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Berlin glory, cricket chaos

Published:Sunday | January 3, 2010 | 1:00 AM


Jamaica's Usain Bolt celebrates setting a new world record as he wins the men's 200m final during last year's World Championships in Athletics in Berlin. - File and West Indies' captain Chris Gayle leaves the field after his side was defeated during last year's Twenty20 World Cup semi-finals at The Oval cricket ground in London. - file

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (CMC):Astonishing achievements in athletics once again shot the Caribbean to inter-national prominence but a bitter, divisive cricket dispute between the region's major stakeholders marred the year and propelled the sport to the brink of collapse.

Not even the intervention of respected former diplomat Sir Shridath Ramphal could broker a solution to the bruising impasse which saw the region's leading stars refusing to play and forcing the West Indies Cricket Board to pick a second-string team for two international assignments.

With neither the WICB nor the West Indies Players' Association budging and regional cricket virtually on its knees, it took phenomenal Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt to lighten the depressing mood in the region and restore some pride to the sporting fraternity.

For the second successive year, the easy-going Bolt stunned the world with mind-boggling world record times as he convincingly strode to the capture of the 100 metres and 200 metres events at the IAAF World Championships in Berlin in August.

Coming on the heels of similar success at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, Bolt crowned himself perhaps the greatest sprinter of all time and distinguished himself as having no equal in contemporary athletics.

The awesome 23-year-old from Trelawny in northern Jamaica also became widely regarded as the world's No. 1 in all sports, period.

That label was reinforced when he was named in June as the Laureus World Sportsman of the Year, an accolade golf legend Tiger Woods, multiple Olympic swimming gold medallist Michael Phelps of the USA, Spanish tennis star Rafael Nadal, Portuguese footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, and Britain's Formula One driving champion Lewis Hamilton were also eligible for.

Coming off his astounding achievements at the Beijing Olympics, Bolt ignited the World Championships in Berlin with performances that bettered his already stunning times at the Olympiad the previous year.

records

He lowered the 100-metre world record to 9.58 seconds, and also chopped more than a 10th of a second off the 200-metre mark by clocking 19.19 seconds.

He also helped Jamaica win the men's sprint relay title, repeating the triple gold he had secured a year earlier in Beijing while inspiring a tremendous 13-medal haul, with seven gold, for the Jamaicans.

Only the USA won more medals than the reggae outfit as they danced to an all-time best seven gold, four silver and two bronze.

Shelly-Ann Fraser and Melaine Walker also reproduced the fine victories they had in Beijing in the 100 and 400-metre hurdles, respectively, and Jamaica's other gold medals in Berlin came from the veteran Brigitte Foster-Hylton (100 hurdles) and the women's sprint relay.

An eighth gold medal for the region in Berlin was celebrated by the vastly improved Ryan Brathwaite, who clocked a new CARICOM record 13.14 seconds in the 110-metre hurdles and stung the American pair of Terrence Trammell and David Payne in a stirring finish to win historic gold for Barbados.

A mere 100th of a second separated all three athletes and after nervous moments when the photo-finish camera decided the outcome, it became official that Brathwaite was the first Barbadian to win a global senior track and field title.

In major news from off the track, Bolt was accorded Jamaica's fourth highest national honour, the Order of Jamaica, and retired Bahamian Pauline Davis-Thompson had her Sydney Olympics 200-metre medal officially upgraded to gold arising out of the disqualification of drug-disgraced American Marion Jones.

'next usain bolt'

Among the juniors, the IAAF labelled Grenadian Kirani James "the next Usain Bolt" after the 16-year-old delivered a majestic sprint double success at the IAAF World Youth Championship in Italy in July. James ran a brilliant championship record 45.24 to win the 400 metres.

Jamaica continued to govern the CARIFTA Games, striding in April to a 25th consecutive medal-topping display in St Lucia, although it was James emerging as the individual star performer. He won the Austin Sealy Award as the most outstanding performer after his superb 45.45 seconds in the Under-20 400 metres shattered Bolt's previous mark of 46.35.

There was no such cause for jubilation in West Indies cricket, in a topsy-turvy year which saw the full-strength regional team recapture the Wisden Trophy in March after a nine-year drought, only to surrender it two months later following a spineless whitewash in a return series in England.

The contracts dispute erupted virtually without warning in July as West Indies prepared to take on Bangladesh in two Tests and three one-day internationals in the Caribbean, following a 2-1 loss to India in a four-match one-day home series.

Players affiliated with WIPA, upset their contractual demands were being repeatedly overlooked by the WICB, took the unequivocal decision to withdraw their services, sparking a rancorous three-month period when West Indies cricket experienced perhaps its most shameful hour.

Notice of the pending industrial action was served when players refused to attend the official ticket launch for the 2010 Twenty20 World Cup in St Lucia, a function attended by the visiting Indian team, and when the squad failed to arrive in St Vincent for the first Test starting just days later, the WICB was facing a full-scale strike.

While a war of words erupted between the WICB and WIPA, selectors worked feverishly behind the scenes to find a replacement squad to contest the first Test at Arnos Vale, now only three days away.

solidarity

With virtually all of the region's top-tier players showing solidarity, selectors hastily put together a 15-man squad comprising 11 players who had never played a single Test. All-rounder Darren Sammy broke ranks with WIPA to be one of just four players with Test experience, along with David Bernard Jr, fast bowler Tino Best and veteran Barbadian batsman Floyd Reifer, who was appointed captain.

The result of the experiment was a 95-run drubbing in the first Test and a four-wicket loss in the second Test in Grenada, giving Bangladesh their first overseas Test series triumph.

Following the humiliating loss, CARICOM chairman, Guyana's President Bharrat Jagdeo, intervened to get both warring factions to agree to arbitration under the guidance of Sir Shridath, with striking players also agreeing to end their stand-off.

With the WICB keeping faith with their rookies, any hopes of a turnaround in the ODI series following were quickly diminished as the makeshift West Indies were clean-swept 3-0. Though they won the lone Twenty20 International, the series proved a nightmare for the regional team crippled by the absence of the leading players.

Sir Shridath's efforts were to no avail as he announced on September 1 that monthlong mediation talks had broken down, sparking a new round of hostilities as another inexperienced squad prepared for the ICC Champions Trophy in South Africa later that month.

As if things could get no worse, the WICB parted ways with their Australian coach John Dyson, dealing another heavy blow to an already unsettled state of affairs. Again, West Indies lost all three of their preliminary round games to bow out of the competition early, as the crisis deepened with the crucial Australia tour looming in November.

Just as abruptly as the dispute had started it also ended, however, when WICB president Julian Hunte and WIPA head Dinanath Ramnarine brokered a peace deal following a three-day meeting in mid-October.

It ended a conflict-ridden period in West Indies cricket and calmed the nerves of anxious Australian officials who were anticipating a weakened regional team competing for the Sir Frank Worrell Trophy Down Under.

The year had begun with no such drama as West Indies on the road suffered a narrow 2-1 loss to New Zealand in a rain-ravaged five-match ODI series in January, following a 0-0 draw in the preceding two-match series the previous December.

Buoyed by the encouraging results, West Indies hosted arch-rivals England in a four-Test series in February, carving out a string of results that gave rise to hope the embattled side had turned the proverbial corner.

brilliant bowling

In the opening Test at Sabina Park, speedster Jerome Taylor produced a brilliant spell of five for 11 in the second innings to rout England for 51 and fire the Windies to an amazing innings and 23-run victory inside four days. It was their first win over England in a Test since 2000, after having lost 13 of their previous 16 matches.

As has become the norm with West Indies cricket, the superb was quickly followed by the ridiculous as the second Test at the Vivian Richards Cricket Ground had to be abandoned after just 10 balls because of an impaired outfield, lurching regional cricket headlong into yet another catastrophe.

Officials rushed to prepare the Antigua Recreation Ground to host a replacement Test and two days later, on February 15, West Indies faced England in an unscheduled third Test. It was an epic encounter which went the distance and saw the last wicket pair of Fidel Edwards and Daren Powell hang on grimly in fading light late on the last day to deny England and earn a crucial draw.

Controversy, which seemed to constantly lurk in the shadows, emerged yet again as news broke during the Antigua Test that billionaire cricket financier Sir Allen Stanford had been charged by United States financial regulators with orchestrating a US$8 billion investment fraud scheme.

The WICB moved quickly to sever ties with the disgraced financier, ending a lucrative relationship that had poured millions into their coffers and those of territorial boards.

Stanford, who had bankrolled the Stanford Twenty20 project and the inaugural winner-take-all, US$20 million 'Twenty20 for 20' series against England the previous year, was finally arrested by US authorities in June and remains in a Texas jail awaiting trial scheduled to start in January, 2011.

Back on the field, the two remaining Tests ended in stalemates, handing the West Indies the Wisden Trophy, treasure they had not held since Brian Lara's side won the 1998 Home Series. The regional side also competed bravely in the subsequent five-match ODI series but lost the last two matches to concede the series 3-2.

Unfortunately, this joy was all short-lived. In the return tour of England in May, West Indies were humbled in both Tests to meekly surrender the Wisden Trophy again. They lost the opening Test at Lord's by 10 wickets inside three days and were soundly whipped by an innings and 83 runs in the second match at Chester-le-Street.

There was no respite in the ODI series as England continued to exact revenge for their Caribbean disappointment by beating the Windies 2-0 in the three-match series after the first game was rained out.

It was on this tour that captain Chris Gayle came under fire for his lack of commitment as he arrived 24 hours before the Lord's Test, after opting to stay behind in South Africa to play a crucial match for the Kolkata Knight Riders in the Indian Premier League.

The firestorm worsened when Gayle, in an interview with a British newspaper days later, admitted he would not be sad if Test cricket died and revealed he was not totally thrilled with the burden of the West Indies captaincy.

There were renewed calls for the 30-year-old Jamaican to resign the post and WICB president Julian Hunte labelled the player's comments as "an unfortunate development".

In June, West Indies shrugged off their inertia to reach the semi-finals of the World Twenty20 Championship, led once again by their enigmatic captain. Given little chance of emerging from the preliminary round, West Indies upset Australia in their opening game at the Oval, courtesy of Gayle's awesome 88 from 50 balls, and despite losing to Sri Lanka in their next match, secured a second-round spot.

They then thrashed defending champions India, lost to South Africa and then trounced the hosts in another thriller at the Oval, to reach the final four. Gayle's heroics again - he carried his bat for 63 - inspired the Windies but their performance was a limp one and their dream run ended with a 57-run defeat to Sri Lanka.

dispute

In November, a full-strength West Indies left for Australia for a three-Tests series with Chris Gayle controversially reappointed captain following the contracts dispute. The tour began disastrously in December, however, when the Windies were hammered inside four days by an innings and 65 runs in the first Test in Brisbane.

Despite the carnage, a new batting star peaked on the horizon as Trinidadian Adrian Barath became the youngest ever West Indies batsman at 19 years, 226 days to score a Test century when he blazed 104.

The result again led to calls for Gayle's removal but as if emboldened by the criticism, he proceeded to carry his bat for a brilliant 165 as a resurgent West Indies put Australia on the ropes in the second Test in Adelaide before the match ended in an exciting draw.

He then silenced his critics in the third Test, blasting the fifth fastest Test century ever off 70 balls. Though West Indies lost by 35 runs, Gayle was voted Man of the Match and Man of the Series, bringing a rapturous end to an otherwise turbulent year.

Their female counterparts continued to make huge strides. At the ICC Women's World Cup in Australia in March, they beat South Africa in their opening match and even though they went winless for the remainder of the preliminary round, a consolation victory over Pakistan in their final play-off game ended their campaign brightly.

In June, West Indies women won the opening game of T20 World Championship, beating South Africa in a thriller but they lost their remaining matches to bow out after the first round. They then travelled to South Africa in October for a six-match series, losing the one-day leg 2-1 before sweeping the Twenty20 Internationals 3-0.

Their most significant achievement came in November when they dominated world champions England, winning three-match ODI and T20I series by 2-1 in St Kitts and establishing themselves as serious contenders on the international scene.

There was even more reason to celebrate at the end of the series when 18-year-old all-rounder Stafanie Taylor broke into the top-10 of the ICC batting rankings, jumped 10 places to 23rd in the bowlers' rankings with her off spin and secured her first berth in the top five of the all-rounders rankings.

In October, Trinidad & Tobago burst on to the international scene, courtesy of the Twenty20 Club Champions League in India, brandishing an electrifying brand of cricket that saw them play unbeaten en route to a spot in the final, where they lost to New South Wales Blues.

They promptly returned to the Caribbean where they reiterated their status as regional one-day kings by weaving their way through the rain-ravaged WICB President's Cup to win their 10th title.

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Jamaica, too, strengthened their case to be called regional four-day kings when they won the first-class tournament for the second successive year, clinching the title with two rounds to spare in March.

Their youth teams promptly followed suit. In April, the Under-15 side snatched the CLICO West Indies Championship, and in August the Under-19s marched to the capture of both the one-day and three-day titles at the TCL Group West Indies tournament to provide a wonderful fillip for Jamaica's cricket.

The Jamaicans could have added yet another cricket title to their cabinet in late August but their women missed out in the final against Trinidad & Tobago, in the WICB 50-over competition.

Also that month, Julian Hunte was returned unopposed as WICB president, defying a fiasco-filled year - an abandoned Antigua Test, the Stanford affair and the contracts impasse - to lead the organisation for another two-year term.

There were hardly any bright spots for regional football as Trinidad & Tobago failed in their bid to reach their second successive FIFA World Cup, scheduled for South Africa later this year.

They ended a listless CONCACAF final round campaign at the bottom of the standings in October with a mere six points from a solitary win, three draws and six damning losses, a record which helped claim the job of head coach Francisco Maturana.

The Colombian was sacked in April as T&T struggled with a 2-2 draw against El Salvador, a 1-1 stalemate with Honduras and a heavy 3-0 defeat to the United States. His replacement, former national star Russell Latapy, fared no better as T&T continued to plummet with less than impressive results.

In September, football witnessed the end of a highly successful chapter as Trinidadian Dwight Yorke, perhaps the most successful player to emerge from the Caribbean, quit the sport after being released by English Premiership club Sunderland. He signed on as an assistant coach alongside Latapy.

The CONCACAF Gold Cup also proved barren for the English-speaking Caribbean as both Jamaica and Grenada could not make any impression on the tournament hosted across 13 US cities in July.

Jamaica failed to make it out of Group A after losing two of their three matches while Grenada suffered the same fate, losing all their Group B games without managing to find the nets.

In horse racing, Caribbean jockeys sustained their very prominent profile in North American horse racing, mainly through Barbadian Patrick Husbands and the young Jamaican Rajiv Maragh, both finishing among the top 12 jockeys - in all of the USA and Canada - in mounts' earnings.

Husbands collected a sixth Woodbine jockeys' title in Canada with a personal record 188 victories, 21 stakes triumphs, and mounts' earnings of CAN$10.82 million.

New York-based Maragh finished runner-up at Aqueduct and Belmont while winning 236 races, including 28 stakes for mounts' earnings US$11.74 million. Maragh finished No. 8 on North America's jockeys' list of money leaders and Husbands 12th.

Classic victories

In Edmonton, Canada, Barbadian Rickey Walcott registered a Northlands Park track record 155 wins to emerge champion, unseating fellow Barbadian Quincy Welch.

Regionally, the three-year-old colt Bruceontheloose captivated fans with four Classic victories in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. After winning the Guineas and St Leger in Jamaica, the colt was shipped to T&T where he landed the Midsummer Classic and the T&T Derby while speeding to a compelling 6-0 record that also included victories in the Caribbean Champion Stakes and the T&T Gold Cup.

Jamaica men's basketball side thrust themselves into the spotlight in July when they beat the British Virgin Islands in the final of the Caribbean Basketball Championships to lift the title. In August, their netball counterparts, the Sunshine Girls, captured bronze at the World Youth Netball Championship in the Cook Islands when they beat England in the third-place play-off, as Australia overcame New Zealand to take gold.

Motorsport, too, brought Jamaica headlines in November as the irrepressible David Summerbell clinched two third-place finishes in the third and final leg of the Caribbean Motor Racing Champion-ship in Guyana to secure the regional title for the fourth time, as Barbados drove away with team honours.

Trinidad and Tobago, meanwhile, reigned at the Caribbean Table Tennis Championship in French Guiana, where they copped both team titles and six of seven titles on offer, led by singles champions Dexter St Louis and Rheann Chung.

squash glory

They also covered themselves in squash glory as they dominated the Caribbean Area Squash Association (CASA) Senior Championship staged in Cayman Islands in August.

The twin-island republic swept both the men's and women's team titles and also picked up the overall team title to complete an outstanding campaign.

There was excellent news for the highly rated Guyanese squash player Nicolette Fernandes, who re-entered the top 100 in the world following her two-year break from competition because of injury.

Her steady improvement saw her reach the semi-finals at the Santiago Open in Spain in November, and she took her first title of the year when she won the Greek Open in Athens in December, to finish the year 88th in the rankings.

Trinidadian golfer Stephen Ames also experienced success internationally when he captured the US$4.7 million Children's Miracle Network Classic in November, to claim his second Disney title in three years and the fourth PGA Tour win of his career.

The victory catapulted him 22 places up the rankings to 49th and pushed him to 37th on the official money list but, most important, it provided a fairy-tale finish to an otherwise extremely disappointing year.