May 25, 2015

Playing alongside Adam Sanford

Eleven Tests and 30 wickets for West Indies, and a stand at Windsor Park named after him. And he now plays club cricket in the USA

Adam Sanford: a rhythm bowler who could hit the high 80s when he clicked © Ali Ibrahim

It was a sweltering August afternoon, one for Salvador Dali's watches. "Too hot for cricket," grumbled someone, inevitably. It was 2003, and rehydration was still seen as a take-it-or-leave-it frivolity rather than an obvious necessity, but this was an unambiguous two-drinks-breaker of a day, and our 58-over session in the field felt like a lifetime. When the declaration came and we lugged ourselves off for shade, cigarettes and sandwiches, our West Indian pro, fresh from 18 overs' toil on a featherbed, started to do handstand push-ups against the side of the clubhouse.

Quite a warm-down.

I was minded to think about Adam Sanford while perusing Australia's pre-Ashes Caribbean schedule. I noticed that the first Test is to be played in Dominica, the island from which Sanford hails, the island that many in the Caribbean think the most beautiful of them all. It will be only the fourth Test at the venue.

When we signed Sanford he had recently become the first indigenous Carib to play for West Indies. The previous year we'd had a big-hearted, big-chested, not especially refined Antiguan quick who went by the delightful name of Goldwyn Prince, and who in retirement worked at the island's Stingray City tourist attraction, advising tourists as to how to best avoid standing on barbed tails. Goldie was handy, but Sanford was a notch up.

This was when West Indian quicks still inspired something of an atavistic sense of awe and terror. Pulling on to a cricket ground and sighting a pair of purple tracksuit bottoms on long legs loping over some iffy club wicket unfailingly struck fear into your heart. Well, that was the idea behind signing him, anyway. Although Geoffrey Boycott would later dismiss him with typical brusqueness as "a medium-pacer who wouldn't get me granny out", Sanford had played five Tests against India and two against New Zealand in the year before arriving, and a roll-call of his victims was impressive enough: Dravid, Ganguly and Tendulkar twice each (the latter lbw for 0), as well as VVS Laxman.

We were lucky enough to witness an electrifying duel with Justin Kemp, whose cheek Sanford cut open after smashing a ball into his grille, à la Harmison to Ponting

It certainly didn't harm to reel off that illustrious list when talking to the local press - or rather, talking through the local press to the anxieties of local batsmen - and during his season for Moddershall, Sanford was often a thrillingly muscular, if inconsistent, presence, a rhythm bowler who could hit the high 80s when he clicked. On a number of occasions he took a wicket with the first ball of the game, usually lbw, his fast arm and slightly-off-the-wrong-foot action catching batsmen napping.

We were lucky enough to witness an electrifying duel with Justin Kemp, whose cheek he cut open after smashing a ball into his grille, à la Harmison to Ponting in 2005 (Kemp opted to see him off from the non-striker's end, which, while not especially heroic, was tactically astute and won them the game). There was a battle with Shahid Afridi, who, aside from one mega-yahoo, ball trimming the leg bail, also opted to see him off (amidst a 54-ball hundred). Sanford once also snaffled the most absurd ankle-height caught-and-bowled off a full-blooded Albie Morkel slap. His effectiveness dipped in the second half of the season and he bowled disappointingly in a Staffordshire Cup final, but he won us games.

While fondly remembered by his Moddershall team-mates, Sanford has one of the stands at Windsor Park named after him - somewhat incongruous when you think that the Kensington Oval has the Garfield Sobers Pavilion, and the Hall and Griffith and three W's Stands; that Bourda has stands bearing the names of Kanhai and Clive Lloyd; that Sabina Park has the George Headley Stand; Port-of-Spain, the Brian Lara Pavilion and Learie Constantine Stand. Everywhere the giants of Caribbean cricket are immortalised in quick-setting concrete.

But then Dominica is not over-endowed with famous cricketing sons. The new pavilion was named after an umpire, Billy Doctrove. The most capped Test cricketer from its shores played for England. There's Shane Shillingford, who recently made the West Indies team (figures of 118.4-24-312-20 in two Test appearances in Roseau suggest they look after their own), while his unrelated namesakes, cousins Irvine and Grayson Shillingford, Test players both, were also honoured.

Windsor Park: quintessential airy Caribbean charm © Getty Images

I have never been to Windsor Park, but photos suggest that despite its concrete-and-plastic functionality, it retains - as do most of the region's new, Chinese-funded stadiums - that quintessential airy Caribbean charm. There's a sense of proportion too. This isn't an Enorm-o-Bowl overwhelming the environment around it. On the contrary - as with Grenada - you get the sense that the stadium, overlooked by steep, jungle-covered hillsides, is only there on Nature's say-so, a short-term tenancy, reclaimable at any time by vines, creepers, birds and lizards.

If you can appreciate beauty in terraced concrete, it's beautiful. A good ground at which to be commemorated. Yet Sanford is a little sheepish about the accolade. He couldn't attend the ceremony officially naming the stand after him and former Essex allrounder Norbert Phillip, and he hasn't yet seen a day's play there. "I'm not one for a fuss," he says, without much fuss.

After leaving Moddershall, he played four more Tests - two in South Africa (victims including Kallis, Smith and Gibbs), two against England - before retiring and emigrating to the USA. He now lives in Queens and, like Mervyn Dillon, Jermaine Lawson and Ricardo Powell in other parts of that vast land, plays local cricket in the New York leagues.

By 2013, aged 38, he had qualified for the USA team, and for all the administrative squabbles that beset West Indies cricket during his playing days, USACA has been a whole new level. Given some of the absurdism surrounding USACA of late, it might not yet be too late to have part of a future American cricket stadium named in his honour.

Scott Oliver tweets here

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