Sport

West Indies, Bolt propel Caribbean into global spotlight

BY KEVIN PILE

Thursday, January 03, 2013    

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BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (CMC) — West Indies rescaled the pinnacle of world cricket for the first time in eight years while sprint superstar Usain Bolt laid claim to legend status by once again attaining the dizzying heights of global stardom, to headline a remarkable year in Caribbean sport in 2012.

The mercurial regional side captured the Twenty20 World Cup in Sri Lanka when they beat the hosts in a pulsating final, registering their first world title since they dramatically won the 2004 ICC Champions Trophy in England, and adding to the back-to-back 50-over World Cup triumphs of the 1970s.

For a side that had lurched from one defeat to another in a turbulent period, the victory was a welcome boost for Caribbean cricket and a much needed lift for devoted, but success-starved fans.

Bolt, meanwhile, dominated the London Olympics, winning both the 100 and 200 metres to become the first ever athlete to successfully defend the titles at an Olympics.

The 26-year-old Jamaican entered the Games with his title defence shrouded in doubt following defeats at the National Championships in Kingston to training partner Yohan Blake, but delivered two spellbinding performances to write his name indelibly into the record books. His heroics earned him a second straight IAAF World Athlete-of-the-Year honour, and fourth overall.

Even prior to his meltdown at the National Championships, there had been widespread speculation over Bolt's form following lacklustre outings in the IAAF Diamond League.

So when he arrived in London in late July, for the first time since the 2008 Beijing Games, pundits were already writing off the Jamaican's chances of repeating as Olympic champion. He coasted through the preliminary rounds impressively, but saved his best for the night of August 5 when he produced yet another astonishing world-class display, storming to a new Olympic record of 9.63 seconds to beat nemesis Blake into second place.

Four days later, Bolt was the toast of Olympic Stadium yet again, this time as he clinched the 200 metres in a world-leading and season-best 19.32 seconds, once more forcing Blake into second place. With the victory, the prodigious Bolt carved out yet another place in history. Previously, eight men had achieved the Olympic sprint double but none had successfully defended. He was quick to label himself a living legend, a title he said he would deserve once he was able to repeat as double sprint champion.

Even more outstanding for Jamaica was the fact the country swept the podium spots, as new boy Warren Weir, another member of Bolt's Racers Track Club, claimed bronze. Bolt was not yet finished, however. On the penultimate day of the Games, the long-striding genius covered himself in even more glory with his third gold medal, anchoring the sprint relay team of Nesta Carter, Michael Frater and Yohan Blake to a new world record of 36.84 seconds. The performance marked the first time in history a team had ever dipped below 37 seconds.

Trinidad and Tobago's team of Keston Bledman, Marc Burns, Emmanuel Callender and Richard Thompson picked up bronze behind the Americans, an effort that typified the twin-island republic's outstanding campaign in London that yielded a record four medals.

It was underscored by teenager Keshorn Walcott, who upset his more experienced field and stunned the world by winning gold in the javelin with a throw of 84.58 metres, also on the penultimate day of competition in mid-August. There was no sign of what was to come when he qualified 10th with a measurement of 81.75 metres, but once in the final, he took the lead with a special second round throw and no one could overhaul him.

With the victory, Walcott became the first athlete in 60 years from the Western Hemisphere to win gold in an Olympic javelin event and the first in 40 years to capture a medal. For Trinidad and Tobago, it was only their second ever Olympic gold medal behind the legendary Hasely Crawford, who won the 100m at the 1976 Montreal Games.

Little known Lalonde Gordon snatched bronze in the men's 400 metres and then joined the team of Jarrin Solomon, Ade Alleyne-Forte and Deon Lendore to also hand T&T bronze in the distance relay.

A distinct Caribbean flavour was left all over the 400 metres as World champion Kirani James delivered Grenada's first ever Olympic medal when he easily won the full lap. Entering the final as the strong favourite after former World and reigning Olympic champion American LaShawn Merritt pulled up with injury in the preliminary rounds, the 19-year-old James did not disappoint, clocking 43.94 seconds to dismiss his field. The time was not only a personal best but a new Caribbean record and it gave James the distinction of becoming the first non-American in the history of the event to break the 44-second barrier.

There was some disappointment on the women's side, however, as only Jamaican Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce could find the top of the podium. The pint-sized 25-year-old clocked 10.75 seconds to successfully defend her 100 metres title and come away with the only gold medal for the Caribbean. In the process, she became the first non-American and first woman in 16 years to defend an Olympic 100 metres title.

She returned later in the Games to win silver in the 200 metres and also with the sprint relay team of Sherone Simpson, Veronica Campbell Brown and Kerron Stewart in a new national record of 41.41 seconds, as the Americans took gold.

The Games were not without controversy for the Caribbean, however. A sour note was struck before the showpiece had gotten underway properly when veteran St Kitts and Nevis sprinter Kim Collins and fellow national sprinter Tameka Williams were both expelled by their delegation.

While Collins was disciplined for breaking team rules, Williams was sent home after admitting to using a banned substance. Collins subsequently vowed never to compete for St Kitts again.

No such hullabaloo abounded at July's World Junior Championships in Barcelona, where young Caribbean athletes — including Walcott — represented the region with distinction to grab 16 medals overall.

Walcott, uninhibited by any thoughts of an Olympic medal quest, threw 78.64 to win gold in what proved to be a fairytale year for the 19-year-old. Delano Williams of the Turks and Caicos snatched the men's 200 metres and there were also triumphs for Jamaican Janieve Russell in the women's 400m hurdles and her compatriot Fedrick Dacres in the men's discus throw.

However, it was the exploits of Bahamian sprint queen Anthonique Strachan which set the Games alight. The loose-limbed 19-year-old pulled off the incredible sprint double of the 100 and 200 metres, becoming the first woman in 12 years to do so and announcing herself as the latest world-class talent to emerge from the region.

She clocked a world junior leading time of 11.20 seconds to win the 100 metres and returned in the 200 metres with a new championship record time of 22.53.

Only three months earlier in April, Strachan had supplied the region with a foretaste of what was to come, when she blazed to the sprint double at the CARIFTA Games in Bermuda. She registered a third gold of the meet, anchoring the Bahamian sprint relay team of Devynne Charlton, Carmiesha Cox and Rashan Brown to victory.

Russell, Dacres and Williams were also victorious in their respective events.

Jamaica again dominated the junior Games with 78 medals overall, but conceded precious territory to the quickly improving Bahamians, who won three of the four relays in the Under-20 category, including both sprints.

With the excitement from the Olympics abated, the Caribbean's return to the global spotlight was swift as West Indies came out of nowhere to win the Twenty20 World Cup in October.

Ironically, the triumph almost never was, as the regional side endured a luckless group stage before narrowly limping through to the second round. They piled up a competitive 191 in their opening game in Colombo, but lost to Australia on the Duckworth/Lewis Method after rain ended the contest prematurely. Two days later against Ireland, rain reduced the match to 19 overs and then ensured a wash-out before West Indies could chase their target of 130. Both teams finished on a single point, but the Windies advanced courtesy of a superior net run rate.

In the Super-Eight second round, West Indies continued to live a charmed life, defeating England, losing to Sri Lanka and then tying with New Zealand before emerging winners in a dramatic super over. They saved perhaps their best performance for the semi-finals, conjuring up a fabulous all-round performance to crush Australia by 74 runs and snatch a place in the final.

The final epitomised West Indies' run in the championship, as they hauled themselves back from the brink of defeat on more than one occasion to seal an emphatic victory. Winning the toss and batting, the innings was going nowhere until Marlon Samuels arrived to unleash a stunning 56-ball 78. Even when he was dismissed at the start of the 18th over, the total was still insignificant, but captain Darren Sammy flexed his muscles for an unbeaten 26 from 15 balls that got his side up to 137 for six.

Tillakaratne Dilshan fell cheaply in the second over but veterans Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene put the favoured Sri Lankans back on course for victory. Once they were separated, however, West Indies romped to a historic victory which breathed a new sense of purpose and direction into regional cricket.

West Indies Women were good enough to reach the semi-finals of the tournament, but a batting implosion saw them lose to Australia and miss out on a spot in the final.

The men's triumph in many ways confirmed a resurgence that had begun at home against Australia earlier in the year in March, when the hosts held Australia to a 2-2 result in the five-match One-Day International series. Brushed aside by 64 runs in the first match of a tripleheader at Arnos Vale, West Indies rebounded to win the second game by five wickets before a sensational tie in the third game left the series open, heading into St Lucia.

A rare Kieron Pollard century fired West Indies to a 42-run victory in the fourth ODI and a 2-1 lead in the series, but a 30-run defeat in the final game ended their hopes of a precious series win. The two sides subsequently split the two-match Twenty20 series, but the ensuing three-Test rubber proved a mountain too tall to climb for West Indies and they lost 0-2 despite playing well in patches.

The subsequent tour of England, beginning in May, was a wretched one as the Caribbean side failed to win a single match, and were undermined by miserable early spring weather which disrupted their preparation and deflated their confidence. It was hardly surprising, therefore, when they lost the opening Test at Lord's by five wickets and then crashed to a nine-wicket defeat inside four days in the second Test at Nottingham to concede the series. The third Test at Birmingham was ravaged by rain and finished in a tame draw.

The limited overs series was much of the same, with England winning the first two ODIs and rain accounting for the third without a ball bowled. West Indies also lost the lone T20 International.

Despite the gloomy weather and results, there was one bright spot as West Indies fans celebrated the return of the previously exiled Jamaican opener Chris Gayle, after a deal was brokered by St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, to end the player's 15-month standoff with the West Indies Cricket Board.

The 32-year-old Gayle had not played for West Indies since the 2011 World Cup and had been repeatedly overlooked for selection because of highly controversial comments he made following the Asian showpiece. Refusing to apologise as asked to by the WICB, Gayle opted to ply his trade on the international T20 circuit.

Just when the saga seemed set to drag on, Gonsalves pulled the two factions together in a skilful act of diplomacy at a high level June meeting in St Vincent, to negotiate an end to the imbroglio. Also present was Gayle and his representative Michael Hall, along with Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer and WICB president Julian Hunte.

In the end, the way was paved for Gayle's return, and he celebrated it with a half-century in the second ODI at the Oval in June. He then turned his wrath on the touring New Zealanders in the Caribbean in July and August, plundering three half-centuries and a century in the first four innings of the limited overs phase of the tour.

His form inspired a sweep of the two-match T20 series in Lauderhill, Florida -- the first time matches in a West Indies bilateral series were played outside of the Caribbean -- and also allowed the hosts to win the first two games of the five-match ODI series.

West Indies completed an easy 4-1 series win and also proceeded to sweep the two Test matches, the first in Antigua by nine wickets and the second inside four days by five wickets in Kingston. The winning streak continued against Bangladesh in late November, as they beat the hosts in another two-Test series to record four consecutive wins on a trot in the game's longest version, for the first time in 19 years.

While they surrendered the five-match one-day series, 3-2, the defeat was not enough to take the gloss off what had been a successful run for a side which had grown manifestly unaccustomed to winning.

There was no such success for the Young West Indies as they finished sixth at the ICC Under-19 World Cup played in Australia in August. They sailed through the preliminary round unbeaten to top Group C, but fell to a bad defeat against New Zealand in the quarter-finals, to bow out of title contention. Another meltdown against England in the fifth place playoff left them without too much to boast about.

As usual, controversy was never far from regional cricket and it once again erupted in Guyana as the standoff between the government-run Interim Management Committee and the beleaguered Guyana Cricket Board intensified. In February, acting Chief Justice Ian Chang granted an injunction against the GCB executive members from functioning, following an application made by Attorney General Anil Nandlall.

Subsequently, key GCB executives had their homes and offices searched by court order, prompting the resignation of beleaguered president Ramsay Ali. The move was frowned upon by the WICB and cricket's world governing body, the International Cricket Council, both of whom condemned the action.

The WICB refused to recognise the IMC, led by legendary former West Indies captain Clive Lloyd, and subsequently pulled all the scheduled first-class matches from the Government-owned National Stadium at Providence.

Despite the conflict surrounding their cricket, Guyana managed to finish fourth in the first-class championship, winning three matches and losing twice as they played all their games on the road. The effort secured them a spot in the semi-final where they were thrashed inside three days by eventual champions Jamaica.

Playing unbeaten throughout the tournament, the Jamaicans claimed an unprecedented fifth straight title by defeating Barbados by 139 runs in the final at Sabina Park in April, to make history. The triumph compensated for their disappointment in the Caribbean Twenty in January when they reached the final at Kensington Oval before going down to rampant Trinidad and Tobago by 63 runs.

While Jamaica suffered heartbreak again, for T&T the conquest was their second in a row and it stamped their authority as the best regional side in the game's shortest version. It also gave them another crack at the lucrative Champions League T20, but unlike the 2009 campaign when they reached the final, they failed to make it out of the qualification round when the tournament was staged in October in South Africa.

Hosts Barbados, meanwhile, emerged as kings of Under-19 cricket in August when they won the WICB three-day tournament with 45.5 points, ahead of second-placed Guyana, who accumulated 38 points. Windward Islands won the one-day title when they trounced Leeward Islands by six wickets in a dramatic final round of matches.

In July, Jamaica found more success this time in the WICB Under-17 Championship in Tobago, beating the Windwards by seven wickets in the final round to top the points standings with 29.5 points. Barbados captured the Under-15 edition in St Kitts with 63.5 points.

Jamaica also carried the inaugural Women's Twenty20 Championship before their home fans in Kingston, beating Trinidad and Tobago by 16 runs in the August final at Sabina Park.

Beyond the boundary, there were significant developments as the two most influential figures in West Indies cricket both departed office. In September, the plain-spoken WICB chief executive Ernest Hilaire, who had led the organisation since 2009, took up a diplomatic posting in London on the behalf of the St Lucia government.

Earlier in March, Dinanath Ramnarine resigned as president and CEO of the West Indies Players Association, citing a need to reinvigorate the organisation with new leadership. The Trinidadian had assumed the position in 2002.

Both Hilaire and Ramnarine were controversial figures who underscored a turbulent period in West Indies cricket, and their resignations marked the end of a distinct era of leadership of the modern game in the Caribbean. Former Test player and WIPA treasurer Wavell Hinds assumed the presidency of the players' union, while the WICB in September unveiled Jamaican management consultant Michael Muirhead as Hilaire's replacement.

In May, there was also a changing of the guard in Caribbean football as CONCACAF, the continental governing body for the sport in North, Central America and the Caribbean, elected Caymanian Jeffrey Webb to head the organisation.

The 48-year-old banker, who was unopposed for the position, replaced Trinidadian government minister Jack Warner, who resigned in 2011 at the height of the sordid cash-for-votes scandal that rocked Caribbean football. Webb moved immediately to restructure the organisation in an aim to achieve transparency and accountability.

Also in May, the Caribbean Football Union elected Antiguan banker Gordon Derrick as president, to also replace Warner.

On the field, Jamaica's Reggae Boyz experienced mixed fortunes, doing well in October to reach the final round of CONCACAF 2014 World Cup Qualifyiers, but then suffering the indignity of being knocked out of the Caribbean Cup in Antigua two months later.

They finished second on 10 points in Group A of the qualifiers, to qualify along with leaders United States whom they had beaten 2-1 at home in September. Antigua and Barbuda and Guyana missed out, however, when they finished bottom of Group A and Group B respectively with a single point.

Jamaica's luck disappeared at the Caribbean Cup in December, however, as they went winless in Group B to blow their chance of a place in the final four and a berth in the 2013 Gold Cup, after eight appearances in the biennial confederation championship. Cuba, meanwhile, lifted their first ever title when they beat former champions Trinidad and Tobago 1-0 in the final.

Jamaican jockey Rajiv Maragh and his Barbadian counterpart Patrick Husbands kept the Caribbean highly visible in horseracing internationally, with big wins in the United States and Canada.

In November, the 27-year-old Maragh scored twice in the prestigious multi-million dollar Breeders Cup at Santa Anita racetrack in California, winning the US$1 million Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint with Groupie Doll and the US$500,000 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint Stakes with Hightail.

Husbands, meanwhile, captured the CAN$500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes in July, carrying Dixie Strike to victory in the second jewel of the celebrated Canadian Triple Crown series, before also winning the October US$400,000 Darley Alcibiades Stakes at Keeneland in Kentucky, with Spring in the Air.

Back in the region, the Bahamas toppled Trinidad and Tobago as Caribbean volleyball kings when they won a gripping five-setter to claim their first ever title in St Croix in July. T&T's women, however, maintained their dominance, securing their fourth straight crown and fifth overall when they easily brushed aside former champions Barbados in a lopsided final.

At the CARIFTA Swimming Championships staged in Nassau in April, Guadeloupe topped the points standings, with Trinidad and Tobago second and the hosts trailing in third.

Meanwhile, regional netball powerhouses Jamaica maintained their stranglehold on the sport when they played unbeaten to lift the Americas Federation of Netball Associations Championship, in Trinidad in July.

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