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May 1, 2008
It's been a while since Surrey had a young tearaway fast bowler of West Indian heritage. Sylvester Clarke terrorised the circuit for nine, bruising years between 1979 and 1988; Joey Benjamin, a one-cap wonder for England, lacked the menace of his namesakes, Winston and Kenny, and Chris Lewis - returning to the club aged 40 - was no more than nippy, even in his pomp. For all Alex Tudor's riches of talent, the ability to stay injury-free utterly eluded him.
Now, however, they have Chris Jordan, a 19-year-old from Barbados who possesses all the attributes a West Indian fast bowler should, and can qualify for England through his English grandmother who lives in Hertfordshire. A smooth and rhythmical run-up, with emphasis on running into the crease, his whippy arm action is not dissimilar to Simon Jones' in his early days, and nor is the speed generated. He is not yet consistently blistering, but some at The Oval believe he is already nudging 90mph.
One man who can testify to his speed is Neil Killeen, who Jordan pinged on the elbow last week in Surrey's drawn match against Durham. Jordan then cleaned up Killeen and Mark Davies with classical yorkers in an exhibition of how to polish off the tail, picking up 3 for 32 from 11.3 overs.
It comes as a surprise, then, to learn that fast bowling is a relatively new concept for him. "Fast bowling came on when I was 16 or 17, about three years ago," he said. "I started to get strong, taller and suddenly I could bowl fast. Before that, I was more-or-less a medium pacer and the keeper used to stand up to the stumps."
Jordan was born and raised in Barbados, educated at Combermere School - the same establishment who produced two of West Indies' absolute finest, Sir Clyde Walcott and Sir Frank Worrell. "My coach at Combermere in Barbados mentioned there was a scholarship at Dulwich College and asked if I'd be interested and, of course, I said yes. I played in a game with Mr Athey [Dulwich coach and former England batsman Bill Athey] in a PRO AM tournament in Barbados which is conducted every November. I played more or less as a trialist, did quite well - didn't take any wickets but I scored about 30. Two weeks later I was at Dulwich College."
What is a West Indian fast bowler of obvious natural riches doing in England? The question is obvious; the answer even more obvious though vaguely depressing. Clive Lloyd, who spends a lot of his life in Britain but whose heart will always lie in the Caribbean, is clear. "If we [West Indies] had a proper youth academy, it wouldn't have happened," he told Cricinfo. "I saw him play against Lancashire last season and was quite impressed. He looks a very good prospect and can bat, bowl and field. I did try to get his phone number, and I spoke with the Surrey coach, but I've not been in regular contact with him [Jordan]."
The word at Surrey is Lloyd and other eminent West Indians are keen, if not desperate, to persuade Jordan back to his homeland. Surrey have tied him down for another two seasons, and though he seems to be revelling in the added responsibility of playing first-team cricket, he won't be moved as to where his allegiances lie.
"It's not a matter of coming to a decision really," he says, with a hint of weariness. "I'm certainly not thinking about it - yet, anyway. When the bridge comes for me to cross it, I will have to make the correct decision. I have to take things day by day."
Jordan's heart clearly belongs to his birth country, but is that enough in these days of player-power, year-long contracts and fat salaries? The race is on between England and West Indies, and it's obvious who has stolen the lead on Jordan.