The loneliness of the West Indian fast bowler
My Test debut was here. The Kensington Oval - my Barbados backyard - was jam-packed. The crowd were screaming for the local boy and I had ball in hand, ready to bowl my first over in Test cricket. Twenty-one years old, the world at my feet. Jermaine Lawson's first had gone for six and the great Australian opener Matty Hayden was on strike for the second.
I gave it everything: stormed in; pounded in as Tino Best does. I held nothing back. There were no nerves, just the pressure to do well for myself. People said I was the next Malcolm Marshall before I'd even played a Test. I just wanted to be Tino Best: the lightning fast bowler who bowled at the speed of sound.
I put down a couple of bouncers and Hayden pulled one just wide of Brian Lara and he couldn't get to it. Damn. My first over went for ten, the next two went for nine and that was my first spell done: 3-0-19-0. Not the best of starts. A few overs later and I was back on at the Joel Garner End - and I came so close to getting my first Test wicket. It would have been a stunner too: RT Ponting.
I charged in again. Do speedguns go into three-figures? Could I bowl 100mph? Ponting drove hard and nicked it to gully. Yes! My first Test wicket. Shiv Chanderpaul was there to gobble it up. It was too good to be true. My first wicket: the great Ricky Ponting. Shiv had a decent pair of hands, but then, disaster. He downed it. Shiv had grassed it. Man, I was so, so hurt. I couldn't help but think of playing for Barbados. If Sulieman Benn was in gully, there'd be no way he'd drop it. The big 6 foot, 7 inch Suli, with his giant hands, doesn't drop them
I was there, in Barbados, just wishing for my Barbados team-mates. And there, in that moment, was one of the huge difficulties in playing cricket for the West Indies. You are all from different nations, with different cultures and from different backgrounds. If Suli had dropped it, I'd have had guys there putting an arm round my shoulder. We were all Bajans; all in it together. They'd tell me I got the batsman to make one mistake and I could get him to make another. We'd all be together as one.
Brian was supportive. Vasbert Drakes, the only other Bajan in the side, was too, and Jermaine Lawson was always good to learn from in the nets. But the others? Not really. It wasn't even lunch on day one of my Test career and I'd had my first insight into why playing for the West Indies is so hard. It didn't hurt me - the lack of support - but it was an eye-opener. In many ways, my debut Test was the hardest cricket match of my life.
Don't get me wrong: these aren't selfish people. They're just so focused on wanting to play their best that it's hard for them to see the bigger team picture. That day, I didn't have Courtney Browne or Floyd Reifer to support me. They were like brothers to me for Barbados. Behind the stumps was Carlton Baugh - and he was from Jamaica. It just wasn't the same.
It was my first big international match and I felt lonely. I felt totally on my own out there. How can this be right? The Aussies were a good - no, great - side. That was one problem, but the lack of support from my team-mates was a bigger one. I know we were 2-0 down in the series, which didn't help, but no one said anything.
It was tough on the field and tough off it. I'd replaced Merv Dillon in the side to make my debut and he was a real senior figure. People were even saying he was the man to fill Courtney Walsh's boots when he retired. Merv played 38 Tests and 108 ODIs for the West Indies but that match he never, ever had a conversation with me. Not once. I don't know if he was intimidated that I was coming for his place, but that bothered me.
He'd been dropped for me and didn't encourage me one bit. I didn't need it, I wasn't begging for it, but it would have been nice for a senior West Indian bowler, who was still with us in the camp, to acknowledge I was there. He didn't even speak to me or offer me a drink of water. Something simple like that would have been nice.
I watched Merv play when I was younger and I used to think he was one of the best bowlers, but he just saw me as a rookie and he gave me the rookie treatment. I got home and thought that night that, whatever happened, I would never, ever be like that.
That was a wide awakening to what Test cricket was really like. Australia racked up 605 for 9 before they declared. I bowled twenty overs, no wickets for ninety-nine, in that first innings. Man, it was hard. The pitch was just too slow. Afterwards Steve Waugh came out and said it was one of the most docile he'd ever played on - and he played 168 Tests. Brett Lee, Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie were steaming in as the Aussies replied but even I had no problems playing them.
The next Test match, in Antigua, I was dropped for Merv Dillon. He took two wickets in the first innings, four in the second innings and was smiling and happy again. I wasn't bitter or angry about it because, when you're a rookie, anything goes. I was being sacrificed for a senior player and I wasn't thinking it was unfair - it was right. But the fact that he had snubbed me so badly pissed me off. I'll never be like that, never.
I've seen some tough things in all my years in the game and the worst is the lack of support. At Barbados, you'll go through tough sessions but we'll all still be chirping away trying to inspire each other. With Yorkshire, during my spell as an overseas player in 2010, it was the same. They'd give me so much support. I love that so much, but it's so different with the West Indies. I've run in for the West Indies during Test matches and no one is clapping; no one is encouraging you to give it your all. This is Test cricket: why would you not be doing this?
Loneliness is a horrible feeling. No player should have to deal with that but it's been like that for so long. Unless the West Indies disbands and we play as individual islands, I don't know how things can really change. I don't think the islands will ever go their separate ways but I can honestly say I'd love it to happen. Barbados versus Australia, imagine it now. I would love it so much if Barbados went alone and were left to make their way up the ICC rankings.
I'm sure we'd do well. We've always had an awesome team and we produce the most international players per square kilometre in the world. We have a proven record of producing top-class cricketers. If anyone should break away, we should. We'd always play as a unit too. We'd encourage each other, be there for each other, take care of each other. The same can't be said for the West Indies.
Will it happen? No. I don't think so. So what we've got to do is get some women on the West Indies Cricket Board to make some big decisions. We need women executives, as a board of too many men is not a good thing. If the board is made up of ten members, surely three or four should be women. They calm things and help men make better decisions, just like my aunts, mother and grandmother did with me when I was growing up.
Tino Best's autobiography, Mind the Windows, written with Jack Wilson, and with a foreword by Andrew Flintoff, is available to pre-order now