March 29, 2000

Born a King, always a King

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Reon Dane King, the tremendously improved and talented Guyanese West Indian fast bowler, does not come from a long line of fast bowlers. Indeed, between the last World War in 1945 and now, Guyana has only produced four West Indian Test fast bowlers. Even stranger than that, it does seem that a fast bowler is produced by Guyana; at least one good enough to go to the top and play test cricket; every 15 years or so. If you do not believe me, here are the facts.

John Trim, from the Courantyne, in Berbice, started his Test career at age 32 in March 1947-48 against England at Bourda, Guyana. He only played 4 Tests and got 18 wickets. Sven Conrad "Charlie" Stayers started and ended his Test career in the same series, against India in the Caribbean in 1962, at age 25. He managed 9 wickets from 4 Tests. Come 1977, and yours truly, Colin Everton Croft, a country boy from Unity, Mahaica, incidentally the same village which produced Shivnarine Chanderpaul, somehow managed to get into the West Indies cricket team as a fast bowler when just turning 24. Somehow, after playing in 27 Tests, I managed 125 wickets. Now comes R.D. King, "Kingie", born in Georgetown, who played his first Test against South Africa in 1998 on that horrendous tour, aged 23. He has played 5 Tests so far and has 16 wickets. You will notice that 1947/8 - 1962 - 1977 - 1998 averages out at about 17 years between each fast bowler from Guyana moving to the highest level of playing Test cricket, so at least time is on King's side. His time is right now.

"I am going to beat your record, you know." King said to me, with a great smile on his face, just before the 2nd Test match in Jamaica. "That would be very good, but tough to do," I retorted, "I averaged about 5 wickets per Test and got my 100th Test wicket in about 19 Tests. Can you match that?" "Of course I can" said King, with great confidence, "I plan to go all the way to being the next Curtly Ambrose or Courtney Walsh. These guys have been tremendous fast bowlers and great examples to follow. You and Mikey (Michael Holding) and the rest have paved the way well for guys like me and Frankie (Franklyn Rose). Now that Walsh and Ambrose are on their way out, it is up to people like me to make sure that the trend continues." I like that attitude!

Let us be clear on something here. Reon King is a fast bowler. To be honest, when I see him bowl, if my memory serves me correctly, I am sure that he is faster than I was when I was 24 years old. I may have gotten faster by the time I was 28, about the time that a fast bowler actually matures, but at the same relative age as King, he seems to be much quicker that I was, which is wonderful for him.

He has all of the right tools. Look at him approach the bowling mark and you may notice that he actually seems to slow down a bit as he delivers. That is because he is so relaxed, so "loose" as he approaches, he is not unlike a middle distance runner going through his paces. His upright approach and liquidity remind many of Michael Holding's approach. Holding stretch a bit more in approach, but the similarities are there too.

King is so slippery that he seems to make the ball "kiss" the pitch, then actually gain speed after pitching. While that is impossible, by all physical laws of motion, since even the smallest hit on the ground would be friction, and hence the ball must slow down fractionally, King is so fast that he actually beats batsmen for sheer pace, even if the sideways movement of the delivery is mostly miniscule. Having said that, the ball that he bowled Murray Goodwin with in Zimbabwe's 2nd innings of the 2nd Test was as good as you would see. It was fast, pitched on a perfect length and cut into the batsman, passing between a tentative bat and the less than outstretched pad, to hit the top of the middle stump. It was really the best delivery I had seen for many a year!

"You seem to be fitter these days, much bigger physically that a year ago. Do you put that down to your body maturing, or have you been doing specific weight and fitness regimens to get you stronger?" I asked. "Not really", suggested King. "All I have done is to work so much harder at getting fit that it is happening naturally. I really intend to work even harder to do well."

King has experienced the euphoria of Courtney Walsh getting his world record 435 wickets and should take some inspiration from it, though no-one will even remember that King actually got the most wickets in the Test for the West Indies, seven. Sometimes, that is the way the cookie crumbles, but that does have some precedence. In 1981, everyone remembers a tremendous over bowled by Mike Holding to Geoff Boycott, in Barbados, that is still rated as the fastest over ever bowled in the Caribbean. That I managed the most wickets in the game was never mentioned. However, if King, like I did, could recognize his role in the team, and understand, as I did, that every unit is made up of specific parts and must work as a unit, not individuals, to survive well, then he will do well despite his efforts sometimes being overshadowed.

My biggest problem with the younger fast bowlers in the West Indies, especially Reon King and Trinidad & Tobago's Merve Dillon, is that they always seem to be injured. I have my theory on that aspect of Caribbean fast bowling. Most of these new guys never played cricket at primary school, due to that lack of organized sport in most schools around the Caribbean. Many only played when they were already 14 or 15 years old. Therefore, their bodies never "grew" sports-wise as their ages advanced. In other words, while the young fast bowlers were say 14, their sporting bodies, the muscles and sinews used for the sport, are only maybe 2-3 years old. By the time they are 24, when they should start maturing, their bodies are only 10 - 12 years old. That nurturing at primary school is often missing, and therefore, while men, the body structure is so weak that it rebels and injuries occur.

So far this year, King has shown that he might just be getting over the problems of the fitness, but he will have to continue to work non-stop to make sure that he does the right things to produce. Another problem, his aggression, or lack thereof, also seems to be improving. At least I saw him bowl three real "bouncers", the fast bowler's weapon, in the Test in Jamaica. That is more that King had bowled in the last three years, so there is some improvement, even if it is not as much as should be. Overall, though, Reon King is a very good prospect for the future of West Indian cricket. As things are these days, he is easily the best of the young group. I hope that he gets better, and does better than I did!