It was my first time as a spectator at a T20 cricket match at Moruca, Region One (Barima-Waini). The atmosphere was one filled with excitement and the players did not disappoint. Last Sunday’s male hardball cricket match at the Kamwatta Recreational Ground turned out to be an experience any first-time visitor would never forget; a few delays due to the rains, competitive all-round cricket, young and not so young men putting bat to ball and excited spectators backed by live ball-by-ball commentary and a thrilling end to the match.
The match-up was the first of two semi-finals of the Cheddi Jagan Memorial Cricket Competition being played at Moruca. My experience of the match and pre-match preparations started with the Kwebanna Spartans.
They were the underdogs and their preparations for the game started two days earlier when the villagers at Kwebanna, a sprawling village on the Waini River, organised a “cake-walk” fundraiser for the players’ meals, refreshments and transportation. It was a village activity soon after sunset last Friday night where togetherness was on high display as the residents danced around a table with two cakes and placed monies in two empty plates; one for the males and one for the females. Two hours later, after 10 rounds of dancing, a hefty sum was raised to take care of the requisite costs for the team.
Fast forward to Sunday morning. It was 8 am and the organisers of the team encountered a spot of bother. The operator of the bus which was hired to transport the players had an unforeseen church-related issue. Notably, the trip from Kwebanna, a remote village on the Waini River within the Moruca sub-region, to Kamwatta village, the community which hosted the match, would have taken at least at an hour, barring the rains didn’t make parts of the road impassable. But it did.
It was raining all weekend and the players from Kwebanna would have had to ensure they departed at least by 9:30 am to reach in time or face defeat by a walk-over. However, the ‘Kwebanians’, inclusive of players, women and children were still packing their gears, food and refreshments at 10 am. A few phone calls to the organisers that the team and spectators were on their way convinced the former that the match was still on.
Then as a slight rain passed over the village, the players departed in a Toyota pick-up for Kamwatta; they arrived on time minus two players who used their own transportation to get to the ground since the pick-up was filled to capacity. As the rain poured intermittently, the team’s supporters boarded a bus and headed behind to lend support to their village men. When we arrived at the venue, the match had already begun. The commentator’s voice piqued the excitement around the ground and the hosts, Kamwatta, won the toss and opted to bat first.
It was a slow start for the Kamwatta team, called the Mighty Warriors. After the first 4 overs, the Kwebanna Spartans kept the visitors in check with only 18 runs on the board. It was a challenging start as the bowling was tight. Then a bit of luck struck for the hosts when one of the bowlers for the visitors was hit for a few boundaries in an over. It was even more costly when he bowled a few wides in the over. Some 31 runs came off of the over and it carried the score over the 100-run mark. A few wickets then fell as the match tapered through to the 10th over mark when a water break was taken.
It was here that the bright sunshine was overshadowed by overcast conditions. Then light rains resulted in the covers being pulled over the pitch. After almost an hour of rain, the match restarted and the Mighty Warriors upped the tempo, striking several boundaries, much to the delight of their hometown fans. In the final over, the hosts were restricted once more by quality bowling and the visitors managed to hold the score down to 160 runs. “Once we get to 60 runs in the first 6 overs we have the match,” a team manager for the visiting Kwebanna team opined.
Then more rains came. As the rains poured, food vendors plied their trade, music blared from a car nearby and a few more cars arrived with spectators and the overall atmosphere seemed one which many missed, due to the pandemic. The rains stopped for a few and the openers for the Kwebanna Spartans walked out to the middle to a round of applause from the crowd; it was a unique gesture of sportsmanship.
The openers got off to a quick start, smashing 18 runs off of the first two overs. Then a wicket fell; one of the openers attempted to heave the ball over long off, but to his surprise, the ball escaped his bat and uprooted the off stump. It was when his wicket fell that I realised that the commentator was referring to the player by his nickname. It was another unique feature of the match as the commentator referred to most of the players who are well known by their “call names” in the villages, by such catchy nomenclature.
After the first wicket fell, a second wicket fell in quick succession but this time, the umpiring came under the microscope since it was clear to those who saw, that the second dismissed batsman, who was dismissed by the leg before wicket (LBW) decision, may have been unfairly given out; the ball appeared to have hit the bat prior to the pad.
A brief standoff then ensued as the Kwebanna supporters grew boisterous, mainly women, that their player was unfairly dismissed. Nevertheless, he obeyed the umpire’s decision, walked off and the game continued. The umpires, according to a fan who sat behind me, both reside at Kamwatta, home of the hosts. But the match continued and captain of the visiting team, Ramish Sampson, had victory on his mind.
Sampson then proceeded to smack the ball around, heaving it over the boundary for a few sixes, using both skill and grit in his innings of 96. Sampson knew that he had to stay to the end of the inning and that he did. As the score inched closer to the 160 mark, he took the fight to the opposition, attacking the bowling when the bad balls came his way, much to the delight of his team’s supporters. Then, shortly after 4pm, the host spectators went silent as the ball was clobbered across the boundary for four as the visiting Kwebanna Spartans celebrated victory and a spot in the final, slated for this weekend at the same ground.
The visitors knew that their overall preparations, determination and skills were key to their victory. It was also an experience which most hinterland villages undertake whenever sport competitions are being held in their respective regions. For me, the first-time visitor to a T20 match, it was an event which stood out for the high energy, sportsmanship and astonishing cricketing skills which were on display last Sunday.