Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Tino's Best

Who doesn’t occasionally wonder: ‘What was I doing exactly ten years ago?’ Perhaps, with the present unpredictable and the future unknown, we all dwell on the past because it is secure. Rarely am I less than amazed when I consider how radically life changes from one decade to the next. Keeping a journal helps to fills holes in an otherwise reliable long-term memory.

Almost ten years ago to the day, I had just begun working in the English seaside town of Southport. I enjoyed it, but three days per week were quite enough. Free time midweek enabled me to travel to cricket matches, indulging a lifelong passion for the game.

Liverpool Cricket Club (Figure 43.1) is situated in the leafy suburb of Grassendale, a mile from where John Lennon grew up. It stages some of Lancashire’s county matches each year, and 2002 was special: the visitors were the flamboyant West Indies, whom I had worshipped as a cricket-mad kid. Alone and relaxed, I took a Merseyrail train from the city centre to Aigburth station. From ‘there, beneath the blue suburban skies’, I walked along the boulevards to what is a quintessential English cricket ground. What could have been more peaceful than a day listening to the sound of willow on leather (Figure 43.2)?

Figure 43.1: Liverpool Cricket Club’s pavilion, built in 1880, as photographed by myself a decade ago.

Copyright © 2002 Paul Spradbery

Figure 43.2: West Indian batsmen prepare to face Lancashire’s teenage fast bowler, James Anderson. Since then, Anderson has represented England in 70 Test matches, and only four English bowlers have taken more wickets.

Copyright © 2002 Paul Spradbery

Well, things started peacefully enough; that is, until West Indies’ muscular 20-year-old speed merchant Tino Best ran in to bowl to Lancashire batsman Graham Lloyd. Despite the delivery coming his way at 90 mph, Lloyd dispatched it with contempt to the boundary. Best ran in to bowl again. Same result. Then again, and again. Four boundaries in succession, and Best was furious. Understandable, given that all fast bowlers – I was one myself (Figure 43.3) – aim to dominate and intimidate the batsman in what is, after all, a gladiatorial arena. (It is no coincidence to me that a cricket ground resembles a coliseum.)

Figure 43.3: Another teenage fast bowler – yours truly, playing club cricket

Copyright © 1985 Paul Spradbery

Best, ball in hand, raced to the wicket again. This time, the ball did not bounce on the pitch at all. It shot like a tracer bullet towards the batsman’s head – a delivery known as a ‘beamer’, which, deemed dangerous, is outlawed in all forms of the game. Best signalled an apology to both Lloyd and the umpire before returning to the start of his run-up. Now, anyone who has played cricket can testify that most beamers are deliberate, whatever the bowler might claim, often that the ball had simply slipped out of his hand. It is generally a response to being humiliated by a skilful batsman.

Anyone who was prepared to give Best the benefit of the doubt was compelled to reconsider after the very next ball. It was another beamer, which could have put Lloyd in the neurological unit of Liverpool’s Walton Hospital. The batsman lost his temper. He charged down the pitch and threw his bat at the bowler. I could scarcely believe my eyes. Cricket is a gentleman’s game, epitomizing everything about civilized behaviour. This crazy altercation was not quite what I had anticipated.

Next morning, an hour before play was scheduled to begin, an athletic young man in a West Indies tracksuit passed me at the boundary edge. One glance at his powerful shoulders confirmed his identity: Tino Best (Figure 43.4). He sat down next to me for a while and we talked cricket, mainly about former Caribbean greats, whom he knew personally and whom I had admired before he was born. Friendly, well mannered, with a strong Barbadian accent, he was instantly likeable. I could, however, see in his eyes that same icy concentration characterized by his all-conquering predecessors. Clearly, Tino Best intended to be Tino the Best. Before he returned to the pavilion, I asked him about his spat with Graham Lloyd. He claimed the beamers were unintentional. Innocent until proven guilty, I thought, although the circumstantial evidence weighed heavily against him.

Figure 43.4: Autographed match programme. Tino’s ‘Best’ wishes are bottom left.

Copyright © 2002 Liverpool Cricket Club

I have followed Best’s career ever since. Interestingly, in 2008, he was sacked by English club Leek for misconduct. Chairman Brian Mellor said: ‘Tino ... in his first few performances, looked a world beater ...’ However, he then added: ‘He started trying to knock people’s heads off ... got accused of bowling deliberate beamers ...’ A-ha.

Last week, Best, now 30 years old, represented West Indies in a Test Match against England at Edgbaston, Birmingham. I am pleased to report that he distinguished himself in unparalleled fashion. Batting last, he scored 95 runs (Figure 43.5). This is a record for a number eleven batsman in Test cricket, which has been played since 1877. No one has ever scored a century, and Best fell a tantalizing five runs short. Nonetheless, the record is his and might well remain so for another hundred years.

Figure 43.5: A magnificent innings. Tino Best at Edgbaston, June 2012.

Copyright © 2012 BBC

The following morning, I read Sam Sheringham’s match report on the BBC web site, and his choice of words, although probably unintentional, took me back exactly ten years. During his thrilling innings, Best ‘threw the bat at anything wide ...’ That, I suppose, was better than having a bat thrown at him.

Copyright © 2012 Paul Spradbery

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