An Ode to Sabina’s 50: perfect balance, breathtaking results & spectacular feats

By Zaheer E. Clarke

Published April 24, 2017

Sabina Park hosts its 50th Test match. Over the years, it has delivered perfect balance, breathtaking results and spectacular feats. 

West Indies fast bowler Courtney Walsh celebrates after taking his 435th wicket at Sabina Park to break Kapil Dev’s then-world record of 434 Test wickets. (March 27, 2000)
© Getty Images

Interestingly, the Earth’s axis is tilted 23 degrees towards the ecliptic of the Sun. Psalms 23, undoubtedly, is the most famous and most quoted of all the Psalms or chapters of the Bible. William Shakespeare, the greatest writer of the English language and the greatest dramatist of all time, saw his life rise and set on the 23rd day of the same month, April. And unsurprisingly, the greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan, wore number 23. The above-mentioned connections to number 23 all point to balance, results and spectacular feats. Henceforth, it was no surprise that Sabina Park was the 23rd ground to host Test cricket.

From inception, Sabina Park was the exception. One hundred and ninety-two (192) Test matches were played before the first ball was bowled at Sabina Park. However, unlike the others, none had seen a batsman score a triple century in Test cricket. Sabina Park, or ‘Sabina’,  as it is often called, was not the place of West Indies’ first Test or its first Test victory. Nevertheless, it was the place where its first lion roared, and roared loudly. In response to Andy Sandham’s world record-breaking 325 and a target of 836 runs, George Headley, who later became the first black West Indian to spin the toss as captain in a Test match, responded with 223 runs, his first double century at the time. In a match spanning nine days, Headley’s innings was enough, along with the last two days of rain, to preserve a draw and stave off a series defeat to our colonial masters.

George Headley (left) scored two double centuries at Sabina Park, the most by any batsman. He has the best average of all batsmen at Sabina Park (min. 3 Tests)
© ESPNCricinfo Ltd

This past weekend marked the 50th time a Test match has been played at Sabina and unsurprisingly, in the Caribbean, it is known to be the pitch to offer the greatest balance between bat and ball. In 49 Test matches before this one, batsmen averaged 30.71 runs while bowlers averaged 32.07, a difference of minus 1.33, the best among the traditional Test match grounds in the Caribbean. Additionally, it is also the ground in the Caribbean which has seen the highest percentage of its matches ending in a result, 71%  (35 of 49) and for which West Indies has its highest win percentage at home, 47% (23 of 49).

Sabina has seen its dark days. Its darkest day most certainly was in January 1998 when it hosted its 33rd Test match, a match between England and West Indies. Steve Bucknor, who has stood in nine of the 50 matches at the ground – second only to Douglas Sang Hue at 10 – and Srinivas Venkataraghavan were the umpires who had to call off the Test match after “62 bone-crushing deliveries” because of a perilous pitch.

The pitch at Sabina Park after the abandonment of the first Test, West Indies v England, 1st Test, Jamaica, January 29, 1998.
© Getty Images

Its brightest day has to be March 1, 1958, when Garfield Sobers scored a ‘monumental innings’, according to Wisden, of 365 not out, his first Test match century, and a then-world record. The jubilant spectators were beside themselves that Saturday as they invaded the field, trampled the pitch, and ended play abruptly, 55 minutes before close of play.

In that match, Sobers, along with Sir Conrad Hunte, who scored a career-best 260, recorded the highest partnership ever at Sabina Park, 446 runs, which is still the highest partnership by a West Indian pair in Test match history.

Garfield Sobers set a world record of 365 not out and brought up his 8000th Test run at Sabina Park, 16 years apart. He has scored the most runs, 1354 runs, and the joint-most centuries, 5,  at Sabina Park.
© Getty Images

Sabina has seen other spectacular innings, including Lawrence Rowe’s 214 and 100 not out on debut. Other spectacular innings include career bests from Headley, 270 not out; Dennis Amiss, 262 not out; Ramnaresh Sarwan, 261 not out and Steve Waugh’s series and era-changing 200 in 1995, which handed West Indies its first Test series defeat since their visit to New Zealand in 1980.

Four years later in 1999, West Indies was on the cusp of tragedy, having been bowled out for 51 in the previous match in Trinidad against the Aussies and now crawling at 34 runs for 4 wickets at Sabina. A young West Indian captain, Brian Charles Lara produced – according to him – his best Test innings, 213 runs. At the time, Lara was fully engrossed by the book, ‘For the Love of the Game: My Story’, by Mr Number 23, Michael Jordan. According to Wisden, Lara defied odds and circumstances which would have crushed most men on his way past 5000 Test runs. “Lara seduced the people of a bankrupt nation, resurrected his career as a batsman of rare gifts and reignited cricket throughout the Caribbean, on that Sabina pitch.

Brian Lara pulls his West Indies team from the gutters against Australia during the second Test at Sabina Park with a knock of 213 runs, March 14, 1999. Lara has scored the second-most runs at Sabina Park, 1112.
© Getty Images

Other batsmen have brought up personal milestones on that Sabina pitch. Sobers, the first batsman to score 8000 runs in Test cricket scored his 8000th run at Sabina Park. So too did Sachin Tendulkar and Viv Richards, two blasting masters of the game. Similarly, Rahul Dravid and Allan Border, two of the grittiest to don the whites, scored their 9000th Test run at Sabina Park.

Jamaicans have always been treated by their hometown boys, especially Headley, Rowe and Jimmy Adams, who top the batting averages at Sabina at 130, 113 and 109 runs per dismissals respectively (minimum 3 Test matches). However, it is the Barbadians, Sobers and Clyde Walcott who have scored the most centuries on the ground, five each.

Lawrence Rowe scored a double century and a century on debut at Sabina Park. He has the second-best average among batsmen at Sabina Park, 113 (min. 3 Tests). 
© Getty Images

In the bowling department, another local boy, Courtney Walsh broke Kapil Dev’s then-world record of 434 Test wickets with his 435th Test wicket at Sabina Park. Of all bowlers, Walsh has also taken the most wickets at Sabina, 48, with Barbadians Wes Hall and Malcolm Marshall rounding up the top-3 with 35 and 31 respectively. Corey Collymore, Jerome Taylor and Hall have the best bowling averages on the ground, mindboggling numbers of 12.55, 13.58 and 15.25 runs per wicket respectively (minimum 3 Test matches). However, Steve Harmison has the best bowling figures in an innings, seven wickets for 12 runs, while Collymore has the best bowling figures in a match at Sabina Park, 11 wickets for 134 runs respectively.

Jeffrey Dujon leads all wicketkeepers with 24 catches, with Ridley Jacobs and Denesh Ramdin having 23 catches a piece. Of non-wicketkeeping fielders, Lara’s 23 catches is a distant record, with Gordon Greenidge and Chris Gayle snatching 13 and 11 catches respectively.

Jeffrey Dujon has the most dismissals of any wicketkeeper or fielder at Sabina, 25 (24 catches and 1 stumping).
(Photo source: Unknown)

In 87 years, Sabina Park has given us perfect balance between bat and ball, breathtaking results for and against West Indies and spectacular team and individual feats. Cheers on your 50th Test match, Sabina. You are number one in my book.

Until next time…

© Zaheer Clarke

Zaheer E. Clarke is an award-winning opinion journalist, blogger and author of the award-winning blog, Zaheer’s Facts, Lies and Statistics.

He can be reached at zaheer.clarke@gmail.com. Follow him on Facebook at Zaheer Facts, Lies & Statistics, or on Twitter at @zaheerclarke

This blog article was republished in the Western Mirror on April 24, 2017.

Petersfield, building a strong legacy, but needs help

By Zaheer E. Clarke

Published April 10, 2017

Petersfield High School sports program has been on the rise in recent years. The dream is to build a strong legacy and a bright future for their student-athletes. However, they desperately need assistance.

Petersfield High School’s ultimate dream is to seriously challenge the top schools for the boys’ and girls’ titles at the annual ISSA Boys and Girls Championships in Jamaica. 
(Photo credit: Team Jamaica)

Last year after Boys and Girls Championships, all the discussion was about the Christopher Taylor versus Akeem Bloomfield showdown in the event’s finale, the 4 x 400m relay. Three days after the Championships, I stood beside a soup shop on a university college campus in Western Jamaica discussing the beleaguered anchor leg by Bloomfield with students and passersby. The discussions centred around whether Bloomfield utilised the correct strategy. Interestingly, among the crowd, an inadvertent participant joined the discussion. That individual was Petersfield’s High School Track and Field head coach, Machell Woolery.

“We don’t have shoes, spikes or jerseys to run in…”

– Machell Woolery

In recent years, barring St. Elizabeth Technical High School, Petersfield High School has been the beacon of the westerly parishes in sports generally, but especially in the area of track and field. In previous years, Manning’s School was the gold-standard in Westmoreland but like with life’s only constant, there has been a change.

Machell Woolery, track and field coach of Petersfield High School.
(Photo credit: Paul Reid/Jamaica Observer)

Petersfield High has advanced to the quarterfinals stage in the last three editions of the Dacosta Cup. More surprisingly, at Boys and Girls Championships, or Champs for short, they have finished in the top-10 on the boys’ side every year since 2012 and in the top-20 on the girls’ side in three of the last four editions. They have finished 7th, 6th and 7th on the boys’ side in the last three editions, with them scoring 71 points exactly at the last two Championships. This year on the girls’ side, they attained their highest finish of 11th with them scoring 32 points.

Table 1. Petersfield High points and ranking at the Boys and Girls Championships 2011-2017

 

Boys

Girls

Year

Points Rank Points Rank
2011 8 22nd 2

31st

2012

29 10th 13 21st
2013 34 9th 8

24th

2014

31 10th 14 16th
2015 50 7th 10

24th

2016

71 6th 23 15th
2017 71 7th 32

11th

After Coach Woolery revealed his identity, and after the polarising views of the congregants at the soup shop regarding the Taylor-Bloomfield showdown cooled off, I spoke with Coach Woolery about the entire sports program at Petersfield High and the resources at their disposal.

“The resources are very minimalist. The whole burden is on the school. We would love to get some form of corporate sponsors on board, whether it’s from Westmoreland, Montego Bay or Jamaica at large. We just want the backing to help us get the students out through the scholarship medium or  [to help] those who can represent the country in the long run,” he said.

Woolery is a graduate of GC Foster College and is a certified IAAF Level I and Level II coach. He said that his time at GC Foster, the IAAF training received along with being a part of the Digicel/MVP Grassroots program for a number of years have all contributed to his life experiences as a coach.

Former Petersfield High standout Waynee Hyman of Jamaica runs the 2nd leg during the 1st round of the medley relay on day four of the IAAF World Youth Championships at the Bressanone Sports Complex on July 11, 2009, in Brixone Bressanone, Italy.
(July 11, 2009 – Source: Michael Steele/Getty Images Europe)

With limited resources, coaching can identify individual talent and hone it. However, to truly challenge schools like Kingston College and Calabar on the boys’ side or Edwin Allen and Hydel on the girls’ side at Champs, which is coach Woolery’s dream, Petersfield would require serious support from the past students’ association, corporate sponsors and possibly governmental agencies.

While speaking last year, Woolery remarked, “We need equipment, hurdles, a gym, and starting blocks. We don’t have a school bus. So, transportation is a heavy burden on us. We don’t have a shoe sponsor or a gears sponsor. So, we don’t have shoes, spikes or jerseys to run in, nor a nutrition program or supplements for the students. In every area we are in need of great help.

Daniel Cope practising his discus throws.
” I will never stop trying until I get it right.”
(Source: Facebook)

“We want to be in the top-5 at Champs. We know that it is hard to win the Championships. However, if we can get that financial backing we know we can challenge the top schools. To challenge any school at Champs, once your field events are strong and you can maintain in other areas, you can show dominance. [2016] we won the field events section at champs. We outscored KC, JC, Calabar, and all the name brand schools. We won gold medals in three out of five field throws. So that sets a precedence. All we need from here is some financial backing and we can do great things and make the West proud.”

Though the team-centred Coach Woolery is very hesitant to individualise members of the Petersfield setup, in the past few years, student-athletes like Kevin Nedrick, Daniel Cope and Antonio Watson have stood out on the track and in the field, and there are several more.

Petersfield’s Kevin Nedrick won a gold medal for Jamaica at the 2015 Commonwealth Youth Games on September 9, 2015, in Apia, Samoa.
(Sept. 8, 2015 – Source: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images AsiaPac)

In December last year, just before the start of the current track season, I once again caught up with Coach Woolery, who had just returned from El Salvador where he went to do the IAAF Level II certification. He said that despite the success of Petersfield he was saddened that they were not getting the financial support they expected to get as a non-traditional and a deep rural school that is performing so well at Champs.

“I will never stop trying until I get it right.”

– Daniel Cope

Woolery and Petersfield High want a bright future for their student-athletes and recognise that for several of them, their prowess in sports is their vehicle to greater opportunities and success in life.

“I want everybody to know that [Petersfield High] is not just track and field. We have been a decent sports program. Where we try our best to get our students to get scholarships to go abroad. We have a few students who have moved on to universities abroad to study. So this is a vehicle for them. It is the only opportunity for their parents to help them to go to [college or university and it] is to get the scholarships,” Woolery declared.

Check out this cool video. Click on link below.

Antonio Watson of Petersfield WINS Class 3 (U-13) Boys 200M FINAL in 22.61 out of LANE 8 at CHAMPS 2016

That was a cool video.

In spite of the dearth situation, last year Woolery said that Petersfield was planning strategically for the future and are looking to create shockwaves even higher than at the Boys and Girls Championship level, but at the world level.

In Woolery’s own words, “Petersfield has been a rising success and a rising institution when it comes on to track and field. We are not only a local brand but a global brand. We have had persons on the national team from 2009 and we want to continue to do that. We are paving the way for the future generation and we want to maintain the [Petersfield] legacy, and we hope someone can come on board and start to build on the legacy with Petersfield. The legacy is already there!”

For the first time in school history, a team of 16 track and field athletes from Petersfield High School competed at the 2016 Penn Relays Carnival in the United States.
(Source: Petersfield High Website)

I, for one, hope that Westmoreland residents, western Jamaica and corporate Jamaica lend their support to the Petersfield High sports program. On merit alone, they deserve it, and without a question, they need it.

Until next time…

© Zaheer Clarke

Zaheer E. Clarke is an award-winning opinion journalist, blogger and author of the award-winning blog, Zaheer’s Facts, Lies and Statistics.

He can be reached at zaheer.clarke@gmail.com. Follow him on Facebook at Zaheer Facts, Lies & Statistics, or on Twitter at @zaheerclarke.

This blog article was republished in the Western Mirror on April 10, 2017.

Sports Journalists and Columnists, let us lift the standards

By Zaheer E. Clarke

Broadcast: February 18, 2017 on SportsNation Live

First published February 20, 2017, Republished April 3, 2017

The standards of sports and opinion journalism in Jamaica are falling. It’s time to lift the standards.

President Donald Trump (l) and his counsellor Kellyanne Conway have waged an unprecedented war on facts and truths since moving into the White House.
(Photo credit: Getty Images)

A friend of mine recently said, “The most dangerous thing on planet earth is an opinionist whose opinions are formed void of facts.” So, I quickly added, “While that statement may be true, what say you of Donald Trump?”

Opinionists are like sand grains on the beach. They are everywhere and worse when it comes to the world of sports. They can be found on the street side, at the bus stop, at the gym, and at the lunchroom at work. Unsurprisingly, another place you will find loads of them is at your local bar, especially when you are trying to have a relaxing evening with the distilled spirits. Sadly, these opinionists often discuss sports in the most nescient and puzzling ways, which both baffles and depresses you simultaneously. We all know the individuals I’m referring to. At times, we entertain them but deep down we abhor them and their unfiltered claptrap.

Bars are a popular location where you will find fact-less opinionists.
(Photo credit: VQR Online)

These fact-less sports opinionists, which are often our friends, spew nothing but unadulterated hogwash and several times, they do so with such conviction that those informed individuals – like yourself – question whether you are the ones ill-informed and unaware that you are uninformed. Do you remember what our grandmothers used to say? “He who knows not and knows not that he knows not …” Yeah, that’s them at times and not you.

The worst part is when those trusted with the responsibility to inform the public, yes us journalists, are the ones described in such a manner. When we are the ones least informed, I often wonder to myself, “where will the public turn to for information and insight?” I presume Facebook and fake news websites.

Fake news stories have been rampant on social media platforms like Facebook in 2016. Facebook and Google have vowed to tackle these fake news entities.

What is even worse is when sports journalists or columnists, like myself, propagate misinformation, which whips the public into a frenzy of ignorance. Yet, strikingly, when the ‘true’ truth is unfolded, they and their unadulterated opinions vanish into thin air. I have seen this in recent years with discussions surrounding various sporting issues, not excluding Jamaican athletes and doping in sports.

As sports journalists and columnists, we have a sacred responsibility. We must be the voice of the minority and not necessarily the populace. We ought to investigate and base our conclusions and opinions on facts and matters rooted in principle and not necessarily those dipped in patriotism and insularity.

Sports Journalist Tony Cozier was respected for his diligent research borne out in his engrossing cricket columns.
(Photo credit: Caribbean Beat)

Let me be the first to shed my snakeskin of self-righteousness. As the Good Book says, we have all sinned and fallen short. In the past, I may have misinformed the public, or maybe in the distant future – God forbid – I may misinform the public on a particular matter. Similarly, I may take some extreme position, uncharacteristically, devoid of facts or truths. However, John Public must never accept misinformation as the norm and must demand facts, truths and statistics from our sports journalists and columnists.

In recent times, ‘alternative facts’ and ‘fake news’ have become almost a staple food in our society. Sadly, these fake facts and alternative news have been incorporated in the diet and salacious feats of the sports world. Several of my less and more learned colleagues and distant acquaintances, at times, report or purport such pristine poppycock that it makes me wonder. Unfortunately, this only sinks the already perceived sunken position of sports and opinion journalists in the local media sphere. Of a fact, our news counterparts are often held in higher esteem and the issues they discuss are often deemed more important. If we as sports journalists cannot inform the public of the basic tenets at hand in our speciality, then whom do we expect to do this job? The news reporters and weather reporters? We must do better. We need to lift the standards of sports and opinion journalism in Jamaica.

Morris Cargill (l) and Hugh Crosskill are two notable Jamaican journalists who were masters of opinion journalism and sports journalism respectively.
(Photo credit: Jamaica Gleaner)

John Public must demand of us sports journalists and columnists, fact-based opinions and insightful insights based on actual data, information and research. If they cannot, then anyone with an arbitrary opinion and pint-sized knowledge of sports can be a sports journalists or columnist. Or, is that already the case?

Recently, I read the work of some famous local columnists, some of who are luminaries, doctors in their respective fields and even lawyers. I also listened to several talk show hosts recently and heard various opinionists and sports journalists discuss several sporting disciplines and issues, including doping. Sadly, in my opinion, most of them were bereft of the ‘real’ facts to inform the public; hence, depriving the public of the opportunity to form informed opinions. From my observations, the writings and discussions of several sports journalists and opinionists were based solely, or mostly, on hypotheticals and conjecture. Astonishingly, facts and statistics were oftentimes treated like a bastard child, utterly detested. If our profession as sports journalists and columnists is to be taken seriously, my friends, then we have no choice but to raise the standards. If we do not, then we will certainly be the bastard children of several of our media houses.

Hubert Lawrence (l) and Lance Whittaker are two modern day journalists in Jamaica who are highly respected in the field of sports journalism.
(Photo source: Jamaica Gleaner & Barbados Today)

In closing, I must pay due respect to my colleagues who conduct their work with dignity and pride. They are the true descendants of Atlas, holding up the seemingly mystical sports and opinion journalistic world on their shoulders. As for me, and unlike the Apostle Paul, I am not even the least of the sports journalists or columnists in Jamaica. I consider myself simply a concerned observer: just call me a scientist.

Until next time…

© Zaheer Clarke

Zaheer E. Clarke is an award-winning opinion journalist, blogger and author of the award-winning blog, Zaheer’s Facts, Lies and Statistics.

Zaheer was last seen in his dungeon pouring over statistics trying to determine why Donald Trump loves alternative facts and fake news. He found the answer in the 2016 US Presidential election polling numbers.

He can be reached at zaheer.clarke@gmail.com. Follow him on Facebook at Zaheer Facts, Lies & Statistics, or on Twitter at @zaheerclarke.

This blog article was republished in the Western Mirror on April 3, 2017.