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Rawlins makes dream start with England

Delray Rawlins has gone from playing for Bermuda in the WCL to starring for England Under-19s in a few short months ICC/Ian Jacobs

England's cricket system has long benefited from an influx of overseas talent, players with roots in South Africa, New Zealand, Ireland, Zimbabwe and even West Indies. Few, however, have emerged from Britain's Overseas Territories.

Bermuda, 3400 miles from the UK, was colonised in 1610, but had not produced a cricketer to make a mark with England (although David Hemp, who had a long county career with Glamorgan, was born on the island). Delray Rawlins, a lanky, sinewy 19-year-old allrounder, may be about to change that. "I had a dream that I wanted to play for England," Rawlins said.

Two months ago, Rawlins was turning out for Bermuda in World Cricket League Division Four. On Monday, he struck a match-winning hundred on his Under-19 debut for England.

His journey began, aged nine, with Warwick Workmen's junior program in Bermuda. Not long after, Rawlins was part of the Under-11 squad, a level at which cricket was played with plastic balls. "It was immediately noticed at training that Delray was special and he never played one match in the Under-11 age group," Bermuda assistant coach and performance analyst Lorenzo Tucker said of Rawlins' early progress. "He was moved to the Under-14 group, which played structured cricket. He played against boys five years older than he was. He hasn't looked back since."

Rawlins continued to play at a level higher than his age. At 15, he had been capped for Bermuda, as well as claiming figures of 5 for 51 on his Under-19 debut. Initially selected as a bowler, he developed into a genuine allrounder, capable of batting in the top six in limited-overs cricket.

Such was his reputation as a youngster that he was offered a scholarship at St Bede's School in Eastbourne, East Sussex. After two years with Sussex's 2nd XI while completing his education, Rawlins was recently offered his first contract.

"At the age of 14, I came over and managed to get through the academy ranks and get a contract," Rawlins said. "It was quite daunting, I wanted to further myself and see how far I can go."

Rawlins' residency in England - St Bede's is a boarding school - meant that he was able to complete the four-year qualification period that made him eligible for selection (the relationship between Bermuda and the UK meant he was already a British passport holder). Bermuda's status as an ICC Associate Member allowed him to continue to play for his home country before switching allegiance to England.

For now, Rawlins retains his eligibility to continue representing Bermuda - although that will change if he plays for England's U-19s at an ICC event, or wins his first full cap.

Despite the incredible success in his early years, Rawlins was left staring at a fork in the road - continue playing for Bermuda, plausibly the best in the land but with scarce opportunity, or try his luck in a country with an abundance of resources, as well as a highly competitive first-class structure. If he hadn't decided to make himself available for England, he would have likely have been part of the ICC Americas squad for the West Indies' Regional Super 50 competition, rather than with the Under-19s in Mumbai.

What for some may have been a gamble, for Rawlins was an investment in himself. "I want to commit my future to England, I want to be an England cricketer, hopefully play in the senior team. It wasn't a tough decision. My parents were supportive and that was massive for me," Rawlins said.

A discernible factor in Rawlins' belligerent debut hundred was his power. He clubbed five sixes at the Wankhede Stadium, with one even clearing the second tier, and was the only player from either side to come close to displaying the brute force that modern-day limited-overs cricket necessitates. "With youth players, we're not going to be at the [modern hitting] level yet," England captain Matthew Fisher said during the pre-series press conference. "We're not as strong, we're not going to hit it as far. We can't think we can do that straight away, that's playing with your ego." It wasn't ego that Rawlins exhibited, just talent.

The arrival of several Kolpak signings in county cricket has caused a great stir in recent weeks but there have always been various routes into the English game for those born overseas. In Rawlins' case, Bermuda's loss looks like being England's gain.