After the rains came the circus
Now that the dust has settled over 1½ days of “cricket” at Wellington Oval, on with the post mortem. Mother Nature gave us the mother of all scares with a week of rain before Cup Match, every day — and not simply your standard fare.
She dropped it on us by the bucketful, in torrential fashion, as if to throw down the gauntlet to St George's Cricket Club and its groundstaff to be ready for a 10am start on Thursday: “Go ahead. I dare you.”
Club president Neil Paynter and his colleagues met the challenge and came through it manfully. For what had gone before, Wellington Oval was in fantastic shape and the pitch that was the responsibility of groundsman Cal Richardson equally so.
A real pity about the cricket.
Far from the Field of Dreams voiceover, “If you build it, he will come”, the St George's team, in particular, simply ignored “If we give you a perfect platform, will you show that you can play?”
Champions Somerset were the clear favourites, and indeed they were better, but for long periods of the match, they were not that much better. It is there where the full decline of cricket in Bermuda was laid bare for those who do not watch often and significantly for those who do, yet cling to the mistaken and ill-informed belief that what they were watching was “first-class”.
When matched against the last over before lunch on the first day when St George's looked like a high school team, Derrick Brangman's catch to dismiss Christian Burgess in the second innings was first-class. But by the standards of any top-quality player, and Cup Match is meant to highlight those of the highest quality, it was a catch that should be caught nine times out of ten.
What is required in and around Bermuda cricket is honesty and a serious reality check, regardless of what it may do to Cup Match ratings — the people will still come because Cup Match is about much more than the cricket.
“First-class” is what you experience when you turn on the television and watch a Test match, one-day international or even a Twenty20 match featuring professional cricket teams. What we saw on Thursday and Friday was far from that. Not even in the same stratosphere.
The clearest indicator of this could be found during extended intermissions when the television producers showed highlights of the 1992 Cup Match. It was like something from another world, not a mere 23 years ago:
• Cricketers well attired
• Batsmen respecting good balls and playing with technical fluency
• Acceptable over-rates
• Players appealing but not making a song and dance of it in the umpires' faces
• Batsmen accepting the umpire's decision and leaving the field promptly
• Fielders not getting involved in leg-before appeals from square of the wicket
Then the lunch break ended and regular, or rather irregular, programming resumed.
All out for 113 in the first innings on a blameless pitch, St George's were thankful that at least their bowlers came to play. But who they had to bowl to compared with who Somerset's bowlers faced was almost polar opposite. Otherwise, the embarrassment felt at the trophy presentation might have been more acute.
It can be argued that the challengers, even without a spinner to call on, bowled better than Somerset did. Kyle Hodsoll redeemed himself after a disappointing 2014 match and was a threat throughout the first innings, while George O'Brien, Stefan Kelly and Damali Bell looked the part. But what goes on between the ears is most clearly revealed when you have the bat in your hands and that is where St George's, as a group, appeared mightily vacuous. Thick as two planks, in more layman terms.
Of their ten first-innings dismissals, nine were caught — most to airy-fairy shots. And Somerset put down four catches, while there were several other instances when balls either fell short of fielders or just beyond their reach.
Without raising their level of out-cricket much above the mediocre, Somerset could hardly believe they would be going to bat shortly after the lunch break.
After an inspired St George's bowling performance got them out — emphasis on “got them out” because only Janeiro Tucker of the recognised batsmen could be said to have rivalled the home team in throwing away his wicket — Somerset showed in the second innings why they were such firm favourites.
Of the challengers, who self-inflicted one of the earliest Cup Match finishes in living memory, theirs was an approach that leads to fingers being pointed at the coaching team. But it would be harsh to single out Ryan Steede, who is in his first year at the helm of what essentially is a second division club.
The virus that has infected his players, and those who have been invited from elsewhere, was injected some time back and has been tolerated by all manner of respected mentors that came before him.
The evidence can be witnessed on grounds up and down the Island on any given Saturday or Sunday — see the Eastern Counties first round when 18 wickets fell for a mere 254 runs — so it is little wonder that Cup Match should suffer the same fate.
The question for those who run Cup Match — Somerset, St George's and the Bermuda Cricket Board, if it can be bothered to take any responsibility for players' quality — is what are you going to do about improving them? Or should the net be cast wider than a select few?
The periphery for the past two years has been fantastic but the cricket, if truth be told even of parts of the 2014 vintage, has been subpar at best. Much of that has to do with the mentality of the post-2007 cricketer, those who came to senior cricket after Bermuda reached the World Cup.
Gone as the majority are the thinking men who were the foundations of successful teams; in their place are “cricketers” with street cred who play the game with the same lack of application that our lunatic motorists have for road safety.
Cricket is the primary reason people come to Cup Match. But if we continue to be faced with 4.15pm finishes on the second day, perhaps it may be better if Crown and Anchor is played in the middle while the cricketers provide the sideshow under the circus tent.
Then, when the sound systems that so drove the players, umpires and Paynter himself to distraction strike up a new-age version of Send in the Clowns, their blarings would be more in sync with proceedings.