KINGSTOWN - The prodigal son of Barbados' cricket has returned in grand style.
With blazing bat, Ryan Hurley produced a sustained exhibition of exhilarating strokes en route to a magical, maiden regional first-class century at the Arnos Vale Playing Field yesterday.
His remarkable 116 off only 104 balls was dominated by bold, adventurous and sometimes risky strokes. But it allowed Barbados to recover from potential peril to gain a useful first innings advantage of 76 on the second day of the opening round Carib Beer Series match against the Windward Islands.
By the close of an eventful day, the visitors extended their revival by grabbing five Windwards second innings wickets after a solid opening stand of 91 between Devon Smith and Rommel Currency.
Left-arm spinner Sulieman Benn put the hosts under pressure by claiming four scalps and the Windwards' second innings position of 150 for five and an overall lead of 74 suggests that Barbados are in the ascendancy - thanks largely to Hurley.
His self-imposed break from the regional arena following his sudden decision to retire from the longer version of the game in December 2000 seems to have done the all-rounder a world of good.
"I have come back to make the West Indies team this year," the 27-year-old told SUNSPORT.
"It feels good to make this century. We were in trouble, so I decided to play for the team."
With Barbados' top-order batsmen gifting their wickets with careless indiscretions, Hurley walked onto the field after half-hour yesterday morning with the score on 74 for five. He responded to the situation with typical urgency.
When captain Courtney Browne top-edged a sweep to backward square, there was even more worry for Barbados at 99 for six, but it made no difference to the little dynamo who used his feet to the spinners with aplomb.
"If you are not positive to the Windwards attack, they would bog you down. I went out there to be positive," Hurley said.
"The captain told me that if he got out, I would have to take over. Just as he said, I took over from there."
Even at that stage, he was confident that the "3Bs" - Ian Bradshaw, Sulieman Benn and Tino Best - would stay to lend support.
The trio contributed 24 among them, but their presence in successive partnerships of 55, 32 and 44, was enough for Hurley to dictate proceedings in front of a crowd that included about two dozen Barbadians.
Both leg-spinner Orlanzo Jackson, who finished with five for 81, and off-spinner Shane Shillingford, came in for some warm lashes from Hurley.
Neither could stop him from repeatedly advancing down the track. They were either lifted over extra-cover, mid-wicket or mid-on. It was with that type of positive method that brought Hurley most of his 11 fours.
There were also three sixes, the first bringing his half-century when he picked up a ball from outside off-stump and swatted it over mid-wicket.
The other two sixes came after he completed his ton. One was a mighty blow off Shillingford over mid-wicket that cleared the players' pavilion and the other was off Jackson in almost the identical position.
As the last one hit the ground, a plane was just taking off from the nearby E.T. Joshua Airport. Like Hurley, it was in full flight.
As usual, Hurley caused a few heartbeats to flutter when he was at the crease.
When he was on 99, Rawl Lewis refused to make any adjustments to his field and with ample space in front of the wicket, Hurley attempted a dab through the slips.
It went low to Kester Sylvester at the solitary slip, but he couldn't hold on. Hurley then scampered through to raise his second first-class century to follow his 122 against South African provincial side Free State at Kensington Oval in 1996.
When he was on 94, Lewis also missed a sharp, low chance at mid-wicket and when he was 67, Shillingford should have held on to a straightforward offering at mid-on.
Barbados' batting was beset by some irresponsible strokes.
Philo Wallace gave the impression he was unhappy with the umpire's decision after a big swing, while Dwayne Smith, after smashing sixes over mid-wicket and straight overhead off left-arm seamer Deighton Butler, holed out to the deep backward square. Bradshaw also gave a catch in a similar region.
After Barbados were bowled out an hour after lunch for 232 in response to the Windwards' 156, there was encouragement for the hometown fans as Smith and Currency batted with assurance.
They were especially severe against Antonio Thomas, whose two overs cost 23.
After completing his second half-century of the match, Smith was lbw to Benn as he essayed a sweep. His aggressive 55 off 63 balls followed his 86 in the first innings, but he left the playing area dissatisfied with the decision given against him.
As was the case in the Windwards' first innings, the first wicket set the stage for a collapse. On Friday, the Windwards lost seven wickets for 61. Yesterday, five went for 53.
Benn took care of Currency with an arm ball that bowled the Vincentian opener for 41.
Junior Murray sent the ground into a buzz when he lifted Hurley over mid-wicket for a six. But, next ball, there was a hush in the stands as the former West Indies player played across the line and was lbw, for the second time in the match.
Forty minutes were still left in the day and Benn, who at times showed the effects of a knee injury when moving around the field, took another two wickets, the last of which prompted some spectators to leave the ground.
Windwards vs Barbados scoreboard - Sunday 02, February-2003
WINDWARDS 1st Innings 156
BARBADOS 1st Innings
P. Wallace c wk Murray b Jackson 21
S. Campbell c wk Murray b Butler 0
K. Wilkinson c Lewis b Butler 6
F. Reifer c wk Murray b Peters 1
D. Smith c Butler b Jackson 39
*+C. Browne c Eugene b Shillingford 13
R. Hurley c Eugene b Jackson 116
I. Bradshaw c Smith b Jackson 11
S. Benn lbw b Shillingford 7
T. Best not out 6
A. Thomas c Currency b Jackson 1
Extras (b4, lb4, w1, nb2) 11
TOTAL (all out - 69.1 overs) 232
Fall of wickets: 1-1 (Campbell),
2-13 (Wilkinson), 3-16 (Reifer),
4-63 (Wallace), 5-74 (Smith), 6-99 (Browne), 7-154 (Bradshaw), 8-186 (Benn), 9-231 (Hurley), 10-233 (Thomas).
Bowling: Butler 12-4-32-2, Peters 11-2-26-1, Jackson 20.1-3-81-5, Shillingford 15-3-50-2, Lewis
9-0-20-0, Sammy 2-0-15-0.
WINDWARDS 2nd Innings
D. Smith lbw Benn 55
R. Currency b Benn 41
K. Sylvester c Reifer b Benn 19
+J. Murray lbw b Hurley 6
J. Eugene not out 13
*R. Lewis lbw b Benn 0
O. Jackson not out 4
Extras (b1, lb2, nb9) 12
TOTAL (5 wkts - 43 overs) 150
Fall of wickets: 1-91 (Smith), 2-109 (Currency), 3-116 (Murray), 4-143 (Sylvester), 5-144 (Lewis).
Bowling: Bradshaw 6-1-26-0, Best 3-0-9-0, Hurley 18-2-51-1, Thomas 2-0-23-0, Benn 14-2-38-4.
Position: Windwards lead by 74 runs with five second innings wickets in hand.
Umpires: Goaland Greaves, Harry Rajkumar