Always 150 per cent - Tino Best
Stabroek News
May 18, 2004

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In the changing world of cricket where colourful, expressive and partly controversial characters are fast being replaced by robotic stereotypes, Tino Best is definitely like a breath of fresh air. With the West Indies crying for a fast-bowling messiah following the retirement of Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh, the selectors looked around for someone with raw pace and gusto and different youngsters started getting the nod in every other international match. Young Tino already had a reputation as 'De Wild Thing' in the Caribbean and in the first week of May 2003, played his first Test against Steve Waugh's Australia in front of his home crowd at Kensington Oval. What transpired was close to a nightmare.

He did not get a wicket in the first innings and wasn't required to bowl in the second as the Aussies needed just eight to win the match and the series. Worse still, Waugh doubted whether he had ever played the game and people ridiculed his bustling open-chested action. It will be close to a year before the robust shaven-headed tearaway would get another chance with the cherry and this time he would be ready. Best was one of the shining lights in an otherwise forgettable series against England. He was yards quicker, stronger and packed a mean toe-crushing yorker not to mention the 'I'll eat you live' stare at batsmen. But it was his infectious enthusiasm and boundless energy that endeared him to his peers and fans all over the West Indies. Rabeed Imam of The Daily Star spoke to West Indies cricket's current fan-favourite during a break in practice ahead of the first one-day international against Bangladesh at the Arnos Vale ground on Thursday.

Daily Star (DS): Everybody loves you for the spirit and fun you bring to the game. How does it feel to be the cheerleader of the side?

Tino Best (TB): I was the comedian of my family. Then when I came into the team I just tried to enjoy myself and my cricket. Cricket is my life. God gave me this talent and I might as well enjoy it.

DS: Did you always want to be a fast bowler?

TB: To tell you the truth, no. Originally the plan was to be an opening batsman but obviously it all changed as I grew up. I used to get really excited watching Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh. Those guys really tormented batsmen and I said to myself, I want to be like them.

I tried to model myself on Marshall a lot. Marshall, Ntini, Brett Lee, Darren Gough....those are my idols. Obviously just being around top cricketers inspired me to try that much harder at all times.DS: So, did the stares and glares at batsmen come naturally to you or you followed the fast bowlers who give it to the batsmen?

TB: I used to watch Ambi (Ambrose) stare at batsmen. It's something you need to do if you are a very fast bowler like Lee or Shoaib Akhtar because the game is designed for batsmen. Everyone comes to watch a hundred or batsmen hitting strokes. So I give the odd stare and a chat but I try not to get carried away and stay within the limits.

DS: You didn't have a particularly fond Test debut and was left out of international cricket for nearly a year. How did you come back?

TB: Yes I did have a horrific debut and Steve Waugh said he doubted whether I had ever played cricket or not, which was a disgrace for me. I was 21 and playing my first match and naturally I was disappointed. But I believe everything happens for a reason.

When I was dropped, I went back home and Wayne Daniel, former West Indies and Middlesex fast bowler took me under his wings and I put in a lot of work in the months that followed. Then this domestic season I totally tormented the batsmen and the selectors felt I was ready.

DS: What is the difference between Tino Best of a year ago and now?

TB: My action was all over the place. It's a lot tighter now. My head is straighter. When I played against Australia, there were a couple of deliveries that barely touched 89 mph. Now I'm consistently hitting the 93/94 mph region when I'm really worked out. I'm enjoying it.

DS: Now that you are pushing the mid-90s, is 100mph a thing in the back of your mind?

TB: I don't think my body is fully developed as yet but as a young man I do want to bowl fast and excite the crowd. However you still got to play for your team, still got to bowl in the right areas and the right length. Obviously if I can bowl between 145-155 kmph that would be great for my team.

DS: What kind of person are you when you are away from the cricket field?

TB: I'm a very fun-loving person, very approachable. I always think that I am an ambassador and I have a lot of responsibility. A lot of kids and many in the family look up to me as a role model and I'm very loving. I don't take anything for granted at all.

DS: Has life changed for you after the England series?

TB: It has changed a lot. I have become more confident as a person and my belief in God has grown even stronger. I pray to God and ask Him to show me the way and He always shows me the way. If you remember Him in everything you do, things will work out superbly.

DS: You haven't played a one-day international yet. When you finally do, are you going to go all out or will you do experiments like bowling the slower delivery every once in a while?

TB: If I do play, my role will be that of a strike bowler. So my job will be to take wickets and not experimenting with slow balls and stuff...

DS: By the way do you know how to bowl a slower?

TB: That remains to be seen (laughs). You don't see Brett Lee bowling too many slowers. So I'll try to bowl as fast as possible on the top of the off stump and try to beat the guys for pace.

DS: With no senior statesmen like Ambrose or Walsh to look up to on the field, what is it like being a fast bowler in the present West Indies side?

TB: It really is an exciting time. Playing for the West Indies is an honour because we grew up dreaming about it. I do want to be the new kid on the block who packs a surprise.

I don't think I'm going to walk in the footsteps of Ambrose or Walsh. I just want to be Tino Best and keep on working hard at my game.

DS: Do you believe that pace is still the future of West Indies cricket?

TB: Of course. Pace is everything. That's my motto. Pace beats batsmen every single time if you are a fast or quick bowler bowling the right length. Some one like that can be very, very dangerous.

DS: What are your immediate targets?

TB: My immediate aspiration would be to cement a place in the Test team. In one-dayers you could be hanging about because of the variety needed there but I just want to be number one.

DS: You said that you were the comedian of your family. Has that role now firmly shifted to the West Indies squad?

TB: I think I'm the person who really gets the guys going. Once they see me putting in that effort, it spurs them to fight on. For example, in the last Test against England in Antigua, the pitch was quite flat and I bowled just under 94 mph. The guys were exclaiming, "damn! He's an animal." That's me, an animal. I don't care if the wicket is slow, fast or whatever, 150 per cent all the time.

Once they see you giving that effort on the slowest of tracks, your teammates will love you and respect you.

DS: What motivates you to go for that extra bit?

TB: The cross on my chest. That's what motivates me.