Tuesday, 19 June 2012


Tino Best remonstrates with the batsman -- 
Leek vs Audley (May 24, 2008)

NOTE: This text is the short version – the ‘radio edit’, if you will – of the story of Tino Best’s stay in North Staffordshire, written in a starch-collared, ‘reporterly’ style for the express purpose of selling it to the national press or, failing that, a magazine or website. To cut a long story short (something I generally struggle to do), I was unsuccessful. A longer, more detailed and ‘writerly’ version – the ‘extended club mix’ – can be found here.

Prior to last week’s brilliantly uninhibited Man of the Match-winning, world record-breaking 95 from number 11, it is fair to say that England had not been the happiest of hunting grounds for West Indies paceman Tino la Bertram Best. In 2004, he was the butt of Andrew Flintoff’s immortal “mind the windows” sledge, while eight County Championship outings for Yorkshire in 2010 yielded just 17 wickets at 42 runs apiece.

According to Sir Vivian Richards, the master of effortlessly exuded intimidation, Best’s success in the Edgbaston Test was down to his overt aggression, something he has in the past struggled to contain. Indeed, perhaps the Bajan’s most miserable – and controversial – stint on these shores came in 2008, when he was overseas professional for Leek CC in North Staffordshire, the same club for which his compatriot and current head coach Ottis Gibson had played with such distinction between 1999 and 2001. However, where Gibson inspired the team to an historic treble, Best lasted just six weeks before flying back to the Caribbean in ignominy.

Richard Cooper shared the new ball with both men and was quick to acknowledge Best’s Jekyll-and-Hyde personality: “they were both smiley, happy and laidback off the pitch, but Ottis was more in control of his emotions on it and very intelligent. As a genuine all-rounder, he wasn’t so reliant on his bowling, whereas Tino’s game was all about his fire and aggression as a fast bowler. And he did have the ‘white line fever’.”

Best’s first couple of league games passed off without incident as Leek recorded comprehensive victories over eventual champions Moddershall (his contribution: a whirlwind unbeaten 52 and 4 for 23) and Stone. I had played in that first game, Best playfully and sarcastically applauding me as I defended for my life, chirping with “come on Geoffrey, play some shots, man! There’s a big crowd in” – a good-natured, if slightly cartoonish exchange. 

Tino limbers up; the author (in cap) studiously ignores

The honeymoon period lasted just two weeks, though. During his third game, at Burslem in the heart of the Potteries, Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor country, the ‘bubbly’ personality started to fizz up and the line between exuberance and hot-headedness was blurred. Burslem were set a victory target of 228 in 49 overs and by the end of the innings’ opening over had reduced it by the small matter of 21 runs, Best sending two lots of five wides soaring over the ‘keeper, while two further bouncers were hooked for a six and a four.

Undeterred, he continued to test out the middle of the pitch, striking the Burslem skipper Chris Lowndes a nasty blow on the forearm, then following through to tell him “I hope I f***in’ broke it”. Best finished with figures of 10-3-55-1 and Lowndes recalls that “our supporters booed him off. I’ve never seen anything like it. If he’d pitched it up, at that speed it was basically game over”.

The following week, Best’s erratic temper (and occasionally erratic length) was again in evidence. The flashpoint occurred when Audley’s wicket-keeper/batsman, David Whitehurst, distracted by children running behind the sightscreens, pulled away just as Best was getting into his delivery stride. As a bowler who fairly sprints to the crease, Tino was far from overjoyed. After lengthy remonstrations, he proceeded to barrel in off the long run, and, just two balls later, sent down a beamer that struck the batsman on the bicep. As is the case when adjudicating on handball in football, ‘intent’ is almost impossible to prove, and thus no action was taken.

At any rate, four wickets and an easy victory for Leek doubtless helped pacify the Bajan tearaway somewhat and the next game, a draw, was also free of controversy. But with the volcano rumbling, a full-scale eruption was never going to be far away and duly occurred in his sixth and what turned out to be final league game for the Moorlanders, away at a Longton side led by Nathan Astle. 

Nathan Astle

The former New Zealand batsman had skippered Tino at the Mumbai Champs in the ill-fated Indian Cricket League in March that year, omitting him from their penultimate game in a decision that may have contributed to the simmering hostility the West Indian brought into the fixture (he had the highest economy rate of anyone that bowled 60 balls in the tournament, as well as the second highest strike-rate and average). Coincidentally, Leek’s captain had forewarned the umpires prior to the toss that he’d had a few problems with his famous charge, and that he hoped he would behave on this occasion. 

Longton’s number 3 batsman, Pete Wilshaw, vividly recollects the exhilarating clash between the two pros: “Tino got fired up and bowled as fast as I’ve ever seen in club cricket, with Astle also hitting him harder than I’ve ever seen. I remember the cover fielders were saving one 40 yards back due to how hard Nath was hitting it!”

However, the fuse that would lead to him being reported by the officials and charged by the League had been lit earlier in the day: “Tino bowled well but without any wickets, then got the batsman to glove a bouncer but the umpire called him for a front-foot no ball”, Wilshaw recalled. “Holy hell! He accused the umpire of being racist, finished the over bowling off-spin and by all accounts was whistling slave songs when he walked in to bat”. At one point, the irate bowler even protested to the umpire (echoing his mobile phone’s voicemail message): “Don’t you know who I am? I’m the fastest bowler in the world!”

A chastened Best finished with 0 for 50 from 8 overs and, according to Leek’s wicket-keeper, Andy Carr, they were lucky to get him back into the attack at all since, by now warming to his theme, the Barbadian bowling professional had complained to the skipper that it was “always the black man who gotta do the white man’s work”. 

white line fever

Cooper believed his former team mate’s susceptibility to the red mist was bound up with the expectation that he would simply be able to bully club players, with him reacting badly when they stood up to him. Yet he is still bemused by how impulsive his often affable colleague’s behaviour was: “We played a cup game in Birmingham and a young lad of about eight came and sat next to him when he was waiting to bat, and Tino spent over half-an-hour talking to him, really attentively. He was often like that”.

Even so, by the time the North Staffordshire and South Cheshire League’s disciplinary hearing had convened, the capricious Best was out of the country, Leek’s hierarchy having decided to cut their losses and terminate his contract with the player in breach. Nevertheless, he was still issued with a six-week ban, served in absentia, for contravening the ECB Code of Conduct through abusive language toward players and officials, including of a racial nature, the punishment meted out as “a warning to other clubs around the country,” according to then-NSSCL Chairman, Chris Hopkin.

After he’d signed for Yorkshire in 2010, Best said “I’m more humble now. You learn as you get older”. During his glorious Sunday at Edgbaston, flashes of the old, bug-eyed fervour were evident in altercations with two former Headingly colleagues, Jonny Bairstow and Tim Bresnan, and the rest of the tour may show us once and for all whether this intense, excitable character can, at the age of thirty, stop himself from crossing the metaphorical line once he crosses the literal one – whether he will be the master, or the victim, of his emotions. 


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