England v West Indies
Best: all heart, pace and a fearsome face
Spearhead of Lara's attack is an out-and-out passion player who is truly devoted to the cause
Tino Best can recall precisely the moment he became a fast bowler. It was in April 2001 and young Tino, who as we now know is not slow in coming forward, reluctantly accepted an invitation - or grudgingly obeyed an instruction, more like - to bowl in the nets against the South African tourists in Bridgetown.
He was promising but no great shakes, on the outer fringes of the Barbados youth team, a boy who had been around dressing rooms as a nephew of the West Indian batsman Carlisle Best, a boy who had played tape-ball cricket, batting at five and bowling medium pace.
He eventually agreed to take his "stiff medium pace" down to the practice. There something got into him.
"I remember Mr Graham Ford [South Africa's coach then] asking who were the fast bowlers and I got up," said Best. "He said, 'You're a fast bowler?' and was amused that I was so small. I was much smaller than I am now. They gave me a new ball and the first ball I bowled to Boeta Dippenaar went through his grille and over the guy with a baseball glove.
"Jacques Kallis stopped taking off his pads, Daryll Cullinan called to me as soon as I finished bowling that delivery and everyone was like, 'Who's he?' I was 19 years old, they asked me if I had ever played first-class cricket and I told them I couldn't even make the Barbados youth team."
Best told this story with undiminished gusto, still in wonderment at it all. He does gusto permanently, talking, bowling, keeping the other boys going on the team bus. From that moment in the South African nets he was propelled into Barbados senior trials, and the next season into the island team.
But almost three years were to pass before he took his first Test-match wicket. They were peculiar years, when he was trying to reconcile his newly discovered pace and his excitable, effervescent personality. There were plenty of times when he revealed his potential with Barbados, but there were low periods, of which the lowest was with West Indies A on tour in England in 2002.
Best is clearly embarrassed to talk about it now, but admitted that he was "a naughty boy". There were spats with team-mates and captain, provoked by the inter-island rivalries that have frequently marked West Indies cricket, there were unsavoury incidents during matches. At Liverpool he bowled a beamer at Graham Lloyd of Lancashire after a series of edges over slips. Lloyd threw down his bat, the West Indies team surrounded the batsman, Best was swiftly removed from the attack.
"There were a lot of influences and I wasn't focused enough," he said. "It was my first time away from home and it got to my head. I wasn't concentrating enough on the cricket, I paid the consequences. Let's leave it at that."
He recovered to take 39 wickets for Barbados in the following home season and made his Test debut against Australia. He had Ricky Ponting dropped and picked up 0 for 99 in 20 overs. "It was horrible," he said. "I was devastated. People were saying that I wasn't that good, these were my own people crying me down."
Best was overlooked for two tours. Other pacemen seemed to be coming through. He was desperate to get back, worried that he might not. "I prayed every night and asked God to show me a way," he said. There then came what Best likens now to his flash of light. In a Barbados restaurant he noticed Wayne Daniel, the former West Indies fast bowler, and introduced himself. That, bear in mind, was only in December last year.
"Just remember, from 2001 when I started bowling fast until after my Test debut and meeting Mr Wayne Daniel I had no coaching about my action. It wasn't that nobody was coaching, it was just like, 'Tino, you're quick, you're the strike bowler, get wickets'."
Daniel immediately agreed to help Best. He sorted out his bustling run-up, persuaded him to keep his hands closer to his body, made him straighten the front leg and the leading arm. Daniel stayed around, Best got faster.
He was recalled to the West Indies Test team against England. His reaction to his first wicket was an imperishable moment. In a state of ecstasy he ran a country mile, his arms outstretched, and then prostrated himself on the floor.
Best went through the wicket: "In the over of the wicket I bowled four balls at Graham Thorpe. After the second ball I could feel my adrenalin pumping and all my energies were saying, 'Tino le Bertram Best, you're going to get him out in this over'.
"I gave him a short ball, he didn't handle it well. I pitched one up, he got back and across and played it with the bat and stared at me.
"I picked up the ball and said: 'Is this the great Graham Thorpe? Stop backing away, try and get in line mate.' He said, 'Bring it on, Besty'.
"I let the next ball go with everything in my body, it was a short ball at head height, he saw it but could not control it. It was going at 91.8 mph, he got a top edge and Adam Sanford's big hands clutched it. I guess all my burdens were lifted off my shoulders, all those people who said I would never play. All the bad things came away."
He has stayed in the team, fast, ferocious, animated, fragile, irrepressible. He has stared menacingly at Andrew Flintoff throughout the one-day series, bringing himself up to all his 5ft 9in, and promised there was more to come.
His passion goes before him. He cannot help it. He used to cry in front of My Little Hobo as a five-year-old at his grandmother's, he walked out of The Passion Of The Christ recently, his eyes brimming with tears, he cries when he does not take wickets. When England clinched the Test series in Barbados earlier this year he went back to his hotel room and wept.
"I am passionate about everything that I do and I think we can win this series because of passion. Our captain Brian Lara is a great leader. He treats me like a son. I love cricketers and pace bowlers who love what they do. I am emotional in cricket and in life. I love God so much."
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