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Reon King Interview

“I’m hungry for wickets, and no-one is going to stand in my way.” Those are the words of Guyanese fast bowler Reon King, who was named in the West Indies 30-man squad to prepare for next year’s World Cup. The 27 year-old King, a potent force in the earlier part of his career, lost his Test place through injury. He holds the best bowling average of any current West Indies fast bowler in Test cricket; and one-day statistics; also support the fact that his economy and strike rates are the best of the lot, in that form of the game. In this exclusive interview, Cricket Web chats with King about his career to date and his plans for the future…

CW: What are your impressions of being included in the Provisional Squad for the World Cup?

RK: Well, it obviously serves as a timely reminder of my ability, but more importantly at this time, confirms that I am still part of West Indies cricket. I’m remaining circumspect about my selection; since an earlier recall may have been a definite indication of the selectors intent to get me match ready for South Africa. The Bangladesh tour is the last bit of serious cricket before the World Cup; that would have been the excellent opportunity for me to really impress. It might be more realistic to set my sights on the Australian series which starts in April, but, generally there’s a sense of relief and satisfaction at being recalled.

CW: Am I right in assuming that you’ll still be aggressively trying to seize this imminent opportunity?

RK: Yes, of course! The selectors have shown faith in me, and I certainly won’t disappoint them. I’m making the utmost of the preparation I’m getting in our (Guyana’s) National Trial matches; and this along with a bowling camp I’ll be attending next week in Antigua will form part of my intense push to stake a claim for a place in the squad for the World Cup. Don’t get me wrong; I’m going all out for a place on that side to Africa. The sooner, the better for me!

CW: There’s been a fair amount of talk about the lack of aggressive intent in your bowling. Would you say this is a fair or accurate assessment of your style?

RK: That’s debatable. I do figure sometimes I could be a little more aggressive but, at the same time I try to back my natural instincts and ability. If you check my background; as a fast bowler from Guyana, and probably due to the types of surfaces on which we play our cricket; I’m more inclined to work a batsman out, you know, bowling tidy line and length, and often inducing the catch at the wicket. That’s worked for me in the past… and is basically how I gained my success. It’s difficult and a bit unfair to compare me with someone, from say, Jamaica, where conditions favour aggression. With the possible exception of (Colin) Croft, I don’t really know of too many Guyanese pacers who have been noted for success through their aggression. I think it’s more in my nature to be that other type of fast bowler. Given the opportunity, though, I’ll be knocking over a few batsmen in the near future. I’m hungry for wickets, and no-one is going to stand in my way!

CW: In the summer of 2000, during, and after the series in England, you were exposed to a highly critical media, including some West Indian journalists, how much of an effect did that have on you, if not your cricket?

RK: Obviously there are people on both sides of the fence in your life; some for and some against you. It didn’t really affect me then. When I do figure it started to have an effect on me, was when the coach, after hearing things from the commentators and suchlike, would come back and relate the unflattering stuff to me. This created a great degree of discomfort, but I’m not sure it was evident to him at the time. It’s probably because I’m not one to show too much emotion. As a result of the many observations by the experts and critics, the coach and I decided to work on a few things. Personally, I figured we weren’t working on the right things. In the end, sadly, we just lost the plot.

CW: I vividly recall that as a relatively inexperienced ‘quick’ you did bowl impressively in South Africa the last time you were there in 1999. Your memories of that tour?

RK: Very good. Beautiful, bouncy wickets to bowl on; nice atmosphere to play cricket also. After bowling reasonably well in Bangladesh in November ’98 in the Wills International Cup where we lost in the final to South Africa, I went down there (South Africa) for the one-dayers, but was quite pleasantly surprised to be included in the last Test match at Centurion; my debut. I was wicket-less in that game, but the experience was priceless. I played in all seven One-Day matches, and performed creditably according to most. All in all, it was a satisfying tour.

CW: You have excellent economy and strike rates in One-Day cricket, better than all active WI bowlers, would you say that we see the best of you in that format?

RK: It’s probably my straight type of bowling, with a little discipline, which serves me well in that setting. But I certainly don’t want to be branded as a one-dimensional cricketer. I want to give myself an equal chance of performing in both forms of the game, and be recognized for it.

Statistics show that you’ve been remarkably more successful against right-handed batsmen than left-handers; sixty-seven to thirty-three percent, is this indicative of a bias or personal preference?

Yes, I prefer bowling to right-handers, because my stock ball is the one that nips back sharply into them. What I find is that in top-level cricket, that’s an excellent weapon to have in your arsenal, and to my advantage; the length that I bowl compliments it.

CW: But two ‘lefties’, New Zealand’s Stephen Fleming and South Africa’s Gary Kirsten are among batsmen you’ve dismissed most frequently, isn’t that saying a bit about your versatility?

RK: Well, yes… it works for both types. The ball coming back to the right-hander, is obviously the one going away from the left-hander), but I find myself over-compensating at times, and pushing it a bit too wide of the left-handers. So, although those fellows you mentioned, have been among my ‘regular’ victims, I’ll have to admit that I find it much easier to bowl to the right-handers.

CW: Having been touted as one of the future spearheads of our attack, when the two greats Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose eventually retired, how difficult was it to find yourself suddenly struggling to regain a place?

RK: To be honest, it was very difficult. I had been bowling quite well originally, and was at the time probably deserving of the likely promotion, but injuries took their toll on my confidence level, and eventually forced me out of contention. The wait was long, but I’ve approached my return honestly, with lots of hard work. It seems to have paid off. If I may add; myself, Franklyn Rose and Nixon McLean were all eagerly looking forward to the challenge of picking up from where the great men left off. But when they departed, we then realized how much were still wanting for experience, and without their guidance; or help from any other willing source, we experimented a bit too much and tried too hard; to our detriment.

CW: Our bowling of late has been under the microscope, and with there being a possibility that you could be in the side to South Africa late next month, is there any thing different that you would do from that which you did in the past?

RK: Well, interestingly enough, with the camp in Antigua next week, under Kenny Benjamin’s supervision, I think that the knowledge that I’ve acquired while becoming a qualified coach, will help me to identify the flaws, and be able to more confidently ask whoever my tutor is, for specific assistance. So I guess, I’ll have all bases covered, by the time the selectors are ready for me.

CW: How much has your exposure to coaching, helped your game?

RK: Tremendously. My assessment of batsmen is significantly better, and my concentration has improved. It has easily helped to sharpen my focus on the game. There’s nothing like grasping the fundamentals.

CW: You’ve had significant problems with your fielding over the years, and some very disparaging remarks have been made about this aspect of your cricket, how do you assess it at this time?

RK: I think it’s improving, but not at the rate I would like it to. I’m disappointed with the slow progress. This most likely stems from the fact that apart from the GCC and National coaches, I haven’t really had experts to constantly monitor, and offer opinions, as well as informed suggestions; so that the necessary adjustments can be made to my technique. But I’m very optimistic, because my errors have decreased since those dark days, and I’m now, much more in tune with developing drills, etc.

CW: Is this obvious deficiency in your cricket due to confidence or judgment?

RK: It’s definitely confidence. I don’t think that there’s anyone who would tell you that they’re totally confident after dropping an easy catch, or an embarrassing mis-field. It plays on the mind; and I know that that used to contribute a lot toward me making errors on the field ,in general. My confidence level has improved, so I’m looking forward to much happier times in my out-cricket. My batting has also improved as a result of my confidence.

CW: Who would you say is an inspiration for you, in terms of cricket?

RK: My family. I remember my mother died when I went to play with the youth team in Pakistan. It’s a pity she never got to see me play Test cricket. People are surprised when I tell them that my father never wanted me to play cricket; but as negative as he was at the time, he respected my choice. I reached the highest level and that helped erase the doubt in his mind. Now, my dad’s my biggest fan, and he and other members of my family never miss an opportunity to offer their support. I love them dearly for that. Not wanting to shortchange them, is what inspires me to keep trying to stay and perform well.

CW: Would you consider yourself injury-free?

RK: At the moment, yes! And, that’s why I’m anxious to get back into full stride on the international scene. In this condition, without a doubt, I’ll surely be able to give a decent account of myself.

CW: I recall when you suffered from a hernia, and required surgery, there was the suggestion from some quarters that you could have played through with the use of pain-killers, was this being unfair to you?

RK: Well, that’s a long story. To be honest, I don’t think that many persons got the gist of it. What really transpired, was that surgery was recommended; the team management were informed by a specialist that I could probably continue with the use of the pain killers, but the damage would still be there. There were lots of mixed feelings and expressions on the matter; most of which I quietly, and respectfully disagreed with, because I was uncomfortable with the thought of playing under those circumstances. I took the advice of some of my more senior colleagues that it wasn’t worth taking the risk, considering my career; and I decided to opt for surgery. I’m not sure if that was seen as ‘chickening out’ by some , but I made that decision based on my health at the time; and feel certain that I made the right move.

CW: There was the other injury, the stress fracture of your instep, which was much more serious, would you be willing to fill in a few blanks for us on that issue, if you will?

RK: Yeah, sure. When I checked my instep in England, a stress-line was discovered. That was extremely disturbing to me at the time. I’m not quite sure where it developed, but it was there and had to be addressed as quickly as possible. The most I’m willing to commit myself to, in terms of what happened with my treatment; was that subsequent to my arrival, back in the Caribbean, I was constantly in excruciating pain; travelled a rather rocky road to recovery; and surprisingly, as a top-level sportsman, had to almost make myself an absolute nuisance to get the required attention. It was an unfortunate experience, one I don’t want to re-live.

CW: You had a reasonable ‘A’ Team tour of England and Canada, and I’m sure that you would have seen this as your ticket to get back into the senior side, that obviously didn’t happen. From your perspective, what was that tour really like?

RK: At that time I was really short of cricket, and having not played in the two home series against India and New Zealand, it seemed an excellent opportunity for me to get back in full attack mode. There was also the possible incentive that a good showing with the ‘A’ side would have increased my chances of making the tours to India and Bangladesh. Things didn’t work out the way I wanted them to, there were a few positives, but not positive enough for me. Generally the tour was marred by most of the younger players, and that really put a cloud on the entire tour. The press over there spoke about the talent of the youngsters, but insisted that their attitudes left much to be desired, and that really hurt those of us who were innocent of any wrongdoing.

CW: The manager’s impressions were well-publicized, and were not flattering to say the least. Were you worried about the impact of that embarrassing tour?

RK: Well, initially, a few of the guys were uneasy about their status. I certainly wasn’t one of them. As a senior player, I knew I would’ve done myself a tremendous injustice career-wise, so that wasn’t an option. But from all indications, the matter was dealt with appropriately, and we just have to ensure that nothing similar takes place in future. I love West Indies cricket, and hate when bad impressions are given of it.

CW: Reon, I’d like to thank you for so eloquently sharing your thoughts, and wish you all the best in your future endeavours.

RK: Thanks again.

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