“Foes in plenty we shall meet Hearts courageous scorn defeat So we press with eager feet Up and on, Up and on”
Shamar Springer, who listens to motivational speeches before matches and tells himself that he is champion, surely knows this verse by heart. For, these lines are part of the official song of Combermere School which he attends. “Up and on, Up and on” was also what the 18-year-old from Bridgetown, Barbados, did in the Under-19 World Cup semifinal against Bangladesh on Thursday. Wickets kept falling at the other end in the tricky 227-run chase, and the home team’s bowlers, buoyed by a vocal crowd, put the West Indies under immense pressure. You were waiting for them to crumble, but Springer “pressed with eager feet” and made 62 unbeaten runs off 88 balls to take the team to a three-wicket victory. With this, a final date with India has been set up for Sunday, and Springer has given himself a chance to officially be a champion.
Combermere School is said to have produced 20 Test cricketers, including such legends as Frank Worrell and Wes Hall. It’s difficult to predict if Springer will be the 21st, for there’s many a slip twixt the cup and the lip, but Springer has shown that he has the requisite talent and mental toughness to be a fine all-round cricketer.
“Springer is a very level-headed guy, a very talented cricketer,” team manager Dwain Gill later said. “In Barbados, they’re not sure if he’s a batting all-rounder or a bowling all-rounder and it’s something that we need in the Caribbean going forward. We need a guy batting at No. 6 and 7 and bowling and he seems to have adopted that role. We expect a lot from him now and in the future.”
Springer’s first contribution came with his medium pace bowling after Bangladesh won the toss and elected to bat.
It was a curious decision by Mehedi Hasan Miraz as there was some juice in the pitch. A thick fog and an unexpected chill also made it ripe for the West Indian pace attack to exploit the conditions. In Alzarri Joseph and Chemar Holder, the West Indies have the fastest and deadliest new-ball pair in the competition. But early on, the duo seemed to have gotten carried away a bit. Joseph dug the first ball short and it was called wide. In that eventful first over that had early birds in the stadium on the edge, Joseph bowled a no ball and another wide, but also rattled Pinak Shah, and the Bangladesh dug out, with a vicious bouncer that struck the opener on the crown of his helmet. In the next over, Holder too gave six extra runs before accounting for Gosh, who sliced a short and wide ball to third man.
Joseph would remove the other opener, Saif Hassan, with a bouncer, but as the fog dispersed and the sun came out, Joyraj Sheik too got into a nice rhythm. Runs were coming at an easy pace and Bangladesh brought up their fifty in the 11th over. But they soon hit a speed bump. Captain Shimron Hetmyer gave the ball to medium pacer Ryan John, who struck in the very first over, getting the in-form Nazmul Hossain Shanto’s leading edge with a deceptive slower ball. Springer came from the other end and started bowling a tight off-and-outside-off line right away. The run-flow was reduced to a trickle. Something had to give, and Sheik succumbed. He looked to guide Springer to third man only to drag the slower leg-cutter onto his stumps.
Like in the last match against Nepal, captain Miraz revived the innings with a brave and fluent half-century. Brave because he counter-attacked, hitting Joseph, who had come for a second spell, for two boundaries. After Zakir Hasan was cleaned up by holder, to make it 113/5 in the 28th over, Miraz forged a partnership with Mohammad Saifuddin and exposed West Indies’s weak link — their spinners. They added 85 runs for the sixth wicket and looked all set to take the home team to 240, but Keemo Paul removed both in two balls, while Springer disturbed Mosabbek Hossain’s stumps to restrict Bangladesh for 226.
The chase was going to be a trial by spin, and Miraz, who bowls off-spin, made it evident right away by bringing himself on first up. The left-handed Gidron Pope danced down and hit the second ball over the long off boundary and cracked two more fours to make it clear he wasn’t going to fool around. Before long, West Indies were 44 in the 5th overs and cruising. But then Miraz struck, trapping Tevin Imlach leg before and bowling the adventurous Pope through the gate in two overs. The crowd raised the roof, but Hetmyer and Keacy Carty put their heads down and added 62 runs for the third wicket, when left-arm spinner Saleh Ahmed Shawon bowled the latter. Out walked Springer.
Back in the Caribbean, they call Springer a “ball-beater” for his aggressive batting. As a lower middle-order bat, his job is to whack the ball out of shape. But he played a counter-intuitive knock, showing immense restraint. In fact, given the kind of slam-bang batsmen the West Indies is producing these days, it could be said that this innings went against their national character.
It was dour and gritty and Springer played a lot of dot balls. His first four came after 47 balls when he put a full toss away past cover. In the next over, he tonked Shanto over long-off for a six to bring the target down to fifty.
However, the West Indies lost both Hetmeyr and Keemo Paul in one over and it looked as if the meltdown will begin soon, but Springer wasn’t in a mood to surrender. He kept finding singles and twos and the odd boundary to inch the West Indies closer. Then, with the finish line in sight he brought the inner “ball beater” out and smoked back to back boundaries off pacer Mohammad Saifuddin to bring up the win.
As Bangladesh’s boys fell on the ground, the West Indian players came sprinting out of the dugout. Springer punched the air and brought his trademark “chestroll” dance, a slow motion jig where he sways his upper torso. He is from Combermere after all. It’s not only known for those Test players. Rihanna too came from the same school.
Brief scores: Bangladesh U-19 226 all out in 50 overs (M Hasan 60; K Paul 3/20, C Holder 2/36, S Springer 2/36) lost to West Indies U-19 230/7 in 48.4 overs (S Hetmyer 60, S Springer 62 n.o.; S Ahmed 3/37) by 3 wickets.