An engrossing & enthralling contest ended in a stalemate in the picturesque Antigua Recreation Ground. The teams flew into Piarco to resume the 2nd leg of the quarterfinal tie to pick the opponent of the formidable Barbados in the semifinal. The weather was mostly dry with occasional bouts of rain from day 3 onwards. The pitch was soft and expected to deteriorate as the game progressed. Lara once again called correctly and, strangely, decided to field. The expectant crowd loudly cheered as the Trinbago side assembled.
Smith & Williams were circumspect as the tall new ball pair of Bishop & Gray tested them with short pitched deliveries. The slow pitch meant that the openers were rarely perturbed. About 3 quarters of an hour into the match, Gray seemed to have vindicated Lara’s decision to bowl first as he got Smith driving and feathering one to the keeper. The crowd went berserk when Richards walked into bat with his inimitable swagger. He fell for 19, trying to force the pace as Gray got his second wicket of the match. Williams, now with Richardson for company, upped the pace and Combined Islands went to into lunch with a promising 100/2.
Richardson fell shortly after lunch to become Gray’s third victim but scoring continued unabated as Arthurton & Williams thrashed the Trinbago attack all around the park. The pair added 88 runs in 20 overs before Williams carelessly gave away his wicket, trying to hit Ramadhin out of the park. Jacobs & Arthurton continued to harass the rest of the attack. Lara rotated his attack and spread the field but the scoring rate rarely dropped below 5 as tea was called with the Combined Islands sitting at a pretty 260/4.
The break did the home side a lot of good as Arthurton fell for a well made 71 off just 100 balls. He was especially harsh on Ramadhin & Gomez, hitting 5 fours & 3 sixes. With half the side gone, Jacobs decided to slow things down and consolidate, with just the tail for company. Kenny Benjamin decided to continue attacking and added 51 runs before he fell to the guiles of the mystery spinner Ramadhin. Kenny’s namesake Winston continued with the “attack is the best form of defense” mantra and walloped 4 sixes in an entertaining 57 run partnership off only 50 balls. Jacobs contribution was a measly 5 runs. Winston fell 1 run shy of a well deserved 50. Julien got some relief for the punishment he took with the last ball of the day when he got Davis caught at gully. Combined Islands ended the day with a massive 400/8. The last two sessions producing 300 runs in 56 overs.
Combined Islands continued in the same vein but were quickly wrapped up inside 25 minutes for 417. Ridley Jacobs remained stranded on 82. Stollmeyer and Larry Gomes began Trinbago’s reply. An exceptionally disciplined Combined Islands ensured that just 29 runs were added in the 1st 20 overs. The strategy of bowling dry paid rich dividends as Stollmeyer and Lara were snagged by Roberts & Winston Benjamin respectively in the space of 3 balls. Trinidad & Tobago were suddenly reeling at 35/2 as the umpires called lunch.
Gomes & Logie battled admirably against aggressive & hostile short pitched stuff. The scoring rate rarely went over 2 runs per over. The pair added 65 runs in the post lunch session to take the score to 3 digits. They continued with their patient approach after tea and added 72 runs as the last hour of the day approached. Winston Davis got one to lift from good length and all Logie could do was balloon it. Davis called and caught it bringing an end to a gutsy 143 run partnership.
Richards, who was saving Ambrose for the new ball, decided to go for the kill and set an attacking field and brought back the lean mean machine. Ambrose found his groove and took 4/0 in 10 balls, the highlight being a peach of a delivery the escaped through the gap of Bravo’s defence. Trinbago fell from a solid 172/2 to 175/7. An almighty collapse. Gomes and Gray resisted for a while. Ambrose returned after a short break with a new ball to mop up the tail as Trinidad & Tobago folded for 221. They lost their last 8 wickets for 49 runs to finish the last session of the day. Larry Gomes batted nearly 6 hours remaining unconquered and missed out on a most deserving 100 by just 7 runs.
Early morning showers meant the game could not begin for 90 minutes. The umpires called an early lunch for the outfield to dry. The rain caused the pitch to become even soggier. There was uneven bounce. The home side exploited the conditions to the hilt. The bowling was disciplined but the Combined Islands batting was bordering on reckless. Ramadhin bowled unchanged from one end and picked up 4 wickets at a high cost of 80 runs. Bishop & Gray were also punished but the indiscipline from the batsmen ended the innings at just 164 in an extended session of 35.5 overs. Only Devon Smith showed application and his 62* ensured a bit of respectability to the total.
The teams took tea with Trinidad & Tobago needing to win outright to face the mighty Bajans. The target was a formidable 361 against the 5 pronged pace attack of the Islands. After the morning showers, the sun blazed and the pitch was baked hard. Stollmeyer & Gomes went about their business and stymied the fearsome new ball pair of Roberts and Ambrose. With discipline and dedication, the duo added 110 runs without sweat to end an extraordinary day for the home side. With 2 whole days to go Trinidad & Tobago needed 251 runs with all 10 wickets in hand to punch their ticket to the semifinal.
Sudden collapses, gritty recoveries and the most nail-biting of finishes saw Trinidad & Tobago just inch past Combined Islands to face Barbados in the semifinals. The opening pair was quickly dismissed for identical scores of 53. The Benjamins went to work and picked up 4 wickets between them to reduce the home side to 142/6. Six wickets fell for just 16 runs. The last of the allrounder trio, Gerry Gomez joined captain Brian Lara who somehow survived the onslaught. Gomez took singles and kept giving his captain the strike. At lunch Trinidad & Tobago reached 200 with no further loss. Lara doing much of the scoring.
The cagey approach continued after lunch as Lara took an uncharacteristically stoic approach to the venom of Ambrose and Roberts. Both players survived loud leg before shouts to the metronome Ambrose. Roberts took an enforcer role to soften the last recognized pair as he repeatedly bounced them. The pair played with ultimate self-denial as Lara approached his 100 and Gomez his 50 as tea neared. When tea was called Lara was batting on 79 & Gomez on 52. The home side needed 78 runs to win with 4 wickets in hand.
As usual the break broke a fabulous stand of 142 between Lara & Gomez. Davis dropped one short and Gomez instinctively hooked it to fine leg without adding a run. Lara immediately switched gears and started to attack with just the tail for company. Kenny Benjamin’s double strike meant that Trinbago needed 62 runs to win with just 1 wicket in hand. Lara hit Richards, who had brought himself on to rest his tiring pacemen, for 3 fours in an over to bring up his 2nd 100 of the tie. After an initial adjustment period, he was also unafraid to give Bishop the strike.
Bishop’s dogged resistance was repeatedly tested by Ambrose. He was also bowled of a no-ball, the most expensive of the 15 bowled by the Islands. It was a fairly hot day and Lara took advantage of a weary attack flaying them all around the park. The fickleness of the weather meant that showers were approaching, Richards slowed things and tried to extend the test into day 5 so that his exhausted quick bowlers could recharge their batteries and attack with renewed vigour. Lara would have none of it.
Roberts began his 24th over of the innings with 7 runs required. The first ball was a bouncer that Lara top edged over the cordon for four. The fiery but silent Roberts then sent 3 more bouncers, each more vicious than the last as Lara took blows on the helmet and the shoulder. The clouds precipitated into a slight drizzle and Roberts ran into bowl delivery number 5. Lara was ready for the bouncer and pulled the ball in front of square, just as the drizzle became a downpour, to the most improbable of victories. His unbeaten 139 also gave him the man of the match award.
The Combined Islands squandered a strong position with reckless batting and indisciplined bowling to give up the opportunity to take on the 3 Ws of Barbados. Instead it would be the Prince of Trinidad who would take his side against the most powerful side of the Caribbean Islands.
Result: Trinidad & Tobago beat Combined Islands by 1 wicket.
Points: Trinidad & Tobago 4, Combined Islands 0. Trinidad & Tobago qualify for the semifinals with 5-2 aggregate points.