Full steam ahead for Taylor on fast track to history
West Indies' pace-bowling heritage is in decline but World Cup can quickly change that
Sunday 31 December 2006
It is a revealing statistic that since Courtney Walsh delivered his 30,019th, and last, ball in Test cricket just over five years ago, West Indies have used 16 fast bowlers in a futile attempt to maintain the heritage for which their cricket is best known.
Walsh, the tall, tireless, loose-limbed Jamaican who gathered 519 wickets in a career spanning 17 years and 132 Tests, and his pitiless partner, Curtly Ambrose, were the last in a fast-bowling line dating back to Learie Constantine, George Francis, Herman Griffith and Manny Martindale before World War Two.
It reached its peak in the dominant Eighties when captain Clive Lloyd manipulated Joel Garner, Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Colin Croft and Malcolm Marshall with chilling effect, but has declined so rapidly that opposing teams have gleefully exacted revenge for earlier indignities.
Young bowlers have emerged with the speed and hostility to excite expectations. Tino Best, Fidel Edwards and Jermaine Lawson have been consistently clocked in excess of 90mph but Edwards and Best have only spasmodically matched performance with speed and Lawson's dubious action has cost him pace and his place in the team.
In the last nine months, Jerome Taylor, aged 22, has emerged as the latest, and most realistic, hope finally to fill the breach left by Walsh, his fellow Jamaican. In six Tests, three against India at home, three against Pakistan away, he claimed 27 wickets at 28 apiece. His reputation was emphatically established in the Champions Trophy in India in October when his pace, accuracy and movement earned him a hat-trick against eventual champions Australia, made him the leading wicket-taker with 13 and helped West Indies to the final.
"There's no doubt Taylor has the potential to lead the attack for the next decade," says Jeffrey Dujon, the former West Indies wicketkeeper who was Jamaica's coach when Taylor made his mark. "He has the pace and control but, above all else, the cricket intelligence that all bowlers require. And unlike some others, he doesn't get carried away by the readings on the speed gun." His control and ability to combine speed with movement are generated by a relaxed approach and high delivery.
Unlike physical giants such as Wes Hall, Garner, Croft, Ambrose and Walsh, who fashioned the stereotype of the West Indies fast bowler, Taylor is just under six feet tall. He was so slight in build when he was fast-tracked into his Test debuttwo days before his 19th birthday that Kenny Benjamin, the bowling coach at the time, said he needed "to get stronger to cope with the demands of Test cricket".
Dr Richard Stretch, the South African bio-mechanics expert, said his "mixed action required minor tweaks to the delivery stride to avoid strain on his lower back". Within two months, in his third Test, the strain ended his participation. He did not return for more than two years, until last March. Then his hamstring went. Once more, there were doubts over whether his body could stand up to the demands of international cricket.
An intense regimen followed under the rugged Australian rugby trainer Bryce Cavanagh, who was engaged by West Indies. He has not had a niggle in the last eight months and six Tests.
In addition to his hat-trick, his year's highlights were his 9 for 95 in the match against India at his home ground, Sabina Park, and dismissing Ricky Ponting three times in four meetings. But Taylor's most telling challenges come in 2007. The first World Cup to be staged in the Caribbean in March is followed by a tour of England, then South Africa. It should be clear by then whether or not West Indies have a great fast bowler in the making.
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