Different backgrounds, common debut
The dreams of Lionel Baker and Brendan Nash, two cricketers from vastly different backgrounds, were finally fulfilled at the University Oval in Dunedin on Thursday.
Baker, from one of the smallest places on the planet, the 32-square-mile volcano-ravaged island of Montserrat, and Nash, born and raised in Australia, an island so large it is a continent, became the West Indies' latest Test players.
Nash and Baker were chosen for their debuts in the first Test of the series against New Zealand, after being picked for the ODIs in Toronto and Abu Dhabi. This shows that regardless of the sudden allure of the Twenty20 format, Test cricket remains the ultimate goal for every player.
For fast bowler Baker, it represented the achievement of his long-stated ambition of becoming the first from his tiny homeland to represent the West Indies at the highest level. For Nash, the diminutive left-hand batsman and medium-pacer, it is a fairytale ending to an ambitious mission that brought him back to the birthplace of his passionately Jamaican parents 18 months ago. The event is all the more special for him as he marks his 31st birthday on the fourth day of the match on Sunday.
His father, Paul, a Jamaican water-polo player and Olympic swimmer of the 1960s, mother Andrea, sister Candy, an uncle and aunt were all present for the occasion after flying in from their adopted home in Brisbane. "They still love to watch the West Indies," said Nash, who was born soon after his parents arrived in Australia in 1977. "They always have. My parents are very strong with their Jamaican culture and I wanted to experience that [by returning]."
It was a journey too far for Baker's family, but his carpenter father Thomas, mother Anita and siblings, would no doubt have been among Montserrat's 5000 inhabitants watching their television sets intently. Jim Allen, an aggressive batsman once rated alongside a young Viv Richards in the Combined Islands team, was in the West Indies team for Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket 30 years ago, but never gained official Test selection.
Growing up, Nash has childhood memories of every West Indies team to Australia in the late 1980s and 1990s being entertained to typical Jamaican fare at his parents' homes, first in Perth, where he was born, and then in Cairns, before they moved to Brisbane for the sake of his cricket.
He always had a vision, far-fetched as it seemed, of one day playing for Jamaica and the West Indies. It only began to materialise two years back when he lost his place with Queensland, for whom he played 29 matches over six years in the Australian domestic circuit.
With the diligence and determination that are the features of his game, he soon earned his place in the Jamaica team for the 2007 KFC Cup, and last season's first-class Carib Beer Cup.
Selectors, frustrated by batsmen who repeatedly failed to produce at international level, turned to him after his Carib returns of 422 runs at an average of 46.88 that included two hundreds against Trinidad and Tobago, the second in Jamaica's victory in the Challenge final.
His batting method, careful rather than carefree, seemed unsuited to the shorter format for which he was first chosen. His innocuous slow-medium bowling was used more than usual in his five ODIs, but runs at No.6 will be more in demand in the Tests.
A lot was initially made of Nash's colour - he is regarded as the first white West Indies player since reserve wicketkeeper Randall Lyon went to India in 1978-79 - and his Australian birth. No other Australian-born player has represented West Indies.
However, there has never been any doubt about Baker's forte. He is an energetic bowler of lively pace who has come through the system.
After spending a few years in England in his early teens after most of his family left home following the disruption caused by the Soufriere volcano, he returned to Montserrat and progressed through the system - Leeward Islands youth and first-class teams, West Indies Under-15s and Under-19s (to the World Cup in Bangladesh in 2005 where he took 6-34 against Sri Lanka), West Indies 'B' team.
Last season, his bouncer fractured the great Brian Lara's forearm in a Carib Beer Cup match, but he managed only seven expensive wickets in the tournament.
His big break came when, on the evidence of his performance for Montserrat in the annual Stanford 20/20 tournament, Sir Viv and his panel chose him for the Stanford Superstars squad for the 20/20 for 20 match against England.
He didn't get a game, but Clyde Butts and the new West Indies selectors saw the same potential as their Stanford counterparts, including him in the squad for the twin tours of Abu Dhabi and New Zealand.
It is a selection that cost him a contract that had been lined up with English county Leicestershire next season. It means he now counts as an overseas player rather than qualified through his British passport.
While Nash's opportunity has come well into his career, although at the same age as other Australian late starters Mike Hussey and Brad Haddin, Baker, aged 24, arrives with a prospect of another decade of taking wickets for the West Indies.
Their international futures start here.