By Sam Sooppersaud
(Reporting from Fort Lauderdale)
Skipper Shazam Babwa of the Trinidad & Tobago Legions assumed the role of a one man wrecking crew, and played the proverbial “captain’s inning” when his team met the United Chargers in the Finals of the 2011 US Cricket Open on Sunday, December 4, 2011, at the Central Broward Regional Park Cricket Stadium, in Lauderhill, Florida.

Shazam Babwa during his entertaining knock of 100. Photo by Shiek Mohamed

The robustly built batsman rallied his club out of a precarious situation of two wickets down for 12 runs in the third over to the tune of 176 for 4 wickets by the time they had batted their 20 overs. He was so charged up that he sent missiles flying high into the sky and “miles” beyond the boundary ropes. Such was the conditions that commentator Carl Bennett remarked, “I am thinking of calling the FAA and obtaining a license for flying objects.” Lennie Achaibar, Carl’s broadcast colleague added, “It appears that no field is big enough for him.”

The T&T bowler’s nemesis battered all six bowlers employed by the Chargers, hitting 11 monstrous 6’s. They weren’t just squeakers; they cleared the ropes by an appreciable distance and travelled at high altitudes before landing on terra firma. Babwa saw his side through to the 20th over, before he was out, caught attempting yet another launch of the cricket ball into space, with just two deliveries in the over. By that time T&T were sitting confidently on a seemingly unbeatable score, knowing the United Chargers had to score 8.8 runs per over to surpass the required 176 runs for victory.

The United Chargers had earlier in the day staked their claim to the Finals by overcoming the Bedessee Florida Destroyers in their semi-final encounter. T&T qualified for the finals by defeating the 2009 US Open Champions, the Washington Tigers. In fact, any two of the four semi-finalists would have been worthy of playing in the finals. As it was, the Trini boys and the Chargers made the cut.

The much anticipated meeting between the two finalists was played out at the stadium to the deafening shouts and applause of the large crowd that packed the stands at the venue. Added to that, the tantalizing rhythm of the music of Trini Rasta contributed to the festive mood that prevailed.

The Chargers captain Steve Massiah, won the toss, and for some inexplicable reason, relegated the first knock to the calypso boys. This was a decision, that baffled the minds of their supporters and opponents alike, as the United Chargers in batting first in previous games, had scored winning totals. In one of the games they scored in excess of 200 runs.

However, sending in T&T to occupy the middle first paid immediate dividends for the Chargers. With three overs completed the score was 12 runs for the loss of two wickets. The United Chargers players were jubilantly high-fiving each other or pumping their fists in the air, ass their supporters screamed encouragement at them. The Trini Posse section of the stands was rather subdued, but they rallied behind their team and buoyed them on. Eventually they crawled and scratched their way out of danger’s way.

The third wicket partnership of Adrian Ali and his skipper Shazam Babwa, commenced damage control by patiently playing what the bowlers had to offer. They rotated the strike with an intermittent boundary to the tune of 58 runs between the two of them.  Then Ali lost his wicket.

In came Rajendra Mangalie to join a settled Babwa at the crease. He played a supporting role to Babwa who by this time was blasting the cricket ball over the boundary with regularity. The two put on 82 runs for the 4th wicket partnership. By the time Babwa was finished with the Chargers bowlers, he had blasted 11 monstrous 6’s.

The Chargers lost a glorious opportunity to send Babwa to the showers when Mikey Alexis grassed a skier.  Babwa attempted yet another launch to deep long on. He was on 56 at that juncture of his sparkling innings. The batsman hit an additional 46 runs before he was out. The United Chargers lost the game by 21 runs. T&T Legions closed their innings at 176 for 4 wickets, with skipper Babwa hitting the second century of the tournament, the first having been hit by Kenroy Wright of the Bedessee Florida Destroyers in a Preliminary Round game.

The United Chargers called upon the prolific and hard-hitting batsman, Sushil Nadkarni and USA Senior Captain Steve Massiah, to commence the assent to the summit of 177 runs for victory at 8.8 runs per over required, an daunting task but not unattainable considering the depth of the Chargers’ batting line up and the recent run of half centuries scored by their top batsmen.

T&T countered by opening their attack with a spinner at both ends typical of the trend by their national skipper Darren Ganga, in the recently concluded Champions Trophy in India. In the 12 games played so far by the Chargers in the 2010 and 2011 tournaments the United Chargers batsmen had taken their team to victory overcoming all totals put up against them. It was the hope of their supporters that they would do it once more, preserving their winning streak and more importantly, taking home the Championship and the $50,000 top prize that goes along with it.

The two openers answered the bell with some brisk shots: 12 runs came in the first over, 19 in 1.5 over. On the last ball of the second over disaster struck the Chargers. Nadkarni attempted to send the ball flying over the deep backward square leg with a ferocious hook but only ended up giving a diving catch to Surujbally who covered some fifteen yards to take the catch prone on the ground. Quiet a spectacular grab.  Nadkarni’s run of high scoring innings had eluded him this time, when it was needed most.

In came the diminutive and exciting Carl Wright. So far in the tournament he had three scores over 50, one being 92 not out. It was the expectation of his club and their supporters that he would accomplish that feat once more.  Massiah and Wright batted on and kept the score moving, at the rate of 7 runs per over.  Wright was his own belligerent self while Massiah gave him most of the strike.

Just when it seemed that the two seasoned batsmen would get their team on solid ground Wright gave his wicket away. He premeditated a reverse sweep and ended up offering an easy catch to short backward square leg. With 10 overs completed, 66 runs on the books, and two top batsmen back in the pavilion, the game was evenly poised.  The United Chargers had a platform on which to launch an attack. Within the next five overs they scored 45 runs but lost three more wickets. The T&T boys smelled victory and pressed on.  With 66 runs needed for victory; a run rate of 11 per over was required. A steep mountain to climb, but knowing the uncertainties of Twenty/20 Cricket, it was attainable.

With two overs of batting left the United Chargers needed 29 runs for victory, 14.5 runs now required per over. The doom that had hovered over the heads of the Chargers and their supporters slowly, but surely descended upon them. When it was all over the United Chargers felt the sting of defeat which had eluded them since the 2010 Tournament.  They lost the 2011 US Cricket Open Finals to the T&T Legions, and so too, the $50,000 check that goes along with the Championship.

Throughout the tournament the Chargers had fought hard for their victories. They played excellent cricket all through.  They can walk away with their heads held high knowing that they had played hard and had entertained the fans; but yes, they were disappointed at the end result, the natural feeling of a fighter when he comes out in second place.

At the presentation ceremony Mr. Jeff Miller, V/P of Cricket Council USA and the man who had once again pulled off a successful campaign thanked all for making the tournament a successful one. He congratulated T&T on their success and had a special word of praise for the United Chargers who had given the US Open Tournament so much recognition since the 2010 event and had provided the fans with entertaining cricket.

Several individual awards were presented in addition to the Championship and Runner-Up Trophies. Among those receiving awards were: Most Wicket in the Tournament, Zaheer Ahmed. Best Bowling Figure, Mohamed Khan. Centurions Club, Shazam Babwa of T&T and Kenroy Wright of Bedessee Florida Destroyers.

It was, once again an exciting and enjoyable tournament, in many ways. Fans were able to see in action the very best players that we have in the USA. There was ample evidence that we have some exciting young prospects that if nurtured properly, would certainly become stars and lift the standard of cricket in the USA.

The management of Cricket Council USA has promised that the 2012 US Cricket Open would be a bigger event with 64 teams battling it out for a $100,000 first prize.

Guys you’d better get out to the cricket parks and start practicing!