The Windies Express is Coming

Fri, May 17, '02


Courtney Walsh By EDDIE SMITH

The late 1970s and then on into the 80s was a golden period for West Indies cricket. A production line of 'Express Pacemen' was producing enough genuine speedsters it seemed to fill the quota of 5 test playing nations. Every country in the cricket world was in genuine fear of the West Indian pace battery, and it looked as though the flow of this deadly breed would just keep on coming. This was not the case...

By about 1993 the West Indies' reputation of being the fastest attack on earth had slipped. Countries such as Pakistan with Waqar and Akram, and South Africa with Donald and Shultz had overtaken them and the rest of the world was close behind. That is not to say that Ambrose and Wash were not brilliant bowlers, however radar guns such as the one in operation in South Africa in 1993 had proved that this deadly duo's fastest was much closer to the 140kph mark than 150kph. Their effectiveness was due to their unerring accuracy coupled with a release point somewhere around the nine-foot mark.

Ian Bishop may well have been the answer to Caribbean prayers but injury curtailed and ultimately ended his career prematurely. It is a sobering thought that Ian Bishop is still only 34 years old today. Patrick Patterson, although lightning fast, had never lived up to performance expectations and by 193, his career was all but over.

To win a test match you must take 20 wickets in five days of play. Three or four medium pacers and a spinner or two has proved to be an attack lacking in potency and the ability to achieve this feat on a regular basis. Teams are in desperate needed of genuine speedsters.

Over the past couple of years the West Indies have tried some 20 so-called pacers with little success. Not to say that talent has not been on display, it's just that for one reason or another, the on-field success of each of these men has not matched either their obvious talent or the hype, which surrounded their debut. One by one, we have watched as paceman after paceman have entered the fray with disappointing results.

One case in point is Marlon Black (26). In the 2000/1 season, Black came to Australia and was quickly regarded as the next big thing. A six feet four express paceman, his back as wide as a table. He was, as was his predecessors and those who have followed, touted as the real thing, the new Andy Roberts and surely his speed was in the 150kph range. The hype, which surrounded Black?s debut, was undeserved as he proved at the time to be yet another of the West Indies 133 to 138kph medium pacers and that elusive piece of the West Indian puzzle was still missing.

Proven fastest of the current crop of international West Indian bowlers is Colin Stuart (28). Stuart for one is capable of more than merely touching the 140kph mark but can produce whole spells in between the 140 to 145kph (90.1mph) range. Stuart's action is closely linked to that of the late, great Malcolm Marshall and a modern equivalent would be Makhaya Ntini. Given an extended run in international cricket Stuart could well do like Ntini and shift up into 145 to 150kph range and produce the lethal pace which is required by nations to become a force in world cricket today.

Closely following Stuart is Franklyn Rose (30) and Reon King (26). These two bowlers are undoubtedly fast and were expected to be the ones who would take the West Indies into the year 2,000 and beyond. The ladies tell me that Rose is a far better model than he is a bowler and has recently signed contracts in this industry. But both Rose and King are capable of touching the 145kph mark and also bowling whole overs above 140kph. Form lapses, discipline problems, a spate of injuries, whatever the problems have been in the past it is the future that counts and hatchets need to be buried for the good of West Indian cricket. If only one of these two bowlers comes good then the West Indies could well be a force to be reckoned with once more. King is the one who seems more likely to stand up as his age of 26 still counts him in the youngsters bracket. It seems like he has been around for many years. King is fit again and taking wickets so we may not have to wait too long to see his silky speed once more on the international arena.

Nixon McLean's (28) international career has not set the world on fire, and up until recently neither had his speed. Standing at over 2 metres tall and firing the ball in at close to 140kph, McLean can seem a daunting prospect for most batsman, but once a tall bowler such as McLean adds that extra yard or two of pace, the task can become downright impossible. Reports were coming in from South Africa, early in the year that Nixon McLean was not only taking bundles of wickets for Natal, but was exceeding the 140kph mark with ease. As with Stuart, King and Rose, he was at times up around the 145kph mark and was reputedly the fastest bowler in South Africa's domestic competition. One would think that McLean who was taking wickets and bowling faster than ever would have been drafted straight into the West Indian squad, however a precedent had been set.

West Indian bowlers who turned their backs on the Busta Cup in favour of money in South Africa were under no illusions as to where they stood. Vaspert Drakes (32) learnt the previous year that bags of 1st class scalps in South Africa would cost you a place in the West Indian squad rather than gain you one. At times, either one of these pacemen may have fitted straight into South Africa's best 11.

In the current series against India, Marlon Black was pushing up into the mid 140s(kph) at times prior to his injury and his potential is unquestioned. Some of the West Indies faithful may have written him off as unfit and unprofessional but one gets the feeling that we haven't seen the last of the big fellow.

An interesting one is Cameron Cuffy (32). When he was new to the international scene, he was regarded as a tearaway fast-man. Following injuries, Cuffy has reinvented himself into a Courtney Walsh style bowler, bowling an immaculate line and length at around 132kph to 137kph. This does not mean that his ability to bowl fast has deserted him. Cuffy came out to Australia in 2000/1 looking decidedly slimmer and bowling markedly slower than in his previous visit, but it was what he was reported to have done in Perth which told the true story.

Cuffy joined a Fast Bowling competition during the lunch interval of the Zimbabwe match. Whilst the local speedsters were coming in at around 125kph to 130kph, Cuffy received a rousing cheer when he let fly with a ball measured at 150.9kph. It is completely understandable that Cuffy has chosen to limit his speed during matches and thus avoid the ailments usually associated with fast bowling. But one wonders why he doesn't use this ball as a 'shock' ball once in a while during a match. The same way in which a batsman can be deceived by a slower ball, he can be shocked into a mistake by a quicker one. Even if that particular ball doesn't get the desired result, it can play on a batsman's mind and disturb his decision making process.

Every now and then we see Cuffy get a little miffed at a batsman and he threatens to open up. It would be a sight to behold if he channelled his angst and produced a 150kph rocket some time soon. Colin Stuart could testify to Cameron Cuffy's pace, as a few years ago Stuart's left arm was broken by a searing Cuffy delivery.

The career of Corey Collymore's (24) has followed a similar path to Cuffy. Collymore was considered fast a few years ago but has slowed down to 133 to 138kph medium pace following stress fractures in his back. As with Cuffy, Collymore has that rare capacity to bowl fast. He is young enough to regain his confidence in his body, adjust his action and the pace will come.

One who I would classify as a future quick and not along side the current crop is first year bowler Adam Sanford. He was touted as being a bowler with alarming pace, the kind of skidding pace which Waqar Younis has made famous. Although Sanford has not measured up to the pace in which Waqar was renowned for early in his career, he is showing some very good signs. Off a short ambling run up the 25 year old is firing them in at 135kph to 141kph, but more than this. Sanford is an explosive type of bowler, one who over the next little while could do as did New Zealand's Shane Bond, and quickly take his 141kph up to and over 150kph. Whether this will happen may depend upon a lot of things, but there is no denying his potential to develop into a future express paceman. The six fastest bowlers in the world at present are all in their mid-twenties and this tells a story in itself.

One paceman who was spoken highly of last year was Ricky Christopher (27) however he is no longer a fresh faced youngster. With the aforementioned bowlers still on the scene and with the talent which is on the rise, it is questionable whether we will get to see him perform on the international arena.

A name which looks lost to West Indian cricket forever is that of Robert Joseph (20). Joseph was recognised at an early age as an outstanding prospect and was sponsored by a group of West Indian Businessmen to be taken to Kent in England. He was to attend school and learn the art of fast bowling. What was not expected was that Kent and England would claim him as their own and that after biding his time for the past few years at Kent, he may shortly be donning an English blazer. The last I heard, some very influential people including his father were trying to lure the young gun back to the West Indies. England have an emerging crop of pacemen and the talented youngster may well find his path to the international arena slightly easier and ultimately more fulfilling in the country of his birth.

Long term sights are being set on Ravi Rampaul (17) and Ryan Nurse (19), Fernix Thomas(20), Andrew Richardson (20) and Ryan Best (19).

Andrew Richardson is a tall athletic fast bowler with a hostile fast bowling mentality. If he can get himself fit for an extended period of time then this young man could be a world beater.

One bowler who proved his exceptional speed at a very tender age was Ryan Best. At just 15 years of age in 1998, he was as quick as many adult fast bowlers. I am not sure where Best is biding his time right now, but that kind of talent does not desert a boy as he becomes a man.

Nurse was the leading wicket taker for much of the recently completed U19 World Cup. He was setting the Caribbean abuzz with his exploits and there were calls, albeit somewhat prematurely for him to be called up for national duty.

His somewhat younger new ball partner for the championships was Ravi Rampaul. Just a couple of years ago Rampaul was lighting up the track in the U15 competition where he took 7 wickets for 11 against Holland. Rampaul is being watch very closely, not just because of his speed but because he is one of the rare breed of bowlers who could develop into a genuine fast bowling, all rounder.

When West Indian fans look to who can rival the World's Fastest in the 150kph range two names immediately spring to mind, Darren Powell (24) and Tino Best (22). Remember the names, because we may be hearing a lot more from these two in the near future. Both are super-fast, aggressive youngsters. Both are striking terror into hearts of many batsman in the Busta Cup competition and both of them carry the weight of a nation on their shoulders.

Darren Powell is ahead of Best, not in the pace stakes, but for his wicket taking ability and maturity. He has only played 12 first class matches but his impressive strike rate of 48 for his 32 wickets.

A missing ingredient for Best is experience. His 15 Busta Cup wickets this year have come at a strike rate of 38 yet inconsistency may cost him his regular first class berth. Until he starts stringing together a few regular bags of wickets, he cannot seriously be considered for the Senior West Indian team, or can he?

When Shane Bond was drafted into the New Zealand squad late last year, more than a few eyebrows were raised. This novice didn't earn his spot, but was chosen because of what he was capable of. Within a couple of months we witnessed exactly what an express paceman is capable of, when he demoralised the two strongest batting line ups in the world constantly with his short, sharp, bursts of pace.

Perhaps either of these West Indian youngsters could do the same. But, perhaps not. Fans and selectors alike have seen too many unproven fast bowling talents thrown in the deep end over the past couple of years and end up sinking rather than swimming. A common train of thought is that these two, of a rare breed, need to be nurtured through the domestic ranks and brought on slowly. They need to learn how to harness their pace, take wickets away from the pressure cooker atmosphere of the test arena, and develop the will and the desire to represent the West Indies with pride. This is what has been missing in recent history, and this is vital to the success of this one time giant of the cricket world. In the short term we will see both men wearing the colours of the West Indies when they suit up for the 'A' side in August.

Another, perhaps more viable short term option, chosen for 'A' team honours is Jermaine Lawson (20). Lawson is young and quite fast and he seems to be able to harness his speed with accuracy, making him even more deadly. As his strength and speed increases, he may grow into being the kind of bowler which is more akin with the Windies of the 80s than what we associate with the Windies of today.

Many of these men have the physical capacity to become genuine speedsters and bowl above 145kph (90.1mph). A couple of them may well join the elite in the 'express pacemans' (150kph) club. Whether they fulfil their potential and become what is needed is mainly dependant on themselves. Injuries can play a part, but as individuals they must develop the 'will' to build strength and improve technique. They must look within themselves and find the desire to bowl with fire, burn brightly, and represent the West Indies with pride.

The days of the West Indies having an abundance of pacemen are gone. Perhaps not forever, but they are gone for now. If only one or two of these athletes can fulfil their potential and become genuine quality speedsters, then the attack takes on a balanced feel, will become more potent and pressure will be relieved from the West Indies batsmen. In short, the Windies machine will be back on track.

* Eddie Smith tracks fast bowling speeds at his personal Web site. Members of the message boards assisted in researching this feature.