COLUMN – Emotions of Kensington Tests
There were many reasons why my emotions ran high following the five-wicket win by West Indies over England with two days to spare in the third and final Test at Kensington Oval last weekend as they drew the series after losing the second match in Grenada by nine wickets.
It was not only a matter of silencing the large contingent of English supporters at the ground but also appreciating the fighting spirit shown by Denesh Ramdin’s team.
Undoubtedly, the result led to knocking the old brain to find out when last West Indies had come from behind to win the final match and level a three-Test series in the Caribbean.
Immediately, I told one of my colleagues in the Coppin, Cozier & Short Media Centre that it was 27 years ago since such a significant result had been achieved, and quite fittingly at what we proudly refer to as the Mecca of cricket in the region.
Yet, meticulous research was necessary and the answer was confirmed. 1988 was indeed the last time after Viv Richards’ side had been put on the backfoot by Imran Khan’s Pakistanis in a three-Test rubber.
The memories are still as vivid as they were on Sunday when Player-of-the-Match Jermaine Blackwood lifted off-spinner Moeen Ali to the long-on boundary just after 5.30 p.m. to bring joy to West Indian fans.
Rewind 27 years. Pakistan had won the first Test at Bourda in Guyana by nine wickets with the second drawn at Queen’s Park Oval in Trinidad.
And on the fifth and final day at Kensington, it was a very, very emotional time, on and off the field, as well as in the courts at Coleridge Street in Bridgetown. West Indies brought off a nail-biting two-wicket win as Richards (now Sir Vivian), shed tears and puffed a cigar.
There were a couple close decisions on the last day, Wednesday, April 27, when West Indies, chasing 266 to win and starting the day on 154 for five, slipped to 207 for eight before wicket-keeper/batsman Jeff Dujon (29 not out) and fast bowler Winston Benjamin (40 not out) carried them home with a partnership of 61.
The tension reached such a height, or some people might say a low, that when Barbadian umpire David Archer (now deceased) disallowed what virtually everyone at the ground thought was a clear bat/pad catch to short-leg offered by Dujon off the temperamental leg-spinner Abdul Qadir when he was only two, the bowler took out his frustration with an attack on a spectator in front of the 3Ws Stand, then located immediately to the left of the old, cosy Press Box at the northern end.
It led to Qadir being taken to the District ‘A’ Court, charged with assault. A headline in one of the local newspapers, blurted: “Spinner Qadir enters cricket’s hall of shame”.
At the post-match Press conference, in response to a question about the vociferous appeal for the catch against Dujon, Imran Khan said: “I really don’t understand why he wasn’t given out. The players were stunned. I don’t think they abused the umpire [Archer] or said anything to the opposing players. They were just disappointed.”
Ironically, Imran stated that the umpiring in the series had been “excellent” until the West Indies second innings in the Kensington Test, while singling out Archer as one of the best umpires in the world.
The scores were: Pakistan 309 and 262. West Indies 306 and 268 for eight.
The West Indies team for that Test was powerful, comprising Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Richie Richardson, Carl Hooper, Richards, Gus Logie, Dujon, Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose, Benjamin and Courtney Walsh.
Of that side, Richardson, Dujon and Ambrose were active participants at Kensington Oval last weekend –– Richardson as the West Indies team manager, Ambrose as the bowling consultant and Dujon, a television commentator. And Walsh is now a West Indies selector.
If you were to compare the strength of that 1988 team with the current side, the exercise would call for little discussion, but the need to win that final Test and level the series meant so much to West Indians on both occasions.
No disrespect is intended but the West Indies team for the Test at Kensington last weekend –– Kraigg Brathwaite, Shai Hope, Darren Bravo, Marlon Samuels, Shiv Chanderpaul, Jermaine Blackwood, Denesh Ramdin, Jason Holder, Veerasammy Permaul, Jerome Taylor and Shannon Gabriel –– looks ordinary when compared with Richards’ side of 1988.
On this occasion, West Indies had to fight back after conceding a first innings lead of 68.
Scores were: England 257 and 123. West Indies 189 and 194 for five.
At 80 for four in their victory chase, West Indies were under some pressure before left-hander Bravo, with a classy 82 and Blackwood, unbeaten on 47 to follow his attacking match top-score of 85, added 108 for the fifth wicket to put West Indies on course.
Personally, being at Kensington for this Test had a lot of emotion as well. My daughter Melanie-Anne was fortunate to be in the island for her Elective (a work assignment) and was watching a Test at Kensington for the first time in five years due to her studies in England at the University of Leicester. And co-incidentally, the university had an advertisement well displayed at the northern end of the ground.
Melanie truly enjoyed the match although the absence of her mother and my dear beloved wife, Dianne, who passed last July, brought back memories and mixed emotions of the times we would be together for international matches at Kensington.
For Melanie, the fact that Shai Hope, a graduate of her alma mater Queen’s College, is the first student from that school to play a Test for West Indies –– and fittingly on debut at Kensington–– also made the occasion very special.
As I sat with Melanie in the 3Ws stand in the post-lunch session on the first day, she remarked how Hope, a couple years her junior, was a “very cute boy” at school and always showed the potential to be a West Indies player.
I chuckled and reminded her that when Queen’s College won the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) Under-15 title for the first and still only time in 2008, Hope was the captain. They beat Coleridge & Parry by eight wickets in the final at Wildey with Hope, who was also the wicket-keeper, hitting an unbeaten 89 as they chased 135 to win.
On that occasion, I interviewed a member of the groundstaff for a television programme and he jokingly remarked that it was significant that “girls” had beaten boys in reference to Queen’s College being a former all-girls school.
That same gentleman still works on the groundstaff at Kensington Oval and whenever I see him, he reminds me of that Under-15 final seven years ago and the remarks he made then.
But what about the pitch? New West Indies head coach Phil Simmons reckoned it was the worst for the series, while listing the surface at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua as the best.
In an interview with Tony King, the former Empire and Barbados batsman, who was appointed pitch consultant at Kensington Oval for first-class matches this season, it was most telling when he described it as “probably the driest pitch we’ve had there in the last 52 years”.
“It reminds me of the pitch in 1963 when Lance Gibbs playing for British Guiana [now Guyana] bowled out Barbados,” said King, who played in that match.
Barbados were beaten by 34 runs with off-spinner Gibbs grabbing match figures of ten for 86 including six for 27 in the second innings.
Scores were: British Guiana 232 and 144. Barbados 244 and 98.
King explained that there were some challenges following the end of the regional four-day championship in March.
“We had a fairly good growth of grass on the pitch, which was designated to be the Test match pitch but then fertilising which was done, burnt some of the grass –– maybe it didn’t get its full quantity of water,” he asserted.
“We did not have a perfect situation to work with within the couple of weeks prior to the Test. So we worked with what we had and then the weather turned quite hot, and as a result it sucked out what moisture was in the whole playing square.
“As a result, you had a fairly dry surface but in spite of all of that we had exciting cricket,” King said.
We must respect the views of King, who also served as chairman of the BCA grounds committee between 1984 and 1992.
Bottom line is that whatever we thought about the pitch, to beat England in three days and level the series should serve as a morale booster ahead of the two-match Test battle with mighty Australia next month.
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 (BCA) Division 1 (now Elite) championship for over three decades and is responsible for editing the BCA website (www.bcacricket.org). Holder is also the host of the cricket Talk Show, Mid Wicket, on the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation 100.7 FM on Tuesday nights. Email: Keithfholder@gmail.com.