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By Gokul Chakravarthy
The first and only 50-over match of this one-of-a-kind cricket weekend in Florida began with Jamaican skipper, Tamar Lambert calling right and choosing to bat first on a pitch that has been called “sluggish”, “a touch on the slow side” and “a bit slow” by the players and coaches from New Zealand and Sri Lanka the day before. Lambert’s openers, Danza Hyatt and Donovan Pagon, sized up the pitch for the most part during the first 8 overs as they took their team to a conservative 39/0.
Photo (left): The majestic pavilion at the Central Broward Regional Park cricket stadium hosted the US and Jamican cricketers, Courtesy: Gokul Chakravarthy, DreamCricket.com
For USA, Bilal Khan and Adrian Gordon opened the attack with the ball and a standard ODI field, sans the luxury of a slip cordon. Even though neither of them was troubling either batsmen with express pace or beating them with movement, they bowled straight enough and at good enough lengths to keep them quiet for the most part.
Khan’s 5th over - the inning’s 9th - the Jamaicans started playing some aggressive strokes. First Pagon played some strokes through the “V” – one confident drive stung skipper Steve Massiah at covers so hard that he had to first move himself off covers and then get some attention at the end of the over – and a lovely late cut to the boundary.
In the next over, Hyatt pulled a short one from Gordon. This is when the outfield’s sluggishness truly came into view. The ball plopped to a dead halt just a meter inside the boundary rope, causing the batsmen to just 2 runs.
Orlando Baker took the ball from the “make-shift-sightscreen end” and Moazzam Imtiaz came on from the Pavilion End in a double-change after the 1st powerplay. Massiah didn’t opt for the 2nd powerplay and that gave the “military medium” Imtiaz and Baker much-needed cover. But Imtiaz, whose inspired selection in this squad had been a topic of discussion prior to this series, who was one of the 4 fielders outside the 30-yard circle didn’t provide that cover effectively when he converted a single into a boundary by just letting the innocuously hit ball go right under his legs onto the long on baoundary in the 13th over. He must have started the his 2nd over, the 14th of the innings under the pressure of that let-off and considering that fact, he did quite well to restrict the now well-set Jamaican openers to just 4 runs.
Photo (left): Danza Hyatt smacks his 1st 6 off Muhammed Ghous, Courtesy: Gokul Chakravarthy, DreamCricket.com
The teams went into the first drinks break after 15 overs with the score at 81/0. When Muhammed Ghous came on from the make-shift-sightscreen end” in the he was welcomed with a good ol’ slog over cow corner by Hyatt, but Ghous got his back when in his 3rd over, another such attempted landed safely in the hands of Clain Williams, for a well-made 73 (seven 4s and a 6).
This brought a huge cheer from the crowd as the marquee player in this match-up, Marlon Samuels, returning to the international fold from suspension made his way to the middle. Samuels’ skills as a top-order batsmen have certainly been missed by the West Indies, although, during a long string of matches just before his suspension, he had not made any impression on any opposition worth mention.
Massiah brought himself on in the 31st over and struck immediately when he took out the much-hyped Samuels. He had batted tentatively, using his go-to tactic, the touch to the leg side to collect a few runs. His first authoritative stroke, a drive to the covers, ended up being uppish. He had not come to terms with the pitch yet and Orlando Baker caught the straight, but very well-timed and fast-paced ball without error.
The captain, Lambert, joined the cruising Pagon who was well past his 50 at this stage. Convinced about the virtues of the slower bowlers, Massiah opted to have Aditya Thyagarajan’s leg spin complement his own Chris-Gaylish off spin variety from opposing ends.
Massiah continued from his end chopped and changed from the other end with Baker first and then Ghous. The period between overs 35 and 50 might have been a good time to bring on the powerplay but in a display of very conservative captaincy, Massiah might have missed a trick and lost the element of surprise by not enforcing the new batsman at the crease and another in his nervous 90s to go for their shots earlier than they might have expected it. But that was not to matter on the day because in the 40th over, Hyatt mistimed a shot and got out, stranded on 94.
Photo (left): Debutant Muhammed Ghous, bowls as Man of the Match, Donovan Pagon backs up, Courtesy: Gokul Chakravarthy, DreamCricket.com
The remaining batsmen batted around their skipper and accelerated in the last few overs to muster an imposing score of 307. Given that the pitch was slow, this was an even better score. USA came out to bat as if burdened by that knowledge. The very first ball, from tall and fast-bowler like Andrew Richardson yielded a wicket to the Jamaicans when Carl Wright, one of USA’s star batsmen, turned one down the leg and turned back for a nonexistent 2nd run. Krishmar Santokie’s left arm sprung into action for deep fine leg as he picked up and threw the ball in flat and straight to his wicket keeper who made no mistake in putting the wicket down. Wright was left struggling to make it back into his ground. Santokie had to bowl the next over. He came in and immediately hot the right areas.
Much slower than Richardson, Santokie was a Chaminda Vaas type “hit-the-right-areas-and-swing-the-ball-ever-so-slightly” kind of bowler. USA’s #3, considered by many to be their #1 batsman, Steve Massiah, came in next and showed just why he is held in such high regard almost immediately. He gave good balls their due and stroked his way tone classic boundary through the covers when the length was offered to him.
Many short and wide balls from both bowlers were not taken full toll off because the pitch was behaving like a Gemini. The batsmen were left looking more like inept fly-swatters than dragon-slaying knights as they kept missing these juicy opportunities; some balls passed above the bat, some below. Santigo started hitting the right lengths and even a hint of swing into the right-handers from his 3rd over, the innings’ 6th. He also started cleverly slowing down his pace, allowing his wicketkeeper to come up to the wicket as well. The ball was well and truly swinging for him at the speed and he was beginning to beat the bats of Baker and Massiah regularly. One such ball in the 8th over, missed Messiah’s defenses and the umpire had no doubt in judging him out-LBW.
As the visibly dejected Massiah walked back to the pavilion, vigorously gesticulating that the ball had not bounced as much as he had expected it to. He stopped to pass on some advice to the incoming Clain Williams. That advice seemingly fell on deaf ears because 2 balls later. Except for the difference in their physique, almost everything in the 2 dismissals was exactly the same, including the walk back to the pitch.
Photo (left): Steve Massiah adjusts his technique to tackle the low bounce a bit too late, Courtesy: Gokul Chakravarthy, DreamCricket.com
At 27/3 in 10 overs, USA had stumbled right at the beginning of their chase.
Baker finally got a measure of the pitch in the 12th over when he connected to a short and wide delivery from Richardson and deposited it, one bounce, over and into the backward point boundary. Lambert changed ends for Richardson using Brown’s off-spin from the Make-shift-sightscreen End that Richardson himself had been bowling from. Brown immediately followed in the footsteps of Massiah and Ghous and made the pitch do a lot of the talking as he kept a lid on USA’s shots.
The free-stroking Aditya Thyagarajan had joined the solid-looking baker at this point. The situation demanded him to play cautiously. He obliged, took his time and picked the balls to go after, and more importantly, the areas to hit the ball into.
Baker and Thyagarajan then hunkered down to build a long, if slow, partnership that lasted till the 32nd over when a straight loft from Thyagarajan turned into a catch that was accepted with ease and delight by Brown at the long on boundary.
By this point, Lambert had eased his way into a spin-only tactic from both ends. And so they came, one by one, in the form of Brown, Wallace, Bonner, Samuels and Lambert himself. Other than the odd boundary from Baker’s bat, there was not much that any of the other bowlers were leaving for the USA batsmen to even relish, let alone feast on.
For their part, the US batsmen also made Lambert and his team’s job of closing the match very, very easy. Their task was reduced to such a chore of bowling dot balls, picking up the ball from the outfield or infield, throwing back to the wicket. This humdrum existence even moved some of the Jamaican outfielders to jive along with the sound tests that the DJs were performing in the background. When plucky wicketkeeper, Ashhar Mehdi who scored a more-than-a-run-a-ball 24, joined Baker and the duo started rotating singles and effecting boundaries, at least the most sincere American fans would have felt some butterflies in their bellies. The duo put on 43 runs in just about 5 overs. Once Baker fell to a mistimed slog, caught by Wallace off skipper Lambert, even those fans must have given up hope of a US victory in this match.
The remaining batsmen scratched around to a meager 175 in 48.5 overs.
When asked about the seeming easiness with which his team got the job done, Tamar Lambert said “We had a score of 307 which is a good total on this wicket. Our openers set a good foundation. We talked about it and for Pagon to go out and execute like that was important and really good to see.” On Marlon Samuel’s return, he said “Marlon hadn’t been playing any cricket for a while. He had only been training with us for a couple of months back in Jamaica.
Photo (left): The jumbotron at its best at the Central Broward Regional Park, Courtesy: Gokul Chakravarthy, DreamCricket.com
There was always going to be a lot of pressure on him. He did’t score many runs but contributed with the ball and in the field as well. So when he comes out for the rest of the series, he will be hopefully a lot more relaxed and get back into form.” Pagon was also awarded the "Man of the Match" prize for his effective 94 runs.
From the US perspective, Steve Massiah said he was glad to be part of this historic occasion where his country was hosting an international match.
“If we look at the team, we had 6 new players. We could definitely improve, but there are some positives we can take out of the game. Hopefully come tomorrow we can put up a better show.”
“Whatever is presented in front of us, we are hungry to play and eager to perform. We are looking forward to every opportunity because that has been one of the main concerns for us in the past … lack of international games,” said the experienced US skipper.
He added that “today was an opportunity for some of the newer guys. I was using it to evaluate some of the newer players in pressure situations with a long-term view to Bermuda. We didn’t miss a trick. It was my game plan. It would have been good to win today, but Bermuda was more important to us.”
The US national coach also agreed with this plan and added that while the team always goes into a match to win, there were smaller goals being aimed at. Some of these goals were, “as a part of our strategy, we know where we are. We wanted to give certain guys experience, certain batsmen chance to get into form, certain bowlers to bowl. The 2 opening bowlers, Bilal and Gordon, these are new guys. They have never played for the US before, they were on debut. So we wanted to put them under pressure situations against 2 top-quality 1st class batsmen and they opened the bowling reasonable well. They weren’t carted all around the ground. We rate young off-spinner, Muhammed Ghous very highly. We wanted to put him on the big stage. Someone like Orlando, who is our premium all-rounder, to go in there have a good knock. Wanted people like Aditya to keep going. Steve Massiah to get back into form.”
A look at the scorecard reveals that some of those goals were achieved and some not. But both captain and coach seem to be keen on reshaping the new wards into regional champs in the upcoming ICC Americas Cup in Bermuda. They would also like the added bonus of winning a match or two against Jamiaca, who “are probably a tougher opposition that we will face in Bermuda” according to coach Khan.