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Jermaine Lawson: A genuine fast-bowler whose career was marred by injuries

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Jermaine Lawson © Getty Images

Jermaine Lawson, born on January 13, 1982 could bowl very fast and inflict damage on the opposition with his thunderbolts. However, a slew of injuries halted his progress and his career was marred with some heavy scrutiny over his dodgy bowling action. Finally, he disappeared into the oblivion in 2008. Bharath Ramaraj traces Lawson’s career.

When West Indies Under-19 team took on England Under-19 in the World Cup in 2000, everyone expected a see-saw battle that would go down to the wire. But a tall and rangy pacer from Jamaica by the name of Jermaine Lawson tore apart the English batting line-up in a fiery spell of five overs. On expected lines, at such a young age, he lacked the control, but he certainly had that gift bestowed upon him to bowl with raw pace.

A few years later, he was picked to play during West Indies’ ill-fated tour to Sri Lanka in 2001. He made his One-Day International (ODI) debut during that tour against the hosts. Sri Lankan batsmen were brimming with confidence and ripped apart his wayward bowling. In particular, the Matara dasher, Sanath Jayasuriya gave him a true taste of international cricket with ferocious cuts. Yet, the ability to bowl with good pace was unmistakable. It took twelve more months for Lawson’s staggering talent to flourish in internationals. In an ODI match at Vijayawada against India, he wreaked havoc with sheer pace to take a four-wicket haul and help the beleaguered West Indies line-up win the series. The series win must have felt like an oasis in a vast desert for the Windies.

By then, he had already made his Test debut against India as well and it seemed like West Indies had unearthed a fine fast bowler. During their tour to Bangladesh in 2002, he burst open the home team’s batting line-up at Dhaka with an earth-shattering spell of six wickets for the cost of mere three runs. The mystical brilliance of Lawson helped him to soar to great heights. He went into the history books, as the bowler with the most economical wicket-taking spell. Yes, the opposition he bowled to was nothing to write home about. Yet, it takes some doing to snare six wickets for three runs.

Unfortunately by then, there were already whispers about his bowling action. He was still picked in the 2003 World Cup squad and bowled in the final game of the tournament for West Indies against Kenya. It was his blistering spell on a flat deck at Antigua against Australia though that opened the eyes of cricket pundits and propelled him into the limelight. The famed Australian batting line-up proved to be sitting ducks against Lawson’s rapid pace. Australian tail-enders were left with bruisers with Lawson peppering them with thunderbolts. He also took a memorable hat-trick in the same series in the third Test at Bridgetown, Barbados.

Now, that was the time when he came under heavy scrutiny for his suspect bowling action. A thunderstorm was blowing over his head for sure. Umpires standing for that game, David Shepherd and Srinivas Venkataraghavan called for video evidence of his action. By the fourth day’s play, it was confirmed that match referee, Mike Procter indeed had reported Lawson to the International Cricket Council (ICC) for a suspect action.

He went through the remedial process of modifying his action and was picked to tour the Old Blighty in 2004. But a terrible spinal stress fracture laid him low and he couldn’t play in the ICC Champions Trophy in 2004.

Jermaine Lawson has taken 51 wickets for the West Indies in 13 Tests © Getty Images
Jermaine Lawson has taken 51 wickets for the West Indies in 13 Tests © Getty Images

Lawson came back with a rip-roaring performance for a West Indies side missing some of its key players, due to internal strife in Sri Lanka in 2005 with 11 wickets next to his name in the Test series. His eight-wicket haul in the first at Colombo (SSC) almost helped the Caribbean outfit to upset the apple-cart. There were yet again whispers about his action, but he went onto play the Test match against Australia at Brisbane at the end of the year. However, all those question marks hanging over his action seemed to have taken its toll on him. He bowled trundlers at Brisbane and looked a pale shadow of his former self. Tragically, it was the last time he played for the Caribbean side. Even a pep talk with West Indian bowling legend Michael Holding who had once questioned his ‘dicey’ action didn’t seem to help.

With an amalgam of iron-clad self belief and dogged determination, he took that setback in the right spirit by putting up impressive shows in both 2006-07 and 2007-08 First-Class seasons, respectively. He proved to be an emblem of how to essay a comeback from depths of despair during those two seasons. Just when everyone thought that he had resurrected his career, he was again laid low by injuries. It seemed to have taken the wind out of Lawson’s sails. In 2008, he was picked by Leicestershire as a Kolpak player.

He was laid low by a bout of fever during that time and could only play two games for them. His nondescript performance against a relatively weaker outfit in County cricket, Northamptonshire proved to be the death knell for him. In that game, he was bereft of confidence and rhythm, as he bowled all over the place and a slew of no balls too. In the 13 overs he bowled, he took one wicket but went for as many as 96 runs. He never again played a competitive match.

Last year, he took part in a few exhibitions matches by playing for World XI in Pakistan in a bid to show that the country was safe to play international cricket.

Lawson had that gift to bowl at thunderous pace and had a great heart too which is so important for a fast bowler. But just like so many other pacers from the Caribbean, he perhaps was mismanaged.

(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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