By Sam Sooppersaud
Anyone hanging around Idlewild Park in Rosedale, Queens, on Sunday, August 2, 2015, would have concluded that something important; some big event, was about to take place. The streets adjacent to the park were lined with parked cars. A half length of one street immediately in front of the park was lined with orange cones and signs reading “VIP PARKING.”  Hey, you only have VIP’s when something big takes place!  Security guards in black pants and white shirt and sporting fluorescent green vests lined the front entrance to the park.

Shivnarine Chanderpaul with two fans.

Shivnarine Chanderpaul with two fans.

Under a canopy near the entrance gate two persons, a male and a female, were taking tickets handed to them by patrons. Either a yellow or blue wrist band was affixed to the patron’s wrist. This color coded band suggested the amount a fan had paid to enter. A yellow wrist band was for mere admission to the park, at a cost of $40.  Those sporting the blue wrist band were the “chosen” who shelled out their $120 donation, so that they would have the privilege of enjoying the enclosed company of the visiting legends, while enjoying a wine and dine encounter with other VIP’s.

I arrived at the park about 10:30. AM and handed my $40 ticket to the attendants and was yellow-banded. I would starve for the rest of the day as no one was allowed to take any food into the park. Several white tent food courts were set up. There, patrons could buy their “bellyful” of food. A large variety of West Indian and American victuals were available. Dehydration could be a factor unless one buys the $2 per bottle of water. My brown bag with some leftovers was left in my car. I drank my bottle of water in front of the guard. Not permitted to take any bottled drinks beyond the gate.

All the visitors were checked and their bags opened. I totally agree with any frisking, as security is always a concern at large events.  On entering the cricket park, I saw a total transformation of what I am used to seeing at Idlewild. White tents lined the outside of the boundaries. There were chairs in the hundreds. (Oh, a visitor deposited $10; he gets a chair. When he returned the chair, he got back $8. Two dollars being the rental cost of the chair, quite a bargain!)

The cricket field was lush green and closely manicured. The resident groundskeeper Mr. Rose, was busy with his “last minute” adjustments to the field. An important cricket match would shortly be played at the park. The West Indies Cricket Legends would clash with the New York Masters. (This would be after the game between two local sides – A Tri-State Caribbean XI and A Tri-State Asian XI).

On the eastern side of the field three white tents were pitched. These were the accommodations for the players and VIP guests. Under these tents were “all manner of food and drinks”. (Let me leave it at that!) A few of the early birds were already feasting and drinking. The conversation all around was, of course, about cricket. About 400 to 500 fans were in the park at this time. By the time the Legends game started the crowd was over 1,000 to 1,200. More came in later in the day.

As usual, Leonard Achaibar and his commentary team was on hand to call the ball by ball play and to give their insights and color on the proceedings.  His usual partner, Carl Bennett was unavailable. His place at the mike was taken by Lenroy Whyte, nicknamed Englishman, because of his deep British accent. Young Achaibar, 8 years old, completed the team. John Aaron served as the roving commentator.

About half an hour after the conclusion of the first game, John Aaron introduced the players on both sides to the Trinidad & Tobago Consul for Trade and Tourism Ms. Adeola James of the Trinidad & Tobago New York Consulate, as the players took their places on the receiving line. Following the National Anthem, the two captains, Austin Hutchinson of the NY Masters and Gordon Greenidge doing the honors as the West Indies Legends skipper, walked out to the middle and watched as Ms. James spun the toss. Greenidge called correctly and chose to take first strike.

The openers for the WI Legends, Darren Ganga and Gordon Greenidge started briskly, with 27 runs coming in just three overs, with Ganga doing most of the scoring. Then Greenidge played on to a short ball. It was 3.4 overs, 34 runs, 1 wicket. With the fall of the first wicket the scoring rate was slowed down considerably. By the end of the 10th over the score was 69 runs for the loss of 4 wickets. The NY Masters were lively in the field. They felt they had the upper hand at this juncture.

Then came Shiv Chanderpaul and Ronnie Sarwan in a fifth-wicket stand. They played watchfully at first. But once settled in, they bombarded whatever the seven bowlers used, had to offer. Both showed their class. Sarwan was immaculate in timing his shots over deep long-on, while Chanderpaul pulled anything short over the mid-wicket ropes. Commentator Lenroy Whyte at one stage remarked, “I don’t know why the West Indies discarded Chanderpaul from the Test side considering what they have right now. The man can bat.” This seemed to be the sentiment around the park. And of Sarwan, “…they dropped him years ago. Why? He is still young and he hits the ball so clean,” and “West Indies is a joke, man.” The partnership was worth 112 runs when both Shiv (52) and Ronnie (50) retired (out). The innings ended at 181 for 4.

The NY Masters was set the daunting task of scoring 182 runs in 120 balls, a scoring rate of 9.1 run per over. An impossible assignment considering the batting strength, or the lack thereof of the NY Masters. The WI Legends’ bowlers “drew circles” around the batsmen. They could have ended the Masters innings for under 100 runs had they wanted to, but the Legends resorted to creating some fun for the spectators, and the batsmen. Several times wicketkeeper Greenidge missed stumping chances (on purpose) pretending that the ball beat him behind. Fielders were stopping short in their attempts to take catches, pretending that the ball was out of reach. Mervyn Dillon pretended to pull up with a hamstring.

Two former West Indies bowlers Pedro Collins (left) and Mervyn Dillon.

Two former West Indies bowlers Pedro Collins (left) and Mervyn Dillon.

How’s this for fun! Chanderpaul was fielding at backward point. Hafeez Ali sliced an easy catch to him. The fielder grabbed the ball, then pretend to lose control and the ball fell to the ground. In plain words, he willfully dropped the catch. The crowd was screaming their approval. They were being entertained. Captain Darren Ganga walked towards Chanderpaul and pretended to scold him. The skipper pretended to send Chanderpaul off the field for “dropping” the catch. Chanderpaul appeared to have “apologized” to the captain. This caused commentator Leonard Achaibar to remark, “Chanderpaul did the right thing.  He has to eat tonight. Hafeez owns the restaurant.” There was laughter all around the ground. The fans were having fun. The Legends were “playing it up” to the fans. It was not about winning at this time. It was all about fun and enjoyment. The NY Masters innings ended at 134 for 4. Hafeez Ali 26, Peter Singh 21, and Wahid Ward 20. Hafeez Ali and Peter Singh both retired (out), so as to give others a chance to bat against the WI Legends.

At the conclusion of the match, commentator Achaibar said, “This is the atmosphere in which these games were played, in a spirit of friendship and sportsmanship.”

However, there was one incident that “put a dent on the ‘Spirit of the Game’ tenets. While the Legends were batting the commentators kept heaping praises on the fine shot being played by a player. I will, at this juncture, give the player anonymity. But, in his time he was a stalwarts in WI cricket. He was one of the finest batsman in the world. He contributed greatly to the glory days of WI cricket. I even think that at this time he is helping to shape the present West Indies cricket squad. Yes, this player has credentials. But, sorry to say, he did not live up to his billing as being a true sportsman. He violated “The Spirit of the Game.”

When this player got out, he walked towards the players’ tent. He greeted the incoming batsman. Then he made a “bee-line” toward the commentators’ tent. He stopped about four feet in front of the tent and in a loud voice shouted (at the commentators): “I am no frigging Englishman, I am a West Indian. You hear that, I am a frigging West Indian, not an Englishman.” His facial expression showed that he was mad, he was upset. I tried to tell him that the guys did not call him an Englishman, and that it is the nickname of Lenroy Whyte, one of the commentators. The WI Legend simply stormed away.

The WI Legend’s tirade was within the presence and hearing of numerous fans, including many women. A word of explanation: In the WI and Guyana the word “frigging” is comparable to the “F—–g” used in the USA. So for this player to direct a curse word at the commentators, is unacceptable.

We here in New York, and the USA, welcome all experienced cricketers who are willing to come to our shores and help us to develop our cricket. But we are not going to allow those benefactors to abuse us just because they are helping us. No, we would not take it. This is a former player who can be of immense help to even the current West Indies cricket squad. But, is this the attitude of someone who may be called upon to work with the WI at the international level? I say not!

As a writer I am known for “telling it like it is.” In this case, I will not divulge the identity of the recalcitrant former WI star. I fell that it was a misconception on his part that provoked his anger. While he was batting he thought that the commentators were calling him an Englishman. But Leonard Achaibar was merely asking Lenroy Whyte aka Englishman, for some color on the plays.

Through an intermediary, we of the press, commentators and writer alike, sent word to this player that he needs to apologize for his ranting. I cannot say whether he has received such word.  I am not using his name in this piece because we are hoping that he realizes his error and do the right thing.  Word is being sent to him to this effect. Whether or not his identity is revealed is left to the discretion of my editor. After all, “to err is human”. This player is human, also.

At the presentation ceremony following the match, two beautiful trophies donated by Laparkan Shipping were presented to the winning skipper Gordon Greenidge, while the Man-of-the-Match one was presented to Shivnarine Chanderpaul for a very classy half-century.

The West Indies Cricket Legends were very gracious in accommodating their fans with endless autograph signings and photo opportunities. It was an event appreciated by fans and players alike.