Jamaica’s House Blown Down by T&T Underdogs

6th May 2013

When the Sawdust Settles – match reviews

Regional 4-Day Tournament Semi-Final: Jamaica v Trinidad & Tobago at Sabina Park, Kingston, Jamaica

Trinidad & Tobago 170 (Simmons 79, Miller 5-41) & 179-7 (Khan 50no, Bernard 6-39) beat Jamaica 246 (Baugh 88no, Richards 5-46) & 102 by 3 wickets

Nothing lasts forever. Even the longest, most glittering reign must come to an end someday.

So said Francis Urquhart, loyal Tory chief-whip in the opening moments of the BBC’s 1990 television drama ‘House of Cards’, laying face down upon his desk a framed picture of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. In a remarkable piece of TV scheduling synchronicity the programme aired within a week of her unexpected resignation as leader of the Conservative party (and thus The United Kingdom) after over eleven years in office.

Yesterday, less than a month after The Iron Lady’s death, another curtain came down suddenly and unexpectedly. Against almost every expectation the underdogs from Trinidad & Tobago overcame the near-invincible Jamaica, and ended their record-breaking run as the Caribbean’s first-class Champions.

After five years unbroken success in the region’s premiere tournament, Jamaica surrendered their title on home turf. Their seemingly impregnable house of brick was blown down when, it felt, no-one was looking.

Jamaica’s dominance has been undisputed and absolute, and those five years out-stretched even the reign of the formidable Barbados side of the late 70s, which included such legends as Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, David Murray, Joel Garner, Wayne Daniel, Sylvester Clarke and Malcolm Marshall.

While names such as Tamar Lambert, Brenton Parchment, Donovan Pagon, Dave Bernard, Andrew Richardson, Nikita Miller and Odean Brown may not resonate in quite the same way as did the Bajans of a generation before (and certainly do not strike the same fear in the hearts of timid batsmen!), this Jamaican dynasty has been so consummately good at winning that it comes as quite a shock to eventually see them lose.

But as Garth Wattley wrote so perceptively recently, their run of success “says more about the fragile state of West Indies cricket than it does about the strength of the Jamaican game.”

Perhaps we had been forewarned? The recent Super50 over competition semi-finals played in Bridgetown produced big upsets in both day/night matches. Holders Jamaica were felled by The Windward Islands, but only after the previously undefeated Trinidad & Tobago had fallen to the completely unfancied Combined Colleges & Campuses.

The students had only realised they’d actually progressed to the last four after the WICB retracted a communique announcing Barbados’ passage to the semi-finals. However, Barbados’ fourth position in the table, and superior run-rate, counted for less than their defeat at The 3Ws Oval by the CCC in their previous group encounter.

Yet T&T, winners of all 6 group games, were taught a lesson on the night by the young pupils, and were thrashed by 140 runs. In that defeat did the Trinidadians, rather than sulk, lick their wounds and reflect that a previously unbeaten side can be toppled; and that they were equally capable of upsetting the formbook?

However, it didn’t look likely that any such thing was on the cards as Jamaica took firm control of the semi-final’s first two days. At the half-way stage Jamaica’s under-par 246, after taking first use of the pitch, was looking good against T&T’s 162-6.

That 246 was thanks very largely to the efforts of Carlton Baugh and Sheldon Cottrell, who added over a hundred for the last wicket, shepherding the total along from 143-9.

Baugh, a year on from being discarded as wicket-keeper in the West Indies Test side at the expense of the recalled T&T captain Dinesh Ramdin, made a very mature 88 not out. Cottrell, a highly-promising 23-year-old left-arm quick (who to these eyes looked sharper than Kemar Roach when I saw them share the new ball for the HPC against the touring Zimbabweans at The Desmond Haynes Oval in March) was last out for 44.

Lendl Simmons’ 79 was the backbone of Trinidad & Tobago’s reply, the opener the only one to prosper as Nikita Miller’s slow left arm yet again harvested a five-wicket haul.

It seemed business as usual when the remaining batsmen added only another 8 runs on the third morning, leaving the visitors 76 adrift on first innings. The Sabina Park groundsman had probably already begun making preparations to cut and mark another strip on the square for this week’s final.

But four wickets in the first seven overs of the third day was a long way from the end of the procession. Ten further wickets toppled in the next 43.5 overs, as Jamaica were shot out for 102; and the day’s parade was completed by the dismissal of the two T&T openers before the close.

At 54-2 overnight, requiring only another 125 the next day to achieve a famous win, Trinidad & Tobago would still have been mighty nervous. Things could go wrong. Champions do not let go of their crowns without a struggle.

When 54-2 had become 73-6 in the face of inspired bowling from David Bernard, who took all six, many observers will have reflected that “when the going gets tough, the tough get going”. This apparent regaining of the initiative by the Jamaicans was evidence, nay proof, of their supremacy in the natural order of things.

Yet it was not all over. As they say, it never is ‘until the fat lady sings’. And sometimes it is the previously unsung heroes who hit the highest notes. On that Sunday afternoon it was two partnerships constructed by men not used to grabbing the headlines which decided the match.

Trinidad’s 28-year-old leg spinner, Imran Khan, firstly with young keeper-batsman Katwaroo added a gutsy 57; and then with Rayad Emrit put on an unbroken stand of 49 under not just immense pressure, but in the face of the imposing weight of a five-year legacy.

Katwaroo made 32. Emrit finished 25 not out. Khan left the field with an unbeaten 50 to his name. It’s unlikely he’ll ever score a tougher or more important half-century.

Trinidad & Tobago’s seventh and eighth wicket stands were genuine feats of conquest, overcoming major trials in order to scale the heights: firstly, negating the unrelenting, nagging seam of Bernard, whose 6-39 was ultimately all in vain; but even more significantly, the ultimate mastering of the probing spin of Miller and Brown.

This duo have grown accustomed to opponents bowing down before them and succumbing meekly to their flight, turn and will. But yesterday their fingers couldn’t drift one last match-winning offie through the gate, or tweak a leg break sufficiently to find that thin edge. Their hands were played out, and there were no more aces.

So is that the end of the Jamaica story? The King is dead, long live the King?

You might very well think that. I couldn’t possibly comment.

David Oram

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