It’s silly season all right
Utter the words “Cup Match” and silly season is bound to appear not too far around the corner. Generally upstanding men and women who can be relied on for calm and sound judgment lose all sense of decorum when the blue-and-blue and red-and-blue mist settles while observing blind loyalties towards either St George’s Cricket Club or Somerset Cricket Club.
What else can explain the week we’ve just had — begun by bizarre commentary from a longstanding and respected club president, and brought to a jaw-dropping denouement by the governing body for cricket when the suspension of the 2021 Cup Match MVP mysteriously short-circuited before the end of the spin cycle in the wake of a sodden Eastern Counties first round.
So let’s unpack this by way of last in, first out — beginning with the effective quashing of a ban that means Chris Douglas, barring injury or any other unforeseen event, will take his place at the top of the order for Somerset, the champions, on August 3 and 4.
The involvement of Douglas has been central to Somerset’s dominance of Cup Match in recent times. Notwithstanding his maiden hundred in the ten-wicket victory in the “Covid Classic” at Wellington Oval two years ago, few will have forgotten the 16-run assault on Chare Smith in the opening over of the 2018 match which sparked a record first-wicket partnership with Terryn Fray and subsequent innings victory.
Sadly, that chastening experience was the breaking of the colt fast bowler, who has not been seen since.
There can be no doubt that the spectacle of Cup Match is better for the inclusion of the best players, and Douglas is certainly one of those. But this brewing dispute is not about the left-handed opening batter’s playing credentials; rather, the probity of a decision that turned a four-match suspension that would have subsumed the Annual Classic into one of only two matches that does not.
Make no mistake, the original ban delivered for vehemently disputing an umpire’s decision in the Knockout Cup semi-final defeat by Bailey’s Bay on July 2 was just, although some might argue it could have been longer given Douglas’s general conduct on the day in question.
Somerset interpreted the ban of two 50-overs matches — which equate to four Twenty20 matches, the only format the West End club could engage before August 3 and 4 — to believe this ruled one of their best players out of Cup Match, and said so publicly.
He had already missed the first two matches of the start of the T20 phase of the season on the weekend of July 15 and 16, with the club’s next matches set for Sunday gone and — on the other side of Cup Match — August 13.
What happened next is a head-scratcher because somehow Douglas sitting out the Eastern Counties on Saturday — even though as a nominal guest player he has no more inherent right to be invited by St David’s than does, say, former county player Herbie Bascome, who is still active but is now 58 — has been allowed to count as half the ban!
Delray Rawlins, whose name we will be hearing and seeing a lot in the next two weeks, was a guest player for Devonshire Rec in a rained-out Central Counties match, and in two rounds for Warwick in the Western Counties. Using such flawed logic as espoused by the Bermuda Cricket Board, had he fallen foul of officialdom during his extended stay on island with Bailey’s Bay after severing ties with English county side Sussex, he might have used those potential guest appearances to sit out just the one match for his registered club with whom the offence occurred.
The above is all hypothetical, obviously, but it does expose what has transpired in the Chris Douglas affair as a right nonsense.
Caught in the middle of this mess is Steven Douglas, whose dual roles as chairman of the BCB cricket committee and president of the Eastern Counties are difficult enough to navigate as it is. But what makes the mess even messier is that the central figure here is none other than his own son.
Before we get into character assassinations and conspiracy theories, let’s be clear that when it comes to passion for cricket and development of the game in Bermuda, very few can hold a candle to Steven Douglas. What he and younger brother Allan have contributed to the sport over a sustained period since their retirements as players in terms of administration and grunt work in varying capacities is to be commended — the country could do far worse.
So we know his heart is in the right place, and the more of his ilk attempting to grow the game in this country the better.
But on this one, a matter that cuts too close to the bone, Douglas Sr has got it dreadfully wrong — and, with no one apparently to answer to at the BCB, is the metaphorical tail wagging the dog.
At St George’s Cricket Club, there is no doubt who is in charge.
Neil Paynter has been president for the past 21 years, is unapologetically adored by all east of the Causeway, and veritably respected by most if not all others on the mainland.
A football man at heart, he and his management committee have bent over backwards for little reward to put on a show when it is their turn to host Cup Match — even if the teams they’ve entrusted on the field during his tenure have largely failed to translate such endeavour into winning performances.
A guarded man of few words, it was thus surprising the take he gave when confirming the widely circulated rumours that Cup Match was in danger of not being televised this year.
The quote “St George’s Cricket Club is not in the business of producing television shows” appears pulled right out of the Bob Richards playbook — and we know how well “Money doesn’t grow on trees” has aged because the Opposition, sorry, the Government is still rolling it out with such glee six years later!
By all accounts, after seeing off a rare challenge from former vice-president Mishael Paynter in February, the president is not expected to stand for re-election, so parallels with Richards should end there and spare him the ignominy of having a Chris Famous moment.
But his views on the history of Cup Match and what it should mean to the people of Bermuda are notable. Yes, it is about emancipation. But it is also about progress.
Such progress ensured that the Friendly Societies could lay down their working tools and get out and play a game of cricket in the first place, with families and friends welcome.
Such progress meant that they were to turn the running of the match over to Somerset and St George’s as the foremost community clubs either end of the island.
Such progress meant that the one-day holiday would become two days — the only one of its kind worldwide for a sporting event.
Such progress meant that the match could be carried into the homes of the sick and shut-in by the radio airwaves.
Such progress meant that the playing of the match moved from concrete matting surfaces to turf.
And such progress meant that the match could be transmitted live on television or livestreamed to the Bermudian diaspora in all parts of the world.
That is what so exposes Paynter’s “St George’s Cricket Club is not in the business of producing television shows” quote as more than a little tone-deaf.
Once you have such progress, there is or should be no going back.
If Blacks, and women in particular, have zero intention of giving back the right to vote in the name of progress, why should Bermudians, having been brought this far into the technological age — some kicking and screaming — yield with Cup Match about to be taken from them.
The primary issue here is cost, and is a matter for the clubs to come together and agree. Because what is at play now cannot be deemed satisfactory for anyone — least of all sponsors who have become accustomed to seeing their products emblazoned from field level into thousands of living rooms here and abroad.
The number being thrown around to make live television or streaming production work is $90,000. Surely, that is not an expense Bermuda should expect the Cup Match clubs to swallow indefinitely — not in these straitened times, when break-even can be considered a good financial year.
There has been chat requesting the private sector to step up to throw its financial might, much as it readily does for “White sport”, but from these parts it is only one entity that should do the right thing by the clubs and by all lovers of Cup Match — the Government, which you imagine should be able to budget for $90,000 out of its annual spend of approximately $200 million.
Today’s legislators have taken many plaudits, sometimes deservedly and at other times overegging it. We are now in a period when the Government and the Progressive Labour Party are rolling out the pre-election mat amid such a rush of PR propaganda that all but the least wise observers are on gag reflex watch. And it was just on Friday in the House of Assembly that they were patting themselves on the back — again — for the establishment of Emancipation Day and Mary Prince Day.
Perhaps when Paynter meets David Burt, the Premier, and sports minister Owen Darrell this morning at St George’s Cricket Club to take possession of the annual government Cup Match grant to the host club, such conversation can be advanced.
“How about a $90,000 raise?”
We can only hope that the response does not provoke “Bob Richards, The Sequel”.