Deja vu Path To Glory For Barbados

1st May 2013

Prospects of Play – match previews

Regional 4-Day Tournament Semi-Final: Windward Islands v Barbados at Windsor Park, Roseau, Dominica

There is a certain degree of deja vu for Barbados as they enter the knock-out phase of the Caribbean Regional 4-Day Tournament. Having enjoyed an indifferent season (and some Bajan critics would use a far harsher adjective), the team find themselves one game away from the final.

That route to the final is strangely familiar, featuring the likely same three opponents as twelve months ago, all away from home, which they must overcome in turn to transform ‘indifferent’ into glory.

Last year Barbados entered their deciding group match realistically requiring a win to secure a semi-final berth. An away game in Grenada against The Windward Islands promised the victors a likely contest against Trinidad & Tobago in the semi. Perhaps against expectation, Barbados triumphed in St. George’s and so ventured on to Trinidad to compete for a place in the final.

Their subsequent victory in Port-of-Spain was a further surprise, and an even greater triumph, especially since home advantage in the semi-final should have been theirs due to their higher placing in the group stage. However, the not unusual confusion and mismanagement of the fixture list by the WICB revealed a T20 International match between The West Indies and Australia already scheduled for The Kensington Oval on the date earmarked for the Regional 4-day semi-finals, and thus Barbados were denied any advantage they may have had from the game taking place in Bridgetown.

Yet win they did, progressing to a final against defending champions Jamaica, which in turn was postponed because of another double-booking. The game was moved from its original date in the fixture calendar because Sabina Park was unavailable due to a prior-booked pop concert. Unlike Barbados, Jamaica was not prepared to be cajoled by the WICB into ceding their precious home advantage, and insisted the final be deferred.

That final saw Barbados upset the form-book by outplaying Jamaica over the first three rain-effected days, and taking a first innings lead which would have been enough to secure them the title if the ever-threatening downpours had completely washed out the last day’s play. The weather relented sufficiently to allow Jamaica to play some wonderfully positive cricket, scoring quick runs and setting Barbados a modest victory target, but which allowed enough time to bowl the opposition out second time around, which they duly did.

Jamaica were the best team in last year’s competition (in fact they have been for the last five years) – but the marvellous manner of the cricket they played from a losing position to win the final confirmed them not just as winners, but Champions.

So, one year on, Barbados are following a similar path. Again a last group match victory was required away from home in order to progress. Victory in that game sees them again travelling abroad seeking a win which would give them another shot at the title. The only subtle difference between this season and last is the sequence – for the opponents are, up till now, the same, only the order has changed.

Their final group game this year was a trip to Trinidad, which, won comfortably by ten wickets, is now followed by an excursion to The Windward Islands. A victory over them would most likely see a repeat regional final between Jamaica and Barbados in Kingston.

A notable difference this year however is the venue for the Windwards v Barbados game. The success of West Indies in Dominica, and especially of their premier spinner in the test arena in 2012 and 2013, Shane Shillingford, has taken the fixture to his home country, and home ground.

Shillingford has taken the small matter of 46 wickets in 5 games thus far in the competition, and while he has yet to play a domestic four-day game in Dominica this season, he took ten wickets there in the Test Match win over Zimbabwe just over a month ago – a feat he’d achieved at the same venue against Australia eleven months earlier, which West Indies nonetheless lost.

It may be too much to describe the Windsor Park pitch as the clichéd ‘raging bunsen’, but it is certainly a surface which most pundits would expect Shillingford to prosper on. It probably will be a contest of spin, although whether the thirty-year old Dominican will be the game’s prevailing influence, or whether the upper hand may perhaps ultimately be a left-handed one belonging to Sulieman Benn remains to be seen.

In the Grenada game between the two sides a year ago Shillingford took an awesome 14 wickets for 110 runs; but again finished on the losing side. Barbados’ main destroyer was not a spinner, but paceman Javon Searles who enjoyed match figures of 11-83, although Benn’s second innings 4-32 provided good support as Barbados defended a victory target for the Windwards of only 145. They never really recovered from being 0-3 and 5-4 in the fourth innings, and succumbed for only 73 to lose by 71 runs.

The only fifty in the entire match came from Barbados’ highly talented skipper Kirk Edwards whose 99 was worth at least twice that in the context of the game’s low scoring. In fact there was only one other individual score above 30, Fedee’s 31 not out. Totals of 192 and 85 outmatched replies of 133 and 73.

In the very low scoring matches which have been prevalent in Caribbean domestic cricket for the last few seasons, the ability of one man to prosper and make a hundred, or thereabouts, is of far greater value than buckets full of cheap wickets.

Indeed, the scores witnessed in the region of late look far more like scorecards of English county cricket of the 1870s, when a score of 200 was a big total, than what we come to notionally expect almost 150 years later. Certainly with scores consistently this low, the fourth day of a Caribbean four-day match is something almost as rarely seen here as snow. But this is a problem to consider another time.

Perhaps the most significant scores of the Windwards/Barbados game of one year ago were those recorded by Devon Smith. Last year’s 2 and golden duck 0 ended a season for him in which he scored only 205 first-class runs at a fraction over 17. At 31, he was maybe fortunate to keep his place this year. Indeed,  Ezra Stuart in Barbados’ Daily Nation recently contrasted Smith with the similarly aged Ryan Hinds. Hinds was not retained this year by Barbados after a not dissimilar return in the 2011/12 season of 123 runs, also at 17.

This season Devon Smith has blossomed, and is the leading run scorer in the region. In the four-day tournament alone he has so far racked up 682 runs at 85.25. In Smith and Shillingford, Windward Islands appear to have the main match winners, certainly the batsman and bowler in the best form. They also have the momentum gained by recently winning the Regional Super50 Tournament – winning of course often leading to more winning.

David Oram

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