Couva.
But as it turned out, for all of the ball-beating which was exhibited at Shaw Park with the Windwards winning by 55 runs, CCC sneaked into the semi-finals by way of a one-wicket win with one ball to spare.
It could not have been more heart-breaking for the Windwards. Spurred by opener Johnson Charles’ hurricane 177 off 124 balls with 12 fours and 11 sixes, they amassed 374 for six off 50 overs and bowled Barbados out for 319 in 49 overs.
Again there was big debate over the non-inclusion of Best and the way the Barbados bowlers operated on a small ground. Was Charles allowed to open his shoulders too freely and hit over the top instead of being forced to cut? Remember there is something called line and length. Or should it be a case of praising Charles for recording the highest score in a regional one-day Championship?
Lest we forget, the same batsman slammed 151 in a first innings total of 274 all out against Barbados in the Professional Cricket League first-class match at Arnos Vale in St. Vincent last month.
Back to the 50-over match against the Windwards, it was still good to see that Barbados made an effort to keep interest alive with their run chase. Stoute led the way with 82 off 71 balls as an opener, featuring in a first wicket partnership of 96 in 13.1 overs with Brathwaite, who got 38 off 39 balls.
And in the middle, Brooks with 61 off 59 balls and Hope, who scored 58 from 49 deliveries, showed their talent.
Kirk Edwards again failed, managing just one. Having missed the first four matches of the first-class Championship due to injury, he would have been looking forward to making a big impression. The four-day competition resumes in two weeks and hopefully he will step up.
Every time there is a review of the one-day tournament, especially when rain severely affects matches, there are calls for it to be longer. There is merit in that regard and the powers that be must find a way of making the Championship more impactful.
As was the case last year when it was also played in Trinidad & Tobago, matches only attract big crowds when Trinidad & Tobago Red Force are featured. And the pattern would hardly ever change for other host territories.
Guyana are in Sunday’s final following their six-wicket win over Jamaica yesterday and Trinidad & Tobago are strongly favoured to join them after today’s clash with CCC. That would guarantee a sell out for the showdown.
Now Barbados Pride and their fans can only watch, listen and reflect.
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. Email: Keithfholdergmail.com.