One for the future

SINCE Sonny Ramadhin became the first of his race to wear the famous West Indies burgundy colours in Test cricket in 1950, two unmistakable stereotypes have emerged of those West Indian cricketers whose forefathers were sent by the British to the Caribbean from the Indian sub-continent more than 150 years ago to work on the sugar and rice plantations.

TONY COZIER

SINCE Sonny Ramadhin became the first of his race to wear the famous West Indies burgundy colours in Test cricket in 1950, two unmistakable stereotypes have emerged of those West Indian cricketers whose forefathers were sent by the British to the Caribbean from the Indian sub-continent more than 150 years ago to work on the sugar and rice plantations.

Ravindranath Rampaul, a tall, well-built teenager, known simply as Ravi, has come forward to fashion a third model for young East Indians in the most cosmopolitan of cricketing cultures as he is the first to be picked for his ability to bowl fast. Here the West Indies paceman bowls Mpumelelo Silwana of South Africa during the under-15 Costcutter World Challenge match in Sussex in 2000. — Pic. CRAIG PRENTIS/GETTY IMAGES-

Ramadhin was a shy, 20-year-old from a small village in South Trinidad who instantly mesmerised England's batsmen with the mysteries of his deceptive spin. He created the first mould.

A host of clones with names like Singh, Ali, Jumadeen, Nanan, Nagamootoo and Ramnarine have inevitably followed, if not with the same success with the same effect on their succeeding kith and kin.

Seven years later, Rohan Kanhai came out of rural Berbice county in Guyana to blossom into one of the most dazzling and devastating strokeplayers of his time, setting another example.

Alvin Kallicharran (his left-handed nephew), Faoud Bacchus, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Daren Ganga are among the batsmen who have been the consequences of his influence.

Yet, fast bowling, the most identifiable area of West Indies' strength, has remained the exclusive preserve of those of African ancestry, the other main racial group in the cricket-playing Caribbean originally transported from another continent in the 17th century as slave labour.

Finally, Ravindranath Rampaul, a tall, well-built teenager, known simply as Ravi, has come forward to fashion a third model for young East Indians in the most cosmopolitan of cricketing cultures.

Rampaul is a fast bowler, a genuinely fast bowler. Given the after-effects of Ramadhin and Kanhai, others are sure to follow his lead.

Rampaul is one of five children in a family from the village of Preysal that had already produced spinners Inshan Ali and Rangy Nanan for the West Indies when he started to knock a ball around.

Sonny Ramadhin became the first of his race to wear the famous West Indies burgundy colours in Test cricket in 1950, and instantly mesmerised England's batsmen with the mysteries of his deceptive spin. — Pic. THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY-

Big for his age, his pace and potential were evident from his performances in helping the West Indies to the Costcutter Cup, a virtual under-15 World Cup, in England in 2000.

They have developed to such an extent that he was chosen in the West Indies senior team for the imminent tour of Zimbabwe just six weeks after his 19th birthday.

When he makes his debut, either in the two Tests in Zimbabwe or the four in South Africa that immediately follow, Rampaul will be the West Indies' 20th ethnic East Indian Test cricketer. He is the first picked for his ability to bowl fast.

The signs of future success were clear from his first match in West Indies colours. It was against the overwhelmed boys of Holland in the under-15 Costcutter match at Eton College in 2000. Six of his seven victims, for 11 runs, were bowled, the other lbw as the Dutch were routed for 31.

Last year, in the regional under-19 tournament in Jamaica, he took all 10 wickets in an innings, all either bowled or lbw, against the Rest of the Americas, a motley collection of Americans, Bermudans, Argentinians and Cayman Islanders.

Confronted by more equal opposition, he had 13 wickets in the semi-final against Jamaica, nine in the final against Barbados.

Leading Trinidad and Tobago to both one and three-day under-19 titles this year, he had 14 wickets in five matches in the former (average 7.57) and a tournament high 27 (average 10.14) in the latter.

His was the first name of the selectors' sheet for next February's under-19 World Cup in Bangladesh. But dominating lads his own age was one thing; the real test would be at the senior level.

Trinidad and Tobago have had him in their senior team since the 2002 season when he was 17. While his record is unspectacular — 24 wickets at 32 runs apiece — it was obvious all the while he was getting stronger and faster.

What clinched his ticket to Zimbabwe was his velocity and hostility in the Red Stripe Bowl, the regional one-day tournament that immediately preceded the tour.

The team for the under-19 World Cup was given a spot as part of its preparation and Rampaul upstaged all the other bowlers. Among those impressed were Sir Viv Richards, the chief selector, and Gordon Greenidge, one of the members of his panel, who had watching briefs.

"There were times when he stuck up guys with his short ball and I'm talking of experienced Test match players," Richards enthused.

Among his eight victims in four matches were Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Philo Wallace and Sherwin Campbell (out first ball).

"I've had some encounters with fast bowlers in the past and seeing how he worked at batsmen, with short balls followed by reverse, full length inswing, warmed the heart, man," the old Master Blaster noted.

He added: "He has pace, yes, but you can have pace and still not be intelligent with how you use that pace. He has the sort of stuff we're looking for, aggression and the ability to use his head. He looks like the sort of individual who is capable of doing the things he wants to do."

Rampaul is one of several promising young novices included in the team.

He joins two other young inexperienced fast bowlers, Jerome Taylor, also 19, and Fidel Edwards, 21, for the month-long trip that includes two Tests and five one-day internationals. South Africa, with four Tests and five one-day internationals, follows immediately.

It is a big challenge and they will need the seasoned support of Merv Dillon, whose 123 wickets in his 34 Tests make him by far the West Indies' most prolific bowler at present, Vasbert Drakes and Corey Collymore.

Taylor and Edwards were both picked for the first time in the home series against Sri Lanka last June.

Taylor, whose selection came in his first season of first-class cricket for Jamaica, had to get leave from school to play his first Test.

Edwards was chosen primarily on captain Brian Lara's say-so on the evidence of net sessions. He had played a solitary match for Barbados in 2002 but proceeded to take five wickets in his first innings on debut.

For Rampaul, the significance of his elevation goes beyond the immediate tour.

Like Ramadhin and Kanhai before him, he is a standard bearer for those of his background whose ambitions might, for the first time, extend beyond batting and spinning and encompass the art of discomfiting opposing batsmen with 90 miles an hour pace.