After a more than 15-year hiatus from watching cricket at Sabina Park, I finally returned to the spiritual home of the sport in Jamaica to enjoy a Caribbean Premier League (CPL) matchup between the homestanding defending champs Jamaica Tallawahs and the visiting Guyana Amazon Warriors. (Much thanks to the folks at Digicel for furnishing me with the tickets for my little outing with “pookie”:), which were part of my prize package for this winning entry in their blogging competition). This rematch from last year’s final promised some very exciting cricket – and it spectacularly delivered on that promise. However, before I touch on the action which unfolded on the field, I’ll share my reflections on a few things that caught my eye off of it.
The crowd was huge and the atmosphere electric
If anyone had ever been in doubt about the magnetism of T20 cricket, all of those doubts would have been dispelled by the quickest of glimpses at the crowd gathered outside the stadium ahead of the match’s start. The staging area outside the venue was simply teeming with people – young, old, and various demographics in between. My first thought was that it definitely dwarfed the turnout I’d witnessed on my previous visit to Sabina to watch the second Test between the then Brian Lara-led West Indies and Australia in 1999. This perception was only reinforced once we finally wove our way through this teeming mass of humanity to find our seats on the inside.
A deafening cacophony of sounds and a dazzling collage of colours greeted us as we slowly snaked our way through a tangle of legs to lay claim to two of the last available seats in our assigned section of the stadium. As the start of the highly anticipated contest drew ever closer, the resident DJ’s efforts to whip the cooperative crowd into a frenzy intensified. The music blared, the thunder sticks banged, and the vast majority of spectators united their voices in song. This atmosphere got progressively more pulsating as the match got underway.
Andre Russell can be (and do) anything
Cricket fans all around the world would surely have heard about the heroics that Andre Russell pulled off to snatch victory from the jaws of apparent defeat by now. I’ll spare you the regurgitation of the details – regardless of how exciting they were watching it first-hand. However, it must be said that the Jamaican all-rounder has all the tools required to be an absolute star in this format. He emphasized his fielding prowess with three catches on the day. At the same time, he underlined his reputation as a powerful – if sometimes inconsistent – hitter by smiting six sixes to break the Amazon Warriors’ hearts. However, it’s his apparently improving bowling (and thought processing) that’s likely to put him over the top. (I guess it’s all in the Foska Oats.)
It’s still the quality of the cricket that’s most important
A male spectator seated beside me, who was seemingly quite taken with the bevy of beautiful CPL dancers, indicated that he was more enamoured with the womenfolk present at the cricket than the cricket itself. Fair enough. However, to my mind, his statement inadvertently alluded to a lack of quality in some aspects of the cricket on display. (He whined most loudly as the experienced Owais Shah and Adam Voges pottered around for 18 runs off 24 balls with the required run rate mounting alarmingly.) The economics combined with the jam-packed global cricket calendar would surely have made participation in the CPL a nonstarter for many of the world’s best cricketers. However, the organizers still need to ensure that they contract players who are as close as possible to their respective primes to augment the local talent stocks.
Reflections on my 1999 visit to Sabina
A lot had changed in the decade and a half which had elapsed between my 1999 visit to Sabina and my most recent one on August 2. The long-awaited floodlights had finally been installed. Their imposing presence caught my eye as soon as I stepped out of the vehicle. There was also the small matter of us being there to watch the T20 format, a version of the game which hadn’t been popularized in 1999 when I witnessed Brian Charles Lara hang a brilliant double ton on “Pidge”, “Warnie”, and the rest of the Aussie attack in a memorable day of Test cricket. His 300-plus partnership with the immoveable Jimmy Adams ultimately set us up to win the match and level the series.
However, most striking for me was the fact that my stepdad, Edward Gabbidon, wasn’t there. Daddy was the man who really introduced me to the experience of watching cricket in person. I fondly recall road trips to Jarrett Park to watch regional first-class matches and Sabina Park to see touring Test teams like New Zealand and India tackle my Caribbean heroes. When his health improves, I hope to take him to Sabina to watch some cricket. God’s willing, that will be very soon.