Common sense returns to West Indies cricket

By Zaheer E. Clarke

Published July 17, 2017

Suddenly, the Darren Bravo-CWI impasse has been resolved, the hard-line CWI selection policy looks set to be softened and it’s ‘Hakuna Matata’/’Oh Happy Days’ in West Indies cricket again. But for how long?

“Oh happy day (oh happy day) Oh happy day (oh happy day)”

It seems amicable days might be here again. Last Thursday, West Indies cricket loving fans’ hearts were jolted with a plethora of news suggesting that the various impasses between the board and its players are simply halting. Media release, after media release, and stories all pointed to a thawing of the antarctic and misanthropic relationship between the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB), now Cricket West Indies (CWI), and its players. If only a fool’s hope, it seems both the board and its players have discarded their mephitic differences and have joined in a warm embrace singing ‘Kumbaya, My Lord’ and ‘Hakuna Matata’. What took them so long, you may ask? How would I know?

After close to two decades of strikes, quagmires and morasses, which have left West Indies cricket at the crypt of world cricket and the heart of its fans affixed in doldrums, the fans are now being sold that they have ‘no worries for the rest of their days. It’s a problem-free philosophy.’ Who is buying this hug-me-tight moment? And how long realistically do you think it will last?

Darren Bravo was suspended for his “big idiot” comment directed at CWI President Dave Cameron after Cameron incorrectly indicated in a TV interview on SportsMax that Bravo was on an ‘A’ contract.

Trinidadian Darren Bravo, West Indies leading batsmen in terms of Test career batting averages at 40 in recent times, is set to return to the team after being provisionally suspended from November 2016 for his “big idiot” Twitter comment directed at the CWI president Dave Cameron. Antecedent, Cameron had blundered when referencing Bravo’s past contracts in an attempt to explain the philosophy of the board regarding the awarding of retainer contracts based on performances. CWI, through its then director of cricket, Richard Pybus, informed Bravo of the cancellation of his match contract and demanded an apology from Bravo for his remarks. In my view, at the time, CWI hastily sent Bravo – who is ranked 31st in the world in the ICC Test player rankings – home, without following due process. Nevertheless, in April, newly appointed CWI CEO Johnny Graves seemingly thought that a resolution to the ‘big idiot’ riposte was imminent until Bravo’s barristers initiated a claim against the CWI for loss of earnings.

“It has come as a surprise as I was under the impression we had agreed [on] a way back for him. I’m very disappointed and yes, a bit frustrated,” Grave told ESPNCricinfo.

Cricket West Indies (CWI) chief executive, Johnny Grave.
(Source: Guyana Chronicle)

Well, on Thursday, a joint statement from the CWI’s president and Darren Bravo seemingly squashed their egos for now and placed Windies cricket first with the exchange of public apologies.

In Dave Cameron’s portion of the joint statement, he said, “In early November 2016, I gave an interview to SportsMax TV during which I discussed player retainer contracts and the grades of contract that had been awarded to certain players. In the course of the interview, I stated that Darren Bravo had previously been on an ‘A’ contract, which I have since been advised is not correct. I apologise for the misstatement and wish to assure Mr Bravo that there was no insult or [offence] intended towards him. Darren is a senior cricketer who has been a valuable part of the WINDIES set up for a long time, and I would hope to see his game continue to progress and mature, at both regional and international level.”

Darren Bravo and Dave Cameron have released a joint statement apologizing to each other and to all West Indies fans.
(Source: DNA India)

Conversely, Bravo’s portion of the joint statement read, “On 11 November 2016, after viewing statements made about me by Mr Dave Cameron, president of Cricket West Indies, on a television sports programme, I tweeted a response which referred to the president which was, in retrospect, inappropriate. As I have always tried to uphold the best traditions of West Indies cricket and its players, I now, therefore, wish to withdraw the comment made on my Twitter account and apologise to the president of CWI and to all WINDIES fans.”

To be honest, something like this never needed eight months for both parties to type and a mutual agreement found. Nothing is wrong with admitting when you have erred but I am glad that both parties or their sides have reached this palsy-walsy juncture.

Nicholas Pooran
(Source: Mumbai Indians)

In addition to the Bravo idiot-proof news, according to another CWI media release, sanctions against another Trinidadian, 21-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman Nicholas Pooran, has ended and he is now eligible to play in all three formats for West Indies. Pooran, who was a member of the President’s XI which played against Afghanistan last month, opted last year to forego the West Indies four-day tournament, in favour of playing in the Bangladesh T20 Premier League for the Khulna Titans, though he was selected by a domestic franchise team. As such, Pooran was sanctioned for the move.

In the media release, words and phrases littered throughout hinted that common sense has returned to West Indies cricket. The mention of “bilateral good faith discussions”, settling of the “matter amicably”, “commit[ment] to the development of West Indies Cricket at all levels”, commitment to “strengthening their relationship” and “regret” being expressed about how the matter was handled would have everyone singing the ‘Hakuna Matata’ song.

Several prominent West Indies players may become available for selection in the Test and ODI teams based on the new amnesty proposed by the West Indies Players’ Association (WIPA).
(Credit: AFP PHOTO/Ishara S. KODIKARA)

Moreover, declarations on Thursday further hinted that a proposed amnesty by the West Indies Players Association (WIPA) for some of West Indies more prominent players may be accepted by CWI’s board. The policy which made players ineligible for selection for West Indies ODI teams, due to their non-participation in the domestic ODI tournament, may be soon changed, resulting in West Indies best players, according to some, returning to the field.

In an interview in Bengaluru, India on Thursday, Chris Gayle, one such player affected by the CWI selection policy, stated that in terms of the relationship between the players and the board, “things have been steadily improving.

Gayle indicated that the relationship between the players and the Cricket West Indies board has been improving.
(Source: Unknown)

“Things are beginning to open up a little more now between players and the board. It’s looking good, and we’ve to try and build from this to get the best players out on the field.”

All good and grand, however, several sceptics have not bought this defrosting and are counting down to troublesome days again in West Indies cricket. Who am I to knock their pessimism? For the past two decades, what have I to show for my sleepless nights watching West Indies cricket? Like a mad man, I’ve been clinging to fool’s hope for 20 plus years. And guess what? Foolishly, I’m willing to do so for another 20 years. Ah boy!

Until next time…

© Zaheer Clarke

Zaheer E. Clarke is a multi-award-winning freelance sportswriter, who – at times – thinks he desperately needs to find a new job which does not involve watching West Indies cricket. It’s at that very moment, he awakes from the terrifying dream.

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

This blog article was published in the Western Mirror on July 17, 2017.

Sports & Cancer: Never Give Up on Your Dreams

By Zaheer Clarke

Published July 3, 2017

Oftentimes, your love for sports can make the difficult moments in your life a little easier. For several individuals battling cancer, it’s this love and the love from their family that transform them into superheroes.

Hundreds Bid Farewell to Captain Horace Burrell
(Source: BOJTV)

Last week, the entire Jamaican football fraternity paid respects to a man, Captain Horace Burrell, whose dream united a people and made a nation proud. In 1994, Burrell marched into the presidency of the Jamaica Football Federation. His immediate dream at the time was for Jamaica to attain qualification for the 1998 World Cup in France by 1997. It was a daunting task to be achieved in three years, but it was a task that required an enchanting and stomping leader, and that he was.

The Captain, with Rene Simoes at his hip, transformed Jamaica’s outlook on its place in world football with steely performances in match after match ‘at the office’ and overseas. Surprisingly for many outside of Jamaica, Jamaica qualified for the 1998 World Cup and went on to finish 22nd out of the 32 teams that participated. Amazingly, Jamaica finished ahead of teams like the USA, Cameroon, South Africa, Scotland and others. Many will forget that in 1994, Jamaica was ranked as low as 75th in the world by FIFA. However, it was under Burrell’s tenure that Jamaica rose to its highest ranking of 27th in 1998.

Captain Burrell, the man with the dream that united a nation. Cancer could not tame his drive.
(Photo source: Guyana Chronicle)

The influence of the Captain on Jamaica’s football was like Santiago Bernabeu’s own influence on  Real Madrid Football Club. Real Madrid was once a fledgeling club in Spain, with the big clubs – Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao – dominating proceedings. Bernabeu had a dream of Real Madrid one day rivalling the big clubs in Spain and Europe. He first started off with building the largest stadium in all of Europe. He and Real Madrid were mocked bitterly, with many at the time declaring that it was “too much of a stadium for so little a club”.

Today, the club has gone on to win the most Champions League titles in Europe. And the stadium, which bears his name, the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, is the perennial home of Real Madrid Football Club and the Spanish national football team.

The stadium owes its name to the legendary president of the club, Santiago Bernabéu de Yeste.
(Photo credit: Real Madrid F.C.)

In a similar manner, something significant, which will be mentioned each time Jamaica steps out to play, must be named in Captain Horace Burrell’s honour. Burrell took a small English-speaking Caribbean country to a World Cup tournament, which many had said was ‘too big a tournament for such a small country like Jamaica’ back in 1994.

Burrell’s contribution to local football and the national program warrants such recognition and not just a passing breath at his funeral service. His impact and legacy on Jamaica football must never be forgotten or diminished. When several corporations looked away from Jamaica’s football and its viability, Burrell, through his own business, Captain’s Bakery, pumped money and resources into the parish and local football programs to ensure their feasibility and continuity.

Captain Horace Burrell, last year, greeting my friend and fellow Jamaican Cleaveland at a department store in the United States, shortly after the Copa America Centenario tournament. The Captain was battling cancer at the time.
(Photo source: Cleaveland Smith)

Unfortunately, last month, Burrell died of cancer. I recall during the Copa America tournament last year when he was ill and I heard of the magnitude of his illness, I too was sombre as to the direction of Jamaica’s football program after Burrell. He gloriously returned for the final game of the tournament after receiving treatment, even though Jamaica were mathematically out of the tournament. It was a sign of defiance in my eyes. It was a sign of him wanting to be there for his boys – the Reggae Boyz – as always, despite his illness.

A good friend of mine from Trinidad, Marsha, who is a perennial supporter of West Indies cricket, was diagnosed with cancer last year. When healthy, Marsha can be found near the Trini Posse stands at the Queens Park Oval, cheering on West Indies through thick and often thin.

My friend Marsha in the hospital preparing for another round of chemotherapy. On the days West Indies wins, she feels no pain.
(Photo source: Facebook)

Unfortunately, in order to save her life and try to beat cancer, she had to do surgery, several rounds of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. It was a difficult time for her and her family. However, win, lose or draw; sick, well, or maim; you couldn’t get her away from her West Indies’ team. When the West Indies won three global titles last year, with the under-19 boys winning the ODI World Cup and the senior men’s and women’s teams winning the T20 World Cup, no amount of carcinogenic pain could damper Marsha’s joy, even when lying on a hospital bed or on her own bed at home.

Novlene Williams-Mills, a four-time Olympic medallist and a six-time World Championship medallist, was diagnosed with cancer in 2012. She won the national 400m title in 2012 and 2013 and anchored Jamaica’s 4 x 400m team to gold at the 2015 World Championships. Just recently, she posed nude for ESPN’s Body magazine similar to other popular athletes with surnames Williams: Serena and Venus. However, Williams-Mills has the supreme distinction of being the first breast cancer survivor to pose for the ESPN Body Issue. Battling cancer is never easy and the scars, both mental and physical, after and during the cancer fight can be debilitating. Oftentimes, sports and your love for it can make the difficult moments easier.

Jamaica’s Novlene Williams-Mills is the first breast cancer survivor featured in ESPN’s ‘Body Issue’
(Photo credit: Marcus Smith/Eric Lutzens/ESPN)

‘Some experiences, when you get to the other side, you get back to the person you want to be. You look in the mirror and you see all these scars. This is a body that you’re used to so much and then one day you have all these scars on your body,’ Williams-Mills remarked.

‘And, you know, that’s your story. I had to be like, “This is who I am now. These are the scars that make me up.”

“Cancer just wants to take control of everything. It didn’t ask permission.”

– Novlene Williams-Mills

‘Before cancer, I would think, “OK, to make me a lady, you have to have your breasts. You have to have this, you have to have that,’” Williams-Mills said. ‘Now I realise that what makes me a lady is this strong person that I look at every single day in the mirror.

‘It’s the courage; it’s the strength; it’s the fighter that I have in me that when I wake up every single day, I live to fight another day.’

My friend Victoria looks cancer in the face and smiles. She will not be defeated.
(Photo source: Facebook)

My friend Victoria, affectionately called Vickie found out last year she had cancer. Just last week she had surgery, this after doing extensive chemotherapy and radiotheraphy over the past year to become cancer-free.

Today, I want to salute all those who valiantly fight cancer and love sports. You guys are the true superstars and heroes. The famous basketball coach Jimmy Valvano, who too battled cancer, once said, “Don’t Give Up, Don’t Ever Give Up.”

Please watch Jimmy Valvano’s Inspiring Speech on Cancer – 1993 ESPY Awards
(click on video below)

Keep fighting my friends…

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 Follow him on Facebook at Zaheer Facts, Lies & Statistics, or on Twitter at @zaheerclarke.

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

Australia’s Cricket pay dispute turning ugly

By Zaheer E. Clarke

Published May 22, 2017

Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland said, “In the absence of a new MoU, CA is not contemplating alternative contracting arrangements to pay players beyond 30 June if their contracts have expired.”
© Getty Images

Cricket in Australia and Australians playing international cricket might come to halt after June 30 if issues regarding an ugly pay dispute are not resolved between the Board, Cricket Australia (CA), and the players’ association, Australian Cricketers’ Association (ACA).

The stump of contention for both parties, the CA and the ACA, lies in a wrangle over the current fixed-revenue-percentage model that has been in place for 20 years. Simply put, the CA wants to replace it while the ACA wants to retain it. This revenue-sharing model or Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between both parties is due to expire on June 30 of this year.


Australian Cricketer’s Association CEO Alistair Nicholson says he is “disappointed that CA is threatening the players” and what he called CA’s attempt to “drive a wedge in Australian cricket”.
© Dominic Lorrimer

The ACA wants to keep the current revenue-sharing model and make only slight modernised tweaks to it as according to them the current model “allows players to share in the ups and downs of the games and its revenue.”

On the contrary, CA believes the current model is antiquated and that a new model which incorporates greater equality in salaries between the genders and which focuses also on grassroots cricket and the future of the game is primary and urgent. According to the CA, the current plan “denies female cricketers the opportunity to share in the game’s revenue.” In addition, an unapologetic CA believes that its proposed plan would “secure [Australia] cricket’s sustainable future” and address the “urgent need to invest more in the grassroots of the game, particularly junior cricket.”

West Indies cricket is not foreign to pay disputes and strikes. 
© Getty Images

As the looming June 30 deadline approaches for negotiations to conclude, parallels are being drawn to the Major League Baseball (MLB) strike of 23 years ago that saw no baseball being played for 232 days. The fallout from that strike saw a huge drop in revenue, attendance and ratings for baseball and the MLB, much of which is just being recouped to pre-1994 levels. Interestingly, the cow bells are being rung by the Australian players and the administrators of CA and ACA, which would indicate that with daggers drawn by all parties, a work stoppage is ominous and ineluctable.

Unsurprisingly, West Indies cricket has had much experience in work stoppages and strikes with the latest being in October 2014. The ramifications of which are still being apparently seen or felt in the selection of teams for the different formats of the game and in the relationships and agreements between the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) and other boards.

Table 1.  Most Popular Sports in Australia

Rank Most Searched Most Attended Most Participants
1 AFL Australian Rules Football Aerobics
2 Cricket Horse Racing Golf
3 Football Rugby League Tennis
4 NRL Motor Sports Lawn Bowls
5 Golf Soccer (outdoor) Netball
6 Rugby Cricket (outdoor) Swimming
7 Soccer Rugby Union Cricket (outdoor)
8 Tennis Harness Racing Martial Arts
9 Basketball Tennis (indoor and outdoor) Basketball
10 Rugby League Dog racing Tenpin Bowling

Source: Topend Sports (2011)

Cricket is one of the most popular sports in Australia according to Topend Sports, ranking in the top-7 among sports searched for online (2nd), watched by spectators (6th) and played by athletes (7th). Internationally, Australia is one of the ‘Big Three’ countries in cricket revenue generation along with India and England. Thus, both the international body and full member boards rely on Australia’s visiting teams to generate much-needed revenue, especially through television rights demand. Therefore, the implications and causata of such a stoppage for Australian cricket and international cricket are troubling. In fact, any stoppage, for any period, could have spiralling effects both locally and internationally for the overall popularity and viability of the game.

The Ashes, which is the premier contest and revenue generator between the oldest foes, Australia and England, in the oldest format, Test cricket, is already being threatened. Additionally, the Women’s World Cup which is to be held this June/July might also be affected if Australia women players pull out before or midway.

© ESPNcricinfo Ltd

According to the CA’s proposed model, all players would see an increase in their salaries. The average pay for female players would increase by over 125 percent with international women players’ salaries increasing from $79,000 to $179,000. Furthermore, domestic male players would see their salaries increase from 199,000 last year to 235,000 by 2021-22, with the minimum and average hourly wages the same for domestic men and women cricketers. Also, international men cricketers would see their average central contracts rise to $816,000 by 2021-22, with match fees up to an average of $1.45 million from $1.16 million in 2016-17. With all this additional money, you wonder why all parties cannot come to some agreement before June 30. The answer lies in mistrust and how Daniel Brettig’s article titles the stand-off as a “long build-up of bad faith.”

Cricket Australia’s chief executive, James Sutherland declared that in the absence of a new MoU, “CA is not contemplating alternative contracting arrangements to pay players beyond 30 June if their contracts have expired.” Henceforth, “players with contracts expiring in 2016-17 will not have contracts for 2017-18,” Sutherland scribed, in a letter.

James Sutherland believes the CA’s pay proposal will secure the future of grassroots cricket in Australia for years to come.
(Photo credit: Getty Images)

Despite the more-money-for-all proposal by the CA, the staunch stance by their CEO Sutherland has had a predictable response from the players and the ACA. Alistair Nicholson, the ACA chief executive, declared last week, “The point lost on CA is that the players will not respond to threats, whilst broadcasters and sponsors need certainty. That’s why we state again, for the good of the game, that it is time to sit down in mediation rather than make unnecessary threats and create such uncertainty.”

Australian vice-captain David Warner, remarked last week in The Age, “If it gets to the extreme, they might not have a team for the Ashes.” A chilling thought for world cricket and the fledgeling format of Test cricket. Warner went on to declare, “I really hope they can come to an agreement… we don’t really want to see this panning out like that where we don’t have a team, we don’t have cricket in the Australian summer. It is up to CA to deal with the ACA.”

David Warner and other Australian players hope that a resolution to the pay dispute can be reached. 
(Photo credit: PA)

This rhetoric from all parties have parallels to pay disputes in West Indies cricket which saw the likes of Clive Lloyd, Brian Lara and even Dwayne Bravo giving up or being relieved of the captaincy. We have seen West Indian players walk off tours or venture to other tours or forms of cricket like the World Series of Cricket and T20 cricket. I guess it is Australia’s turn.

For Australia and world cricket’s sake, let’s hope that ample amounts of antiseptic can be applied to this toxic stand-off so that healthy and productive negotiations can stave off an unnecessary stoppage and damage to cricket.

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.

In the middle of a match, Zaheer’s father once asked him to name West Indies’ current strike bowler. Zaheer named the West Indian opening bowler. His father said, “Based on how he is bowling, he must be on strike.”

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

This blog article was republished in the Western Mirror on May 22, 2017.

I’ve got 99 problems and a century is one

By Zaheer E. Clarke

Published May 8, 2017

For most batsmen, the build-up to scoring a century is easy. The issues begin when they get into the nineties, and worse on 99. 

Pakistan’s captain Misbah-ul-Haq smiles as he leaves the field in a Test match between West Indies and Pakistan. Misbah was left unbeaten on 99 not out in the first innings.
Photo credit: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

In cricket, the dream of every batsman when he walks to the crease is to make a century for his team, irrespective of whether he’s an opening batsman or a tailender. A century of runs in an innings is a remarkable feat and if it is a double, triple or quadruple century, the more distinguished and memorable it is.

As players approach this milestone in their innings, for many, their demeanour change drastically. Runs that flowed from their bats like water down the Niagara Falls, often abate similar to the closing of a floodgate. Several players, commentators and fans often call this spate of attrition for batsmen as the ‘nervous nineties’. An almost heartbreaking act is when a batsman gets out or is left not out in the nineties but none more heartrending than when the batsman is on 99.

Clem Hill, probably the first great left-handed batsman in Test history, held the world record for the most Test runs for 22 years. He was the first batsman to get out on 99. He followed that innings with 98 and 97.
© Getty Images

There have been 137 occasions in international cricket where a batsman’s innings ended with him out or not out on 99: ninety (90) times in Test, 45 times in One-Day Internationals (ODI) and twice in Twenty20 Internationals (T20I). In the current series between West Indies and Pakistan, Pakistan’s captain Misbah-ul-Haq saw two of his innings end with him on 99, on one occasion 99 out and the other 99 not out. Misbah became the first batsman to suffer this misfortune thrice in Test.

The first batsman to suffer this inglorious feat and define the ‘nervous nineties’ was Australian Clem Hill. Hill was the first batsman to score 1000 Test runs in a calendar year in Test cricket and he did so in 1902. Actually, Hill began the year 1902 very torridly. On January 2, 1902, he walked to the crease in a match against England and made 99. He followed up that innings in the following Test match with 98 and 97 – gutting performances – when added to his 96 in an innings from little over four years earlier. His 96 in 1897 was the first time in Test cricket’s first 20 years that a batsman got out within four runs of a century. He became the first batsman out in Test cricket on 96, 97, 98 and 99. Maybe the nervous nineties should be renamed the ‘nervous Clem Hills’.

Tudor came into bat as England’s nightwatchman in only his third Test match and scored 99 not out.
© Getty Images

Of the 90 Test batsmen to see their innings end one short of a century, 84 of them lost their wicket while six had the contretemps of being left stranded on 99 not out. Steve Waugh, Misbah-ul-Haq, Andrew Hall, Shaun Pollock, Alex Tudor and Geoffrey Boycott are the ‘salt’ six. Tudor and Boycott were luckless to have this occur in the fourth and final innings of a Test and even more, ill-fated Tudor’s 99 not out turned out to be his career-best knock. The only reprieve for Tudor was that his team won the game and he had hit the winning shot. Another player whose career-best turned out to be 99 was Asim Kamal who actually achieved this in his first match and never again did he climb to those heights.

Sachin Tendulkar is the most productive batsman in cricket, playing 664 international matches – Tests, ODIs and T20Is combined – scoring over 34,000 runs including 100 centuries. However, Tendulkar also has the distinction of being out the most times on 99, thrice, all in One-Day cricket and all occurring in 2007.

Adam Gilchrist was unluckily run out on 99 off a brilliant throw by Chaminda Vaas during a super six game of the 2003 World Cup. Gilchrist was left reeling after being robbed of a deserved ton.
© Getty Images

The World Cup is the highest stage for One Day cricket and a century in the World Cup is normally ranked high among personal achievements. ODI cricket’s most destructive wicketkeeper-batsman, Adam Gilchrist, became the first batsman to experience the affliction of getting out on 99 during a World Cup match, in 2003. It is often said, misery loves company. South Africans JP Duminy and AB de Villiers have joined Gilchrist in that distressing feat.

Apart from a batsman’s personal goal of scoring a century, his primary goal is to contribute significantly to his team winning the match. If he can achieve both, then all objectives have been achieved. West Indian Richie Richardson has the distinction of the first batsman to be left unbeaten on 99 in a successful chase in any form of cricket. He saw this occur in an ODI match in 1985 against Pakistan. To soothe the wound of missing out on the century with his partner Gus Logie at the other end, the adjudicators named Richardson man-of-the-match.

Luke Wright’s 99 not out helped his team progress to the super eights of the 2012 T20 World Cup.
(Photo credit: Gareth Copley/AFP/Getty Images)

Centuries in T20I cricket are rare. In 610 matches and over 9800 innings, only 25 centuries have been scored and only one match has seen two players score a century. On the other hand, Alex Hales and Luke Wright are the only two batsmen to see their innings end on 99 during a T20I game. Hales sadly lost his wicket with an over to spare in a match against West Indies. Wright, on the contrary, missed out on a century against Afghanistan during the 2012 T20 World Cup. With a ball to go in his team’s innings and him on 97, Wright couldn’t find the boundary against the Afghans and was only able to scamper two runs and remain unbeaten on 99.

Getting a century in cricket is a rewarding feeling, which often is celebrated exuberantly by the batsman and his teammates when achieved. The main problem is when the batsman gets to 99 and starts to think about the century milestone because unfortunately there is no guarantee he’ll be able to find that one run solution.

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 has 99 problems and his wife thinks he is one. 

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

This blog article was republished in the Western Mirror on May 8, 2017.

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 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.