Kensington Oval was a hive of activity Thursday and Friday as will be the case over the next three days.
There was somewhat of a unique spectacle in that with Barbados Pride opposing title holders and front-runners Guyana Jaguars in the key eighth round match in the Digicel Regional four-day Championship, the West Indies and Pakistan squads were also busy preparing for the four-match Twenty20 International series, which starts here on Sunday.
The T20 match was belatedly added to the itinerary, leading to the first-class match beginning a day earlier and ending on Monday.
And while savouring centuries by the Barbados Pride pair of captain Kraigg Brathwaite and his fellow West Indies Test and One-day International team-mate Shai Hope, one could not help but also take a glimpse at the West Indies squad in the nets and then on the field for catching practice during the lunch interval.
After arriving in the island on Wednesday, the Pakistanis had their first look at the ground Friday and also took keen interest in what was going on in the middle in the pre-lunch session as the Barbados Pride batsmen were consolidating their excellent start.
Both the West Indies and Pakistan teams were on the field during the lunch break Friday with a fair amount of intensity after West Indies had a net session in the morning. The Pakistanis then turned their attention to the nets after lunch.
Another interesting feature was a rubberised matting cover on the pitch to be used for the T20 match to protect it from damage. It will then be placed on the surface for the first-class game after the third day’s play.
Members of the television crew stepped up their work as well Friday.
Apart from the T20 series (the other three matches will be played at Queen’s Park Oval in Trinidad) – West Indies are no doubt anxious to atone for a 3-0 loss to the Pakistanis in the United Arab Emirates last September – Pakistan will be in the Caribbean for three One-Day International and three Test matches.
The second Test is scheduled for Kensington Oval, starting April 30. As one from the old school, I am excited about that match.
To this end, my memory goes back to an intriguing battle in 1988 when West Indies, under the captaincy of batting great Vivian Richards, beat Pakistan by two wickets in the third and final Test at Kensington to level the series 1-1.
Led by the outstanding fast bowling all-rounder Imran Khan, Pakistan won the first Test at Bourda in Guyana by nine wickets with the second drawn at Queen’s Park Oval.
And on the fifth and final day at Kensington, it was a very emotional time, both on and off the field, as well as in the courts at Coleridge Street in Bridgetown.
After the nail-biting win, Richards (now Sir Vivian), shed tears and puffed a cigar.
There were a couple close decisions on the last day, Wednesday, April 27, when West Indies, chasing 266 to win and starting the day on 154 for five, slipped to 207 for eight before wicket-keeper/batsman Jeff Dujon (29 not out) and fast bowler Winston Benjamin (40 not out) took them to victory with a partnership of 68.
Such was the tension that when Barbadian umpire David Archer disallowed what virtually everyone at the ground thought was a clear bat/pad catch to short-leg offered by Dujon off the temperamental leg-spinner Abdul Qadir when he was only two, the bowler took out his frustration with an attack on a spectator in front of the 3Ws Stand, then located next to the old Press Box at the northern end.
It led to Qadir being taken to the District ‘A’ Court, charged with assault. A headline in one of the local newspapers, blurted: “Spinner Qadir enters cricket’s hall of shame”.
At the post-match Press conference, in response to a question about the vociferous appeal for the catch against Dujon, Imran Khan said: “I really don’t understand why he wasn’t given out. The players were stunned. I don’t think they abused the umpire (Archer) or said anything to the opposing players. They were just disappointed.”
Ironically, Imran stated that the umpiring in the series had been “excellent” until the West Indies second innings in the Kensington Test, while singling out Archer as one of the best umpires in the world.
The scores were: Pakistan 309 and 262. West Indies 306 and 268 for eight.
The West Indies team for the Test comprised Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Richie Richardson, Carl Hooper, Richards, Gus Logie, Dujon, Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose, Benjamin and Courtney Walsh.
As far as the current, busy activity at Kensington is concerned, it was a pleasure to watch the batting of Brathwaite and Hope as second-placed Barbados Pride amassed 480 for three declared off 137 overs in their first innings after starting the day on 293 for two off 94 overs.
The declaration came 48 minutes before tea.
Guyana closed on 119 for four off 42 overs.
Significantly, Barbados gained four batting points while denying Guyana a bowling point. It was the first time this season that a team had not earned a bowling point in a match.
Hope top-scored with a career-best 215 not out from his overnight 118. He batted for 484 minutes, faced 391 balls and struck 24 fours and three sixes.
He reached his fifth first-class century – all regionally – in 248 minutes off 221 balls with 12 fours and two sixes. His fifty took 149 minutes, having faced 128 balls and struck eight fours and one six.
Hope’s 150 took 355 minutes off 302 balls with 17 fours and two sixes, while his double-century came in 463 minutes off 378 balls and contained 24 fours and two sixes.
Brathwaite scored 143 in 290 minutes off 236 balls, hitting 17 fours. He reached his 18th first-class century and 10th regionally in 231 minutes off 177 balls with 11 fours. His half-century came in 134 minutes off 108 balls and included five fours.
Shamarh Brooks made 67.
Guyana went into this round on 103.2 points with Barbados on 87.4.
Though the pitch is relatively flat, it will still be interesting to see if the break after the third day’s play has any effect on the outcome of the match.
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 three-and-a-half 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:Keithfholder@gmail.com