August 12, 2003

One great day

Jack Mollinson Noreiga, who has died in Trinidad, had a brief but successful fling with Test cricket early in 1971.

It was Noreiga's misfortune to be bowling offspin in the West Indies at the same time as Lance Gibbs, one of the best of them all. But in 1971 Gibbs's form dipped and Noreiga - who, rising 35, was only a couple of years younger - was called up for the series against India after taking 11 wickets in Trinidad's Shell Shield match against Barbados. Noreiga was at his best on the turning pitches of the Queen's Park Oval in Portof-Spain, and took only one wicket in the first Test in Jamaica. But in the second Test, back home in Trinidad, he delivered what remains the best bowling analysis by a West Indian bowler: 9 for 95, from 49.4 overs. After the first wicket fell to Grayson Shillingford, Noreiga mopped up the rest of the innings. Despite his efforts, India won the match - Sunil Gavaskar made 65 and 67 not out on his Test debut - which was eventually enough to give them the series 1-0.

Noreiga played alongside Gibbs in the next Test, at Georgetown, but both missed out in the fourth match in Barbados. But Noreiga was back for the final Test - at Port-of-Spain again - and grabbed 5 for 129 in the second innings (while Gavaskar compiled 220) to finish with 17 wickets at 29.00 in his brief Test career. Gibbs returned to form afterwards, eventually topping the 300-wicket mark in Tests in 1975-76, and Noreiga never featured again. He did play on for T&T until 1975, ending up with 68 wickets at 29.67.

Noreiga died in Port-of-Spain's Sangre Grande hospital on Friday (August 8), after stomach surgery. He was 67, and leaves nine children and seven grandchildren. Garry Sobers, his captain in those four Tests, remembered Noreiga as "a jovial personality and a real team man" as well as "a very useful bowler". Sobers recalled: "Lance was going through a bad patch at the time and Jack filled the gap tremendously. He was a very useful bowler, especially at the Queen's Park Oval. He flighted the ball, had good control over line and length, and turned it. Like most Trinidadians, he enlivened the dressing-room with his humour. I'm saddened to learn of his untimely passing."