Ecstatic: Supporters of the Jamaica Tallawahs celebrate after the team won the inaugural
Caribbean Premier League T20 competition at the Queen’s Park Oval, Port of Spain, on Saturday night. The team, captained by Chris Gayle and with actor Gerard Butler among its owners, beat the Guyana Amazon Warriors by seven wickets in front of a packed Oval. —Photo: STEPHEN DOOBAY
Best party in cricket
Carla Bridglal firstname.lastname@example.org
OF all the islands in this lovely archipelago called the West Indies, there really is only one party island. And the organisers of the inaugural Caribbean Premier League (CPL) seemed well aware of this when they chose the Queen’s Park Oval, Port of Spain, to host the semi-final and final matches.
On Saturday night, after almost a month of riveting Twenty20 cricket action throughout the major grounds in the region—Kensington Oval in Barbados; Beausejour in St Lucia; the Antigua Cricket Ground; Sabina Park in Jamaica; and Providence in Guyana—the CPL organisers saved the best for last, with probably the best party in cricket happening at that illustrious venue fondly called the Oval.
The showdown was between the Guyana Amazon Warriors and Jamaica Tallawahs. After close to four hours of admittedly slow and sometimes unexciting play, the Tallawahs were crowned the kings of the first CPL tournament. (In case you were wondering, “tallawah” in Jamaican patois means “strong and sturdy”.)
While the Oval pitch wasn’t really a batsman’s dream—runs came slow and few—the atmosphere had vibe, which was to be expected on an island where the “vibes cyah done”. And the vibe started early—although maybe a little too early for this reporter, who, because of the compulsive proclivities of friends, was at the Oval since 5.30 p.m.—two and a half hours before the first ball was scheduled to be bowled at 8 o’clock.
Of course, reaching early granted the opportunity of getting good seats. We were seated in the Carib Beer Stand between the cheerleaders’ podium and a motley Carnival crew featuring traditional and pretty masqueraders.
The “party stand” DJ was in full force from even before I arrived, blasting out a heady, rhythmic mix of soca, calypso, chutney and pop from his base in the Trini Posse Stand and echoing through the grounds that made the wait enjoyable.
From about 6 p.m. the stands started to fill up; by 7 p.m., when the teams arrived and came on to the field to warm up, they were at capacity.
The match had been advertised as sold out for at least a week before the game, but seeing almost every seat of the Oval’s 20,000-plus capacity full was still overwhelming—and gave a sense of pride and unity to see participation in the regional pastime still strong (or maybe they came to see Scottish actor Gerard Butler, I don’t know).
Tallawahs captain Chris Gayle won the toss and elected to field first. This proved to be a wise decision, because the semi-final trend had been that the chasers usually triumphed.
Amazon Warriors captain Ramnaresh Sarwan wasn’t too pleased being forced in to bat, but he was probably mollified to know that, for the most part, his team had the crowd—despite demolishing the Trinidad and Tobago Red Steel in the first semi-final last Thursday.
Of course, this may have been due to the fact that three Trinidadian stars—spin bowling wizard Sunil Narine, wicket-keeper/batsman Dinesh Ramdin and opener Lendl Simmons—were prominent Warriors.
They also had the prolific Sri Lankan international stars—fast bowling maven Lasith “Slinger” Malinga and former captain Tilakaratne Dilshan. The cheers resounded through the Oval as the Warriors’ names were called.
In contrast, Gayle and two other Sri Lankan stars—spin bowling legend Muttiah Muralitharan and former captain Kumar Sangakkara—were among the few Tallawahs who really had the crowd shouting (in a good way).
Then the match finally got under way. The run rate was slow, and after ten overs the Warriors, who hammered the Red Steel to their winning target of 104 runs in 16 overs, had fewer than 50 runs for two wickets.
If not for the ubiquitous sounds of Caribbean music from the DJs and rhythm sections, and the ebullience of many spectators (fuelled possibly by copious amounts of alcohol), the match could have been classified as boring (especially if your team—easily the most prolific in the tournament— was not doing the best).
Sixes and fours were few and far between. Wickets, on the other hand, were not. The Warriors ended their innings at a paltry 128 for five.
The energy picked up during the 15-minute break between innings, again thanks to the DJ and beer.
Now it was time for the Tallawahs’ innings. And the atmosphere was... strangely sombre. Then I realised the DJ had stopped playing. Apparently even he was appalled by the Warriors’ performance.
The Tallawahs started slowly as well, but then, they had time—just 129 runs to make from 120 balls. In T20 cricket, that was easy pickings. At the halfway point, the Tallawahs were 55 for one—nine runs ahead of the Warriors at the similar mark of their innings.
The boundaries were also few and far between in this innings, but so too were the fall of wickets, so for the (Trinidad and Tobago) Guyana Amazon Warriors in the crowd there wasn’t much to cheer. But the DJ started back playing so it wasn’t too bad.
Then when the third wicket fell for the Tallawahs, hard-hitting Andre Russell came out and in a particularly expensive over where he and his captain put the team 20 runs up, the few Tallawahs fan in the stands (as well as their famous supporter, Hollywood hottie Butler) had good reason to celebrate.
Finally, in the 17th over, bowled by one of the most fearsome men in international cricket, “Slinger” Malinga, Russell hit a four to bring the scores level. And with one run to win, Russell hit a cheeky single; he and Gayle scampered across the pitch to steal a quick single and victory from the Amazon Warriors as a display of fireworks exploded overhead.
They were delighted. The crowd, not so much. Not the least since Warriors bowler, and the best bowler of the tournament, Jamaican Krishmar Santokie, bowled probably one of his worst spells, including several wides. “He gave away the match!” and “Is because he is a Jamaican he do that” were just some of the less offensive critiques hurled by the discerning Oval observers.
But all was forgiven and forgotten when spectators, who bought their tickets thinking they were just getting a cricket match, got a bonus CPL Oval after-party featuring soca stars Blaxx, Denise Belfon and Iwer George and calypso legend Black Stalin.
Even better, in a rare turn, the gates were opened for spectators to cross on to the hallowed greens of the Oval to the main stage where the presentation ceremony was to be held. For any cricket fan this was one of those bucket list moments to experience the view from the middle. Several people stopped to take a picture of the pitch rather than the players. Nevertheless, as Gayle and the Tallawahs lifted the trophy, the joy was palpable and the screams symbolic of the success of the tournament—and cricket—as an expression of Caribbean unity.
Also, Trinidad and Tobago bowler Ravi Rampaul, who was supposed to be part of the Tallawahs squad but had to withdraw due to injury, joined his team, adding that missing Trini flavour (maybe the bandania).
One of the best things about cricket I find, over say, football, is the accessibility of even some of the most popular and iconic players in the game. (It could also be that cricket fans are classier than football fans. Wink.)
After the ceremony, several of the players—and even legendary batsman, the Prince of Port of Spain Brian Charles Lara—mingled with the crowd and took pictures with fans.
And so after a month when the world came to play, the first-ever Caribbean Premier League ended on a high, leaving the world wanting more, with high hopes for an even better tournament next year.