Soldiers are trained to be at their best under fire. It is under these difficult circumstances that a soldier gets to test his mettle, to find out what kind of man he is. West Indies left-arm pacer Sheldon Cottrell, a member of the Jamaica Defence Force, will get his mettle tested on a different kind of battlefield – the Centurion – when the West Indies take on South Africa in the first of their three-Test series on Wednesday, December 17.
Cottrell has played in only one Test prior to this, against India in November 2013, when he returned match figures of one wicket for 72 runs. Its been more than a year and the powerfully built Jamaica is on the verge of playing in his second Test match, one that could give the 25-year-old a chance to find out exactly what he is made of.
Before even a single ball is bowled and even before he knows whether he will indeed earn his second cap, Cottrell is already facing the pressure of expectation. In a way, the pressure is a bit of his own doing. Cottrell took five wickets against Trinidad in a match-winning performance for the Jamaica Franchise in the WICB Professional League just prior to leaving for South Africa on November 30. Then two days later, bowling on a lively pitch that also offered movement, the left-armer produced a withering spell of bowling to take 5 for 16 off just 6.1 overs as the West Indies bowled out a South African Invitational XI for just 125.
It was a performance that thrust him squarely into the spotlight.
In response to questions from the media Chairman of Selectors, Clive Lloyd, said he expects the Jamaican to shine on what should be conditions favourable to fast bowling.“Left-arm quick bowlers don’t come often and he is somebody we need to nurture and take along with us as long as possible. He could be very lively,” Lloyd said, adding that the 25-year-old Jamaican could be a handful on South African pitches. “On these pitches here, if he swings it and bowls as well as he has been bowling, he could give batsmen some trouble.”
Captain Denesh Ramdin has not helped matters with his pre-match comments on Monday as more questions came about the Jamaican.
“At some point he will be a surprise package,” Ramdin said. “If we look at the Australia series, Mitchell Johnson had success against South Africa. If Sheldon is in the team, I’m sure he will do something special for us.”
Is it just me or is this a bit too much responsibility to be thrust upon a man who has only played in one Test match with a Test average of 72? Yes, he has been bowling well and has immense potential with his left-arm delivery being an added bonus but still, he will need to wet his feet properly before anyone can truly say he will deliver.
Those old enough will remember Michael Holding’s experience in Australia is ’75 when he was bludgeoned by Australia’s batsmen. Cottrell could be facing a similar experience when he goes up against the likes of Hashim Amla and AB deVilliers, arguably the two best batsmen in the world.
For his sake, I do hope Cottrell listens more to fast-bowling great Curtley Ambrose whose words of wisdom could help ease the pressure from the inexperienced bowler.”It’s a different era and we have to work with what we have. I don’t want to single out any one. Its all about the team,” Ambrose said. “No one bowler can win a game for you, it takes a team. As long we play together as a team, we will do well here.”