What matters most
The greatest takeaway from Cup Match 2019 was that Dion Stovell got to accompany his young son in Florida to experience all the joys and thrills that come with visit to places such as Disney World, SeaWorld or Legoland.
That the Somerset all-rounder was able to board his Miami flight first thing Saturday morning as scheduled meant he was given a clean bill of health hours after taking a fearsome blow to the head, which brought an enthralling match to a premature end on Friday evening.
It was a far cry from the ending of 12 months ago when Stovell’s five-wicket, second-innings haul led to an historic innings victory and the nod as most valuable player.
Having made a maiden half-century in the first innings, the scene was set for an MVP repeat when he was promoted up the order in the company of Malachi Jones for an improbable chase of 136 in 11 overs. But it ended in the space of one atmosphere-deflating ball.
An attempted hook shot against a pacy, short-pitched ball from Justin Pitcher resulted in a top edge that deflected on to Stovell’s right temple. That his bat fell and broke the wicket for an official dismissal was irrelevant because within seconds it was clear a player was in serious danger.
Thoughts came flooding back of Phillip Hughes, the Australia opening batsman who died in November 2014, three days after being struck by a slower-ball bouncer that was not remotely as quick as what Pitcher bowled on Friday. And he was wearing a helmet!
It led to helmet manufacturers adding flaps to give protection to the area at the back of the head where Hughes was hit when playing in the Sheffield Shield for South Australia, having already gone through the shot.
For local equivalence, Willis Cann, better known as a Devonshire Colts and Bermuda footballer of Sixties and Seventies vintage, died weeks after he was hit in the head playing cricket for Warwick Workmen’s Club in an era before the batting helmet was seen as an essential accompaniment in the cricketer’s kitbag.
That said, it makes sense that umpires Emmerson Carrington and Alex Knight called time on the match with 10.5 overs still to be bowled, as few players were in the mood to continue with one of their friends on the way to hospital, his prognosis uncertain — in particular an inconsolable Justin Pitcher.
With almost all of domestic cricket to date being of the Twenty20 variety, with a view to best preparing the Bermuda team for the ICC Americas T20 World Cup Qualifier starting here in ten days’ time, spectators were rightly expecting a barnstorming finish.
Militating against that, though, were the sight of Stovell, the most explosive Somerset batsmen, being taken off the field on a stretcher, and the juicy fact that before Friday, St George’s had last dismissed Somerset in 2016 when they required 87 overs to do so.
So a win for either team was hardly on the cards after that one ball.
Seemingly oblivious to 2015 and 2018 having delivered big victories for Somerset, and 2017 most likely to have done the same, were it not for the rain wiping out all but six overs of the first day, Bermuda’s many part-time cricket watchers reignited the clamour for the Cup Match format to be revisited.
Change it to limited overs, some said, while others cried for an extra day to be added.
But there is nothing wrong with the format as it stands; the issue is the players, the pace of play and the time wasted over the course of the two hardest days of sport in the Bermuda calendar.
It would be a very sad day indeed were Cup Match to become a limited-overs affair just so that results can be assured. And those looking for an extra day overlook entirely that Somerset and St George’s are already playing virtually three days of cricket at international standard as it stands.
As stated last week in this space, Cup Match has three sessions of play per day, as does Test cricket. But where the Ashes contest between England and Australia, which is under way at time of writing, is restricted to two hours per session, it is 2hr 50min per session at Cup Match.
So over the same time frame, that equates to 12 hours’ play for international cricketers who are supremely conditioned with backroom staff to see to their every need, as opposed to 17 hours’ play for amateur cricketers who are not nearly as fit, take the presence of an on-site physio as a giddy luxury and are expected at work today — except in the case of the holidaying Dion Stovell.
We all would like victories at Cup Match, but the draw has to be respected as a result. Where we can point a damning finger at both clubs is for the pace of play and the time lost in returning from water breaks, lunch breaks, tea breaks and innings breaks.
This year, inexplicably, we even started the match 15 minutes late. “Start wrong, end wrong” the saying goes.
Otherwise, after what has transpired since 2015, when Somerset won before tea on the second day, St George’s can take solace in having stopped the bleeding, which was central to the appointment of an experienced, albeit 46-year-old captain in Lionel Cann.
The gap to Somerset is still sizeable, but not insurmountable. But for some horrendous catching, which included as many as eight drops, the East Enders might have even come away with a winning draw.
But such intricacies are by the bye: in the overall scheme of things, the cricket is a mere accessory to the big picture — Emancipation Day and Somers Day.
St George’s president Neil Paynter was right when he said at presentation time that Cup Match is bigger than the clubs. For all the fussing over selections and over who won or lost, and why, what should never be forgotten is why we are playing.
It is why player conduct must be of the highest order — respect for the game but, more significantly, honouring the memory of our forebears, who put their bodies on the line to set the table for the free Bermuda that we have today.
It is for those reasons that Allan Douglas Jr, of St George’s, finds himself in a spot of bother, having been adjudged by the match referee to have committed a Level 2 offence after his second-innings dismissal.
Whether the umpires get it right or wrong, players must accept decisions at all times. But not only did Douglas fail to accept the leg-before ruling by umpire Carrington, his show of dissent extended to knocking a stump out of the ground on his belated way off.
There can be no excuse for such conduct on a cricket field. The offence, if proven as it likely will, carries with it a fine of between 50 per cent and 100 per cent of the match fee, and a suspension of indeterminate length.
Douglas was not the only player to show dissent, but the rest were of the Level 1 variety and likely not to have exercised James McKirdy, the match referee, who is also president of the Bermuda Cricket Umpires Association. But it is he who should be made the example of.
Failure to take appropriate action and Dion Stovell would be justified in wondering why he had to buy airline tickets to see Mickey Mouse when he was here all along.
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