By Sam Sooppersaud
Pictured above is the victorious Essequibo team. Photo courtesy of Sharma Shawn Sukhdeo
As the fairytale says…. the golden slippers fit her feet and Cinderella won the heart of the Prince. Essequibo, the Cinderella County of Guyana, had the correct fit, and waltzed away with the championship of the Inaugural Guyana Cup Tournament.
It was on Saturday of Labor Day weekend, Sept. 3, 2022; Baisley Pond Park Cricket Field, Queens, N.Y. The playoff of the New York National Cricket League’s sponsored Guyana Cup Tournament. In a way, I would venture to say that this tourney is an offshoot of the Guyana Inter County Champion, started in British Guiana over seven decades ago.
The British Guiana Cricket Board of Control (BGCBC) was formed in 1939; as a result of the vision and hard work of one Mr. Jones, a dedicated cricket administrator who wanted to “organize” the playing of cricket in the British colony. His first major task was to propose a tournament which was named The Jones Cup, to be played among the three counties in British Guiana, Berbice, Demerara, and Essequibo. This Inter County Series/ Jones Cup/ DIH Cup; many names were used to refer to the tournament, depending on what entity took care of the sponsorship.
In my youthful years, in BG, I must have attended and watched over a dozen of these games at the Rose Hall Welfare Centre Ground, in Canje, Berbice, the premier cricketing facility in the Ancient County in those years. To my memory, Essequibo has never won the Inter County Championship. (Readers, please correct me if you find out otherwise). The winners were always Berbice or Demerara. The reason I felt, at the time, was that cricket was more organized in these two counties.
With the increased migration of Guyanese to the USA and a majority settled in New York City, the Inter County rivalry was revived. It was called the Tri County Games, then the Guyana County Championship, and again the Inter County Games. But, with all the different nomenclature, it was the same. A tournament to determine the dominant cricket playing county, and players from the three Guyana counties. These games took place alternately at Idlewild Cricket Complex or Baisley Pond Cricket Field, both in Queens, N.Y.
But, the boys from the Cinderella County never gave up their hopes of one day becoming champions. They worked hard. They selected their best squads. They played with commitment. They believed that their days would come. They saw the “fit of the proverbial slippers”.
Finally, on the Saturday of Labor Day Weekend 2022, the goal of the Cinderella boys was achieved. They wrested away the championship coveted Guyana Cup tournament. They walked away with the beautiful and shiny three-foot trophy.
Whereas in Guyana the tournament was always played among three teams, one each from the three counties, the NY tournament added a fourth team, the Guyana-USA Galaxy. The players selected from among those who were good enough, but could not find a spot on either of the counties’ squads.
Now to the games! The first semi-final, or as it is called nowadays, the eliminator, was played between Essequibo and Majestic. There was nothing majestic about the latter. They were steamrolled over by Essequibo. This game, which started at 9:00 A.M. was completed within 23 overs. Guyana-USA Majestic batted first and were bowled out for a miserly 92 runs in 13 overs. Wreckers of their innings were Ritchie Loonauth 3 for 27, Looknath Chinkoo 3 for 8, and Sachin Verasammy 2 for 17.
Essequibo hit off the runs needed for victory within 10 overs: 95 for 1. Ronaldo Renee (29) and Raymond Perez (54) making short work of the run chase.
The second Eliminator provided some entertaining T20 cricket for the large crowd who turned out to support their county’s team. The spectators got their “money’s worth’ watching and cheering on their favorite team. Fans had turned up early and some had pitched their tents stocked with their favorite delicacies and “invigorating” beverages. Chutney music was blasting everywhere.
Berbice batted first. The openers Dominique Rikki (18) and Moshin Perkhan (18) gave them a 27 run start. With the fall of a wicket, US player, Akshay Homraj, stepped to the wicket. He entertained the crowd. Even supporters of the Demerara team were cheering his blasts to all parts of the field. While wickets fell at the other end, Akshay continued doing a job” on the opposing bowlers. At the end of the Berbice innings, 20 overs, Akshay was 105 not out. The scores of the other batsmen after him looked like the digits in a telephone number. Berbice closed their inning at 187 for 7. Avi Dhanpaul 2 for 26 and Vedeshpaul Singh 2 for 39.
Demerara started the chase and lost 2 quick wickets, 2 for 19. A third wicket partnership of 44 runs between Keeran Krishna (51) and Jamal Hickson (23) put back some respectability to their scorecard. Krishna then teamed up with skipper Avi Dhanpaul (27) in a fourth wicket partnership of 40 runs. Matthew Marquez (25) resorted to some late inning hitting which brought Demerara to 170 for 7. Excitement mounted as Demerara lost 2 wickets within 3 runs. At 173 for 9, 15 runs were needed for a Demerara victory. Berbice needed to take one wicket to secure the win.
It is now the 20th over. Demerara needed 11 runs for victory. Berbice needed to take 1 wicket. Karan Ganesh’s first 3 deliveries were dot balls. 11 runs needed in 3 balls. I think Karan would ponder the next 2 balls he bowled for a long, long time to come. The 4th ball he bowled was a juicy full toss which was deposited over the square-leg boundary or a maximum. 5 runs needed. The fifth was a short ball outside the off stump. A severe cover drive sent the ball cascading to the boundary. The Berbice supporters’ tent was mum. Shocked at the turn of events! The score now tied. Is there a super over in the making? Nah, the 6th ball was gently eased to the offside for a single. Demerara had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. The silence was deafening in the Berbice camp. Demerara have now advanced to the finals. Bowling for Berbice, Hemindra Ramdihol 2 for 29 and Dominique 2 for 31.
Game 3, the finals between Demerara and Essequibo commenced about 30 minutes after the end of the second eliminator. A slugfest was anticipated seeing that both teams had some heavy hitters. This was not to be. It was a low scoring game by T20 standard. Demerara took the first strike. They were restricted 127 runs in their 20 overs by some tight bowling by the Essequibo boys. Vedeeshpaul Singh top scored with 41 runs. Skipper Avi Dhanpaul (14) and Michael Sultan (35) were the only other batsmen to score in the double figures. Taking the wickets were Ritchie Looknauth 2 for 16, Kheshram Seyhodan 2 for 23, and Kelvin Shewprasad 3 for 26.
Essequibo commenced the run chase disastrously. The two heavy hitters, Raymond Perez and Renaldo Renee who had annihilated the Majestic bowling in the first eliminator were sent to the showers in the first over. Their nemesis was Michael Sultan who took the new ball for Demerara. The score after the first over was a dismal 2 runs for 2 wickets.
However, Shiv Sangaleema put all caution aside, not paying any mind to the dire state of the Essequibo scorecard. He muscled a quick-fire 23 runs. Looknauth Chinkoo (13) joined him in a 3rd wicket partnership of 37 runs. With the fall of Chinkoo’s wicket, it was clear that Demerara had seized the advantage. Any thoughts of a Demerara victory was dispelled once Ritchie Looknauth (40) not out and Chetram Balgobin (22) came together in a 6th wicket partnership which yielded 62 runs. Ushardev Balgobin contributed 12 runs while batting with Looknauth to seal the victory for Essequibo. The successful bowlers for Demerara were Michael Sultan 2 for 33 and Mahendra Persaud 3 for 23.
Essequibo had accomplished what they were unable to acquire for over three quarters of a century. They won the Guyana Cup Tournament / Tri County Trophy / The Inter County Championship. By whatever name you prefer to call to the tournament, Essequibo were the Champions.