Metropolitan Cricket League
By Sham Ali
(Celebrating 30th Anniversary):-Barrington Bartley struck a belligerent century as Westbury blow away Cosmos in the Metropolitan Cricket League Round Robin semi final at Westbury High School last Sunday. It was an inning of superior quality in this semi finals match-up; a match that had the markings of high expectation and a keen contest between a youthful Cosmos and an experienced Westbury team.
Cosmos captain Sham Ali won the toss and inserted Westbury to bat under overcast conditions with rain predicted in the forecast. Sham Ali and Sohan Dass swung the ball appreciably under the humidity. Their early overs were relentlessly probing and on the penny that drew a few sketchy scoring strokes with the ball frustratingly zinging pass the outside edge. Dass picked up the early wicket of C. Lewis in his second over with the score on 1 for 4, and in the next over D. Ferguson survived a drop catch behind off Sham Ali and the decision to field seemed right, but then conditions changed dramatically. A slight drizzle dampened the ball and it virtually took every life out of swing, spin and control out of the ball.
But Cosmos kept probing only to have missed a crucial chance to run out Bartley when he was on 9 runs and another to Ferguson. Thereafter, it was classic Bartley. He launched onto the Cosmos attack like a tiger in pursuit of its prey with controlled aggression as he pounce on anything that was slightly short of a good length that for the maximum, that fused together with some excellent running between the wickets and an inning of class was on display. Cosmos waited until the 14th over for their next wicket when Ferguson drove Sajib Salam to Dass at cover. Kevin Baugh didn’t stick around too long when he miscued Cassius Burton to D. Soodeen. At 103 for 3, Cosmos still had a grip on the inning, and then there were the imponderables; half chances by the fence and Faisal Taj’s two confident appeals turned down when Bartley was on 39 and D. Thomas on 3 would ensure that Cosmos toiled relentlessly, if only Cosmos was fortunate of such reprieve. The pair took full advantage of their reprieve and launched a fruitful counter attack, Bartley in particular, on off spinner, Salam and right arm leg spinner, Burton as they try to wipe the ball dry, that left skipper Ali searching his archives for a clues as the partnership prospered to a healthy 108 runs. Salam returned to remove Bartley for a brilliant 157 runs (6 6’s, 6 4’s) caught by Dass off Salam at mid wicket this time in front of the baseball cage.
And the ‘baseball cages’ or fences as we called then on the ground is a topic for much discussion. Such venue in a MCL semi final match between two top ranking teams is a little short of embarrassment. On one side of the wicket there are two fences; one that runs parallel to the popping crease and another parallel to the return crease they are joined at the 30 yard circle. They serve as the boundary. On the other side of the wicket there are two baseball cages, one about 40 yards from the wicket just behind the popping crease with a set of bleachers, and the other at mid wicket about 10 yards from the 30 yard circle. These two cages are in play and they served as additional fieldsmen for both teams. That, at times, prevents a boundary or a catch from being taken. The contention is that the ground is being used all season, so why not in the semi final since of the two teams the team with the higher points earned the home field right, and the other debate is that if it is good for one it is good for all. That argument is brilliant, just brilliant, regrettably such conditions never seemed to trouble the conscience of the league’s administration or club management as it seems to be the acceptable norm and perhaps the standard by which we are judged admits our social strata, while two of the league’s best regulation size grounds, Canarsie and Floyd Bennett, smile but no one sees.
But the only visible smiles today were that of Westbury when the sun came out and Bartley departed with the score on 211 for 4 in the 32nd over. Westbury was poised up for a big total courtesy of Bartley’s inning. At times Cosmos smiled quietly when the baseball cages or fences as we called prevented a boundary. They may have helped Cosmos more than the opposition. But Cosmos kept fighting; Salam contribution should not be underestimated for his knack of taking wickets when D. Campbell, J. Lawson, and J. Thomas were victims of a sublime control in the death overs to finish with figures of 5 for 54 off 8 overs before Westbury’s inning closed on an imposing 269 for 9 off 40 overs.
Cosmos needed to dig deep if they were to challenge their target as Dindyal Soodeen and Faisal Taj set about their task. With the score on 51 runs off 6 overs Cosmos fortunes shifted when Soodeen’s hamstring tightened on a second run and he had to retire. But for a little less than half of the inning Cosmos asserted the measure of control they required to push them over the target as Taj and Lesporis stood firm with the former thrusting to rapid half century. But Taj, as he has done on so many occasions, took the challenge to the opposition. He treated the Westbury opening attack with utter disdain led by former West Indies paceman Jermaine Lawson, and former West Indies A paceman Carlito Lopez. He took Lawson for the two straight sixes in one over and then two fours and a six in his next, he(Taj) then handed Lopez the similar treatment, a straight six was followed by the obvious no-ball, and the free-hit flew flat and hard to extra-cover for the maximum.
Taj was in vintage mood and on fire as Cosmos raced to 79 for by the 10th over And just as the partnership was just beginning to look threatening and the opposition options were thinning out Keddy Lesporis (12) played an extravagant on drive and lost his leg stump, 79 for 1. But Taj kept going as he and Cassius Burton posted a solid 50 runs partnership taking the score to 129 by the 17th over, but a fasting man could only go so far, he needed more mileage to match Bartley’s inning.
A change in attack with the ball in Ballister McLiesh’s hand saw the Cosmos inning change dramatically from a commanding position to tatters. At a moment when the opposition may have begun to flag, McLiesh found a way to unruffled the impassable Taj and revitalizing the Westbury’s inning. In McLiesh’s first over Taj miscued pull went over the wicket-keepers head and short third-man, C. Louis ran in and took an excellent diving catch to dismiss Taj for a belligerent 82 runs off 60 balls. Cosmos batsmen then lost their head and the match subsequently turned into a meal for Westbury. The next ball Sohan Dass walked across his stumps and was adjudged lbw. In the next over Rasheem James turned for a mindless third run, he did the dance at mid-pitch and was run out; Cyril Choy feared no better when he forgot to slide his bat in. Ralston Levy flick at a wide down the leg side and wicket-keeper Kevin Baugh relished the opportunity as Cosmos inning slumped from a promising 129 for 1 to a ruinous 133 for 5.
The middle order collapsed left Burton looking for a partner, he found one briefly in Salam (11) to push the score to 150 runs by the 23rd over, but McLiesh was pouring salt into an incision he effected into Cosmos line-up. Another lower order collapse resulted when Burton (30) departed, that left a wounded Cosmos panting for air as the scoreboard read a dismal 160 all out by the 27th over. B. McLiesh finished with impressive figures of 5 for 15 off 5.1 overs.
And on a day of high quality and considerable intrigue that saw Ali, Dass, Levy and Salam all delivered searching spells for Cosmos it was Bartley, one of the best batsmen on the US cricket scene who can seldom play better, with a calculated attack on Salam, Kissoon and Burton at a critical time in the match, when the ball was damp, diluted the Cosmos bowling attack and gave his team the momentum. He batted brilliantly with purpose and flair and on this occasion produced one of the best inning in a semi finals match-up in the MCL history. It matched that of Lesporis 106 runs not out a few years ago in the Round Robin semi final when Cosmos chased down a Westbury total 236 runs. Alternatively with a big total to chase, Faisal Taj, a young cricketer to watch, answered with the dream start for Cosmos. He spared none of the bowlers in a fearless flurry of controlled aggression in answer to the opposition attack, but his team mates failed to build on a solid foundation, and as soon as he headed to the pavilion the match flipped into a one-sided affair. His presence in the middle was perhaps the only time hope was on Cosmos’s side.