Fabian Allen doesn’t drop catches; everyone knows that.
Dwayne Bravo doesn’t either; everyone knew that. Except, it seems, Fabian Allen.
In the Third T20I at the Daren Sammy Stadium in St Lucia on Monday 12 July, those pieces all came together. In spectacular fashion.
But that may not be so much a case of knowledge, what Allen knows, as of chemistry, what Allen feels. And why.
And if that is indeed so, it highlights a major truth about Kieron Pollard’s T20 unit: it is much, much more than the sum of its parts. There is a certain je ne sais quoi about the esprit de corps which team members frequently reference but which is not easy to put your finger on.
And it underlines, I think, the complex contribution Allen—who has giving new focus, if not new meaning, to the term ‘all-rounder’—makes to this team.
Judge for yourself.
At the end of over #11, Australia were averaging just above seven runs per over and in need of a boost. But new addition Alex Carey and old warhorse Aaron Finch could not deliver, both falling in leg-spinner Hayden Walsh Jr’s next over.
On 30 off 31 balls, Finch sought to force the issue and lifted a skier down towards cow corner. As Bravo’s usually safe hands lined it up at wide long-on, Allen unwontedly kept running towards him from the deep midwicket area. When, against all the odds, the right-handed all-rounder spilled the chance—and the rebound!—the alert, athletic ambidextrous all-rounder was on hand to dive low and complete a remarkable catch.
Question: when DJB loudly claims a catch, who on this team dares NOT get out of the way?
Answer: no one.
So why did Allen not keep his distance on this occasion? A hunch? Disobedience? Disrespect? Intuition? Telepathy?
Whatever the correct answer, what it says about the team dynamic is, I submit, compelling.
Compelling too was Allen’s magnificent, low, diving, one-handed catch to dismiss Finch in Game 5 on 16 July. But we shall return to that.
Let us first recall another Allen effort in the CPL in August 2017 in which the all-rounder leapt high rather than dove low. With the same devastating result.
On the field as a substitute in the game against Guyana Amazon Warriors, Allen was posted as the sole cover boundary rider for the St Kitts and Nevis Patriots.
Given over #17, SKNP’s Pakistani pacer Hasan Ali ran in and bowled a shortish delivery outside the off-stump to the well-set Jason Mohammed. The Trinidadian all-rounder climbed on his toes and slapped it almost disdainfully but powerfully from his presence.
The ball briefly threatened to soar over the ropes at cover. Which Allen, running at a rate of knots to his left towards the lofted slap, realised…
Timing his leap into the air to perfection, the airborne Superman contrived to reel the ball into his fully outstretched palms. He crashed to the ground, instantly leapt, panther-like, to his feet again and flung the round, red prize high into the air in triumph…
It was freakish, a feat of athleticism befitting flying trapeze artists at the circus but completely out of place on a cricket field. And yet, in Game 5, Allen almost replicated it, the only major difference being the direction of the final effort along the vertical plane.
Well on course in their pursuit of the 199-run target set them by the WI, Finch’s Aussies had reached 95 for 2 in over #10. Once again, Player-of-the-Series Walsh drew a lofted drive from Finch down to long-on.
It was travelling. But so was Allen.
Taking off at full tilt from the moment the ball was struck, the fieldsman raced some 15 yards to his left without breaking stride. Aware that he was still more than a yard short of his goal, his left hand fully extended, the acrobatic left-hander flung himself low to his left to pluck the ball out of the air.
And retain control of it.
Few would have been surprised to see that chance dropped, my match report said. Instead, what dropped was Finch’s jaw. And Australia’s chances of getting to the mountaintop.
Overstatement? Not at all! Unsurprisingly, the television commentators, only too ready to accord the status of ‘brilliant’ to anything out of the ordinary, could not do the superb athletic display justice.
In Game 1 on Friday 9 July, we had had a foretaste of this ‘brilliance’ when Allen caught Mitchell Starc on the midwicket boundary. On that occasion, he sprinted to his right from wide midwicket to dive forward and claim the catch with both hands—near miraculously avoiding a collision with Walsh, who was a foot or so away likewise racing to his left from mid-on in a vain attempt to complete the catch.
At 37, Bravo is reluctant to concede that his batting prowess is on the wane; that he contrived to top the batting averages won’t help his detractors’ case.
For his part, Allen, now 26, earned himself four wickets and repeatedly indulged in the kind of big-hitting that can only enhance his reputation as a destroyer of bowling if not of bowlers.
Walsh Jr, 29, adjudged Player-of-the-Series in the just concluded T20 face-off against Australia, captured 12 wickets and made as many runs in his two innings. He readily admitted that Allen had earned the best fieldsman prize. But he was not about to concede that, in the next series, the Jamaican would again walk away with the accolade.
What is clear, though, is that the rivalry is raising standards among West Indian all-rounders. Soon, it seems possible, they will be judged not on two but on three categories, including fielding.
For the moment, the real McCoy is Obed but, among all-rounders, Bravo remains the finished product.
However, given the speed with which the younger men are upping their game, particularly in the field, the current senior statesman may well be in danger of losing his long unchallenged place.
And Allen’s unsurprisingly the air apparent.
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