The Dentist from Nevis
To an English cricket fan of the early 1990s, John "The Dentist" Maynard was one of the most evocative characters imaginable. One might even go so far as to suggest he is the most famous West Indian fast bowler never to have played a Test. Those who were not hooked on the coverage of England's tour of the Caribbean in 1993-94 will probably have no idea who he is. Others, like myself, could give chapter and verse on his marmalisation of England's middle-order during their build-up to that winter's Test series.
Maynard, to this distant long-wave listener of Test Match Special, typified an era when a tour of the West Indies was the ultimate examination of body and soul. The arrival of a Test team in the Caribbean, particularly if it had come from England, was a call to arms for every aspiring cricketer in the region. Long before Duncan Fletcher turned tour games into a 12-man-a-side glorified net session, Maynard and his cronies were cranking up the pace and injecting the venom, eager to advance their claims to Test selection, but equally determined to crush the tourists' morale before they embarked on the main event.
The Dentist's first-class career was brief. He played 13 times for the Leeward Islands between 1991-92 and 1998-99, taking 35 wickets with a best of 5 for 24. But in that time he was undoubtedly explosive. "In the early 1990s, people were ranking my pace with Bish [Ian Bishop]," he told Cricinfo at Warner Park, where - as a proud Nevisian - he was dividing between net-bowling duties for the visiting World Cup teams, and a stint as a guest summariser on none other than TMS. "I think even now, at the age of 37, I'm in the mid-eighties."
"I was always pretty close," he says of his lack of Test recognition. "I used to be quite pacy, and I was touted to be the one who'd slip in maybe when the Bishop era finished. But then they were forever changing - Ottis Gibson, Vasbert Drakes, Nixon McLean. Sometimes the luck of the draw doesn't fall on your side. But I was always close enough to the pot for them to be having a look."
Maynard was never closer than in the spring of 1994, when England came to visit. He played in only two of the tour matches, and one of those - for St Kitts and Nevis on the pre-development Basseterre ground - wasn't deemed to be first-class. Nevertheless, in the space of 52 hounding overs, he picked off England's finest for fun. The scores of his victims were: Atherton 6, Maynard 2, Hussain 0, Stewart 21, Thorpe 11, Hick 0, Ramprakash 4. Seven England top-order batsmen, blasted away for a sum total of 44 runs. Job done. Over to you Curtly.
Like any self-respecting West Indian fast bowler, there's one name in that list of victims that stands out from the rest. "Graeme Hick, he's always been one of my favourites, funnily enough," glints the Dentist, recalling how, having undermined Hick's Test preparations with a duck, he stalked the poor man all the way back to the county scene the following summer, dismissing him third ball for 6 in a one-off Benson &Hedges Cup appearance for Norfolk against Worcestershire.
|"I was by far and away the most destructive quick bowler in the competition even at the age of 37. I took the most wickets as a quick and consistently generated the most pace."|
"I think at that time Hick was established as a first-class cricketer, but as a Test cricketer he never really got a chance to settle down as he might have liked. He lacked a bit of confidence, and maybe that's because he wasn't from England. Maybe he thought he was supposed to do a little more than he's supposed to. Maybe that stalled his career."
Surprising as it may seem, Maynard would sympathise if that was the case. As an inhabitant of Nevis, an island of just 11,000 people, recognition has always seemed harder to come by than it might have been had he hailed from Barbados, Jamaica or Trinidad. "It's always been a problem with the island politics," he says. "Take Stuart Williams [a fellow Nevisian who played 31 Tests between 1994 and 2002], his name was always about for getting dropped, even though the guys competing with him didn't get the same runs. Smaller islands tend to get the hard knocks sometimes."
But they also have, just once in a while, the opportunity to punch above their weight in spectacular fashion. Only last year, Maynard and Williams joined forces in what he now describes as his favourite form of the game - Twenty20 cricket - to help propel little Nevis all the way to the semi-finals of a tournament that featured teams from 19 different islands. Along the way, they inflicted massively satisfying defeats on their nearest neighbours and bitterest rivals, St Kitts in the first round and Antigua in the quarter-finals.
"I was by far and away the most destructive quick bowler in the competition," says the Dentist, "even at the age of 37. I took the most wickets as a quick and consistently generated the most pace." His finest hour was a haul of 4 for 9 against St Kitts that earned him a Man of the Match cheque for $25,000, and inter-island bragging rights for evermore. "We're the smaller population in Nevis, but we focus a lot more on cricket, In St Kitts they are all focussed on football."
That's because Nevis has a cricket heritage that St Kitts, its swanky new stadium notwithstanding, would die for. The Nevisian, Elquemedo Willett, who played five Tests as a left-arm spinner between 1973 and 1975, was the first cricketer from any of the smaller islands to play for West Indies. Six have since followed his example: Derek Parry, Keith Arthurton, Stuart Williams, Runako Morton and Carl Tuckett. St Kitts, by contrast, has yet to get off the mark. "The majority of our young guys try to emulate Willett," adds Maynard. "He was the stepping stone."
Maynard still has the look and build of a genuine fast bowler, and the self-belief to match. "About three years ago, I was playing locally for the islands competition, and I might have got a chance [for the Test side] then. Everything seemed to be right, I was feeling so good with my game, my fitness, everything. And I was getting wickets. But that's the time that [Ian] Bradshaw got into the team. If I'd got a look in with the Leewards then, who knows, maybe I would have been in Jamaica by now."
Why though, is he known as the Dentist? "It's a funny old story," he grins. "I was playing for Nevis against Antigua many years ago, and there was this bloke playing for Antigua called Zorah Barthley, who was the West Indies youth team captain. Nevis had never beaten Antigua outright in Antigua, but that afternoon, we took the new ball and he was playing really late. And I thought to myself, if he's playing late now I've got to rough him up early in the morning.
"First thing in the morning he nicks one but the umps didn't send him on his way, and that wound me up a bit. And so the next ball was four yards quicker than anything I've ever bowled. He shaped to hook, and his teeth went flying all over the place, and it was a funny old sight. But he was the man who made the Dentist really. I couldn't have done it without him.
"I never worry about hurting them at the time," he adds. "Maybe I'll think about it later at night, but in the heat of the moment, as a bowler if you can't get them out, you've gotta hurt them 'til they get out. I think I've broken pretty much every part of the body so far, from the teeth to the jaw to the nose to the ribs to the arms and to the toes." No wonder his legend precedes him.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo