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Barker’s new game

Tony Best

Barker’s new game

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Time was when Keith Barker, the son of a Bajan, had dreams of playing football for an English Premier League football team, representing England, and making a lot of money.
Not so anymore. These days, the young man who played international youth football for England during his time with Blackburn Rovers Under-18, is channelling his energy and interest into being an outstanding alrounder for Warwickshire’s county cricket team and, hopefully, catching the eye of England’s selectors.
It’s a pinnacle that would have made his father, Keith Barker, of Bayfield, St Philip, a very proud man had he lived to see his son’s accomplishments.
Barker Jr., a left-arm pace bowler and a middle order batsman, who scored two first-class centuries in county cricket last year – 101 against Durham and 118 against Sussex – once cherished the hope of playing in an international football match at Wembley. Now, that dream is to trot onto the field in England’s colours at Lord’s.
The Bajan-Brit moved a step closer to that goal when on a recent weekday afternoon, the 25-year old who was born in Accrington in Lancashire, helped to dismantle Worcestershire with an eight-wicket haul in the match that sealed the 2012 championship for his county. He has become a star, attracting considerable media attention.
So, when the champagne corks popped and Jim Troughton, the Warwickshire captain, raised the trophy above his head, kissed it on one side, Barker smooched the other, convinced his switch from football to the game his father loved so much and played at the first-class level for the then British Guiana (now Guyana), Natal in South Africa and as a professional at Enfield and Rishton in the Lancashire League was all worth the effort.  
“If it had worked out, maybe I could have been making big bucks as a footballer,” said Barker, as he enjoyed the sweet moments of success in the Warwickshire dressing room.
“But I don’t think about it now. I’m not really bothered about what happened to Blackburn. To be honest, I think cricket has made me a better person. Football can make you kind of arrogant, that’s what it is like. You are taught from 12 or 13 not to care about anyone else but yourself. You don’t [know] who you are half the time.”
Despite a good run with the Blackburn Rovers Under-18 and its reserve side, Barker Jr never played in a big game with the club’s first team but had the opportunity to compete in Belgium and Ireland before he was released five years ago. That’s when he decided to put everything into cricket.
“I was at Blackburn from the age of nine or ten, and for six years, I was combining football with cricket at Lancashire,” he explained. “Cricket came naturally to me when I was younger, but when I was 15 or 16, I was enjoying myself more playing football and I just went with my gut instinct at the time.”
After Blackburn gave up on him, Keith, who had maintained his ties to Enfield, his father’s team, began concentrating on cricket full-time. It wasn’t long before David Lloyd, the former England batsman and current cricket television commentator, recommended him to Warwickshire which decided to take a look at him and the rest, as they say, is history.
After watching him bat and bowl, the county offered him a contract and Keith’s godfather, Clive Lloyd, the former Lancashire and West Indies captain, who had played with his father in Guyana, urged the young man to take the plunge. Keith made his debut for Warwickshire against Somerset at Edgbaston in 2009 and although it wasn’t a spectacular showing, finishing with one for 47, he sent a strong message to the club that he was there to stay.
“We got him down for a trial and within a couple of games, in one of which he got a hundred, it was clear he could bat really well, regardless of his bowling, and we signed him as a batsman,” explained Ashley Giles, Warwickshire’s director of cricket.
Before the start of this year’s county cricket season, Keith set himself some goals.
“I want to establish myself in the four-day squad. I think I have already done that in the one-day squad,” he told Boundary magazine. “I now have to keep on top of that and keep pushing for the four-day squad. Hopefully, after I have established myself in the County Championship, I can go on and possibly get an opportunity in the national (England) side. I would love 50 wickets this season, but it is just about playing and doing well in each game, and if the wickets come and I can come close to that, then great.”
The record shows Keith surpassed his goal, taking 54 wickets this year and helping to bowl Warwickshire to the championship.
But Keith isn’t the only Bajan to have opened the bowling for Warwickshire. The first was Dr Rudi Webster, who played for the county in the 1960s after he left Barbados for England to study medicine.