When the 2017/2018 Cricket West Indies Professional Cricket League Regional 4-Day Tournament concluded on the weekend, the Guyana Jaguars had retained its title, topping the table with 166.8 points, 52.4 ahead of the runners-up, the Barbados Pride. It was Guyana’s fourth consecutive regional first class title, equaling the record set by Barbados between 1977 and 1980 (Barbados also shared the crown with Trinidad in 1976), and one short of Jamaica’s five consecutive titles, achieved between 2008 and 2012.
Under Skipper Leon Johnson’s astute leadership, unbeaten Guyana received significant contributions from all members of the side at crucial times, winning seven matches, whilst drawing two and playing to a tie in the other.
However, the highlight of the season has been the performance with the bat of the Windward Islands Volcanoes’ opening batsmen Devon Smith. The 36-year-old Smith, now in the swansong of his career played 38 tests and 47 ODIs for the West Indies between 2003 and 2015. Smith, unfortunately, never quite managed to deliver at the highest level, averaging only 24.50 in tests, with one century and six fifties, and 24.62, with one hundred and five fifties.
The 2017/2018 season was an absolute dream for the veteran lefthander. In the opening round, on his home pitch at St. George’s, Grenada against fierce rivals, the Leeward Islands Hurricanes, Smith set the tone for the campaign. With his team trailing by 110 runs on first innings, he hammered 185 not out, as the Volcanoes declared at 331 for two in their second knock, whilst earning a draw. In the next round, Smith faltered in St. Lucia versus the defending champions, the Jaguars, succumbing for 14 and a duck, as his side lost by seven wickets.
In their third match at the Queen’s Park Oval, the Volcanoes found themselves following-on after collapsing to 166 all out in reply to the Trinidad and Tobago Red Steel’s score of 402. Smith added 96 for the eighth wicket with Shane Shillingford in the second innings while carrying his bat for 119 not out. In spite of his defiance, the Windwards lost again, this time by ten wickets. This defeat was followed by another one in St. Vincent to the Barbados Pride, with Smith not having to bother the scorers too much, with another duck and seven in the second innings.
On the opening day of the final encounter in the first round of the competition, on 30th November, at Sabina Park, Smith carried his bat for the second time in three matches. His third century of the season, an undefeated innings of 119, out of a total of 200, included seven boundaries and four sixes. His joint top score of 41 in the second innings could not prevent his side sliding to a fourth consecutive loss, this time by ten wickets to the Jamaican Scorpions.
In the thrilling low scoring return fixture at the National Stadium at Providence with the Jaguars, the Volcanoes battled valiantly to secure the first tie in regional cricket history. Trailing by 77 runs on first innings, Smith led the fight back with a brilliant innings of 95, the highest individual score in the match, to give his side a slim chance of victory. Wobbling at 138 for 7, and needing 165 to win, Guyana stumbled at the post, as the Volcanoes secured the tie.
In the seventh round, Smith reached seventh heaven, at Gros Islet, St. Lucia, in the Volcanoes home fixture with the Scorpions, as his second Player of the Match performance of the tournament saw him notching twin centuries. In the first, he was 107 not out, when the Windwards declared at 226 for 9, and he was last out in the second innings, for 154 out of a total of 283. The inspired Volcanoes would go to secure their first victory of the competition by 119 runs.
Following the Christmas break, Smith managed 26 in his only innings in the drawn match with the Pride at Kensington Oval in the first week of January. In the penultimate round, back on Smith’s home turf, St. George’s, he contributed 45, the Windwards rattling up their highest score of the tournament, 366 as they went on to beat the Red Steel by an innings and 38 runs.
Thus, it was down to the final match which began last Thursday, at Warner Park, Basseterre, St. Kitts. Smith having accumulated 944 runs at an average 78.66, was attempting to join the Guyanese Narsingh Deonarine (1068), the late Nevisian Runako Morton (1010) and the Barbadian Floyd Reifer (1002) as the only players to score a thousand runs in a domestic season.
Smith succumbed to the first ball of the match, as the Volcanoes, electing to bat first, could only muster 156 against their bitter rivals, the Hurricanes. With the bowlers run-up at the northern end ruled unstable, play in the day-night encounter was abandoned after only sixteen deliveries on the second day, leaving the ground staff to make urgent repairs. At the close of the third, the Volcanoes, replying to the Hurricanes huge score of 405 for nine declared, were 28 for one, with Skipper Tyrone Theophile on ten, and batting at three for the first time in the tournament, Smith on nine.
At the close of play last Sunday night, Devon Sheldon Smith had written himself into the annals of West Indies cricket history. Smith, 151, and Theophile, 160, batted through the last day’s play, sharing an unbroken new West Indian first class record second wicket partnership of 323, the highest for any wicket for any team for this season, as the match ended in a draw.
On his way to his sixth century of the season, Smith achieved the milestone of 13,000 first class runs when his score reached 31, and set the record for the most runs in a season at 1,095 at an average of 84.23. Curbing his normal belligerent approach, as reflected by the 70.3 per cent in dot balls, Smith compiled a season for the ages.
Let’s hope the younger generation of players, both his teammates and his opponents who had the fortunate pleasure of witnessing Devon Smith in record breaking form this season will have learnt something from his dedication and application to the game.
Kudos are due to Guyana and Devon Smith for their achievements this season.