Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent. @PeterDellaPenna
Sitting on the Jamaica Tallawahs team bus in Port-of-Spain heading to Queen's Park Oval for the 2013 Caribbean Premier League semifinals and finals in Trinidad, then 27-year-old Chadwick Walton was shadowing the team's newest addition Kumar Sangakkara, who had signed as an overseas replacement player for the playoffs in place of Pakistan's Ahmed Shehzad. Walton, a fellow wicketkeeper, was looking to gain insight into what made Sangakkara tick.
How did he play those silky drives? How did he pick fellow Tallawahs and Sri Lanka team-mate Murali's doosra from behind the stumps? Instead, the experience hanging around the pair of Sri Lankans on the way to the Tallawahs title-winning run was memorable to Walton for altogether different reasons.
"A little bit of everything is being talked about on the team bus when you're around athletes," Walton recalls. "But these two, it was mostly business and family. So that stood out to me because you see these persons on TV and you idolise them and now you sit in a room having dinner with them and listening to the type of conversations. I didn't know what to expect so it really stood out to me.
"I used to hang with Murali a lot and Kumar, just the way they socialised it was a bit different to what I was typically used to. They were talking mostly business, more on a macro-economic scale. They were talking big, the whole country. I mean yes we hear it in the Caribbean from some players but it's not the norm to hear it from athletes. They'd speak about issues of government, future investments, macro investments. I liked how these fellas how they view stuff. [Kumar] spoke about his restaurant. Murali would talk about manufacturing. I was quite impressed just sitting there and listening."
Walton's window into Sangakkara's approach to life also provides a view into the Jamaican's own outlook. Now 31, he has been an intricate part of this year's Tallawahs campaign on the road to the final, scoring 276 runs while opening the batting alongside Chris Gayle, but cricket is not the be all and end all for Walton.
Influenced in part by Sangakkara's pursuit of a law degree, Walton enrolled a few months later in a sports science and marketing master's program jointly run by Canada's University of New Brunswick and the University of West Indies campus at Cave Hill in Barbados. However, the scholar, who had done his undergraduate bachelor's degree in accounting and will get his master's diploma in October, says that despite his mother's job as a teacher growing up, he wasn't always so keen to be interested in academics. Rather, his path to cricket began precisely because it helped him to get away from school.
"I used to like missing school so cricket was my avenue for missing school," Walton says. "If you have a cricket game, you miss an entire day of school. Your parents give you more money because you have to travel. So it was a double incentive for me."
At one point, the self-proclaimed "problem child" says he was suspended from high school for his behavior. However, as his approach to academics began to mature, so did his cricket. After spending a few summers in the USA visiting his uncle Uriah Chambers and playing in the Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York leagues in 2005 and 2006, Walton was encouraged by local Jamaican coaches to stay home if he wanted to be serious about becoming a professional. The increased focus in 2007 led to a List A debut later that year for Combined Campuses and Colleges and, early in 2008, to a first-class debut as well.
By 2009, Walton was making his Test debut for West Indies, although not in ideal circumstances. A simmering feud between the WICB and the West Indies Players' Association resulted in a players strike ahead of the two-Test series at home against Bangladesh. Walton was one of the seven debutants in a squad flown in to St Vincent about 24 hours before the first Test, a 95-run loss.
"It wasn't the best of circumstances," Walton recalls of his international debut. "We didn't have enough time to prepare but suffice to say we lost. If you lose by an inch or you lose by a mile, it's still a loss."
His first two ODIs followed later that year in South Africa during the Champions Trophy with the first-choice players still on strike. In the years since, Walton has made several touring squads, including the 2013 tour to India for Sachin Tendulkar's farewell series and the subsequent tour of New Zealand where he played in three ODIs. Despite the limited appearances and his ensuing academic pursuits, Walton still holds out hope that the window on his international career has not come to a close.
"I don't feel that path of my career is gone," Walton says. "I still feel I can play international cricket. It's just that the right opportunity hasn't come to pass. I've played only six first-class games in two years. Between doing a master's and playing sport, it's challenging. I'm not sure it's one of the reasons I was overlooked. I cannot really put a finger on it or say that I can't play international cricket anymore because I still can. Now that the master's is over, I'm still looking to play international cricket."
Walton captained the CCC team in this year's Nagico Super50, finishing second on the team in runs with 170 at 42.50 behind Rovman Powell. This season's CPL experience has given more evidence that he's better placed if called upon to represent West Indies again. In particular, his 97 off 54 balls against Barbados Tridents, the fourth-highest individual score in the competition this year, showed his skills with the bat have not eroded while he was hitting the books.
Though Sangakkara has taken the gloves throughout the season, Walton has demonstrated his fielding versatility by leading the team in catches with 11, just two behind Jason Mohammed for the CPL lead, and has been a reliable presence patrolling the long-on and midwicket boundary for catches in the slog overs. Being around the overseas players in particular is something Walton feels has enhanced his professionalism.
"The Caribbean Premier League has helped and given me a lot of exposure on and off the field," Walton says. "Yes, on the field you're on TV and people see what you have to do. Off the field, you have persons like Sanga and world-class bowlers like Murali, Dale [Steyn] and all these sort of persons. You're learning both ways. You're learning while you're playing the game and you're learning a lot more watching theses fellas and how they generally go about in their preparation.
"You have to know yourself. That's what I picked up from these fellas. You'll have days that they'll come and practice very very hard. Then you'll have days where they'll come and say, 'Five balls and that's it.' Sometimes you have persons who say, 'Coach, I'm okay.' Chris Gayle in particular. He knows his game inside and out. Chris comes and knows what he has to do and that's Chris. It's pretty much know yourself and what works for you and what you need to do to perform on the field."
As for how much longer he wants to stick around the field of play before making use of his master's degree, Walton has an eye for business interests but says he's now back to being fully focused on cricket for the next few years, health permitting. This season's CPL has been a chance for him to show selectors that he hasn't disappeared.
"I've been thereabouts for selection. I've been included in training camps and a few more tours but I've just never been included in the final XI," Walton says. "It's not that I've been out in the wilderness. The selectors are always looking. I'm still there."