FOUR-DAY: Few questions answered in topsy turvy season for Harpy Eagles
By Akeem Greene
After winning five consecutive Regional Four-Day titles since the commencement of the Professional Cricket League in 2014, the Guyana Harpy Eagles have failed to win a title in the last two seasons.
The 2022 First-Class season wrapped up Saturday in Trinidad, and it was one of mixed fortunes for the Eagles.
Two wins, one of which was a classical thriller against Barbados Pride, two draws, and one defeat (a batting meltdown at the hands of Leeward Islands Hurricanes) cap the Guyana Harpy Eagles’ performance in this shortened Four-Day Championship.
Unlike the previous editions of the PCL, which were scheduled for 10 rounds, only five were on the cards this season owing to COVID-19, and Pride, who entered as defending champions, remained champions by amassing 76.2 points.
Hurricanes were a close second with 72.6 points and Eagles had 61.8 points. They were the only two other franchises that were mathematically within a chance of winning the title heading into the final round, which was significantly affected by the weather.
Trinidad and Tobago Red Force (54.2 points), Jamaica Scorpions (43.8 points) and the winless Windward Volcanoes (26.8 points) finished on the lower half of the table.
From an individual standpoint, Pride’s skipper and West Indies Test captain Kraigg Brathwaite struck three centuries to be the leading run-scorer with 584 runs at an average of 83.42, followed by Tagenarine Chanderpaul, who made 439 runs at 73.16 with two centuries, while Devon Thomas (414 runs at 59.14 with one century) was third.
With the ball in hand, off-spinner Rakeem Cornwall led with 23 wickets, followed by Keemo Paul (20 wickets) and Veerasammy Permaul (19 wickets).
But let’s narrow into the Harpy Eagles.
The bright spots
Apart from Chanderpaul, Vishaul Singh was the only other frontline batsman to get a hundred. Gudakesh Motie, more recognised for his left-arm spin, which brought 17 wickets this season, got the other century for the team.
On the flip side, there were 11 half-centuries with Tevin Imlach and Chandrapul Hemraj each making three, and had centuries for the taking, but failed to convert after some soft dismissals.
Prior to the start of round three, Imlach had just two First-Class matches, but had a season to remember with 215 runs in four innings at an average of 53.75 with three half-centuries in as many matches.
Added to that, in the final two matches, Imlach did duties behind the stumps and batted in the top order, a testament to his fitness prowess.
Off-spinner Kevin Sinclair showed there is still work to be done on his bowling with regards to variety as three wickets in two matches came at 56.33. However, there was improvement shown with the bat, and he made it count with a positive and maiden half-century in the final match.
After leading the run charts last season for the Eagles, captain Leon Johnson only got one half-century in a total of 163 runs at 23.28, and Anthony Bramble, who played only three matches due to injury, got 168 runs at 41.75. Both senior men would want to significantly improve on those numbers in the coming season to contribute consistently outside of their vast experience.
Where is the future?
A concern, if one is looking at the future, would be Akshaya Persaud, and other young talented players in Guyana, who either fail to seize their opportunity when presented at the regional level or perform enough at the domestic matches to displace the senior players.
After a new Guyana Cricket Board took office in March 2021, the selection panel spoke of blooding new talents with an eye on the future.
Persaud only got 24 runs in four innings, and in some instances, especially in the final two rounds, he entered the crease with little pressure from a match perspective, but got out cheaply.
Kevlon Anderson, another promising talent, failed to do enough in the practice matches prior to force a case for selection. Similar can be said about other talents such as Matthew Nandu and Mavindra Dindyal.
Understandably, the aforementioned are in the infancy stages of learning their craft, and mistakes are unavoidable. However, it is the consistency of low returns that brings the learning process and application in the middle into question.
Anderson, all-rounder Christopher Barnwell and pacer Keon Joseph were the three contracted players, who were available for selection and did not feature in any match this season.
All-rounder Romario Shepherd did not feature due to international commitments, while Shimron Hetmyer played the first two rounds.
Fast-bowling stocks depleted?
The early decision to axe Barnwell from the red-ball set-up on the basis of age looked not to be the smartest one in hindsight as his replacement, Clinton Pestano, did not offer the desired control or impact given a chronic injury issue.
He was not selected after the first two rounds which meant it was mainly just a two-man pace attack, unlike the three to four seam options of the successful past.
The absence of quality seam options was further exasperated with the Eagles finishing with just 6.8 fast-bowling points- joint lowest with Scorpions.
Though Eagles can easily boast of having some of the best spinners in regional cricket, their seamers held their own in the past by copping vital fast-bowling points, which were one of the key reasons for them winning the bounty of titles.
Additionally, Demetri Cameron showed some promising signs, but there is still a lot of work to be done regarding his control.
Given that Nial Smith would have niggles popping up in the season, the Eagles need to build a deeper reservoir of fast-bowling options to support Paul, who had a fantastic season and looked fitter and as a result much faster.
It was certainly not the best administrative decision by Cricket West Indies, not to allow the two travelling reserves, who in Eagles’ case were Antony Adams and Ronsford Beaton, to be eligible for selection unless of COVID or serious injury to a player which rules him entirely from the championship.
Overall, the Eagles camp would look at the glass as half filled rather than half empty as they are some signs that with improved fitness and smarter tactics, they can return atop the standing when the competition returns to the 10-round format later this year.
Should Paul, who is also vice-captain, make a deserved return to the West Indies set-up and likely becomes unavailable for the Eagles set-up due to international commitments, any notion of the removal of Johnson as red-ball captain would have to be quashed, as the leadership options are extremely limited at this juncture of Guyana’s senior cricket.
Looking further ahead, a surprise candidate, only if Paul is unavailable, might be Imlach, given his unquestionable high fitness standards and strong commitment to play both Four-Day and 50-over cricket for Guyana.
However, Imlach, has little to no leadership experience at the club level or at the junior levels for Guyana, but one can sense from practice sessions and general team-building exercises, that there is a sense of respect from teammates given his posture as a professional.
Even Persaud, should he regain the required form to command a spot, is an option in the long-term when the current senior bunch moves on.