Home Interviews Tino Best, former West Indies fast bowler

Tino Best, former West Indies fast bowler

by Freddie

It’s been far too long since my last interview.  So, I’m delighted to get things back on the road this month with former West Indies fast bowler, Tino Best. Yes, we discuss windows. Yes, we discuss that 95 at Edgbaston. Yes, we discuss bowling without a ball in Trinidad, yes, we discuss West Indies cricket, and yes, we discuss his frustration at only playing 25 Tests in his 10-year Test career.

And let’s just get the windows story out of the way first, shall we. “What a Test match,” Tino recalls with a smile. “I remember walking out to bat at Lords and man, this was the first time I’d played a Test match in England. The crowd were chanting ‘Freddie, Freddie’ and then, ‘Tino, Tino’. I was just like, wow. The energy at Lord’s was crazy. Freddie bowled me in the first innings. I was caught in the crease and the ball just slid back in and knocked me over. I was desperate for him not to get me out. When we were bowling, I picked up a stress fracture, so in the second innings my mind wasn’t there mentally. I was freaking out, thinking how long was this injury going to last? Was I going to be fit for the rest of the Test series? etc. And there was Freddie stood in the slips chatting away saying ‘Mind the windows, Tino’. I’m just thinking, ‘Freddie man, you didn’t have so much chat earlier this year in the Caribbean’. So, I gave him a bit of banter back, and then he repeated it, ‘Mind the windows, Tino’, and I just thought you know what, I’m going to go for the windows! I always backed myself against spin. Ashley just tossed this ball up and when I faced him in the Caribbean, I used my feet to him all the time. I hit him for a big six at Sabina Park. So, I wanted to hit this ball so far and I missed it!”

There you have it. The windows were ‘minded’. But there’s so much more to this passionate West Indian cricketer than that one episode at Lord’s, and that’s what I was keen to explore with Tino.

Born in Barbados, Tino was one of the fastest bowlers in world cricket. However, what many of you might not know, is that growing up he just wanted to be an opening batsman. I guess it’s not totally surprising given his uncle was Carlisle Best, an opening batter whose first scoring shot in Test cricket was a six.

“I always wanted to be an opening batsman like my uncle. He scored a brilliant 164 against England at the Kensington Oval. So, growing up, I always wanted to emulate him.”

The obvious question therefore is how on earth did he end up becoming one of the fastest bowlers in world cricket? “Ha ha. Well, as kids we used to play on the hard surface in the streets. And we used a tape ball – a tennis ball covered in tape. It flew at the batsman and suddenly my mindset changed to wanting to emulate Curtly Ambrose and Malcolm Marshall. And when I joined the Army programme back in 1998, my bowling really took off and I loved it. I loved the excitement. I loved how bowling a ball quickly could really get a crowd fired up. It became more exhilarating than batting.  Fast bowling is a weapon. Having pace is a weapon.”

I asked Tino when he reflects on his playing career, just how tough is it not just bowling at 95mph, but maintaining those speeds, spell after spell. “Fast bowling is all about attitude. You have to be able and willing to go through the pain barriers. The body will hurt, but you build up a tolerance for it and it becomes addictive. There’s nothing like that adrenaline that gets you going, but you have to overcome the aches and pains of being a fast bowler.”

One of my bugbears about modern cricket is that touring sides rarely play meaningful warm-up games and I was keen to hear from Tino, if he was playing today, would he want practice games heading into a Test series to build up rhythm. “If I’m honest I think it’s easy to go straight into a Test series today. There is so much cricket being played now that bowlers don’t need two or three first-class games to find a rhythm. Cricket is a year-long game today, When I played, you played seven or eight months a year, and then had four months off. But now there are so many leagues around the world.” It’s a fair point.

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Rewinding the clock back, Tino made his Test debut for the West Indies back in 2003 on his home ground in Barbados against that formidable Australia side. “Getting picked for the West Indies was one of the most exciting things I’ve ever experienced, aside from having my kids. It was a childhood dream come true. I cried. I remember my mum crying because I was the second-generation cricketer in our family that made it. I was never selected for the under 15s or under 19s, but my mum always said never to give up on my dream, because there was a point when I wanted to give up. I thought I was just going to be in the military full-time and just call that my career. But my mum told me to never give up on your dreams and just believe in myself. She kept reiterating the point that if I loved the game, not to give up on it. Being rejected so much in those age-group sides, actually made me stronger. I knew I needed to work harder in certain areas. Having grown up with my Uncle Carlisle I saw the preparation that was needed. I saw what it took. I saw the mindset that was required. So, getting that call-up for the West Indies was amazing. Not that my Test debut went well, it was rough. Two dropped catches off my bowling, no wickets and I got dropped after that Test for 12 months.”

Tino channeled that disappointment and 12 months later he became the leading wicket-taker for the West Indies against Michael Vaughan’s England side. “I got more wickets in that series that anyone else in our squad. It would have been a lot more but for 5 or 6 dropped catches. Someone that helped me tremendously in that period was Wayne Daniel. He restructured my action to take my bowling from 85mph to 90mph to 97mph. Wayne has always been an extremely amazing human being, in helping me get back into that West Indies team. I’ll always be very grateful and have a lot of gratitude towards him.”

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That series will be remembered for England’s 3-0 victory and of course Brian Lara’s brilliant 400 in Trinidad. But two stories from Tino was firstly his dual with Graham Thorpe and an incident with Freddie Flintoff. Let’s start with Thorpe. “There’s an interesting backstory with me and Graham Thorpe which goes back to 1994. I would’ve been about 12 or 13 years old and I remember playing cricket out the back of the ground in Barbados, close to the nets where Thorpe was batting. He asked me if I was going to play for the West Indies when I was older. I asked him if he’d lend me his bat which he did, a Kookaburra 2000. It was as light as a feather. I told him I was going to play for the West Indies. And then years later I’m bowling to him and he was to become my first Test wicket. How mind boggling is that? Massive respect to him. A great man. One of the toughest players I’ve seen. I remember in one spell in that series I hit his helmet. I hit him in the ribs twice. We bowled so quickly in that series and we really roughed him up. But he found a way to take us on, and he scored a brilliant hundred. I remember thinking wow. I had nothing else to throw at him. I was 22 years old. I was young. I was full of energy. But here was experience against youth. And he was just so experienced. He took hit after hit, but then in the evening session just came out and started to pull us, cut us and drive us. And we had nothing. And you had to respect that. It was one of the best hundreds. One of the toughest hundreds I’d ever seen. An innings I’ll never forget. You hear about mental toughness, that was mental toughness. To have the ability to withstand two bowlers bowling at 93, 94, 95mph, he had my full respect. A top hundred and a quality player.”

Now the Flintoff story and Tino bowling without a ball!

“So, we were in Trinidad for the 2nd Test. I’d just knocked over Nasser Hussain with a peach of a delivery, which came back through the gate. As I walked back to my mark, I’m about to look at mid-on and mid-off, and I didn’t have the ball. Everyone is focused on me running in. Freddie Flintoff is on strike. So, I just steamed in and bowled this ‘ball’. Freddie ducks and falls to the ground, having no idea where the ball is. I’m just laughing and said to him, “I don’t have the ball, man”. Everyone just laughed. Apart from Freddie. I just had a little bit of fun! That was how the beef between Freddie and I, started!”

Although the West Indies lost that series, it was an important one for Tino. It was the series when he knew he could perform at this level. “I really should have had 20 wickets in that series. But it was a series that told me I could play cricket at this level. I could be a competitor. You are Tino Best, and you can play Test cricket.”

Tino loved his duals against England. I’ve mentioned the summer of 2004 and those windows, but his revenge against the English bowling attack came in the summer of 2012 in the 3rd Test at Edgbaston. Having won the toss and elected to bowl, England reduced the West Indies to 283/9 when Tino walked to the crease.

“I was 31 when I played this Test match. I’d had nine years of ‘mind the windows’, blah, blah, blah. As I walk into bat, I remembered the night before one of my friends had sent me a tweet. I wasn’t really a big Twitter fan or knew how it worked, but he said that Freddie had been giving me some stick. So, my first thought, was to say it was a good thing he was not playing as I’d have been gunning for him! The second thought was that there was no pressure on me. In the build up to that series, all the talk was about Sunil Narine. A mystery spinner who had been bought in the IPL for a million dollars. No one was talking about me. I just thought I’m going to play my shots here. Ramdin was on 60 or so not out and I told him ‘don’t worry, I’m going to bat with you.’ I wanted to show people that I could play cricket. I was from Barbados. We produce cricketers like people in China produce rice. I started to sledge the bowlers! I said to Finn, ‘you’re not that quick, bro. You just got bounce’. I told Swann, ‘you’re not as good as Murali’, and if Murali couldn’t get me out, he wasn’t going to get me out. I remember saying to Matt Prior, if Swann gets me out, I will buy him 6 cases of Banks Lager when he next comes to Barbados!”

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95 runs later and Tino had the England bowlers toiling. And then he tried to get to that first century with a six. “I got up to 95 and I remember I tried to get a quick single, Ramdin sent me back and I’m just thinking you know what, I’m going to go for a six, and I top edged it. People ask me all the time, ‘Hey, you know, you were five away from a hundred.’ I was like, ‘Bro, I don’t care about that.’ If on the morning of that Test, someone would have said would you take 95 runs in a Test match, I’d take it all day long.  If you woke me up the morning of that Test match, or as I was about to bat and said, ‘Tino, do you want 95 or 99 or do you want zero?’ I’ll take the 95 every single day. And I felt proud. I felt bad for the moment when I got out and when I was walking off, I did feel like I missed an opportunity. But I don’t care. That’s life. Enjoy the moment. I scored 95 batting number 11. That was the most amazing experience I’ve ever had on a cricket field. I followed that innings up by bowling at 93 or 94mph and getting the wickets of Strauss and Bairstow.”

It’s a very fair point and that Test was Tino’s first in three years. Unbelievably, he only played 25 Test matches for the West Indies. For any other country, in a period when genuine fast bowlers were rare, the politics of West Indian cricket meant Tino didn’t get anywhere near the number of Test caps that he should have done.

“The politics of Caribbean cricket is something that I can’t even explain. It is crazy. It is island insularity. It is so different. A lot of people don’t understand how amazing Clive Lloyd was as a leader and Viv Richards was as a leader, to unify the Caribbean Islands. Each Caribbean island has their own type of food, their own flag, their own national anthem, their own way of life. The only thing we have in common is beautiful beaches, sun and beautiful weather. We have nothing else in common. It would be similar to trying to get a sporting team in the European Union to play under one banner. Can you imagine the French and Germans trying to pick a joint team, or the Latvians, the Ukrainians, the Russians, and the Slovenians picking one side. So, when the West Indies do well, it is a site to behold. But when they don’t, it’s a horror show. If I was playing in a different country, without the selection politics, I probably would have played 60 Tests, a hundred ODIs and 50 T20s. But its water under the bridge. When I was playing it did make me angry. I remember playing County Cricket for Yorkshire, who were the number one County in England and I was bowling 97mph and on Sky Sports I’d be watching these medium pacers playing for the West Indies. All because the captain at the time didn’t like me. It was ludicrous, but it was what it was. I made a really good life for myself and my family through cricket. And I’m forever grateful.”

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But Tino did represent the West Indies in 25 Tests, which is still a great feat and I asked him about his favourite memories. “I just loved playing for the West Indies. I remember watching the Fire in Babylon documentary when it came out. I actually watched it pretty much every day or every other day for about 3 years. It was the most inspirational sporting documentary I’ve ever watched in my life. So, playing for the West Indies was everything to me. My fondest memory? In all honesty, it was probably just being able to have cool conversations with the likes of Lara and Chanderpaul about their memories and what it was like playing with Malcolm Marshall or Curtly Ambrose. That was amazing. I loved every single opportunity that was given to me. I’ll always be very, very, very grateful to have played for the West Indies.”

I asked Tino if he thought the West Indies could ever return to those glory days of the 70s and 80s. “I don’t know. I’m not sure any side will have those glory days again. Every side can be competitive, and we can all win trophies and become world number one, but I’m not sure any side will ever dominate again like the West Indies or Australia did. Remember, the West Indies never lost a Test series for 15 years. No one can do that now. Eras can’t be compared. But what we have to do is improve our academies for younger players. When kids reach their 14th or 15th birthday, we have to put them in programmes where they train better, eat better, and become more functional as athletes. And I think that’s when we can get better cricketers, who can play and, understand the roughness of playing international cricket. We must start at the grassroots level to get back to being a force in world cricket.”

I asked Tino if the passion for Test cricket remained in the Caribbean? “Absolutely. There’s a passion for any sport in the Caribbean. I think a lot of people get views and opinions from one or two people and run with it. People love cricket in the Caribbean.T20 is obviously fast, but people are still very plugged into the Test game. People love it and respect it. The game has evolved. In the past it took a guy 10 years to make a million dollars. It now takes him six weeks. But as quickly as you can earn that money you can also lose it if you have don’t have the skills. And that’s why the grassroots are so important. But I’m excited for cricket moving forward and I’m excited for the game globally. There are so many opportunities out there. But the most important thing for young players is mental toughness. We’ve talented players. Talent isn’t the issue. The issue is between the ears and having that mental toughness. That’s the only thing that I would say we have to look at seriously. Mental toughness.”

Our conversation then morphed nicely into ‘BazBall’. “This whole thing about BazBall is what Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards were doing back in the day. I don’t understand how people think this is new. This is how we ruled international cricket for 15 years. We had aggressive cricketers who were aggressive in everything they did. Its just rules came in to put a stop to it. But you know if people want to run with this BazBall stuff, let them.”

Aside from Tino’s international career, the West Indian speedster also played County Cricket where he represented Yorkshire and Hampshire, and he looks back at the time with complete fondness and questions anyone who tries to devalue the strength of the competition.

“I loved it. While playing for the West Indies was always number one for me, playing County Cricket was number two. There’s nothing like playing County Cricket in England. I’ve read so many articles about its supposed demise and stuff, but that competition is a true professional pathway. The professionalism at is something that I have always loved. I’ve tried to adopt so many of the things I learnt back in Barbados. Things such as ice baths, lifting weights properly, eating better, being more professional with your approach. I still believe my time in England was the most professional I ever played.”

Tino played with and against some brilliant batsmen, arguably some of the best that ever played the game. But who was the best? “I have to say Lara. He was sensational. A lot of guys come at the ball, Lara just waited and played it off its length. He just had so much time. He was tough and just a wonderful player.”

And if he could pick one bowler to bowl in partnership with? “Oh, Fidel Edwards. All day. Every day. I thought he was poetry in motion. There was something about his action. I just love to watch Fidel bowl. I used to get so much energy from him, and we just had a good brotherhood. In the last Test match, we played together, he got 6/91 and I got 6/40 in the 2nd innings. We never played another Test match together after that, which is scandalous. If you’re talking outside of Fidel, I would love to have partnered Malcolm Marshall.”

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And what about his favourite wicket “At a packed Lord’s in 2004 which I knocked over Marcus Trescothick in an ODI and celebrated by pointing to the name on the back of my shirt! Maybe it was because it was my first game at Lord’s, but it was just everything. The venue. The environment. The situation. That was amazing and Marcus was a top player who had a fantastic record at Lord’s scoring big one day hundreds. So, for me at 22 years old to knock him over was special. I think I got him out four times in that series. And then when the Test series started, I knocked him over again. Cheers Marcus!”

I love the passion that Tino has for his cricket. It really is infectious. So much so, I closed by asking him, if he wishes if he could turn the clock back just one more time. Bowl one more over. “I would love to have bowled an over in the IPL when I was 22, young, fresh, fast, and bowling good lengths at 95/96/97mph. I would love to have known how I’d have performed out there.”

I think the answer is easy. Very, very well.

Tino – thank you!

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