Yorke in action for the Strike Squad in a charity match vs the West Indies team.The West Indies cricketers needed kicks from the penalty spot to overcome the Strike Squad 5-4 on Saturday night, as the West Indies Players Association (WIPA) staged its “Balls of Fire” event at the Queen’s Park Oval in Port-of-Spain.

Both teams alternated their goalkeepers in the shoot-out, with star attraction Brian Lara putting the Strike Squad ahead, hitting his penalty to the right of goalie Kieron Pollard, but Chris Gayle responded with a thunderous effort past Strike Squad’s Michael Maurice.

Dwight Yorke then converted for the Strike Squad, a shot which struck the left leg of keeper Dave Mohammed before trickling over the line, but Dwayne Bravo knotted up the scores at 2-2 with a drive which grazed the left hand of the diving Michael McComie.

Pollard did not fall for Leonson Lewis’ fake and stuck out his right leg to block Lewis’ left-footed effort, while Runako Morton put the cricketers 3-2 ahead after wrong-footing Maurice.

Russell Latapy calmly placed his shot past Mohammed while Lendl Simmons did the same, past Trevor Nottingham, before Marvin Faustin thundered the Strike Squad’s fifth effort, with Pollard diving to his left in vain.

But, with the scores at 4-4, Xavier Marshall wrong-footed Maurice as he placed his right-footer to the keeper’s right to seal the win for the Windies outfit.

The game was staged in 30-minute thirds, and it ended with a 5-5 score-line, after regulation time.

Latapy netted twice and Lewis once to put the Strike Squad 3-nil ahead, before the WI cricketers stormed back with a vengeance, with Darren Bravo, Justin Guillen, Leon Johnson, Daron Cruick-shank and Chris Gayle finding the back of the net to tilt the balance in the WI favour.

But the Strike Squad were able to force penalties, with late strikes from Marlon Morris and Lara.

However, Mohammed’s save proved vital as the cricketers prevailed in the shoot-out.

Among the other participants were, for Strike Squad, Clayton Morris, Dexter Francis, Brian Williams, Angus Eve and Larry Joseph while the other cricketers who donned their football boots were Ramnaresh Sarwan, Daren Ganga, Devon Smith and WIPA president Dinanath Ramnarine.

The football match followed on the heels of a day-night Twenty/20 match, with the West Indies XI defeating Trinidad and Tobago by 18 runs.

All proceeds from the event will go towards the Pearl and Bunty Lara Foundation, the WIPA Development Fund and a combination of various players’ charities.

Mark Pouchet took in the scenes at 'Balls of Fire'.
By: Mark Pouchet (T&T Express).

Lime and bacchanal

The West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) would do well to take a page out of the book of LAY Management Ltd and the West Indies Players Association's (WIPA's) marketing of the Balls of Fire Charity Event at the Queen's Park Oval Saturday.

The event, the proceeds of which are to benefit the Pearl and Bunty Lara Foundation, drew a crowd of some 25,000 people who crammed into the venue to catch a glimpse of their favourite cricketers and current and former star footballers and most importantly, indulge in that Trini penchant, liming.

In terms of organisation, the Board could find better examples, as fire and police personnel seemed overwhelmed trying to control the throng that spilled onto the grassy knoll areas and those occupying the aisles and walkways of the Scotiabank, Dos Santos, Carib, CLICO, Constantine and Trini Posse Stands.

But certainly in terms of demand and generating interest, LAY and WIPA were a roaring success.

Hundreds were inevitably left outside, while scalpers managed to sell tickets which carried an original $60 price tag, for up to $800!

It was obvious the massive turnout exceed the wildest expectations of LAY and WIPA. Their offer of "sit anywhere tickets" had such an impact, that at the start of the Twenty/20 game, the gates and turnstiles were forced to close, with legitimate ticket-bearers still struggling to get in, with only standing room available.

Possibly in anticipation of sanctions the EMA may be issue, one official was overheard telling a colleague: "Boy, the fine the (Queen's Park) Oval go hadda pay on Monday, eh!?"

But those fans and patrons who made it inside the venue would say it was worth the effort and small bacchanal. That was even though they had to grab a vantage point impeding the view of others, finding improvised seating on walls and railings and even braving "cuss" from blocked, seated on-lookers.

Most of those little squabbles were settled the Trini way, that is, with the offer of some alcoholic beverage to compensate for the inconvenience, and by the perpetrators "squinging up" a bit as a sign of compromise.

Earlier, many had started arriving from as early as 2 p.m. and setting up their spots for the event that featured a cricket match between the estranged West Indies captain Chris Gayle, leading a "Real West Indies" squad and a Brian Lara-captained Trinidad and Tobago unit that also included Lara's longtime buddy and T&T football icon Dwight Yorke; and a football match between the Clayton Morris-led Strike Squad side and a Gayle-spearheaded West Indies side.

By the time the five-hour event got started with the Twenty/20 at 5 p.m., three hours of bending the elbow to the mouth had taken its toll and patrons were in the mood to back and celebrate their side's every blow and strike, even though the T&T Boys lost the 20/20 by 18 runs.

There were moments of genuine nostalgia; like the entrance of Lara at number four, when the crowd rose to their feet and gave a roar of adulation to the old Prince of Port-of-Spain.

Exclamations of : "Lara, yuh is de best!" and "Nobody could bat like he!" followed.

But the quick-paced nature of the cricket followed by the evocative football game featuring the Strike Squad made the evening an enjoyable venture and gave fans the opportunity to lime for a good cause.

"If they have this (event) tomorrow, they could get my money again," yelled a less than sober patron.

LAY and WIPA will be looking to reap the rewards of sentiments like that at their next edition of the event.

Yorke, Gayle, star in Balls of Fire.
By Joan Rampersad (T&T Newsday).

Thousands of fans who packed the Queen’s Park Oval for “Balls of Fire” charity event on Saturday got the treat of a lifetime, beginning with a 20/20 cricket match between TT Players and West Indies Players, followed by a football match between the 1989 Strike Squad and a WIPA team.

The event turned out to be the ultimate in fete matches. It was well planned and a huge crowd turned out for what was indeed “a celebration of our national cricket and football teams.”

One of the main attractions was cricket world record holder Brian Charles Lara, who briefly came out of retirement for his first 20/20 cricket game in the Caribbean. There was also the reunion of Strike Squad members for the football action. Fans got much more than they bargained for with national footballer Dwight Yorke taking on the role of wicketkeeper and opening batsman for the TT. Team. Another treat was seeing West Indian cricketer Chris Gayle as a football forward.

The TT cricket team took the field first, led by Lara. Out came a padded and gloved Yorke, much to the surprise and delight of the crowd. The fete atmosphere was supported by drums and tassa playing between overs, as well as DJ music from the Trini Posse Stand. The musical volume increased at the fall of Gayle’s wicket in the first over, and with every wicket that followed.

Dave Mohammed’s “half-wine” after taking the wickets of Ramnaresh Sarwan and Renako Morton delighted the crowd, as did Dwayne Bravo’s fancy footwork to Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

Yorke’s stint at the wicket was a crowd pleaser. His skying delivery for two and straight driving for a single prompted the DJ to play “Craziness”. When Yorke was given out, the Prince of Port-of-Spain graced the field, generating excitement with a vintage late cut for four. Daron Cruickshank, who caught Lara out, was booed by fans in the Clico Stand. Undeterred, Cruickshank got rid of Denesh Ramdin, then turned to the crowd who applauded him.The West Indies team won the cricket encounter. The DJ missed an opportunity to capitalise at the end of the cricket match when he failed to play Strike Squad theme music from their 1989 World Cup campaign. Another shortcoming was the lack of an announcer to give highlights of the two fete match encounters. Fans who stayed for the entire event, were treated to some comedy from Gayle, in the unfamiliar role of footballer.

Several shots to goal by striker Gayle were thwarted by Strike Squad goalkeeper Michael Maurice. At one point an exasperated Gayle threw himself at the back of the net and Maurice had to help him back on his feet and encourage him to continue. Gayle eventually produced a goal for the WIPA team in the game’s final 30-minute segment. Ramnaresh Sarwan, Devon Smith and Mervyn Dillon also had some good moments on the WIPA side. The Strike Squad had the WIPA team 3-0 following two goals from current TT football coach Russell Latapy and one from Leonson Lewis at the end of the first segment.

Latapy and Yorke switched to the WIPA team and got them past the Strike Squad 4-3 with goals from Darren Bravo, Justin Guillen, Leon Johnson and Darron Cruickshank.

The game ended with a penalty shoot out when scores were level at 5-5.Lara put the Strike Squad ahead, hitting his penalty to the right of goalie Kieron Pollard. Yorke, Latapy and Marvin Faustin also scored but Gayle, Dwayne Bravo, Morton, Lendl Simmons and Xavier Marshall produced the perfect score from the line and the WIPA team were victorious over the Strike Squad. Proceeds from the event will go towards the Pearl and Bunty Lara Foundation, the WIPA Development Fund and a combination of various players’ charities.