Sriram Veera is a former staff writer at ESPNcricinfo
If you call the fire station in Antigua to report a fire, chances are, it might be a West Indian cricketer who answers the phone. Anthony Martin bowls legbreaks for West Indies. He also fights fires.
“Martin is a character. He is excitable even off the field,” Ramnaresh Sarwan said with a laugh. The truth of that statement lies in a small fire station in the All Saints neighbourhood. It’s late in the evening when we reach there. A bright, shiny, red fire truck blocks the entrance. Behind it, two broad-chested men are having a chat. Martin, when he is not on national duty, would be sitting with them, talking animatedly about cricket. Until a phone rings in the front room. Sometimes, he drives the van and, at times, is with the men fighting the fire. At other times he is the man who answers the call. The firemen operate on three shifts: red, green and blue.
Martin is listed on the red shift. “It’s of course better for us if there are extra hands but we are proud that he is playing for West Indies,” says Sergeant Harry as he gives a tour of the small place. There is a large room with lots of beds and a wall-mounted TV. The shifts are 24 hours. If Martin isn’t there by the phone, he will be here, in this room, with his mates, resting and waiting for the distress call. Cricket fills the time. The Sergeant points out Martin’s bed. Two bats lie beside a bag, with some balls inside. “He is constantly flicking the balls,” says Daley, a colleague, who rates Martin’s bowling as “fair”. “He can get better and become a good bowler. He is constantly talking about the game and is very proud to represent West Indies. If he is given chances he will become a good bowler. He prides himself on his economy rate. Even in the games we play here, he doesn’t like to be hit.”
Martin may not possess the same talent as a Devendra Bishoo, but his is a heart-warming story: fireman to national cricketer. It happens in movies. Even then, during the climax, when the hero plays for the country it seems hard to digest. Here we are, in a small fire-station in Antigua, where nothing much happens. “It’s a quiet place. Trinidad can be crazy in comparison. There is nothing much that happens in Antigua,” Harry says. It’s a quiet town, known for its 365 beaches - one for every day of the year. The biggest fire that Harry saw was in the late 1990s when a paint factory blew up into flames. For the major part, they put out minor fires and take adequate precautions. Martin joined them eight years ago, when he was 20, and has proved to be a valuable member since.
“He handles himself well in emergency situations,” Harry says. “He is usually jumping around and excited, but during an emergency he knows what to do and does it well.”
“I play cricket because I love it,” Martin had told windiescricket.com in May. “I don’t play for money. I play for the love of the game. Even if I wasn’t being paid I would still be playing and I would still play with the same intensity.
“I know if West Indies has 11 players on the field with the kind of attitude I have and if we put in hard work in the nets then it won’t be easy to beat us.” His colleagues plan to make a banner with Martin’s name and go to the one-day game if he plays. Something like a fireman representing the entire region in cricket doesn’t happen every other day. Dousing a fire and bowling a legbreak; it’s all in a day’s work for Martin.