A time for late bloomers

Sport

A time for late bloomers

Watching Cricket

with Garfield Myers

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

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Many cricket fans will remember 2009 for fast bowler Jerome Taylor's sensational five-wicket spell at Sabina Park, which played the lead role in West Indies dispatching England for a second-innings 51 to complete a memorable innings victory.

The Chris Gayle-led West Indies went on to take the Test series 1-0 and grab hold of the Wisden Trophy — though only for a short time. By June, England had reclaimed the prized trophy, whipping the Caribbean side in a hastily arranged tour of that country in the cold and damp of early May.

Beyond all that, Caribbean cricket followers remember 2009 for the withdrawal of service by the leading West Indies players of the day, allowing a very young but talented Bangladesh side to whitewash a third-string home side in all formats.

Amidst the gloom of that depressing experience, there was the odd glimmer of light. All-rounder David Bernard, a nonchalantly elegant stroke maker, was among those who came away with reputation enhanced, scoring three half-centuries in four innings.

Bernard's batting left me with a memory of the late Tony Cozier I won't easily lose. After a particularly eye-catching stroke, a bemused Cozier on television commentary — his voice barely above a whisper — pondered how it was Bernard's first class batting average was so low.

It was a question that could be asked in reference to many a batsman in West Indies cricket back in 2009, and to this day.

In Jamaica there are a fair number. And always, when I see Nkrumah Bonner bat, Cozier's question echoes in my head.

But if the hard work is done, the cream will come to the top. And over the last two seasons Bonner's batting has underlined what many of us have long felt, that he is among the more technically efficient, organised and talented batsmen around.

And now at age 31, Bonner is showing the disciplined consistency, to go with abundant talent, which will take him to the pinnacle, should it be sustained.

Much is made of his composed yet whirlwind, match-winning 66 just over a week ago for Jamaica Scorpions against Leeward Islands Hurricane at the scenic, well-appointed Trelawny Stadium.

But for me, his best innings so far this season was an unbeaten second-innings 39 in a losing cause against Barbados on a spicy Sabina pitch, last month. With the fast-rising fast bowler Chemar Holder — backed up by Kemar Roach and Keon Harding — swinging the ball round corners at high pace, the skill and steel of Bonner was an awesome thing.

Perhaps Bonner has gained inspiration from Barbadian Shamarh Brooks, also 31. Both were part of an exceptionally talented West Indies Under-19 side of 2008. Consider the names Adrian Barath, Kieran Powell, Darren Bravo, Kyle Corbin, Steven Jacobs, Devon Thomas, Shacaya Thomas, Horace Miller, Andre Creary, Delorn Johnson, Jason Dawes…All were part of that Under-19 World Cup squad.

Long an under-achiever, Brooks broke through to make the West Indies Test team last year, impressing with a half-century against India at Sabina in August before annoyingly running himself out. That was followed by a match-winning century, on a spinners' pitch, against Afghanistan in India.

After that century, Brooks declared himself to be a strong believer “that nothing happens before its time”.

What a wonderful mantra for Bonner and many others now in their late 20s and early 30s to take around with them!

It surely should be useful for the 28-year-old Jermaine Blackwood who — like Bonner — is showing the attitude of a batsman on a mission. It was a delight to watch Blackwood in his accomplished first-innings 98 against the Hurricanes, compiling runs with strokes along the ground, ignoring the temptation to recklessly go aerial, which we all know lost him his place in the West Indies team.

Without doubt, the quality of cricket we have seen at Sabina and Trelawny Stadium thus far this season has been aided considerably by much-improved pitches compared to former years. For way too long, tediously slow, low pitches in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean have frustrated fast bowlers, made good batsmen look bad, and turned ordinary spinners into match-winners.

The pitch for that intriguing drawn game between the Scorpions and the Windward Island Volcanoes, which saw the home team hunting victory on the fourth and final day after being asked to follow on, has to be among the best we have seen at Sabina in a long time.

Well covered with live grass from beginning to end, that pitch was very fair to batsmen and bowlers.

If anything, the pitch for the game against Barbados Pride — equally grassy — provided too much bounce, too steeply.

At Trelawny Stadium the pitch had no grass, which left some of us worried that it would not last. However, the rock-hard surface with a polished, mirror-like sheen resembling the Sabina Park of old, stood up magnificently.

To begin with, it was too slow and on the low side. But as it dried out the pace and bounce picked up, facilitating stroke makers; and the faster bowlers — not least the admirable Nicholson Gordon — came more into their own.

I make bold to say, that fairy-tale finish starring Bonner would not have happened on a pitch of lesser quality.

So now we look to return to Trelawny for the Scorpions against Guyana, starting tomorrow. It was pleasing to see the enthusiasm of the hard core band of supporters, every day, for the last game. They shouted themselves hoarse in that last, enthralling hour and a half.

Personally, I would be disappointed if there aren't a lot more spectators this time around. In case you are wondering, entrance is free. And if you have never been to the Trelawny Stadium, please bear in mind that there are literally acres of parking spaces.


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