I’m a Chelsea fan.

Now that is not a popular thing to be in my native Jamaica but I’ve been one since 1995, some 25 years ago.

I was not a fan of what used to be English football and at the time, the only team in the Premier League with any international flavour was Chelsea.

Chelsea boasted a squad with one English starter in Dennis Wise and were the only team in England that played with the type of flair I had grown up seeing from my father’s team of choice, Brazil.

Arsenal had not yet become the free-flowing team it became popular for and Manchester United, though winners, were not a target of my fancy.

But Chelsea, for all their beautiful football, were a mid-table team at best.

When they started to win, courtesy of an injection of cash from Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, they lost some of that flair.

Players like Gianfranco Zola, Ruud Gullit and Gustavo Poyet were no longer there and Jose Mourinho had turned the team into something resembling a machine that built cars to exacting specifications. Still I delighted in their success. Now they’re losing again and cannot seem to compete with the might of the Manchester Cities and Liverpools of this era. They have returned to playing with some flair but I cannot be completely happy with all the changes they have made to date.

But I will likely remain a Chelsea fan for the remainder of my time on this planet.

The same is true of the Jamaica Tallawahs. I fell in love with the Tallawahs much, in the same way, I fell in love with Chelsea.

I understood franchise cricket in much the same way I did club football and would have chosen any of the six teams in the CPL to be ‘mine’.

But just as I became a fan of the way the dread-locked Gullit would marshall his midfield and later Zola would turn a game on its head with a moment of brilliance, I could not get enough of big-hitting innings from Chris Gayle.

It was for this reason and this reason solely that I became a fan of the Tallawahs but I cannot now abandon them because, just as in club football, franchise cricket will witness changes.

And there have been a myriad of changes to the Tallawahs since the start of the Hero Caribbean Premier League, some seven years ago.

Now, there is no Chris Gayle, and the latest squad seems a far cry from the exciting days of the big left-hander smacking balls onto the roof of the North Stand at Kingston’s Sabina Park.

Still, I will remain with the Tallawahs as any true fan of a team should.

And maybe, despite the many changes, this Tallawahs line-up has a chance.

They do have more balance than they have had in recent years.

For a while, the Tallawahs batting was their strength but they had to bat teams out of games. Whenever they failed to get more than just a competitive score, they were certain to lose. In fact, I think they have the ignominy of sporting some of the highest losing totals in the competition's history.

This year may be different.

Fidel Edwards is an experienced fast bowler, who, along with the pace of Oshane Thomas, could pose some problems for their opposition in the league.

The Tallawahs also have something they have been missing for a few years now as well. An incisive spinner. Tabraiz Shamsi is the type of slow bowler the Tallawahs may just need. A left-arm wrist spinner, Shamsi is aggressive, with his 19.8 strike rate suggesting he will take wickets in the middle overs where the Tallawahs have been found wanting over the years.

Allrounder Carlos Brathwaite can provide both batting and bowling for the Tallawahs on the odd occasion, while Veerasammy Permaul can also do a job.

Now, I wouldn’t venture to pick the Tallawahs line-up but they have last season’s leading runscorer for them, Glenn Phillips, who should partner Chadwick Walton. The two can be explosive and put any team on the back foot. In the middle order, there is exciting Pakistani batsman, Asif Ali, as well as the power of Rovman Powell and Andre Russell. On a given day, any of those names can hurt an opposition, but there is the question of consistency.

That question has plagued the Tallawahs for years even though they have won the CPL twice.

But on those two occasions, they had Chris Gayle and even though he may not have been the man to provide the finals-winning performances, he did come up with innings of real class that helped them in getting through the season.

Last season the Tallawahs finished last and it is no surprise that Gayle had a poor run throughout.

Without him, the Tallawahs seem less dangerous, but I am still rooting for them. They’re my team and seem more balanced than ever before, even without the mighty Chris.

West Indies fast bowling legend Curtly Ambrose has bemoaned the lack of an opportunity to be a part of the current Cricket West Indies (CWI) set-up in any type of capacity.

The 56-year-old Ambrose, one of the most revered bowlers in world cricket, previously served as the bowling consultant for the senior team.  He was, however, replaced by Roderick Estwick in 2016 and has not been involved with the program since.  According to the legendary pace bowler, however, it isn’t for a lack of trying.  Ambrose has since added to his coaching credentials, becoming one of 25 officials from the Caribbean and North America to attain Level Three coaching certification from a program organised by Cricket West Indies (CWI) and the England and Wales Cricket Board in 2018.

“Since I was sacked from the senior team back in 2016, I have done a few bits and pieces in-between, in terms of some coaching stints with a few fast bowlers, but not on a consistent basis,” Ambrose said in a recent interview on Antigua’s Good Morning Jojo radio show.

Coaching is, however, not the only job the former player has applied for.  He recently also threw his hat in the ring for a position on the selection panel.

“I figured whether it is coaching, being a selector, or whatever I could do to help West Indies Cricket go forward, I am always ready and willing to do so.  There was nothing to do to in terms of the coaching part of it, so I decided to put in for being a selector because I thought that I could help, because I am a very fair-minded person and I just want to see West Indies cricket get better," Ambrose said.

"They interviewed me, Jimmy Adams and the vice president (Dr. Kishore Shallow), for about an hour, and I didn't quite make it."

West Indies fast bowler turned respected commentator, Michael Holding, has over the years developed a reputation for being outspoken. He just tells it like it is. On Wednesday, prior to the start of the #RaiseYourBat Series between the West Indies and England, he was at his best delivering a powerful message against racism.

The fast-bowling great, speaking on Skysports was asked his views on the #BlackLivesMatter campaign, delivered a poignant lesson on how education and religion helped brainwash the world against people of colour.

 “Education is important, unless we just want to continue living the life that we are living and continue having demonstrations every now and then and a few people saying a few things,” Holding said.

“When I say education I say going back in history. What people need to understand is that these things stem from a long time ago, hundreds of years ago. The dehumanisation of the black race is where it started. People will tell you that ‘oh it’s a long time ago, get over it’. No, you don’t get over things like that.”

He mentioned another recent incident in the United States that brought into stark focus, just how ingrained racism has become.

“That lady in central park in New York (Amy Cooper). If she did not have in her DNA the thought process that she is white and this man is black and ‘if I call a police officer, nine times out of 10 he is going to be white and I will be considered right immediately. The black guy will have to prove that he is not guilty and by the time he has to prove that he might be dead,” Holding remarked.

“She had that in her mind from day one and that is why she said and did what she did. How do you get rid of that in society? By educating both black and white.”

Highlighting that he was not much of a religious person, Holding said that religion has brainwashed much of the world against people of colour.

“As a young man I didn’t understand what brainwashing is; now I do. We have been brainwashed. Even white people have been brainwashed,” Holding said.

“I go back many years, think about religion. You and I both are Christians. Look at Jesus Christ. The image that they give of Jesus Christ, pale skin, blonde hair, blue eyes. Where Jesus came from, who in that part of the world looks that way? Again, that is brainwashing, this is to show, ‘look this is what perfection is, this is what the image of perfection is.’

“If you look at the plays of those days. Judas, who betrayed Jesus, is a black man. Again brainwashing people to think, ‘oh he is a black man, he is the bad man’.”

He also spoke about how those recording history have deliberately ignored achievements by people of African heritage.

“We all know who invented the light bulb. Thomas Edison invented it. Edison invented the light bulb with a paper filament; it burnt out in no time at all. Can you tell me who invented the filament that makes these lights shine throughout? Nobody knows because he was a black man and it was not taught in schools. Lewis Howard Latimer invented the carbon filament because of which lights continuously shine, who knows that?” he asked.

 “Everything should be taught. When I go back I remember my school days, I was never taught anything good about black people. And you cannot have a society that is brought up like that, both whites and blacks, which is only taught what is convenient to the teacher.”

The last time West Indies won a series in England was in 1988.

A 36-year-old Viv Richards was the captain, Curtly Ambrose had only played three Tests, Ian Bishop hadn’t made his debut, Brian Lara wasn’t yet in the Windies set-up and I wasn’t born.

Thankfully, with advances in technology whether it be Google or a trek through the archives of YouTube, there is enough information, that once willing to read and watch, one can get a great understanding, if not the complete picture of some of the great moments savoured before our time.

1988 started in uncertain fashion for the West Indies after they had to fight to stave off Pakistan in a home series they managed to draw, winning the third and final Test at Kensington Oval in Barbados by two wickets.

Michael Holding, Joel Garner and Larry Gomes, three members of the squad which had dominated the world for close to 10 years had retired just over a year earlier.

Other key players Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes and Jeffrey Dujon had all passed age 30.

Heading into the England series, the late great Malcolm Marshall was the most experienced bowler with 53 matches and that was more than the other pacemen combined.

In fact, that was one of the biggest concerns for the West Indies going into the series as Courtney Walsh, Curtly Ambrose, Patrick Patterson, Winston Benjamin and Ian Bishop had combined for just 38 matches.

Thankfully, for the Caribbean side, the tour lasted approximately three months and along the way they played 16 first-class matches, eight of which were warm-up games.

They lost all games in the 3-match One Day International series at the beginning of the campaign but as time went on and conditions became more familiar, they improved, drew the first Test and then sped away with the series 4-nil as their unbeaten series run approached a decade.

Malcolm Marshall was simply outstanding in that series, his best ever in terms of wickets taken (35), average (12.66), strike rate (34.83), economy rate (2.18) and career-best figures of 7 for 22.

The Barbadian was also well backed up by his “inexperienced” pace bowling support cast.

Ambrose snared 22 scalps at 20.22 while Walsh and Benjamin each took 12 wickets

Graham Dilley (15) was the only England bowler among the top five wicket-takers for the series.

While Graham Gooch topped the batting chart with 459 runs, 7 of the top ten run-scorers came from the West Indies.

Overall it was a disastrous summer for the home team who used 4 captains in the five Tests.

It was a microcosm of a dreadful period leading up to that summer where England won just seven of their last 52 matches.

Most importantly for the West Indies though is that they gave the cricketing public a fierce reminder of why they were the world’s number one team and that their days of producing world-dominating fast bowlers were far from over.

It took another seven years before West Indies lost a Test series, beaten 2-1 at home by Australia in 1995.

Unfortunately, though, it has taken them far longer to feel the glory of triumphing in England.

In 1988, a helmetless 25-year-old Phil Simmons was hit on the head by a delivery from Gloucestershire bowler David Lawrence in fading light at Bristol.

He underwent emergency surgery at hospital and while he played no further role on that tour he did make a full and often considered miraculous recovery.

32 years later, Simmons has the chance to lead West Indies from the coaching bench.

If he is successful in leading them to victory, it will hardly be considered miraculous, especially since the Windies are the current holders of the Wisden trophy but surely, against the odds, it would be among his and all his players’ greatest ever achievements.

Trinbago Knight Riders manager Colin Borde is confident the team remains in a strong position to reclaim the title, following the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) draft earlier this week.

The Knight Riders, the tournament’s most successful franchise, did not make too many changes to the previous season’s roster.  The team retained all of 11 players for this season’s CPL, set to run from August 18 to September 10.

The list includes Dwayne Bravo, Kieron Pollard, Sunil Narine, Darren Bravo, Lendl Simmons, Khary Pierre, Amir Jangoo, Tion Webster, Akeal Hosein, and Muhammad Ali Khan.  They have also signed 18-year-old West Indies under-19 medium-pacer Jayden Seales, as well as carrying back Australian Fawad Ahmed and New Zealand’s Colin Munro after they had stints away last season.

“I’m very pleased with the balance of the team, certainly the captain and selection committee would have done a wonderful job in having several discussions about the balance of the team based on the types of wickets we will have in Trinidad,” Borde told Trinidad and Tobago’s 7pmnews.

“Certainly, I must commend them for sticking with the core of players that have worked with us over the years and have built a nice tight unit, and also bringing back the likes of Ahmed and Munroe,” he added.

“The balance, experience, and togetherness in this team is going to be something that will take us over the line.  We are confident that if we do all the things we need to do, do them consistently and have a bit of luck on the way, we will be competing for the title as well.”

Members of the West Indies squad knelt and held clenched fists as they showed full support for the fight against racism, inequality and injustice.

Before Wednesday’s start to the #RaiseTheBat series at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton, both West Indies and England teams announced they would wear the Black Lives Matter logo on the collars of their playing shirts.

They further demonstrated support by kneeling on the field and on the boundary.

All members of the West Indies squad also wore black gloves. In addition, a flag was flown over the team’s balcony with the composite logos of Cricket West Indies and Black Lives Matter on the traditional maroon background.

Speaking ahead of the series, West Indies Head Coach Phil Simmons said:

PULLQuote: “It means a hell of a lot to all the players and all the staff on the tour. But it's not just about now, it's about life on the whole.”

The Black Lives Matter emblem was designed by Alisha Hosannah, the partner of Troy Deeney, captain of English Premier League side Watford. 

He was contacted by CWI and permission was granted for the logo to be displayed on the collar according to ICC regulations.

The logo has a clenched fist in place of the letter “A” in the word “Black”. It has also been used on the shirts of all 20 Premier League clubs since football returned behind closed doors following the break for COVID-19.

Stuart Broad will miss his first home England Test since 2012 after being left out against West Indies at the Rose Bowl.

The return of international cricket, put on hold since March because of the coronavirus pandemic, was further delayed by rain in Southampton on Wednesday.

However, conditions eventually allowed for the two captains - Ben Stokes and Jason Holder - to emerge for the coin toss, which England won with Stokes electing to bat.

Stand-in captain Stokes, taking the place of Joe Root - missing the match to attend the birth of his second child - confirmed the omission of seam bowler Broad for the first of three behind-closed-doors Tests.

All-rounder Chris Woakes was also left out, with England opting for the pace of Jofra Archer and Mark Wood alongside the swing of James Anderson.

"Very, very tough decision with [leaving out] Broad and Woakes but we feel with Woody and Jofra's pace it adds another dimension," Broad said. 

"There was a lot of disappointment around but they took it like champions."

Holder, meanwhile, elected to go with four pace bowlers, with Alzarri Joseph, Kemar Roach and Shannon Gabriel joining the all-rounder in the attack.

Rahkeem Cornwall missed out, Holder picking Roston Chase as his spin option.

The start of play was rescheduled for 2:00pm (local time).

 

Azhar Ali sounded a note of cautious optimism over Pakistan's preparations for the Test series in England.

Pakistan face the hosts in a three-match series starting at Old Trafford next month, with captain Azhar's side training in Worcester.

They staged an intra-squad friendly across Sunday and Monday and, after a three-month coronavirus-enforced break, Azhar was pleased by what he saw.

"Both batsmen and bowlers have adapted to the conditions," he told the Pakistan Cricket Board website.

"The wind was troubling the bowlers initially but they overcame it, which was heartening. Definitely, the players are going to need some time to adjust.

"Despite the break, they are in good shape, which is a positive sign for us.

"All the batsmen batted quite well, especially Babar Azam, Asad Shafiq and Abid Ali seemed in total control, Shan Masood adapted well to the conditions and Mohammad Rizwan looked in good shape.

"Mohammad Abbas is our experienced bowler and his presence is of advantage for us as he also keeps guiding the youngsters.

"He is someone who can be a very important member of the attack for us. Naseem Shah bowled very well in the scenario-based match. He will attain more control as he continues to bowl."

Pakistan's initial squad had to be altered after several players tested positive for coronavirus, but no cases of COVID-19 have been found within the touring party.

On the eve of the West Indies historic bio-secure Test series against England, I thought it interesting to take a look back at the last time the Caribbean outfit had any good days in England.

West Indies coach Phil Simmons has insisted the size of off-spinner Rahkeem Cornwall has not been an issue, as he remains in contention to secure a place in the team for the upcoming tour of England.

Despite his success in regional cricket and solid performances for both West Indies A and West Indies squads, the player's physique has often drawn attention for looking different than the average cricketer.  Standing at 6 ft 5 inches tall, Cornwall weighs somewhere in the region of 308 pounds.

For a time, it was believed to be keeping the player from being selected to the regional squad, after a successful debut against India last year, however, the spinner's stock seems to be on the rise.  For the current tour of England, Cornwall could be in contention for a spot in the team as the primary or secondary spinner and the coach was quick to insist there are no concerns with his size or mobility.

“His size has not been an issue, if you see Rahkeem at slip and some of the catches that he takes at slip, there is no issue,” Simmons told members of the media in a Zoom press conference call on Monday.

“I think he is capable of bowling a lot of overs.  He has bowled an enormous amount of overs through the years for the Leeward Islands, West Indies A, and the West Indies team in our Test match against India.  So, none of it has been a hindrance to him.  He had a little knee injury and that has been fixed so now he is strong as ever,” he added.

On debut, against India, Cornwall claimed 3 wickets, before claiming 10 against Afghanistan in his second Test.

 

 West Indies captain Jason Holder believes too much attention has been spent focusing on the possible deficiency of the team’s top order and backed the rest of the batting unit to pick-up the runs-scoring slack if needed.

Ahead of the start of the West Indies England tour, doubts have repeatedly been raised of not just the team’s top order, but the overall unit as well, as they prepare to stand up to an experienced English bowling line-up. Since a 2-1 defeat to England, on their last tour in 2017, West Indies have a batting average of 23.59 across 19 Tests.  Nor can the team take comfort in some of the showings during the recent intra-squad matches, which served as preparation for the series.  In the final warm-up, a top-five of Kraigg Brathwaite, John Campbell, Shamarh Brooks, Shai Hope, and Roston Chase found themselves reduced to 9 for 3 and 49 for 5.

“The runs don’t have to only come from the top order.  I think we are putting a lot of emphasis on the top order.  Yes, they probably haven’t lived up to the expectations but in general, it’s a team sport and we just have to put runs on the board,” Holder told members of the media during a Zoom press conference on Tuesday.

“Personally, I don’t care, it’s just for us to put runs on the board and give our bowlers something to work with.”  

Last year’s beaten Hero Caribbean Premier League (CPL) finalists, The Guyana Amazon Warriors, are boasting the retention of a very strong bowling line-up ahead of August’s start to the 2020 season.

Following a draft yesterday, it was revealed that the Warriors retained 11 players, including South African leg-spinner Imran Tahir.

Tahir, a veteran of 290 T20s has 365 wickets in the format with a best of 5-23 at an incredible average of 19.85.

The leg spinner goes at seven runs per over but more than makes up for that with his strike rate of 16.9. To date he has enjoyed two five-wicket hauls in his career along with 10 four-fors.

For company, Tahir will depend on the pace bowling of Jamaican, Odean Smith, as well as the intelligence of bowling allrounder Keemo Paul, and Romario Shepherd.

There is also some powerful batting on offer for the Warriors who have retained the services of Nicholas Pooran and signed former Tallawah’s player, Ross Taylor.

Taylor, the New Zealand middle-order batsman, is joined in that batting line-up by the return of Brandon King, who had a phenomenal 2019 with the Warriors.

King is expected to partner up with Chandrapaul Hemraj at the top of the order, with the dangerous Shimron Hetmyer also being retained.

Chris Green, last season’s skipper has also been retained, along with Sherfane Rutherford, and Anthony Bramble.

Afghanistan leg-break bowler, Qais Ahmad, was again signed by the Warriors, along with 20-year-old West Indies Emerging Team player, Kevin Sinclair.

There were draft picks for Afghan medium-fast bowler Naveen Ul Haq, West Indies under-19 left-arm orthodox, Ashmeade Nedd, and American medium-pacer, Jasdeep Singh.

 

Guyana Jaguars: Imran Tahir, Nicholas Pooran, Brandon King, Ross Taylor, Shimron Hetmyer, Chris Green, Qais Ahmad, Sherfane Rutherford, Romario Shepherd, Naveen Ul Haq, Chandrapaul Hemraj, Kevin Sinclair, Ashmeade Nedd, Odean Smith, Anthony Bramble, and Jadeep Singh.

West Indies captain Jason Holder has listed England as heavy favourites under their home conditions but has backed the regional team to be highly competitive in the upcoming series.

The teams will be the first to return to international cricket amidst the COVID-19 pandemic when the series bowls off at 5:00 am (6:00 am ECT) on Wednesday morning.  This time around the battle for the Wisden Trophy will take place in unusual circumstances, as it will be played in a bio-secure environment completely free of fans and fast bowlers will not be allowed to put saliva on the ball to encourage reverse swing.

The unique conditions under which the series will take place aside, Holder believes one thing will remain the same, the England team has a formidable record on home soil.  They have not lost a Test in England since being shocked by Sri Lanka in 2014.  The West Indies will have to look much further back than that for success having not won in England since 1988.

“England are probably favourites, in their home conditions they are very, very strong.  They are a very strong side in their home conditions, and it is proven,” Holder told members of the media during a Zoom conference call on Tuesday.

“They have a really good track record at home.  So, we got our work cut out for us if we want to beat them.  England are not going to roll over and die they are going to come at us very, very hard,” he added.

“Those guys want to win just as badly as we do, so I’m expecting a keen contest and it’s a matter for us to dethrone England in their backyard, which is not going to be an easy task.”

The West Indies are the current holders of the Wisden Trophy after defeating the England team 2-1 in the Caribbean last year.  It was the Englishmen who won 2-1 when the teams last met, in England, in 2017.

 

Defending Hero Caribbean Premier League Champions (CPL), the Barbados Tridents, have earned the prized signing of the world’s number-one T20 bowler in Afghanistan’s Rashid Khan.

The Tridents were pulling off a coup on last year’s beaten finalists the Guyana Amazon Warriors, for whom Rashid would have last played for in the CPL.

Rashid will be joined by a team similar to the one that claimed the CPL title in 2020, as the Tridents have retained Jason Holder, Harry Gurney, Johnson Charles, Shai Hope, Hayden Walsh Jr, Ashley Nurse, Jonathan Carter, Raymon Reifer and Justin Greaves.

In yesterday’s CPL draft, the Tridents also picked untested Pakistan medium-fast bowler Shayan Jahangir, Afghan wicketkeeper-batsman Rahmanullah Gurbaz and re-drafted Kyle Mayers.

In addition, they have also picked up powerful English opener Alex Hales, despite a relatively lean time with the team last season.

Hales will be joined by new signing Australian middle-order batsman Marcus Stoinis and West Indies under-19 standout Nyeem Young.

Barbados Tridents: Rashid Khan, Jason Holder, Marcus Stoinis, Harry Gurney, Alex Hales, Johnson Charles, Shai Hope, Hayden Walsh Jr, Ashley Nurse, Jonathan Carter, Raymon Reifer, Kyle Mayers, Joshia Bishop, Nyeem Young, Justin Greaves, Rahmanullah Gurbaz, and Shayan Jahangir.

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