Immediate impact

FIDEL EDWARDS' remarkable story is not unusual in West Indies cricket, but in one regard, it is unique.

TONY COZIER

FIDEL EDWARDS' remarkable story is not unusual in West Indies cricket, but in one regard, it is unique. Other fledgling fast bowlers have been pitchforked into international cricket on the early evidence of pace and potential.

Wes Hall was picked for the 1957 tour of England, aged 19, after a couple of first-class matches.

Michael Holding was carried to Australia in 1975-76 as a 21-year-old with no more than half-dozen wickets to his name for Jamaica. Malcolm Marshall was sent to India in 1978-79 on the basis of a solitary first-class appearance.

Edwards' selection for the second and final Test against Sri Lanka at Kingston's Sabina Park last June had the same fairy tale touch to it. His lone match for Barbados had been more than a year earlier and yielded one anonymous wicket.

Fidel who? was the natural reaction of fans throughout the Caribbean whose usual association with such a first name was with the long-serving Cuban president.

What set Edwards apart, even from such greats as Hall, Holding and Marshall, was his immediate impact.

His first day in Test cricket brought him a return of five for 36. In his first bowl in any sort of match outside the Caribbean, in the first Test against Zimbabwe in Harare, he had five for 133 from 34.3 overs in a huge total of 503 for nine declared.

Hall wasn't even chosen for a Test on his first tour. Marshall's debut in Bangalore yielded one wicket, Holding's in Brisbane none at all. It is clearly absurd to place such statistics alongside each other and proclaim that the West Indies have found a new Hall, Marshall or Holding. Such bowlers come along once a generation.

Yet there are aspects to Edwards' cricket that indicate that Brian Lara's impression gained from a few net sessions and his insistence that he should be in his Test team were not another whim of the impulsive West Indies captain.

Edwards was timed in his first two Tests at speeds in excess of 90 miles an hour. He created new ball outswing and old ball reverse swing from a slinging action, a hybrid of Jeff Thomson's and Waqar Younis', neither of whom he had previously seen.

There are clear rough edges to be smoothed over. His radar can be hopelessly off target when his rhythm is upset. He had seven wides in his first three Tests — and others that sympathetic umpires let pass — and clattered Zimbabwean opener Trevor Gripper on the forearm guard with an unintentional beamer.

Even more encouraging than his natural ability are his attitude and his stamina, two attributes that are closely linked.

After a stint at the West Indies Cricket Board's Shell Academy at St. George's University in Grenada in 2002, the director, Dr. Rudi Webster, singled out Edwards for praise against overall criticism of the generally low work ethic and commitment.

"He was absolutely magnificent. If I had to mark him out of 100 for attitude, work ethic and discipline, I would give him 100 per cent," Webster, the former West Indies team motivator, said.

It was an approach noted by Wendell Coppin, a former West Indies youth team player who has been his mentor since he brought him from the northern Barbados village team of Boscobel to Bridgetown to play in the top division for his YMPC club.

"I liked his attitude," Coppin said. "What struck me about him was that, even if he didn't get wickets, he kept running in, there was a lot of zest."

Edwards has followed Joel Garner, Collis King and Sherwin Campbell as the fourth Test player from the club.

Fidel's brother, the left-arm swing bowler, Pedro Collins, had been spotted earlier playing for Boscobel by the Barbados and West Indies fast bowler of the 1960s, Richard "Prof" Edwards (no relation). He persuaded him to move to Wanderers Club where his exposure to the higher standard gained him selection for Barbados and, subsequently, the West Indies. It was an incentive for Fidel whose favourite sport while at school was, like Pedro's, soccer in which he played striker.

Once he decided he would try to emulate his brother and turned his attention to cricket, he quickly made his mark

As the West Indies team assembled in October for a preparatory camp before their lengthy tour of Zimbabwe and South Africa, coach Gus Logie said he was staggered by the overall lack of fitness of players who had been off in the four months following the home series against Australia and Sri Lanka.

Edwards was exempt. He had followed the daily routine set by team trainer Ronald Rogers under the guidance of a personal trainer.

He isn't as tall as so many of the celebrated West Indian fast bowlers of the past. At five feet, eight inches, he is about the same height as Marshall. But he has a powerful upper body and strong legs that were further developed by his off-season workouts.

The effect was evident in the tough first Test in Zimbabwe when he bowled 50 overs, 20 more than he could remember bowling in any sort of match.

A calmness beneath his soft-spoken demeanour became evident in the tension of the first Test finish against Zimbabwe at Harare when the West Indies slid towards what would have been another humiliating overseas defeat.

As wickets tumbled and Edwards padded up to go in No. 11, manager Ricky Skerritt told him to concentrate and be ready.

"What's the matter, manager, don't be nervous, I'm still to bat," he replied. And bat he did, holding on for 33 balls as he and Ridley Jacobs batted through the last 11 overs for the draw.

In the second Test, achilles tendonitis sidelined him after 11 first innings overs. The setback troubled him and he couldn't wait to get back into the action.

He took the field with the rest of the team at the start of Zimbabwe's second innings, but physiotherapist Sunit Liebenberg soon spotted him and advised Lara to send him back.

The next day, even though he knew he couldn't bowl, he fielded for an hour and a half with no ill effects, completing a run out in the bargain.

"We knew he couldn't bowl, but the opposition didn't," coach Logie explained later. "They had that in the back of their minds, thinking he could come on any time."

Then came the icing on the cake. Edwards, making his one-day debut in the fourth match against Zimbabwe, snared six victims at a cost of just 22 runs! A phenomenal talent indeed!

However, Edwards' sternest challenge lies ahead, in the coming four Tests in South Africa, beginning on December 13. Graeme Smith, Herschelle Gibbs, Jacques Kallis and company are in the heavyweight division to Zimbabwe's lightweights Yusi Sibanda, Trevor Gripper and Mark Vermuelen.

On the evidence so far, Edwards should be up to the task.