Guyana will face off with defending champions Jamaica in one of two scheduled semi-final matches of the 2011/12 Regional four-day competition today at the world famous Sabina Park, Kingston, Jamaica that is known as the ‘Holiday Home of Cricket’.
Over the last decade, the regional competition has regularly adjusted its format for qualification as the grand final.
Teams either play through a round-robin stage and the top two sides with the most allocated points contest the final or the top four teams with the most points from that round robin stage advance to the semi-final stage – then the final.
The latter has been the case in this year’s competition and this is the first time the Guyanese have finished either in the top four or entered the semi-final stage of the four-day format, since the 2006/07 season.
This is a notable achievement for two reasons.
Considering how dismal the team has performed in the last four years in the longer format, they entered this 2011/12 season winning just two of their last 35 first class matches. Two last place finishes in the 2008/09 season and last year highlight the steep decline.
Secondly, well-documented controversies have rocked the administrative arm of local cricket in the last six months, which on numerous occasions left the players wondering whether the national team would be able to participate in various West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) tournaments.
The players have not been fazed by this and produced the goods on the field of play.
The boys from the “Land of Wood and Water” except for national discontent at the way Chris Gayle has been treated by the WICB have had no such worries on or off the field.
They have become the team to beat in the Caribbean in recent years, as they completed a quadruple of four-day titles when they defeated Combined Campuses and Colleges (CCC) by eight wickets in last year’s final at Kensington Oval.
Having steamrolled all teams in this year’s competition to date, including Guyana by eight-wickets in a day/night, pink ball encounter in Antigua – the Jamaicans enter today’s semi-final full of confidence, after winning all six of their preliminary matches.
With this kind of form and on home soil, most would tip the Jamaicans to topple the Guyanese and advance to their fifth consecutive domestic first-class final.
Stabroek Sport spoke with Guyana coach Esuan Crandon yesterday via e-mail before the team completed their final net and training session at Sabina Park.
When asked about the mood in the camp and how the preparations have been going since the team arrived in Jamaica, Crandon said; “Preparation going good so far, we had an intense session yesterday (Wednesday) at Sabina Park and the guys really put in the hard work and are looking forward for this encounter against the defending champions Jamaica.
He continued: Today’s (yesterday’s) session will be lighter than yesterday’s (Wednesday’s) because of the game tomorrow (today) and we will be working on some simple basic things in the nets, and some fielding that players seem to neglect sometimes that affect their performances.”
Having lost to Jamaica earlier in the tournament heavily, Crandon highlighted the obvious, that nothing less than a complete all-round performance will aid the visitors in toppling the host.
“We need to improve in order for us to defeat Jamaica. We need to execute well and be more consistent when bowling and batting. Jamaica was better than us in the preliminary match, playing better all-round cricket and were more patient than us throughout that game.”
He recalled that the last time Guyana reached this stage of the first-class competition was 2006/07 – the last time Guyana and Jamaica met in a regional four-day semi-final was in 2002/03 at the Albion Community Centre Ground, in a match that Jamaica won on first innings points.
Of the respective teams only Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Narsingh Deonarine and David Bernard Jr are survivors from the game plus coach Crandon. In recounting that fixture, Crandon spoke about it with mixed emotions.
“Yes I remember that game at Albion against Jamaica under the leadership of Carl Hooper, they won that match. I recall batting with Hooper. Guyana needed about thirty plus runs to win. I was given out caught behind off Jermaine Lawson who was coming down hard at us, thought it was a close call by the umpire.”
In a competition where seven of the top ten wicket-takers have been spinners, the duel that will play a key role in aiding Guyana in winning this game is how the inform middle-order negotiates the Jamaican spin duo of left-arm Nikita Miller and leg-spinner Odean Brown, who have taken 36 and 29 wickets at 11.33 and 14.41 apiece in the tournament to date.
The left-handed trio of Assad Fudadin and Narsingh Deonarine who are the top two run-scorers in the competition so far with 538 & 537 runs at 53 and 49, along with captain Chanderpaul who is averaging a whopping 219 from the two games he has played, will have to continue that form in order to subdue those spinners.
Both teams will be either missing or welcoming back important players for this game.
Brendan Nash who scored a double century the last time the teams met and Ramnaresh Sarwan are fulfilling their stints in English county cricket with Kent and Leicestershire.
Danza Hyatt has been called up to the West Indies Twenty20 team, while Devendra Bishoo is back to bolster the Guyana attack after playing second fiddle to Trinidad’s Sunil Narine during the ongoing home series against Australia.
How both sides adjust to these changes will be another important sub-plot in the semi-final.
Guyana squad from: Shivnarine Chanderpaul (captain), Chanderpaul Hemraj, Trevon Griffith, Leon Johnson, Narsingh Deonarine, Assad Fudadin, Christopher Barnwell, Royston Crandon, Derwin Christian (wicket-keeper), Veerasammy Permaul, Devendra Bishoo, Brandon Bess, and Ronsford Beaton.
Jamaica squad from: Tamar Lambert (captain), David Bernard Jr, Brenton Parchment, Simon Jackson, Donovan Pagon, Xavier Marshall, Nikita Miller, Odean Brown, Andrew Richardson, Sheldon Cotterrell, Horace Miller (wicket-keeper), Jermaine Blackwood, and Jamie Merchant.