Tony Becca | A contest to remember
For those who love cricket when it is played at its best, or almost at its best, they should have been at Melbourne Oval last weekend.
It was cricket as it was meant to be, or almost as it should be.
It was the drama and excitement, the easy grace of the longer versions of the game and the razzle-dazzle, hit-me-for six excitement, and the acrobatic fielding of the shortest version of the game.
It was the two-day Senior Cup match between Melbourne and St Catherine Cricket Association, and it was action which lasted for over 14 hours and provided loads of entertainment.
I went to the match expecting to see what I have seen on so many weekends, especially during the first round of matches in the group stages, matches which pitted the strong against the weak, matches such as Melbourne against Portland and Melbourne against Lucas, and matches which sometimes finished before lunch on the second day.
That, however, was not to be, and surprisingly so, especially to the supporters of Melbourne.
It was a match which went through all the stages, or emotions, before bad light stopped play at 6.15.
The action went from the pleasure, or disappointment, of some solid but aggressive batting by St Catherine CA and their young but petulant Jamari Harris at the start, to the disappointment, or pleasure, of dropping to 120 for seven, and to the delight, or sadness, of some glorious hitting by Richard Bradnak, Mario Davis, and Javar Harrison in their recovery to 272 as the ball regularly went over the boundary.
It also went from the sadness, or the happiness, of Melbourne's skid to 42 for four, after a few overs to reach 218 in their first innings, to the happiness, or sadness, of Melbourne's last brilliant but desperate and futile attempt to win the game.
St Catherine's first innings total was a challenging one for Melbourne, who, apart from being without national bowlers Oshane Thomas, Nikita Miller, and Damion Jacobs, were also without national batsmen Andre McCarthy, Trevon Griffith, and John-Ross Campbell for one reason or the other.
With the likes of newcomer Sangar Patel, plus Stephen Taylor and Assad Fuddadin, and two promising youngsters in Javelle Glen and Aldine Thomas, however, Melbourne were as confident as ever, probably too confident, of knocking off the runs.
When Nepaul Watson went in the first over of the innings, the ecstasy, the running around, the jumping around, and the high fives, of removing the opening batsman was no comparison to what followed when St Catherine got rid of Taylor and later when Melbourne were fighting for their lives after falling to a disastrous and embarrassing start.
Melbourne, however, limped to the close of the first day's play perilously close to the embarrassment of being forced to follow-on before the left-handed Glen, batting with his left eye swollen shut due to an injury while in the field, slammed a brilliant 75, as St Catherine CA grabbed a lead of 54 runs.
With a flurry of sixes, St Catherine CA posted 191 runs in their second innings and left Melbourne to get 246 runs for victory in 90 minutes or 21 overs, a target which seemed highly improbable but not impossible.
Melbourne shuffled their batting order in the second innings, and Taylor and Thomas opened the batting. After one over it was 11 without loss, and after three overs, it was 41 without loss.
At 74 for two in the sixth over, the experienced Yannick Elliott joined Thomas, and from there on it was a chase to the wire as Melbourne went for the runs and St Catherine ran for cover with defensive bowling and eight fielders back on the boundary ropes.
Suddenly, and even though Melbourne ended the match empty-handed and disappointed, the hunter, to the delight of the sparse home crowd, had become the hunted.
Thomas scored a quick-fire 92 before, as the shadows crept across the field, he was bowled with what turned out to be the last ball of the match at 191 for three, before play was halted after only 105 minutes and 15.5 overs, and with 5.1 overs still to be bowled, only 57 runs need for victory.
It was not the best cricket match ever, far from it.
It was, however, a match with something for everyone.
An exquisite extra-cover drive by Harris which whistled to the boundary in St Catherine's first innings, a fluent, old-school on-drive by Thomas off the pace bowler, which sailed all along the ground to the wide long-on boundary in Melbourne's first innings, some good, orthodox, left-arm spin bowling by Christopher Lamont, again in the first innings, and a reflex shot by Thomas, an overhead shot, something like an overhead smash in tennis, which ended up flying to the long-on boundary were the unforgettable memories.
Despite a few dropped catches, however, the fielding, generally, was quite good and the batting, in parts and especially based on the clean, powerful hitting and the number of times the ball sailed over the boundary, was quite good and totally enjoyable.
With St Catherine CA hitting 20 sixes in their first innings, the well-timed and lusty hits coming from nine batsmen, and eight in the second innings for a total of 28, and with Melbourne hitting 10 in their first innings, six to Glen, and five in their second innings, it was a weekend to remember.