Cricket: Headley is ready to play the homecoming hero

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The Independent Online
It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that when the first Test gets under way at Sabina Park on Thursday the Jamaican crowd give a warmer welcome to an England fast bowler than the captain of the West Indian side.

For while Brian Lara heralds from the island of Trinidad and Tobago - geographically the opposite end of the Caribbean - England's Dean Headley is considered one of them.

That is because his grandfather George is a Jamaican and West Indian batting legend - "the Black Bradman" - and the imposing George Headley stand at Sabina Park symbolises the reverence still paid to him.

And it is this memorial which will give his grandson Dean the inner belief that the Jamaican public will be with and not against him - even though he will be wearing the three lions of England on his breast.

"I'll not be looking up at that stand. I'll be trying to concentrate on the job in hand, trying to concentrate on what I'm doing and not be afraid of failure," said Headley.

"I've felt quite relaxed about it. I know I'm going to get a lot of support from the Jamaican crowd. There'll be a little bit of emotion, but no more than normal.

"I still think they will support me even if I get wickets against the West Indies. Basically, people are saying that, if England are going to win, then I might as well take the wickets and Jamaica will win either way."

It will be a family affair for the Headley dynasty. Father Ron, the former Worcestershire and West Indies opening batsman will be there, along with uncles, aunts and cousins resident in Jamaica.

George Headley, who died in 1983, accumulated 2,190 runs, averaging 60.83 - the highest in West Indies cricket - in his 40 Tests and and he made a century on every fourth trip to the crease. Only Sir Donald Bradman had a better rate; one every three knocks. His MBE and Order of Distinction are now the proud property of Dean

"I met him once, in 1981. He was a small man," added Headley. "I was probably taller than him at 11-years-old. I didn't speak to him about cricket; a legend like that might have been a little bored with it.

"I looked on him as a normal bloke, everyone else looks on him as a legend. He was my grandad, but a cricketing hero to everyone else. It's a bit hard to keep someone right up there when he's your grandad.

"There's just as much respect for him in Jamaica as a man rather than a cricketer, because that's what he was, a people's man."

Headley, who is 28 tomorrow, has been grateful for the way in which his England team-mates have helped to keep him calm during the build up to the first Test.

"The players took the mickey a bit in the first few days, but I'm sure it was to settle me down," he said. "They realise the importance of it, and just tried to relax me a bit."

It will be the Stourbridge-born Headley's fourth Test. He picked up 16 wickets in the other three against Australia last summer in which he emerged as an effective performer against left-handers.

With the West Indies captain Brian Lara, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Jimmy Adams all left-handers, Headley, from England's point of view, is in the right place at the right time.

"Lara is one of the best players in the world and if you don't bowl well to him then look out," warned Headley, who took nine-wickets in the innings defeat of Jamaica in Montego Bay.