Playing like true champions after an initial sting, Barbados retained the Regional Under-15 title in Jamaica on Wednesday.
And the success has led to tremendous praise from head coach Richard Clarke, chairman of the Youth selection panel Elvis Howard and veteran Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) coach Dexter Toppin, with emphasis on the work being done at the Everton Weekes Centre of Excellence at Kensington Oval.
Also lauding the team’s performance were two top officials of the sponsors Rubis – Rudy Smith and Mauricio Nicholls.
After losing their opening match against Trinidad & Tobago by five wickets, Barbados bounced back to reel off wins against Windward Islands by seven wickets, Jamaica by four wickets, Leeward Islands by 140 runs and Guyana by four wickets.
Nimar Bolden’s side finished with 26.2 points, followed by Guyana 24.5, Jamaica 13.2, Windward Islands 12.6, Trinidad & Tobago 12.4 and Leeward Islands 7.7.
It was the fifth title all told for Barbados since the tournament started in 1996. The other silverware came in 1997, 2004, 2012 and 2017.
“Our success has a lot to do with the hard work, dedication and full commitment to our training sessions at the BCA Centre of Excellence under the guidance of Shirley Clarke, Jonathan Drakes and the trainer Janelle Chase-Mayers. Shirley and Jonathan were my assistants during the training sessions,” Richard Clarke said.
Clarke pointed out that the team lifted their game significantly following the opening match.
“Our first match against Trinidad & Tobago was all nerves. The batsmen played shots out of character and we were very lackadaisical in the field. There was no intensity at all and that was far below our standard of play leading up to the competition after having a two-week programme at home.
“We then had a very strong and long meeting, ironing out the difficulties that took place and what was needed going forward, as we were then faced with a must-win situation in every game in order to retain our championship.
“In our next game against the Windward Islands, the players did what was expected of them and it set the tone for what was the outcome of the tournament.”
Clarke went further.
“All the senior players played their roles in terms of outstanding performances with the captain Nimar Bolden leading from the front along with Jacob Bethell, Che Simmons and Romario Roach.
“The outstanding player of the tournament was Jaden Leacock. He contributed significantly with both bat and ball. He batted at the top with Bethell and their partnerships were over 50 in the last four games,” Clarke said.
Leacock amassed the most runs for Barbados – 178 (ave: 35.60) and as a medium-pacer took seven wickets (ave: 15.00), while Bethell made 171 and headed the batting averages (42.75). Bolden, with 133 (ave: 33.25) was the only other player in the side with over 100 runs.
“Special mention has to go to off-spinner Tariq O’Neale, who was our leading wicket-taker. He took 11 wickets (ave: 7.55), just one short of the top wicket-taker.
“And the outstanding wicket-keeper of the tournament was Jamario St. Hill with nine victims (six catches and three stumpings). He did a wonderful job behind the stumps and won the hearts of many.
“Overall, it was a team effort and the players were very supportive of the captain. To lead the team for the first time and knowing that it included seven captains of respective schools was not an easy task,” Clarke asserted.
“I must also make special mention of the Barbados Cricket Association and Cricket West Indies for bringing on board a sports psychologist, Dr. Rudy Alleyne, who stressed mainly on mental preparation and self-confidence; Robin Parris, who did a child protection session and Stephen Proverbs, who briefed the guys on rules and regulations.
“Also the support staff in manager Jason Haynes, the assistant coach, Rohan Nurse, who did a fine job and our physiotherapist, Kwayne Dalrymple, who worked extensively to get the boys in the best possible shape fitness-wise and health-wise after experiencing difficulties in terms of health while on tour.
“Devon Stevenson suffered a viral infection, which spread to some of the guys on tour (he returned home after the third match and was replaced by Hakeem Perryman) and even the physio and assistant coach. We were struggling and Kwayne did a marvellous job. He must be highly commended.
“I also want to thank BCA coaches Dexter Toppin and Henderson Springer for their valuable contributions leading up to the tour. Families and friends were also very supportive and we had a few of the players’ families on the tour.
“I just want to thank them and anyone who I missed out, please forgive me. They all contributed to our success in being crowned back-to-back champions,” Clarke said.
Howard was also ecstatic.
“On behalf of the selection panel, having put together successful teams over the last two years, no doubt we are elated with the performances of the team,” he said.
“The policy of the panel is clearly to come up with the right combination and we discussed specific roles for players.
“We assessed the conditions of the country where the tournament was being played and paved the way for the final combination of the squad. That led us to a combination of eight batsmen including two wicket-keepers and two medium-pacers, and then we had three specialist spinners and three out-and-out pace bowlers.
“The beauty about the overall side is that it included a vast number of two-dimensional players, which came to the fore throughout the entire tournament. Everyone would have chipped in basically at crunch time.
“For me, one of the keys to our success this year was the detail to preparation, which included an intense two-week camp leading into the competition.
“Heartiest congratulations to the captain Nimar Bolden, who is an eternal optimist. He promised and duly delivered. During one of our many discussions just prior to the departure of the team, I threw a challenge to him and his team that no Barbados side has ever won the tournament back-to-back. He emphatically replied ‘don’t worry, we will be back shortly with the Cup’ and he, himself, promised that he would lead from the front and that came to fruition.
“I want to fully commend all of the 15 players who took part in the tournament. Two players remain from this side – Micaiah Simmons and Rashad Worrell – and already preparations for next season have started in terms of the Centre of Excellence with the Under-13s who will graduate to Under-15s. That programme in itself is year-round,” Howard said.
In congratulating the team, Toppin touched on the significant work being done at the Centre of Excellence.
“The Centre of Excellence served its purpose in that the players were together for the last three to four years. They were together from Under-13s in the Centre of Excellence.
“Apart from those singled out by coach Richard Clarke, praise must also be given to the likes of coaches Richard Straker, Dave Marshall and Barry Forde. They were responsible for the development of the players in the Under-13 programme in the Centre of Excellence. They had a foundation and were well drilled to where they are now.
“The team is very talented and congratulations to them and the management.
“It shows that Barbados’ cricket is in good hands in terms of talent and I would like to see more sponsors following the example of Rubis by putting their money in the hat for the Under-17s and Under-19s.
“And I hope that we can continue to work with the group as we go forward,” Toppin said.
Barbados squad: Nimar Bolden (captain), Jaden Leacock (vice-captain), Romario Roach, Che Simmons (Combermere), Jacob Bethell (Harrison College/Rugby School, UK), Dominic Brathwaite (Queen’s College), Johann Layne, Devon Stevenson, Hakeem Perryman (Lodge), Tariq O’Neale (St. Michael), Jamario St. Hill (Foundation), Micaiah Simmons (Alexandra), Venice Vaughan (Alleyne), Ethan Welch, Rashad Worrell (St. Leonard’s).
Management: Richard Clarke (Coach), Jason Haynes (Manager), Rohan Nurse (Assistant Coach), Kwayne Dalrymple (Physiotherapist).
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-and-a-half decades and is responsible for editing the BCA website (www.bcacricket.org).Email:Keithfholder@gmail.com