Surely it’s ridiculous to think of a cricketer being at the crossroads of his career when he’s only 14 years old. Well, as nonsensical as it sounds, that’s the challenge facing Kirstan Kallicharan, all because of that innings of 404 not out in a schools’ match last week.
To cut a potentially long story short, he could go one of two ways: continue to focus on his game and overall personal development and allow that phenomenal talent to reach full fruition in time, or be distracted by all the attention generated by his astonishing innings and start believing all the “next Brian Lara” hype to his own detriment.
We don’t have to do too much research to come up with names that should serve as a warning to Kallicharan and whoever are the persons with the greatest influence on him (parents, friends, mentors, coaches, I just don’t know) as to the debilitating consequences of starting to believe that fame, fortune and glory at the highest levels of the sport are now only a matter of time.
In November of 2009, Adrian Barath belted a stroke-filled hundred off Australia in the second innings of his very first Test. It was at The Gabba of all places, the venue in Brisbane known for its fast bowler-friendly pitches, the same type of surface where England were so roughed up and intimidated by the Aussies in the opening match of the last Ashes campaign that the team heavily favoured to win the series comfortably were actually annihilated 5-0 with key number three batsman Jonathan Trott leaving the tour with a stress-related illness after that first match and frontline spinner Graeme Swann retiring from all international cricket after the third Test when the series was lost.
Four-and-a-half years on from successfully taking on the lions in their own den, the young man hailed as a potential superstar at 19—invited by Lara no less to spend some time with him in the United Kingdom—has struggled to even hold onto a spot in the national side during the regional season just ended. Not even the mentoring and coaching of Gordon Greendige, universally accepted as one of the most destructive yet technically correct of opening batsmen, has brought about a reversal of the decline from those early months on the senior international scene, which also included a One-Day International century in Sri Lanka.
And what about Nicolas Pooran? A stunning innings of 54 for the Trinidad and Tobago Red Steel against Sunil Narine and the Guyana Amazon Warriors at the start of last year’s inaugural Caribbean Premier League had people who should know better falling over themselves in the rush to acclaim the new rising star of West Indies cricket. But he contributed almost nothing else with the bat in the Steel’s remaining seven matches.
Another one-and-done effort came three months ago at the Under-19 World Cup in Dubai. His remarkable innings of 143 out of a total of 208 was not enough to get the West Indies past Australia in the quarter-finals of the competition, but it did serve as a reminder of what the 18-year-old is capable of if only the vital element of consistency could be added to his game.
Whatever the other issues that stunt, or threaten to stunt, their development, the negative impact of all this attention and all this back-slapping and celebrating must be a significant contributor. In truth, you almost feel sorry for the three of them: talented young cricketers possibly becoming the victims of their own success amid a feeding frenzy of attention-seekers.
And because I happen to be a little closer to the game of cricket than other sports due to having grown up in that environment, I am aware that the rush by some to claim credit for Kallicharan’s exploits is almost sickening. You would think that the only reason people are involved in cricket at any level is to latch on to a rising talent and somehow benefit from that leech-like attachment.
Maybe the first serious thing that Denesh Ramdin should do as West Indies Test captain is to give young Kirstan a call and advise him on the pitfalls of starting to believe some of the hype. Ramdin himself emerged as the brightest of bright long-term wicketkeeper-batsmen prospects for the West Indies on his first tour of Sri Lanka in 2005. Yet it has taken the indignity of being cast aside for two years for him to finally start contributing consistently with the bat at the highest level. Surely he is best positioned, especially in light of his elevated status in the regional game, to offer sensible advice.
Given that his responsibilities and focus are now region-wide rather than narrowly national, the 29-year-old should also reflect that broader perspective. So the event being put on by the Trinidad and Tobago Cricket Board to celebrate this country having the Test, ODI (Dwayne Bravo) and women’s (Merissa Aguilleira) captains should be used instead by Ramdin and the others as opportunities to remind the gathering, the media, and by extension, the nation that this is not about celebrating a Trini achievement but accepting a Caribbean leadership role, with all the challenges that it entails.
Leadership, true leadership, is no easy thing. Neither is carrying the weight of expectation at age 14. But they come with the territory, and young sportsmen and women need to know which direction to take when their careers reach a critical juncture much sooner than they would have otherwise expected.