'The harder the battle, the sweeter the victory'
He watched Shivnarine Chanderpaul bat without a helmet, effortlessly flicking, driving and caressing the ball with dexterous wrists against the bowling machine, which had been set at the 85-mph mark. When his turn came, though, Kirk Edwards failed to read the line and the swing and was all at sea, ending up hacking at the air, frustrated.
It was the day before West Indies' second tour match against the England Lions in Northampton. The visitors had been forced by the weather to train indoors. When Edwards' problems persisted, fellow Barbadian, and schoolmate, Kemar Roach pointed out that he was playing down the wrong line and at times too far away from his body.
"Roachy is a good help," Edwards said. "He is a bowler. He knows when I am doing things that I don't usually do when I am batting, so he is able to spot that and say, 'Kirk, that is not your game.' Sometimes a reminder is good," Edwards said, when we met after the two-hour training session, by the end of which he had finally begun to hit the ball the way he wanted to.
A reason for the rust was Edwards' having missed the final two Tests against Australia at home in April due to an injury to his left knee. In England, rain and cold weather ruled out any outdoor practice sessions; just 34 overs were bowled in West Indies' first tour match, against Sussex.
"I was just shaking off from the rest and injury," he said. "A little bit of frustration creeps in but I am not too worried about that." He must, though, now be starting to be concerned at a tally of 13 runs from four innings on the tour so far, including 1 in the first innings of the Lord's Test, when he found himself stuck in his crease and then played across to a straight delivery to be out leg-before.
Rough patch notwithstanding, Edwards, who was appointed vice-captain to Darren Sammy for the England tour, has been among West Indies' more consistent batsmen from the time he scored a Test century on debut against India at home last year. Before the Lord's Test, Edwards had played seven Tests with two hundreds and two near-misses - 86 both times. He was one of only two players in the current West Indies side to average 50-plus before the Lord's Test.
As a boy he would go to Kensington Oval in Bridgetown to watch West Indies squads train. He even worked in the stands as a vendor some days. The dream of wearing the maroon cap took seed then. Edwards was clear when growing up that he wanted to make his mark at the Test level, and knew it wouldn't come easy. He had seen and heard stories of how hard it was get into the West Indies dressing room and keep your place, from "big brother" Corey Collymore, the former West Indies fast bowler, who is his mentor to this day.
He was at the Oval in 1999, for the third Test against Australia, working the sight screen after each over as West Indies scrapped to a thrilling victory. "Sherwin Campbell set up the match nicely with a century in the first innings and then Brian Lara scored 153 to beat Australia. It was a great game," Edwards remembered. "Every ball, every moment, was vital. And for me, watching that only strengthened my resolve."
Back then "Cool Carl" Hooper was Edwards' favourite batsman. "I liked the fact that he had time to play the ball. He never showed fear, always attacked the opposition. Whenever the team needed something, he always went for it."
It was Everton Weekes who originally spotted Edwards at an Under-13 cricket camp. "Some of the coaches did not think much of me and thought I should bat down the order at nine, but Sir Everton insisted I bat at the top. Ever since then, I have batted at No. 3." It was the break that opened his career up for him. Today he is the captain of the Barbados team. Last year, after impressive performances across various series, he was voted the country's best sports personality.
Toby Radford, the West Indies batting coach, thinks Edwards is a good learner on the job. "I think if you take an England tour with the seaming and swinging ball, it's been about adjusting to moving the feet to nullify any swing. In the Caribbean, where the pitches tend to be a bit flatter and slower at the moment, you can have a short stride and play on the up. Here it's early season, and you will need to get closer to the ball. I think this will be one of the things he will be focusing on," Radford said.
As for the hunger to perform in the five-day game, Edwards would seem to have plenty, in contrast to some of his fellow West Indians. "Twenty20 is a recent game," he said. "Yes, it has a lot of financial benefit - guys need money, otherwise you are not able to buy stuff. But Test cricket is the ultimate game. I love challenges. And right now that is where I put my focus."
Last year he was quick to take the opportunity to speak to some of the best batsmen in the format - Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman - when West Indies played India at home and then away. When Tendulkar walked up to Edwards at the end of West Indies' India tour and told him that he had "enjoyed" watching him bat, his motivation levels spiked. "That was another moment that made me feel good," Edwards said.
His best friend in the Indian dressing room, though, is Virat Kohli. They got talking when India toured the Caribbean last year, and keep in touch. "He is like a young coach at the moment," Edwards said with a smile. It doesn't matter to him that Kohli is four years younger. "We have a good relationship. He knows his game. He knows batting."
England, the world's Test No.1 side, with the best bowling line-up in their conditions, are always an intimidating ask, as was evident on the first day at Lord's. "The harder the battle, the sweeter the victory," Edwards said before the series. "Yes, there is a lot more to play for here. But it is a different challenge. You just have to adapt or suffer. That is how I see it."
Last year Collymore lent Edwards Steve Waugh's mammoth Out of My Comfort Zone and then had to beg to get it back because Edwards liked it so much, he held on to it to read a few times over. Today Edwards is out of his own comfort zone after having had a smooth ride in his first ten months. Hopefully he has taken Waugh's philosophy to heart and will be able to navigate the bumps and bends on the road of international cricket without losing his way.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo