Dale Richards' selection to the West Indies' squad is evidence hard work reaps benefits. It also shows that good things come to those who are prepared to wait.
At 32, Richards' call-up for the first Test against England at Sabina Park is a little belated but well deserved for one of the region's most consistent opening batsmen. Only last season, he was considering retirement from the first-class arena. What a mistake it would have been by the Barbadian.
His willingness to continue has borne fruit and Richards is on top of the world. "It is a great feeling. I've been working hard playing for Barbados over the last couple of years," he told Sunsport prior to the start of play yesterday in the match between Barbados and Leeward Islands at Carib Lumber Park. "The hard work has finally paid off. I'm grateful to be selected for the West Indies."
On recent history, Richards could be considered on the wrong side of 30 as far as regional selectors are concerned. Three years ago, he played for the West Indies A team, but with time going by, some might have considered there was no chance of an elevation. Richards, however, never gave up hope and the encouragement of coach Vasbert Drakes was another motivator.
"I was a bit frustrated last season the way how Barbados were playing, but I decided to give it another shot to come this year and put in some more hard work," Richards said. "Mr Drakes was telling me not to give up. I just decided to keep my fingers crossed and come and put 110% for Barbados."
As opener after opener was given a chance by the West Indies selectors over the past four years, it was baffling why Richards was never given consideration. After all, his first-class record is just as good, and in most cases, better than the others.
In 33 first-class matches prior to this game against the Leewards, Richards scored 2269 runs at an average of 38.45. Compare that to the first-class averages (at the start of the sesason) of 11 other openers selected since 2005 - Devon Smith (37.10), Daren Ganga (36.19), Wavell Hinds (34.84), Sewnarine Chattergoon (32.76), Ryan Ramdass (30.64), Lendl Simmons (30.00), Xavier Marshall (26.97), Andre Fletcher (26.09), Brenton Parchment (25.05) and Shawn Findlay (15.61).
Despite making his first-class debut in 2000, Richards only played his second four-day match in 2005 after overcoming a string of injuries. If there was one blemish on his record, it was his inability to convert fifties into hundreds. Three centuries against 16 half-centuries tell the story but after his match-saving 113 against Trinidad and Tobago in the first match of the season, he believes he has identified the problem and the solution.
"It was frustrating. I had a problem concentrating. I could easily reach 50 so often and not carry on," he said. "At 32, I'm understanding batting a little more. I think a lot of hundreds will come from now on. The older you get, you start to understand the game better."
Richards is one of four openers named in the West Indies squad for the first Test starting on February 4 and he is aware that he could be asked to bat down the order. He has done it for Barbados before and is prepared for any position. "If given the opportunity to bat anywhere, especially playing for West Indies, you have to grab it with both hands."
His selection for the West Indies may deny him the opportunity to achieve a goal he set for the regional season. With the regional competition clashing with the international season, he is set to miss a few matches for Barbados.
"I had a lot of goals set for this season, especially for Barbados. I was looking to score 1000 runs this season," he said. "For every bad thing comes a good thing. I will hope that the guys support [captain] Jason Haynes and that we win the tournament."