A Classic case of conspiring to be your own worst enemy
As the inquest gathers pace into the historic innings defeat that St George’s suffered at the hands of Somerset in the 117th annual Cup Match classic, there are a number of factors that could be pointed to which would not be too far wide of the mark.
You could take aim at the selectorial process over the past four or five years that has yielded scant results.
You could zero in on the coaching set-up.
You could opine that societal decline and modern pressures that our young men face have affected the East Enders far more than they have their counterparts in the west.
Or you could strip away the fat, step away from the noise, and call a spade a spade: this crop of St George’s players are simply not good enough and cannot hold a candle to those eligible for selection by Somerset chairman Mike Corday and coach Jeff Richardson.
The innings and 34-run defeat in the context of what has gone on in the past four years cannot be said to be much of a surprise — it has been threatened on an almost regular basis since Cup Match 2015 ended before tea on the second day at Wellington Oval.
St George’s were rescued by Allan Douglas Jr and Lionel Cann in the first innings in 2016; Cann and Rodney Trott did likewise in the second innings last year when the unthinkable nearly happened despite all but six overs of the opening day being lost to rain. And this year, Onias Bascome and Zeko Burgess were on course to pull the fat out of the fire before a factor that few could have foreseen reignited Somerset’s drive.
The pair were one run short of equalling the record for the ninth-wicket partnership when Bascome was dismissed having played out of his skin for a maiden Cup Match century.
It was only the second ball he faced after dispatching Kwasi James over long-on to bring up the hundred.
The shot, an ill-judged paddle sweep from in front of centre and off, no doubt hitting leg stump, was indicative of one whose concentration had been broken by an interminable delay that was six seconds short of 11 minutes. (Check the tapes on The Royal Gazette website, courtesy of our international-class streaming service.)
It is commonly said in cricket that set batsmen are at their most vulnerable after a water break.
What ensued after Bascome’s landmark moment was the equivalent of two — an at least 30-strong mob booking in for bed and breakfast — making a nonsense of the uniqueness of Cup Match, where it is the norm for spectators to invade the field to congratulate the batsman.
Generally, though, they leave as promptly as they enter, causing minimal delay.
In this case, St George’s players, coaches, executives and fans clearly went over the top, traversing the Spirit of the Game in effectively setting up camp, and playing a telling role in the demise of their star player, whose focus and concentration hitherto had been absolute.
The 6min 27sec delay when Bascome reached his fifty was a forewarning, and one could foretell that the umpires would be in no mood to allow obvious stalling tactics to impact the match.
Failing the final dismissal of Burgess, bowled by Dion Stovell, they would have played on into the night, much as Pakistan were forced to by Steve Bucknor in that infamous Test defeat by England in Karachi in 2000, when the West Indian umpire decreed that every ball of the mandatory final 20 overs would be bowled, as the home team’s delaying antics resulted in a finish under street lamps.
So there was to be no getting out of jail here for St George’s.
Bascome’s 101 batting at No 8 merely provided a side story to the main event that the peerless Terryn Fray set up in the company of Chris Douglas, with Stephen Outerbridge, Tre Manders and Stovell, as the chief wicket-taker, applying the gloss.
If this was a coming of age for Bascome, many of his team-mates need to grow up. Several are short of the standard required to challenge Somerset adequately, not least former captain Oronde Bascome, for whom this recall could and should be his last.
Out of the Annual Classic since 2016, the older Bascome appeared as a deer caught in headlights, with the body language of an apologetic cricketer waiting for the wicket ball to rescue him from purgatory — a walking wicket, bowlers like to say.
When the wicket balls inevitably came, both of full length to expose the lack of foot movement common in nervous batsmen, he had added a mere ten runs in two innings batting at No 4 to a piddling aggregate of 217 over 14 previous innings for a 14.19 average that would not get you into most village second XIs as a top-order batsman, let alone the biggest domestic game in the land.
But Oronde Bascome is not alone in having an uncertain future at this level.
Macai Simmons, in his second year as captain, has been found wanting — the honeymoon period over.
In only his fourth Cup Match, it is possible that the young man needs to go back into the ranks to focus on his own game — both dismissals, very similar in nature and highly irresponsible, betraying a player who is out of his depth if also required to inspire and lead by example.
Allan Douglas, who would be an obvious candidate should St George’s look elsewhere for a replacement, was not immune to brain-fade moments himself.
What else could explain the right-hand batsman shouldering arms to an off-break bowler? That second-innings dismissal, more than any, typified the mental disintegration that had set in for St George’s before the Bascome-Burgess axis.
Coach Ryan Steede, too, is said to be considering his future, or in the least have it considered for him. Either way, it very well may be time for him to step aside.
Of all the questionable decisions in this Cup Match, he and Simmons have to bear the brunt of criticism for agreeing to have colt Chare Smith bowl the first over.
Whether or not it was youthful bravado or a sense of cocksureness, that was as clueless as clueless decisions can get, especially when you have a senior bowler at the other end.
At the highest level of Test cricket, imagine James Anderson ceding the first over to Stuart Broad. It would never happen. Broad may have taken 419 Test wickets for England, but Anderson is the senior man.
So what possessed St George’s to turn to Smith, rather than letting him find a nervous release at long-on while soaking up the early atmosphere for the first time in those early minutes?
The result was probably the worst opening over in the history of Cup Match, with 16 runs conceded, and the start of an onslaught that allowed Somerset to reach 378 without taking too much time out of the game.
Contrary to assistant coach Wendell Smith’s assertion that the youngster recovered to bowl better, he never really recovered, with his reintroduction the clarion call for Outerbridge and Co to tee off as Somerset sped towards a declaration.
Fifty-five runs from ten wicketless overs would be disappointing in a limited-overs match; in open cricket, it is a pasting.
It is to be hoped that he can bounce back, but some others may not be so lucky.
Onias Bascome’s achievement, as stellar as it was, cannot be allowed to paper over some very obvious cracks.
His hundred merely prevented an innings and 34-run defeat from being that by an innings and whatever figure you care to pluck out of the sky.
It is for that singular reason that the populist call for the St George’s man to be named the 2018 MVP should be given short shrift.
Rarely are players on losing sides afforded such an honour, yet it has happened. But what precedent dare we be setting if one was chosen from a team beaten by a country mile?
Those entrusted with this responsibility should be looking no farther than Terryn Fray and Dion Stovell, the former for the undoubted quality that he brought to bear with comfortably the most technically adept batting performance of the match, and the latter for his crucial wickets when a flagging Somerset looked bereft of ideas during an entire second day in the field.
It is simply a case of whether you prefer the setting-up of the pins (Fray) or the knocking them down (Stovell).
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