• Today
    August 04

  • 06:19 AM

COZIER ON CRICKET – Stake claim to young talent

Tony Cozier,

Added 22 August 2010

THERE was a time when, for good reason, English county cricket attracted close attention throughout the Caribbean.It was, Clive Lloyd observed, effectively a finishing school for the proliferation of West Indian players who featured in almost every team.Their performances in what was a long professional season in unfamiliar conditions against high-quality international opposition had genuine relevance.Times have changed dramatically. West Indies cricket, for a host of reasons, has gone into such a tailspin that counties, once so eager to engage their players, now shy away from them.It is ironic, therefore, that one of the most exciting prospects presently in county cricket is West Indian.His name is Chesney Hughes, aged 19, and he was born, raised and learned his cricket in Anguilla, the tiny island just off St Maarten in the central Caribbean.He is now in his first season with Derbyshire for whom he became their youngest-ever century-maker with 112 against Gloucestershire in only his fifth first-class match.He followed that with 156 off 183 balls, with a six and 27 fours, in only his eighth first-class match against Northamptonshire this month.Reporting on the first hundred, the Derbyshire Telegraph wrote: “This was veteran batting from a teenager playing in his third first-class match.It added: “An awful lot can change for him over the next few years, as a man and as a cricketer, but his qualities appear to put him on the brink of a sparkling career.”Neville Scott, writing in the The Times, was also impressed. “Although blessed with shoulders as broad as Wayne Daniel’s, Hughes continued to unfurl a series of elegant, beautifully placed shots,” he observed.Already Derbyshire have contracted Hughes for the next three seasons. Since Anguilla in still a British overseas territory, he has a British passport so it is not so surprising to learn that England are pressing to have him qualify for England, rather than the West Indies, with apparently little resistance from those in authority at this end.“He is the best 19-year-old I’ve seen for a long time,” Derbyshire’s head of cricket and former England player, John Morris, said. “I cannot remember anyone in my age group – and that included players like Neil Fairbrother, James Whitaker, Matthew Maynard, and Rob Bailey – being any better than he is.”Hughes’ entry into Derbyshire was through the initiative of Cardigan Connor, the first Anguillan to play county cricket in a long career for Hampshire.Since his return to the island, Connor has committed himself to developing the many talented young players around him. Omari Banks, the tall off-spinner, was the first to break into the West Indies Test team at 19.Hughes is among a group Connor placed with club teams in the English leagues to gain experience. He got a game for Somerset’s second team last season when Morris spotted his potential.Opener Moncin Hodge and wicketkeeper Jamal Hamilton, who both played for the Leeward Islands in the 2010 regional first-class season, are in England at present. So are fast bowlers Colbert Walters and Lindel Richardson.“In a small island like Anguilla, we’re limited in what we have, in facilities and competitiveness,” Connor said. “When I see good young cricketers, I want them to have a fair chance.”“The opportunities are limited in the Leewards and – our top players who have been through it have found – [that] time in England, playing regularly and learning how to cope on their own, is a big benefit.”But Connor is concerned that Hughes may be lost to the West Indies.“His aim is to play for the West Indies,” he said. “He has been around West Indies cricket for some time. He played for Anguilla in the Stanford 20/20 when he was 15 and, although he didn’t make the final cut, he was in the West Indies squad for this year’s Under-19 World Cup in New Zealand.”“Unfortunately, those in the Leewards who make the decisions don’t encourage our guys enough,” Connor charged, pointing out that Hughes was not even a part of the Leewards squad for the 2010 regional first-class season.His contract with Derbyshire means that he will miss all but one of the three-day matches in the upcoming Leewards tournament, although he will be available for the one-day series.It seems a predicament for the Leewards’ adminstrators but, especially at this time in West Indies cricket, such obvious talent can’t be overlooked.The 20-year-old Trinidadians, Adrian Barath and Darren Bravo, and a few at the Sagicor High Performance Centre hint at a coming revival in West Indies batting.If reports on Hughes are correct, he could be added to that list but he needs to be given the chance to present his case to the West Indies selectors. England’s are waiting, if he isn’t.Nor is Hughes’ case singular.While Connor has posted his young Anguillans with English club teams for experience, promising young Barbadians have gained scholarships at Dulwich College over the last few years through the former England batsman Bill Athey.The first, Ruel Brathwaite, went on to play a few first-class matches but his cricket gave way to his academic achievements at university.The second, Chris Jordan, whose skills were first honed at Combermere School, was retained by Surrey on leaving Dulwich and immediately gained the kind of rave reviews Hughes is now attracting.His fast bowling, effective lower-order batting and athletic fielding identified him as a bit special. Since he had a grandmother in Hertfordshire, the English Press noted that he could qualify for England and the authorities moved faster than those in Barbados did.He and four other young fast bowlers – among them Jamaican-born Maurice Chambers – were sent off to a fitness camp in Florida in the winter for what was described as “the toughest training they’ve ever done”.It was a regime that seemed to take its toll on Jordan’s back. He developed a stress fracture and later a bulging disc and hasn’t been able to play this season. He is still young and, hopefully, he won’t be a loss to whichever team wants him.His Barbadian successor at Dulwich is Anthony Alleyne, a heavy-scoring left-handed batsman who has already interested Surrey, for whom he has turned out in a second team match.He caused something of a stir in Barbados when he turned out for Dulwich in this year’s annual Sir Garry Sobers International Schools Tournament, thereby missing the regional Under-19 tournament in St Lucia. It surely cannot be held against him in future – or else England might find ways of luring him away from Barbados and the West Indies.  At the moment, and until the feeder academies to the High Performance Centre are up and running, opportunities for our best young players are limited. Those who can get the exposure made available to Hughes and Rogers – as it was to Richards, Marshall and others in the past – need to be embraced, not shunned.• Tony Cozier is the most experienced cricket writer and broadcaster in the Caribbean.

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