Tallawahs Timroy Allen comes home after whirlwind year

Between games, Timroy Allen has spent a lot of time picking the brains of players like Kumar Sangakkara and Chris Gayle Peter Della Penna

Twelve months ago, the prospect of Caribbean Premier League games being played in the USA may have seemed improbable. In line with that, the chance for an American player to play in a professional franchise team on home soil also seemed a distant possibility.

Both have been achieved this weekend in Florida and the journey taken by Timroy Allen is a remarkable one, not least because he had almost all but given up on cricket in 2013 at age 26. But two-and-a-half years later, Allen is back this weekend in Florida with the Jamaica Tallawahs squad with a chance to play in front of his home-state fans.

"It's definitely mind-boggling," Allen told ESPNcricinfo. "Never thought something like this would ever happen. It's definitely been unreal to say the least. When you're in a strong enough team especially guys like Chris Gayle, [Kumar] Sangakkara, [Andre] Russell guys like those, you look at it like an honour and a privilege to be a part of the team with these guys, especially where we are now, winning where everybody's performing. You couldn't ask for any better."

Born in Jamaica, Allen came to Florida as a teenager and developed quickly, making his USA debut aged 21 against Barbados in 2008, taking 1 for 26 in eight overs. Two matches later, he claimed a career-best 5 for 7 against Suriname and garnered a reputation as a match-winner for his abilities with both bat and ball. He won two Man-of-the-Match awards at 2012 WCL Division Four in Malaysia, hitting 72* in 43 balls against the hosts to open the event and produced an all-round effort in a must-win game against Singapore, to help USA gain promotion to Division Three in Bermuda.

But the following year was full of disappointment. When USA failed in Bermuda that May and missed out on a spot in the 2014 50-over World Cup Qualifier in New Zealand, Allen was so distraught that he left his kit bag in the team hotel and got on the plane to go home vowing never to play again. He was coaxed to come back in November for the World T20 Qualifier, but USA's last-place finish in group play, and a fall-out with coach Robin Singh, resulted in him turning his attention to his pest control and extermination business, believing once again that he'd given up the game for good.

Allen's road back began in August when applications opened up for an ICC-organised Combine trial in Indianapolis where he competed against 68 other players from USA, Canada, Argentina and Cayman Islands for the right to progress to a second phase of competition against players from the region who had been part of their respective 2015 World T20 Qualifier squads.

From the start of the Combine, Allen caught the eyes of talent evaluators including Courtney Walsh and Mike Young, who were curious how a player with his skills was in the first batch of players instead of being fast-tracked into the previously shortlisted players earmarked for the final phase a week later. Allen not only made it through as one of 12 players invited back for the second part of the trial, but made it through the final round of cuts to be in a 15-man ICC Americas squad that went to this January's Nagico Super50 in Trinidad & Tobago.

The players were also told that six of them would be given opportunities, one with each franchise, to gain a CPL contract. Going to Trinidad meant taking some time off from his business, but the sacrifice has been worthwhile.

Allen's medium-pace impressed enough during the Nagico Super50, taking Dwayne Smith's wicket twice and also that of West Indies Test representative Shai Hope, to catch the Tallawahs attention, too, who snapped him up in the draft. The Jamaica-born US citizen says he couldn't believe his fortune.

"Ever since I heard that it was Jamaica, excited from day one," Allen says. "Initially when the trial camp came up and they said the top six players, one of them will go to each franchise, yes it was appealing. But I think afterwards, you realise you get a chance and you get to play for Jamaica. You get to represent the island that you're from. You didn't get a chance to represent while you were living there but you come to America, you kind of get a chance to go back and represent, it's a different feeling inside, excited from day one."

It hasn't been all smooth sailing though for Allen. He was good enough to make the Tallawahs opening day line-up against St Kitts & Nevis Patriots but coming in at No. 8 in the final over, he was bowled with a first-ball yorker. His first two overs conceded just 14, but asked to bowl the final over with 29 runs to defend, he conceded twos off the first two balls to clinch victory, but then proceeded to give up three consecutive sixes to Devon Thomas in an eventual 24-run over.

"For the first game that I played in, that was kind of a wake-up call for me," Allen says. "At this level, it's not like league cricket where you can probably bowl a little fast and intimidate certain people but after the first two or three balls, you realise they start reading it and picking it up, and you have to be able to change.

"It's a more aggressive format of the game and this is the best of the guys out there. It's not like you're going to make a little mistake and get away with it. If you make a mistake, you're going to pay the price for it. I kind of learned that the hard way."

Part of that hard lesson was being left out for the next five games. He made the most of that time though, spending quite a bit of it picking his team-mates' brains, in particular Dale Steyn for advice on how to improve.

"Dale was saying, 'Listen, you're not the first person this happened to and you're not going to be the last person. This is your first game but it's not going to be your last game. You just have to make sure the next time you come in that you don't do the same thing again and you need to work on your variations,'" Allen says. "On the plane ride there, he said, 'Okay, more than likely you're here for a reason because people think you have the capability to be here and perform at this level.'

"I was telling him some stuff that I would like to achieve and especially with his knowledge I knew he had the experience. If he could help me out a little bit with all the games he's played in his career… knowledge of that nature you don't get over a day or two. So he was one of the guys who was working with me on my bowling in the nets. When we played the last game [in Jamaica], he was standing at mid-off or mid-on when I was bowling just to make sure we stayed on point. So I really do appreciate all his help and he gave me some great knowledge and, hopefully I can execute those things."

Allen was recalled during the Tallawahs' home leg at Sabina Park and in his third game in the line-up, he claimed the wickets of Akeal Hosein and Shoaib Malik, and very nearly Kieron Pollard, in a victory over Barbados Tridents. It wasn't just the performance with the ball, his celebrations were just as lively for all of the team's wickets with an infectious spirit that hasn't gone unnoticed amongst his team-mates.

"I think what has impressed me most about Timroy is his attitude," Sangakkara says. "He had a tough last over in our first game, a game that we won, was out for a little while, came back in for the last two games and you could see his determination to do well. When he took a wicket or a catch, the way he celebrated, you could see it in his face how much it meant to him.

"I think his confidence has grown, our confidence in him has grown throughout the tournament and it's exciting for Tallawahs to have him and he's been an absolute wonderful guy and I think that's also very important. It doesn't matter how talented you are and how well you perform, you need to fit into the group and contribute to the group and he's been outstanding."

Aside from the experiences gained playing against some of the world's best players in the CPL, Allen has also gained a new nickname over the course of the season. While answering a question, Allen bursts out laughing as Kesrick Williams casually interrupts, walking past Allen while singing, "Toot! Toot! It's Popeye, the sailor man!"

"The first day I went to training, you kind of introduce yourself and they start calling you and say, 'Oh that's the young kid,'" Allen says. "Chadwick Walton's the one who came up with the name. He said, 'This morning I saw you eating and I could've sworn you were eating spinach because your arms started getting bigger.'

"So from then on whenever they call me the little song goes out, 'Toot! Toot!', and you know they're talking about you but it's a lot of fun. Ever since he mentioned it, it stuck to me because even the coaches now go, 'Hey Pops, you gonna bat or bowl?'"

Beyond this tournament, USA will be competing in the ICC WCL Division Four later this year in Los Angeles as they continue their attempts to climb up the Associate ladder for potential 50-over World Cup qualification in 2019. Allen is eager to be back involved in the national team set-up.

"I'll be more than ready for the upcoming tournament and hopefully we can get back on a winning track and come in a higher division, play some better cricket," Allen says. "We have a great group of guys in the 30 so more than likely we're going to get a good team to go there. So it's just for us to go and execute. Performance is always going to be the key but I know a lot of the guys have been practising, been preparing for it. It's a hungry group of guys."

At the moment though, Allen is focused on his role helping Tallawahs try to claim their second CPL title. Coach Paul Nixon has been impressed with the way he has bounced back and responded both on and off the field after the rough early adjustment period and believes Allen is a player for the future.

"He's more relaxed, more confident and stepping up to the plate in a couple of great games with some key situations," Nixon says. "Under pressure he's handled some great moments. He had a tough time when he first came in, but we maybe didn't look after him well enough at that particular time as a management group looking back, but he hasn't shirked any responsibility and he's been up for the fight and up for the moment. He'll definitely play a major role moving forward in our group."

Allen got to play in front of several cousins during the Jamaica-leg of the season and, on Saturday, the chance to play in front of his wife Tracie, not to mention 8000 local fans. It's something he couldn't have imagined at this time last year when his days consisted of getting up at 5am and hopping into his van to head out to local residences, spraying for termites and cockroaches.

"I wouldn't give this up for anything else," Allen says. "I really appreciate the opportunity that [Tallawahs owner] Mr [Ron] Patel and the Jamaica line-up have given me, especially playing with guys like Chris Gayle, Andre Russell, Sangakkara, Chadwick Walton, they're some of the best guys that you can ask anything. So just being around the guys, I'm really happy. I'm excited and I'm loving every moment of it. Hopefully we can come out victorious at the end of the tournament."