An unprecedented occurrence
By Sean Devers
The inaugural West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) Regional First-Class Franchise Cricket tournament has been a resounding success so far for six-time former champions and tournament leaders Guyana Jaguars who lead the points table after seven rounds with 107 points from six wins and a loss.
Their first three games were all played at Providence and the team led by back-to-back centuries from Narsingh Deonarine recorded convincing wins against the Leewards and the Windwards before their only loss came as a shock to cricket fans.
Guyana dominated the game except for the final session, when set 69 to win from the entire last day the Jaguars catapulted to their third lowest total. They were bowled out for 66 in the first session as only Rajendra Chandrika (30), Chris Barnwell (12) and Raymond Reifer (11) reached double figures.
The Jaguars, led by 73 from Anthony Bramble and 47 from Shemron Hetmyer made 261 before Veerasammy Permaul (8-26) destroyed the Bajans, who produced a better second innings performance to reach 228 with Permaul and Devendra Bishoo picking up four wickets each and they seemed set to formalize their third consecutive win.
However, the unthinkable happened as new skipper Vishaul Singh was forced to endure an inauspicious start to his Captaincy career even though he did little wrong as Captain. This was after Deonarine’s unbeaten 110 helped the Jaguars to 343 in their first innings to set up an emphatic innings and 10 runs win inside three days against the Leewards in the first round.
In their second game, Deonarine again batted brilliantly for his 139 and Shiv Chanderpaul made 62 to lead
the Jaguars to 291 runs against the Windwards. Deonarine grabbed 5-24 to join CR Browne (1926) and Roger Harper, who achieved the feat thrice (1987, ’95 and ’96 including 202 and 5-98 against the Windwards at Bourda in 1996) as the only Guyanese to score a ton and take a 5-wicket haul in the same match.
Guyana played their first match on the Road against the T&T Red Force in Port-of-Spain and handed the Trinis a sound innings and 60 runs trashing. Singh, in his second game as Captain, hit a fabulous maiden century to join Deonarine as the Guyanese centurions in the competition. His 141 was also the highest score in the tournament by a Guyanese and along with half-centuries from Chandrika, Reifer, Chris Barnwell and Permaul, spearheaded Guyana to 492-8 declared, the highest total so far this season.
At the break for the Christmas holidays, the Jaguars maintained their lead on the points table while Deonarine (306) and Devon Smith were the only batsmen with over 300 runs. Guyanese spinners Permaul (32) and Bishoo (21) were the leading bowlers in the tournament.
After the break for Christmas and the NAGICO Super50 Regional limited overs competition, the Four-Day fixture resumed on February 6 and Guyana did not lose a single game. The Jaguars continued to score heavily and secure bonus batting points which kept increasing their position on the top points table although they had lost the game to Barbados.
With the return of their West Indies Test players Chanderpaul, Deonarine and Johnson, who was retained as Captain, the Jaguars continued to roar menacingly and by time they returned home on February 24 after completing a hard fought four-wicket win on a day Guyana celebrated its 45th Republic Anniversary, they had given their countrymen another reason to celebrate. The South American based Franchise was on roll and their confidence sky high.
This was the first time ever since Regional First-Class cricket was first played in 1865 between Guyana (then Demerara) and Barbados at the Garrison Savannah in Barbados that this country had won four consecutive matches away from home.
When the Jaguars arrived in Kingston for their fifth round game against Jamaica, they had not beaten the home team in Jamaica since their 51-run win at Chedwin Park in 2006 but they corrected that blot on their record with a convincing 105-run win with Permaul, who is becoming a genuine all-rounder, fashioned an entertaining 86 batting at number eight to lead his side to 314, their third 300-plus total for the season as six other batsmen got starts.
This was the first time in decades that Guyana employed a four-pronged pace attack with the spinners only getting their hands on the ball for the first time in the 35th over. 0n a Sabina Park track with good pace and bounce, Chanderpaul scored a responsible 77 in the second innings, his second fifty of the tournament.
A late switch from St Kitts, the Jaguars moved to Antigua to play the Leewards and a classy 83 from Chandrika led the Guyanese Franchise to a crushing eight-wicket win inside three days to ensure the Leewards lost each one of their game in three days.
The Jaguars arrived at the Kensington Oval, once a virtual fortress for West Indies teams of the past, with the aim of avenging the shocking defeat at Providence, but two centuries in the match by Bajan Skipper Kraigg Braithwaite, a five wicket haul from pacer Miguel Cummins and adverse weather threatened to spoil the Jaguars’ plans and although Bishoo picked up his second successive six-wicket haul, the Bajans enjoyed the better of the exchanges.
Needing to make 334 to win, Guyana were up against it when they started the final day in overcast condition and things got progressively worse when Singh was removed on their overnight score of 41-1.
But a fine 60 from Chandrika, a 146-run fourth wicket stand between Deonarine (90) and Chanderpaul (64) and an unfinished 59-run partnership between Reifer (41) and Bramble (27) lifted Guyana the second highest successful run chase in Regional cricket and the highest in Barbados. It was fitting that Bajan Reifer hit a six to finish the contest to take his team to 25 points ahead of closest challengers Barbados.
Although the standard of Regional cricket has dipped, the Jaguars bowling struggled to polish off the opposition’s tail and provided too many ‘four’ balls at times and all of their batsmen got starts but only two managed to convert them into three figures, Guyana’s performance was highly commendable.
They played team cricket with someone always producing a match winning performance when it mattered most. The backroom staff (Coach Esuan Crandon, Manager Rayon Griffith and Physiotherapist Paul Gomes) all contributed to the team’s success and it is no coincidence that the first time a ‘physio’ was sent with the team this year, the Jaguars produced a historic four consecutive wins on the road.
Braithwaite (516 from 7 innings) is the only batsman with 500 runs while Devon Smith (458), Deonarine (435), Tyrone Theophile (416) and Shane Dowrich (412) are the only batsmen with 400 runs. Permaul (46), Imran Khan (38) and Bishoo (36) are the bowlers with 30 wickets.
Eleven batsmen, Including Braithwaite (3) and Deonarine (2) scored centuries while 19 bowlers captured five-wicket hauls but the batting in the tournament was very inconsistent as were the pitches and the standard of Umpiring. These are areas that need to be urgently addressed if West Indies Test cricket is to improve.
With four matches to go and two of them at home, the Jaguars are perfectly placed to capture their seventh title at this level and first in 17 years. Barbados (82), Windwards (80), Jamaica (60), T&T (47) and the Leewards, the only team without a win, in the cellar position on 17 points complete the points table in that order.
The tournament resumes after a 10-day break on March 6 with the Jaguars facing Jamaica at Providence in one of three eighth round matches.
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