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'You miss having success in the game, but you don't miss the pressure'

Omari Banks talks about his playing career, and moving on to making music instead

You were the first player from Anguilla to represent the West Indies team. What was your childhood like?
I had a pretty entertaining and fun childhood. Grew up around music - that was a big part, performing in talent shows, listening to my dad perform, practising in the band house, going to the beach. A typical Caribbean lifestyle. Playing football, playing cricket, doing athletics, singing in bands, those are the things you did on summer days. It was cool.
Who are your closest friends in cricket?
Quite a few, actually. All of the guys from Anguilla. Even [Dwayne] Bravo's been someone I've known since I was very young. [Chris] Gayle too. I mean, I don't see them every day, but with social media now you kind of connect even if you're not meeting. You see what they're up to, and if you're coming into their town, you say, "Yo, I'm gonna be comin' in, let's hang out and have a few drinks", or whatever.
So when I'm in St Kitts, I call Shane Jeffers, when I'm in Antigua, I call Gavin Tonge. We stay in contact. Tino Best, Dwayne Smith, people I grew up playing Under-19s cricket together.
When I first started to get into music, I called Chris [Gayle] because he has a place in Jamaica called Triple Century, and I said, "Hey Chris, I'm comin' and I want to release my song right there and have a performance." And he was like, "Yeah, sure man." He just made it happen.
What do you miss most about cricket?
When you've played internationally, you probably miss the game in terms of playing, because you feel good if you bowl and get a wicket, you hit a four or a century. But the professional game is different. It's more than just cricket, it's the discipline, it's the ups and downs, all of that is a part of the game. You miss the feeling of having success at times in the game but you certainly don't miss the pressure that comes with that.
I have always been a competitive person, and in music there can be some competition as well, but for me, my music has never been about competition. I'm about expression. It's about giving a message, telling a story, giving a positive vibe, and I think when you do that, there's a sense of peace.
Whose wicket do you prize the most in your career?
I got some big ones - I remember getting [Matthew] Hayden out in a one-day match. Justin Langer was my first Test wicket. Rahul Dravid caught slip, Kumar Sangakkara caught slip, [Tillakaratne] Dilshan, I think I got him.
If you look back at my career, there are not many players who played ten Test matches and have a better record than I did in that short space of time of playing. So I'm happy that I was able to contribute at least some little thing to West Indies cricket, that I was part of the world-record partnership. I'm happy that within my first five-six matches I was considered one of the best young players in the world.
The Caribbean is known for fast bowlers. How did you become an offspinner?
I actually started out bowling fast, and was good at it. I've still got a couple of records in my sub-division competition. And all through my Under-19s career, I would bowl spin and pace. I was a good batsman as well - I used to bat No. 3 or 4. For West Indies Under-19s, I batted No. 4-5, bowled pace, bowled spin.
I started with offspin because of Jack Birkenshaw, who was the coach at Leicestershire. He saw me bowl offspin in the nets and he thought there was something there. And then there was a spot in my first-class team and I had just played Under-19, and they said, "We need to get this guy in the team." I kind of started bowling offspin seriously then. Up until that point I did it because I could. I would bowl in the nets and at batsmen, but never really worked on the art.
How good is your offspin right now?
I actually played a West Indies retirees match in Jamaica, got two wickets and scored 30-odd runs. I was one of the youngest people on the team, so it was good to smash some of the older guys (laughs).
There weren't as many T20s back when you played. If you were playing today, would you have loved the format?
Of course. I played T20 cricket for Somerset, for Anguilla, and I enjoyed that. I enjoyed T20 cricket because I can hit a few blows. T20 is really exciting cricket. It's very marketable, it's a brand of cricket in which the momentum shifts every couple of overs. I think it's a good format of the game, but I'm still a fan of Test cricket.
Does anything put you off while watching cricket these days?
Nothing really. I was reading somewhere recently that they're trying to get rid of the toss. I don't know if I'm a fan of that. I think there's a reason why you have the home-team advantage. You want to see being able to cope with the conditions, people preparing themselves because they know they're going to a particular country. And that is a good thing for cricket. When you go for the toss, you're hoping that you win the toss, maybe you can utilise the conditions a bit more. I think that's kind of necessary.
When you watch cricket these days, is there a player or a captain you would have liked to play with?
I think Darren Sammy is a good captain. I would have loved to play with the [West Indies] team that won the World Cup. I've got a lot of respect for a lot of other players like Mahendra Singh Dhoni - we know of his exploits. Playing with somebody like him would have been a great experience. Playing in the IPL would have been a great experience. I would have liked to be a part of that whole phenomenon, but music took precedence and I wasn't drafted, so… (laughs).
Who was the fastest athlete in the West Indies squad?
Dwayne Smith was pretty fast. Bravo is quick as well. They are athletes. I think Jermaine Lawson was a quick one as well. Mervyn Dillon - he could run and swim, he was a good swimmer.
Who had the worst taste in music?
Off the top of my head I can't remember anybody who had horrible taste. But I'm sure there'll be a few. How it goes in the West Indies dressing room is, some of the guys who are more outspoken will decide who was going to play music. So you won't get the opportunity to do that.
Who had the worst dress sense?
I don't know, you're getting me locked up here now. (laughs) I would say Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels were always flamboyant.
You had a good record against Australia. Let's say you're going there to perform - which former cricketer would you not want to run into?
I'm good with everybody. I think the Australian team that I played against, they were really good. Matthew Hayden was nice to me, even though he smashed me all over once (laughs). Darren Lehmann was kind of similar. I played with Justin Langer for Somerset, so he's a good friend as well. A few of them have been tough and competitive, but off the field they were nice guys, I would say.
What was your favourite off-field moment?
I remember the feeling after the Test match in Antigua was a big celebration. But I remember as well playing against Bangladesh. I came in for the last Test match, in Jamaica. We won the match and I got four wickets in the first innings. Pedro Collins got a few wickets as well.
There was a stand in Sabina Park called the Mound - like a party place. When you won a match there, the crowd's response is just... they love you to death. Even if you've lost ten matches before that. So after that match, I think we finished early around lunch, and then we went to the Mound to party with some of the fans. That was amazing.
Who were your idols growing up?
Curtly Ambrose, Brian Lara, Viv Richards, obviously Sachin Tendulkar, Saqlain Mushtaq. I really like Harbhajan Singh, Shane Warne, Richie Richardson. Those are the guys I really admired. My coach Cardigan Connor, he was somebody I really looked up to. Some of the local cricketers in Anguilla who really inspired me to continue doing what I did…
Are you seeing people and places differently now that you are travelling as a musician?
I wouldn't say I have changed as a person, for sure. As a musician you can connect with the culture little bit more, go to the clubs a little bit more, eat a little bit more different food. I mean you're not bogged down by "What if I get sick?"
I've travelled over here [India] before and coming over again, I knew what to kind of expect, but now you're able to taste it a little bit more. I enjoy the entire experience.
I'm totally blessed because there's not everybody who can have one career in entertainment and then switch around and go straight back into entertainment. I did that at a certain level and it feels a great sense of pride to be able to share my talent with the world. For me, the journey is just as important as the destination.

Vishal Dikshit is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo