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Cameron Cuffy: West Indies’ towering pacer who failed to live up to his early promise

Cameron Cuffy © AFP
Cameron Cuffy © AFP

Cameron Cuffy in his debut One-Day International against India in 1994-95 caught the eye of everyone with his ability to generate bounce at a slithery speed. However, he failed to take his game to dizzying heights in the years to come. Bharath Ramaraj looks back the career of a pacer who was built like a giant edifice.

Ever since the likes of Manny Martindale, Herman Griffith, Learie Constantine and George Francis burst onto the scene by pelting down thunderbolts and generating disconcerting bounce in the 1920s and 1930s, West Indies have gone onto produce an assembly line of mighty fine pacers: fast bowlers who scared batsmen to death with the carnassials and sharp claws of a lion; even the mere sight of those towering giants thundering into the crease and hurling the red cherry at scorching pace jangled the nerves of batsmen.

When Cameron Cuffy, resembling more a giant from the imaginary world of Brobdingnag troubled the likes of Viv Richards, Richie Richardson and Keith Arthurton in his very first First-Class game in 1990-91, he seemed to be the next successor to the fast bowling throne. Alas! It turned out to be a false dawn: Cuffy rarely met those high expectations during his international career.

Born in St Vincent, the towering giant was on the selectors’ radar after he had a couple of impressive seasons for Windward Islands in 1992-93 and 1993-94, respectively. The big break for him came when Curtly Ambrose withdrew from the tour of India in 1994-95 citing fatigue.

It opened the flood gates for Cuffy to make his One-Day International (ODI) debut against India at Faridabad and what a fine debut it turned out to be! By generating awkward bounce, he made Indian batsmen hop and duck like a cat on a hot tin roof on a benign track. Both Mohammad Azharuddin and a very tentative looking Vinod Kambli fell to his incisive bowling.

It has to be sometimes remembered that it isn’t all about sheer pace. A batsman may feel a bowler who can swing it late in the air or generate bounce from a good length is quicker than someone who is shown as bowling faster on the speed gun, yet is largely gun-barrel-straight. The general consensus is that against bowlers who can do something with the ball in hand forces batsmen to make that slight adjustment after it pitches. Now at Faridabad, Cuffy didn’t necessarily bowl at the speed of red-lightning. He wasn’t running in smoothly with the hypnotic rhythm of a thoroughbred race-horse either. But from a distance, he appeared to be bowling quicker, as he was arguably forcing batsmen to make that adjustment after it pitched. He was certainly hitting the bat hard high on the slice. Indian batsmen might have been down with sore hands after batting against him.

He took his form into the second game at Mumbai by hitting noteworthy crusts. When he had the better off Indian batting legend Sachin Tendulkar, caught in the slips by Carl Hooper and Azharuddin, it could be noticed that he added two more wickets to his kitty on the back of generating bounce from a length.

However, during the rest of the ODIs that included a tri-series involving New Zealand and also the Test series against India, he failed to produce disconcerting bounce from a length. With Ambrose and Winston Benjamin coming back into the setup, Cuffy soon found himself in the forlorn world of wilderness. Even when Winston Benjamin’s career ended after Australia defeated the Windies in 1994-95, he had to compete with bowlers like Kenny Benjamin and Ian Bishop, on a comeback trail. He still was picked in the World Cup squad in 1996.

Cuffy, would have had bitter memories of the only game he played in that World Cup against Kenya. He struggled for rhythm by bowling seven no balls and five wides. He seemed to suddenly resemble a journeyman medium-pacer. That awkward bounce he generated in his first few ODI games seemed to be a thing of the past. To make it worse for him and West Indies, they lost to minnows Kenya. He was dropped after the World Cup, as West Indian selectors plumped for the extremely quick, but one of the most erratic bowlers ever seen in the annals of history of the game, Patterson Thompson.

During the subsequent tour of Australia in 1996-97, he could play only a single Test and one ODI. With Ambrose down with injuries, Cuffy suddenly had to fill the huge boots of the great man for the Adelaide Test against Australia. Unfortunately on a flat track, Mathew Hadyen, who seemed like a fish out of water against Ambrose in the previous Test at MCG, feasted on some wayward stuff from Windies pacers (including Courtney Walsh).

Cuffy had to wait for almost four more years before he earned a shock recall during the VB series held in Australia in 2000-01. He bowled some economical spells during the tri-series which involved Zimbabwe as the third team: but as Mark Taylor astutely noted in the commentary box during West Indies’ first game against Australia at MCG that Cuffy had lost that extra bite in his bowling.

Cuffy still reached those lofty heights that everyone had expected him to in 1990s, once or twice in 2001-02 season, but on most occasions, he was disappointing. Cuffy though, would be proud of the fact that he played a fine supporting act to Mervyn Dillon to help West Indies chart a remarkable series turnaround to beat India 2-1 in 2002.  He played his last international game against Bangladesh in an ODI in December 2002. He soon hung up his spiked boots by walking into retirement life.

Cameron Cuffy’s numbers don’t exactly make for a good reading. But those few who saw him make life of Indian batsmen feel like hell in 1994-95 at Faridabad would wonder how he could lose the plot after promising so much early in his career. The sad truth is that the list of Windies bowlers promising much and then disappearing into the oblivion in recent years is long. Just think of Franklyn Rose, Dillon, Ryan Nurse, Reon King, Colin Stuart, Marlon Black, Pedro Collins, Nixon McLean and Cuffy himself.

(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)

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