NOW that their dream of a sixth straight regional four-day title is over, it’s full time to hail Jamaica’s national cricket team for their extraordinary performance over the past five years.
By winning five consecutive first class regional titles, Jamaica’s team, led by the admirable Mr Tamar Lambert, eclipsed statistically the great Barbados teams of the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.
We say ‘statistically’ because in real terms Mr Lambert’s team does not compare with the legendary ‘Bajans’ of decades ago — the latter counting among their number a few of the great batsmen and fast bowlers of all time.
However, there can be no discounting the fact that Mr Lambert and his men did their job and did it to the best of the ability, in the process dominating Caribbean first class cricket for an unprecedented five straight years. It is testimony to Jamaican dominance that last week’s three-wicket defeat by Trinidad and Tobago in the semifinal ended an amazing, record run of 15 straight victories.
Mr Lambert’s leadership — marked by an instinctive ability in the heat of battle to make the right move at the right time — was pivotal for Jamaica’s success over the years. Special praise must also go to the management team, not least long-serving coach Mr Junior Bennett — whose mantra of “plan, plan, plan” has consistently borne fruit — as well as fitness trainer Mr David Bernard (Snr).
Often forced to do without “big name” players because of West Indies duties and contractual ties, Mr Lambert and the management staff consistently got their team to play way beyond the sum of its parts. Incredibly, the Jamaica team continued to triumph on the regional stage, even while the domestic club and parish league has operated way below the desired level because of resource and administrative constraints.
Among the players, no praise can be too great for spinners Messrs Nikita Miller and Odean Brown, and pacers Messrs Andrew Richardson and David Bernard — their great consistency and skill proving too much for regional batsmen, year after year.
Batting has been the Achilles heel down the years, and those who watch cricket closely would have suspected that this year it would prove Jamaica’s undoing. Four leading players were again mostly unavailable — a problem which other teams in the region also experienced. Star batsman and former West Indies and Jamaica captain Mr Chris Gayle managed just one game for Jamaica, Messrs Marlon Samuels and Brendan Nash missed all games, as did all-rounder Mr Andre Russell. Further, Mr Donovan Pagon, Jamaica’s highest run scorer last season, was also missing.
Mr Lambert and his other senior batsmen had to fill the breach in order for Jamaica to put adequate runs on the scoreboard. As it turned out, they failed badly on pitches which were mostly unfriendly to batsmen. Of the senior players, only wicketkeeper/batsman Mr Carlton Baugh, who found form as the season progressed, could have been tolerably satisfied with runs scored.
The task now for the Jamaica Cricket Association will be to rebuild with a mix of older, seasoned players and promising young talent such as Messrs Jermaine Blackwood, Nkrumah Bonner, Andre McCarthy and Jamie Merchant.
Jamaicans won’t expect that the heady successes of recent seasons will be easily repeated. But given this nation’s rich cricket tradition, they will expect to consistently have reason to be proud. That will be a thought always in their minds as our cricket leaders set about their task in the months and years ahead.