By John L. Aaron
It was hot, it was humid, it was exciting, and it gave women’s cricket a much needed jolt in the arm and warmth in the heart. It was the 2nd Annual Atlanta Women’s T20 Tournament held over the Memorial Day Weekend in Atlanta, Georgia.
With just three teams participating, one may have expected a lack-luster tournament; however cricket was not the only key ingredient responsible for the tremendous success of the tournament. It was in the organizing of the event, from shuttling players and other invitees to and from the airport and ground, to the ICC required vest worn by the 12th (wo)man fetching water or a change of willows onto the field for the players. Success has many fathers, failures none, however, much of the success of this tournament was a result of a woman and mother, with a few cricket fathers in supportive tow.
During the past two years, Petal Samuels has not only demonstrated her passion and commitment to the growth of women’s cricket in the USA, but an undeniable appetite for troubleshooting, organizing and attention to details. Manaf Mohamed, USA’s cricket General Manager, in attendance, said, “It’s the best outfitted umpiring and scoring crews I have ever seen at a tournament.” Such were the sentiments of many present during the two-day women’s cricket festival at the McNair Middle School ground in College Park, Georgia, last Saturday and Sunday. Thanks to Ms. Samuels and her hard-working committee, the participating teams; Lady Eagles from New Jersey, Atlantis Cricket Club of New York and hosts Atlanta Pearls, the bar for future women’s cricket tournaments in the USA has been set rather high. Real success and the establishment of classic traditions take a long time, however, the fact that the Atlanta Women’s T20 Tournament is only in its second year and with such success, makes the future incredibly promising. All cricket stakeholders should take their hats off to Ms. Samuels, for her visionary approach to the development of the sport among women in the USA.
Great organizing aside, the three teams down from an expected six, were left to complement the tournament organizer’s efforts, and that they did with some spirited performances all around. In the end the recently organized Atlantis Cricket Club ladies along with some guest players led by Ivy Mahabir, dominated throughout the two-day tournament, emerging undefeated and crowned 2012 champions.
Getting to the finals was never considered easy by Atlantis, as they anticipated a very tough opponent in the Lady Eagles of New Jersey coached by the USA’s national women’s coach Basil Butcher, Jr., along with a two-man support staff of Shelton Glasgow and Carlton Crandon. With the only recognized tournament coaching staff on-site, the Lady Eagles were seen as the odds-on favorite to walk away with the top honors, however, the Atlanta Pearls with lots of local support and Atlantis with Anthony Karin and John Aaron, were not going to be intimidated or scared into oblivion by the coaching credentials of their third-party competitor.
Atlantis drew the straw to face-off against Butcher’s Lady Eagles in the first match, while the Atlanta Pearls awaited the winner of the toss for the Lady Eagles vs. Atlantis match. The New Jersey Lady Eagles would win the toss and elect to take first strike on an astroturf strip bathed in a scorching hot sun and clothes-wringing humidity.
DAY 1: MATCH 1
Lady Eagles vs. Atlantis
The Lady Eagles opened its inning with Marlin Wint and Beulah Pidakala, the latter recently represented the USA at the ICC Americas Division 1 Tournament in the Cayman Islands. After facing only three balls, Wint was gone without scoring and the Lady Eagles’ score on 3. Enter the hard-hitting stroke player Shinead “Pinky” Emerson, who would go on to score an even 100 not out, as she lost partners along the way at 24, 37, 38, 67 and 109. It was Emerson who showcased an awesome display of shots, turning many a male cricketer in the park into a jealous believer. Emerson’s ton off 66 balls included 12x4s and was largely responsible for the Lady Eagles scoring 106 runs off the last 10 overs, having scored only 40 for 4 off the first 10 overs. Pidakala was the only other Lady Eagles player to reach double figures (10) as the New Jersey XI recorded 146 for 6 off their 20 overs. Extras contributed 20. The Atlantis wickets were evenly spread among the seven bowlers used in the 1 hour, 48 minute inning.
In response, Atlantis opened with Sihle Wilson and Nadia Gruny, the latter was recently adjudged MVP at the ICC Americas Division 1 Tournament in the Cayman Islands. Gruny and Sihle, batting for the first time were particularly harsh on Vanessa Hayles, taking 23 off the pacer’s first over and 24 off her second and last appearance. The duo of Gruny and Wilson, kept the scorers busy posting 52 not out (6x4s) and 27 (5x4s) respectively, however, it was former Grenada national player Joan Alexander-Serrano batting at number three who cranked a hurry up 36 off 19 deliveries (7x4s) before exiting caught Atina Barry, bowled Marlin Wint. The first four deliveries Alexander-Serrano faced were dispatched to the boundary. It was an exciting display of batting by the Atlantis trio to wrap up the responding inning. Joy Jones’ contribution of 2 not out, simply rounded out matters as Atlantis defeated the Lady Eagles by 8 wickets in 12.5 overs and 1 hour, 3 minutes at 3:21pm. 32 extras didn’t hurt either. Atlantis 149 for 2 and the win. Marlin Wint and Atina Barry each grabbed one of the two Atlantis wickets. Thus, Atlantis had romped home comfortably over Basil Butcher’s Eagles, and there was no doubt that the two teams would clash once more in the finals, as the Atlanta Pearls, although strong in many areas was seen largely as the tournament’s underdog.
Atlanta Pearls vs. Lady Eagles
The second match of Day 1 saw hosts Atlanta Pearls losing the toss to the Lady Eagles, who opted to field. In hindsight, that might not have been the best idea, as giving the players a chance to cool off with some electrolytes, before taking to the field as a group, probably would have helped them down the road on Day 2 against their expected nemesis, Atlantis.
Atlanta Pearls sent in the experienced Grace Chadderton and skipper Debbie Maxwell. It would be Chadderton who would take it to the Lady Eagles’ bowlers, scoring 33 (5x4s), before being trapped out of her crease by Catherine Crowe, off the bowling of Beulah Pidakala. Other smart knocks came off the bats of Joy Blair, 23 and 14 year-old Australian Maddie Mewett, 22, as the duo rotated the strike with singles and doubles. Mewett showed terrific composure and classic batting fundamentals for someone so young, however, the supporting cast simply was not there and the host Pearls closed out at 134 for 3 in their 20 overs at 6:46pm. The score and the time would be of significance in understanding the context of the ultimate Atlantis victory.
There were 42 extras allowed by the Lady Eagles, with skipper Shinead Emerson, Vanessa Hayles and Beulah Pidakala each grabbing a Pearls wicket along the way.
The New Jersey Lady Eagles took to the crease with skipper Shinead Emerson and Beulah Pidakala, but once again, it was the Emerson show, as the Guyanese born right-hander scored 73 not out off 57 balls (6x4s), as she anchored the Lady Eagles’ innings to 119 for 5 off 17 overs and the victory, as bad light stopped play at 8:30pm and net run rate became the deciding factor. The Lady Eagles’ enjoyed a net run rate of 7.0 and the Atlanta Pearls with a very close 6.7. One can only wonder what the outcome may have been had playing out the match been possible.
Bowling for Atlanta Pearls: Catchetne Barrette 4-1-27-2, along with three other Pearls’ bowlers with one wicket apiece. Vanessa Hayles 12, Beulah Pidakala 5, and Extras 29, were the only other key contributors in the Lady Eagles’ victory.
The victory, although well-deserved showed the vulnerability of the Lady Eagles against a weaker team, while it showed the ability of the Atlanta Pearls to be competitive against the odds. However, the overall picture clearly demonstrated the compelling strength of the Atlantis team in this tournament, as the second day matches would further indicate.
DAY 2: MATCH THREE
Atlantis vs. Atlanta Pearls
Atlantis called the coin right and opted to field, as Grace Chadderton and Debbie Maxwell strode to the center. Skipper Maxwell would stride back shortly after without scoring, clean bowled by Neha Sukhija. The former USA national player Chadderton stuck around for a while, trying to build an inning, but would fall lbw when on 18, to Sukhija. As the Georgia heat threatened to wilt the peaches in the park, the Pearls team could not help folding at 40 for 6 off 20 overs. Extras at 16 was the second highest scorer, along with Brenda Corner 3, Joy Blair 2, and Sheryl Feliciano 1, rounding out the 40-run tally.
Neha Sukhija and Gul Imran both with figures of 4-2-4-2, along with Joan Alexander-Serrano 3-0-5-1 and Joy Jones 4-0-15-1, were the wicket-takers.
As the crowd grew in numbers, with more and more drivers seeking to park as close to the action as possible on the expansive Track & Field and cricket facility, and no doubt anxiously anticipating a Sunday afternoon show down with across the bridges rivals. New York’s Atlantis was focusing on wrapping up the Atlanta Pearls match, while giving as much rest to its players for the championship match against the New Jersey Lady Eagles.
Opening for Atlantis was Neha Sukhija and USA national player Sara Farooq, and that’s all Atlantis would need to wrap up the victory over its hosts Atlanta Pearls. Both Sukhija and Farooq scored 17 each, along with 8 extras in 6.2 overs in the emphatic 10-wicket win.
THE CHAMPIONSHIP FINAL
The stage had now been set for the much anticipated Lady Eagles vs. Atlantis match-up. As the fans discussed the performances of players like Emerson and Gruny in the McNair ground ringed with the dark foliage of the surrounding tall trees, the coin was again called in Atlantis’ favor. The latter would offer the batting strip to the Lady Eagles. A rested Atlantis opened with the slow right-arm bowling of Gul Imran and off-spin of Ivy Mahabir. The combination faced the in-form Shinead Emerson and Beulah Pidakala, with the latter having a less than successful tournament so far, falling victim to Sukhija caught by wicket-keeper Sandra Ibarra, for 9 with the score at 12. She was quickly followed by Atina Barry 9, Vanessa Hayles 7, and five successive ducks in a row, as the Lady Eagles failed to soar past 97 for 8 including 15 extras, despite another outstanding performance from Shinead Emerson, 57 not out (6x4s). Emerson once again could not get her fellow Lady Eagles to fly in formation with her. A fielding highlight of the inning was a direct hit of the stumps by Nadia Gruny from the long-on boundary, to run out Catherine Crowe for a duck, with the Lady Eagles’ score on 88 for 6.
Bowling for Atlantis: Neha Sukhija 3-0-8-2, Joy Jones 4-0-19-2, and Gul Imran and Sara Farooq each with one wicket, wrapped up the Lady Eagles’ innings.
With 98 runs separating them from lifting the 2nd Annual Atlanta Women’s T20 Championship trophy, Atlantis set about the task in a very cool manner opening with Sihle Wilson and Neha Sukhija, however, the Lady Eagles would strike early dismissing Wilson for one, bowled by Atina Barry, with the score on six. Atlantis’ skipper Nadia Gruny joined Sukhija and together the two put on a 31-run partnership for the second-wicket, before Sukhija departed for 11 with the score on 37. Atlantis’ women’s cricket coordinator Joan Alexander-Serrano joined Gruny and the two took the score to 65, before Alexander-Serrano was caught behind off the bowling of Barry for a well-made 20 (4x4s). She was followed by Gul Imran 6, with skipper Gruny and Joy Jones closing out the inning and the victory at 98 for 4 off 12.3 overs. Gruny 34 not out (3x4s) and Jones 4 not out.
Atina Barry was the most successful Lady Eagles bowler with figures of 4-0-27-3, while Vanessa Hayles grabbed the other Atlantis wicket for 8 runs. The Atlantis wickets fell at 6, 37, 65 and 93.
Atlantis had convincingly beaten the New Jersey Lady Eagles and host Atlanta Pearls, to snare the $2000 first-prize, with the Lady Eagles securing the Second-prize of $1000. The margins of victory clearly demonstrated who was the deserving tournament champion, more so, when the supposedly odds-on favorite Lady Eagles struggled against the underdogs Atlanta Pearls and was beaten twice in two days by Atlantis.
What does all this say or do for women’s cricket in the USA? It clearly shows the dire need for more women’s cricket and with the proper organizational know-how, many similar tournaments can be conducted on relatively low budgets. It also showed that the players are willing to make the necessary sacrifices to participate, with minimum sponsorship.
What could administrators take away from the past weekend’s tournament? Women’s cricket needs the support of the men. The performances of some of the women during the tournament made serious believers out of some of the biggest doubting Thomases. It’s the attention to the details that makes a brand or tournament sustainable and remembered. Ms. Petal Samuels and her committee have proven for the second year in a row that it can be done, and against tremendous odds, but with perseverance and grassroots support, many things are possible.
The tournament showcased a lot of young, curious, wannabe cricketers, who if not encouraged, may very well give in to the criticisms, insults, and screams of the few in a position to make a difference, but still choose to be negative. Encouragement in the proper context will always create success, more so than discouragement.
I am predicting that within the next 3-5 years Atlanta and the South East region will become the hot-bed for women’s cricket, based on the interest shown by the younger players, the spirit, chemistry, camaraderie and sense of purpose exhibited by players and officials alike, during last weekend’s tournament. The geographical location, weather, topography, and support services along with potential sponsors, makes the area an ideal region for the promotion and development of women’s cricket in the USA.
However, like most things ventured, some people will find fault with aspects of it, but one should always look at the overall objective and vision, before attempting to disassemble or destroy that which is being built. Fortunately, the vociferous few wailing in opposition to the progress unfolding before their very eyes the past weekend, are in the minority, but we must none the less be wary of the influence of their screams.
OUTSTANDING INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCES
Outstanding performance awards were bestowed upon the following players at the conclusion of the tournament.
Tournament MVP – Shinead Emerson (New Jersey Lady Eagles)
Best Bowler – Neha Sukhija (Atlantis Cricket Club – NY)
Most Wickets – Gul Imran (Atlantis Cricket Club – NY) 4 wickets
Most Runs – Shinead Emerson (New Jersey Lady Eagles) 230 Runs
Best Fielder – Nadia Gruny (Atlantis Cricket Club – NY)
Best Wicket-keeper – Sandra Ibarra (Atlantis Cricket Club – NY)
END GAME KUDOS
Sincere thanks to Ms. Samuels and her band of merry brothers (and sisters), including former Guyana and West Indies Test batsman Clayton Lambert, for hosting such a well-organized and successful women’s tournament. Don’t be discouraged by any of the short-comings or criticism. Success is a process and an ongoing pathway, not a destination. Keep at it.