TOP BCA AVERAGES NOT SO ELITE AS SEASON NEARS END
Prior to the start of the current eighth and penultimate round of matches in the Barbados Cricket Association LIME Elite division championship, the fact that no batsman had scored 500 runs and there were only 13 centuries could not escape my attention.
Paranoid as some would suggest I am about statistics, the revelation is startling when compared with what had transpired at this stage of the island’s premier domestic competition over the past decade.
In fact, the issue is even more marked since covered pitches were introduced in 2001 for the long-standing First division, which was rebranded this year as the Elite following three seasons of promotion and demotion.
Lest we forget, it was in 2009 that the Joel Garner-led BCA Board took the bold, if controversial step in the opinion of some to demote teams from the First division in an effort to improve the standard of play and ultimately reach a settled number of ten by the start of the 2012 season.
The process meant that three teams were annually relegated to the then Upper Intermediate division from which one was promoted. With that goal achieved, not only was the First division renamed Elite but the Upper Intermediate is now called the First division.
As it stands, one team will be demoted and one promoted each season.
What has really struck me this season, however, not only relates to the paucity in centuries and by extension disappointing aggregates but also the similarities with what transpired in 2001.
When covered pitches were introduced in 2001, there were also early starting times and matches were played over two days instead of the traditional three. By the end of that season, 17 centuries were scored and 12 batsmen made over 500 runs.
Since then the number of centuries in successive seasons showed: 2002 (40), 2003 (19), 2004 (25), 2005 (35), 2006 (46), 2007 (29), 2008 (33), 2009 (a record 65), 2010 (58) and 2011 (32).
There were 14 teams annually between 1989 when Cable & Wireless were promoted from the Intermediate division and the Combined Schools were split into North and South, and 2005. That number of teams remained until the elevation of UWI in 2006 led to a Zonal competition and eventually controversy with Bristol being promoted the next season.
So before allowing the high number of teams which had risen to 16 to get out of hand, the BCA acted by introducing the promotion and relegation system.
While one would not expect to have as high a number of centuries at the end of the season in a ten-team championship when compared with what existed when 16 teams were playing, the returns this season are very disappointing.
It would be fair to make comparisons with at least the first seven rounds of First division matches over the last five seasons. As far as centuries are concerned, those figures show: 2007 (29), 2008 (32), 2009 (also 32), 2010 (27) and 2011 (24).
Now remember that there were only 13 at the same stage this season. During the course of the early matches, I remarked to some of the persons whom I respect for their close following of the game that there was a spark missing from the Elite division in terms of batting. Then I wondered whether players and by extension teams had gone back into a comfort zone, perhaps wary that only one (with the exception of Barbados Youth) would be demoted. That may be na?ve on my part.
Since the end of the seventh round this season, the Spartan captain Shamarh Brooks has become the first batsman to record 500 runs. Only five other batsmen had reached 400 runs at the end of the seventh series. They were: Jonathan Carter (UWI) 492; Craig St. Hill (Barbados Youth) 464; Antonio Greenidge (BDFSP) 459; Ahmed Proverbs (St. Catherine) 449 and Roston Chase (Empire) 400.
Brooks’ achievement last Saturday on the opening day of Round 8 is even more special in that it was the first time in his nine-year career at the highest level of local domestic cricket that he had scored 500 runs in a season.
He got to the landmark en route to a knock of 90 against long-standing arch-rivals Empire at Queen’s Park in what is commonly called the ‘derby’. It took his aggregate to 514 runs at an average of 42.83.
Now aged 23, all-rounder Brooks started his Division 1 career in 2004 for Spartan against YMPC at Queen’s Park in the sixth series while a schoolboy at The Lodge before turning out for Combined Schools (now Guardian General Barbados Youth) for the next three seasons.
Since returning to Spartan from 2008, Brooks’ highest aggregate in a season had been 480 (ave: 36.92) in 2009 when he played nine matches and also took 37 wickets at 15.19 runs apiece with his leg-breaks. That marked his best ever all-round performance in the competition.
Brooks has one other 400-run season – in 2005 – when he scored 442 (ave: 55.25) including a maiden century (104 not out) against at Weymouth in the fourth series, and also took 31 wickets (ave: 16.52). He now has four centuries at this level.
Yet, he would be the first to tell you that as one touted as a genuine all-rounder, the decline in his bowling is most disappointing. There is no way he should only have bowled as few as 14 overs in the Elite division this season while picking up a solitary wicket for 86 runs. If there is one avenue for him to regain his confidence with the ball, it must be in the Elite division.
As a player identified as a natural leader from early, Brooks has had the fortune of captaining the Barbados and West Indies Under-19 teams, the Sagicor High Performance Centre and also the Barbados senior team as recently as this year in the absence of an injured Kirk Edwards when there were serious questions over his ability to make the team.
Now with his current form, it is hoped that he is on the road to rebuilding enough confidence to challenge for and maintain a regular place on merit in the Barbados team.
His progress is sure to be followed closely. And so, too, those who will be seeking to desperately boost their statistics by the end of the Elite division on September 9. It might just be too late.
Keith Holder is a veteran, award-winning freelance sports journalist, who has been covering local, regional and international cricket since 1980 as a writer and commentator. He has compiled statistics on the Barbados Cricket Association Division 1 championship for over three decades and is responsible for editing the BCA website (www.bcacricket.org)