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20th September 2014 • FICA LAUDS WIPA WICB AGREEMENT The Federation of International Cricketers’...

WICB President Dave Camerone and WIPA President and CEO Wavell Hinds

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19th September 2014 • By WIPA Staff The West Indies Players’ Association (WIPA) and West Indies Cricket Board...

By WIPA Staff
Once a Star, a Cricketer Is Now an Exile.
There were no television cameras, and the spectators were not at a manicured cricket ground in England, but seated in lawn 

chairs at a small park in Brooklyn. Still, Jermaine Lawson bowled as if the eyes of the world were on him at an international test cricket match.
He dashed forward, gaining pace, and windmilled his arm to unleash the ball. It whistled through the air, bouncing in front 

the batsman and then burrowing into the man’s belly, causing him to grab his chest in agony and fall to the ground — a perfectly legal, if intimidating, 

delivery. Another player, getting his chance to bat, swore loudly after being instantly retired. A third, surely aware of who was bowling to him, looked 

downright frightened, appearing as though he wished he were anywhere but on the pitch, as the ball repeatedly struck the ground at his feet before 

ricocheting past his face like a bullet.
“Who is the fastest bowler in New York?” a player at another match asked earlier in the Metropolitan Cricket League’s season. 

“Definitely Jermaine Lawson.” A woman watching the same match claimed that Mr. Lawson had broken her boyfriend’s ribs with a speeding ball. “Before he came 

to the city, people weren’t used to anything so fast,” she said.
For a time in the early 2000s, Mr. Lawson, who is originally from Jamaica, was hailed as one of the most exciting prospects in 

West Indies cricket, not to mention one of the fastest bowlers anywhere. But on this summery Sunday afternoon, in a city and country that make little room 

for a sport its fans call the second most popular in the world, only a few people were on hand to watch him bowl, some of them around a tent where a woman 

was dishing up homemade jerk pork, goat and fried fish.
Andrae Hooper, a 37-year-old teammate of Mr. Lawson’s who works as a carpenter, described his friend’s presence on the field. 

“The same way it would be an honor to play with Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson,” Mr. Hooper said, “it is an honor to play with Jermaine.”
Another teammate remarked: “You know who he is, right? You’ve seen the YouTube videos, right?”
Mr. Lawson’s teammates, and even his opponents, were mostly glad he was in town, elevating the quality of the game for 

everybody. But some also pondered the arc of his life in cricket, as well as why a player of his pedigree now finds himself competing in a city where his 

sport exists on the margins.
“He had such an impressive career,” Glen Shanghie of the Staten Island Cricket Club said recently. “Then he just fell through the cracks.”
“Lawson got a raw deal,” Mr. Shanghie added. “He could have been so rich. That’s how good he was. I feel bad for the guy. Now 

here he is, in Brooklyn, playing in the back of the bushes. From that to this? It’s a drop. A fall from grace.”
Such chatter, good and bad, is expected to follow Mr. Lawson, who enjoyed a measure of fame until, at the peak of his powers, 

he was controversially accused of cheating, and then gradually departed the international stage. As one Facebook commenter on a cricket fan page asked: 

“Where is he tho? Just disappear into thin air.”
A fixture of the city’s weekend cricket scene, he currently bowls mainly for a largely West Indian club called Sheffield in a 

league with all manner of players: amateurs and retired professionals, construction workers, cabdrivers, computer engineers, lawyers and doctors. Rounding 

out the Sheffield team are two young brothers, ages 13 and 14, the sons of a Queens veterinarian.
Cricket is an immigrant sport in New York, played mostly by transplants from South Asia, the Caribbean, Australia and England, 

and it is considered a coup if a weekend club can secure the talents of a player like Mr. Lawson. Admiring young opponents sometimes ask for his autograph. 

Fans enjoy the opportunity to see his famous speed up close. Mr. Lawson is tall and muscular, with angular ears pierced with earrings. His bearing is 

measured and calm. But his hands are tough from a lifetime married to the cricket ball.
“Cricket in New York is nothing like it is in Jamaica,” Mr. Lawson said as he practiced batting before a match at one of the 

city’s better pitches, an oval in East New York known to players as Gateway Field. He gracefully sliced his bat through the air, beer bottle caps scattered 

in the grass near his feet. “We make do with what we have,” he said.
At times, the quality of the cricket played in the city can be thrilling, but there are also truly shambolic moments. This 

month, for instance, Mr. Lawson’s team arrived more than an hour late for a league game at Floyd Bennett Field. After 45 minutes of debate with the opposing 

team in the parking lot, the Sheffield players stowed their gear back in their cars and drove off.
Before his career tapered off toward the end of the last decade, Mr. Lawson had an exciting run and the attention of the 

cricketing world.
He was born in Spanish Town, a small city in St. Catherine Parish on the cricket-crazed island of Jamaica, in 1982, the third 

child between twin brothers and a younger sister. His father was a corrections officer. His mother stayed at home.
As a teenager at the St. Catherine Cricket Club, Mr. Lawson discovered his fast arm. “He stood out at school,” said Barrington 

Bartley, a close friend who grew up with Mr. Lawson and now also lives in New York. “He was going to go far. They all knew it.”
Mr. Lawson rose through the ranks of national junior teams and at age 20 was selected to play test cricket for the West 

Indies. Test cricket is the sport’s highest level, with matches that last up to five days.
“Jermaine is a test cricketer,” Mr. Bartley said, with a swell of pride. “A real test cricketer, right here in New York. What 

you’re seeing in the eyes of a batsman? That’s fear.”
The West Indies team, known to its fans as the Windies, is made up of players mostly from former British dependents in the 

Caribbean. Though not as dominant today, the Windies of the 1970s through the early ’90s are considered legendary.
The team — a group of athletes from a smattering of islands with little foothold in the world aside from the export of reggae 

— had always been strong. But beginning in the ’70s, the Windies became lethal, their squad stacked with extremely fast bowlers, defeating England and 

Australia, cricketing titans unaccustomed to losing.
Their remarkable streak eventually ended. But Mr. Lawson’s emergence symbolized for some a second coming: the potential 

resurrection of the West Indies speed-demon era. At his peak, he was bowling at 95 miles an hour.
Though relatively brief, his test-cricket career was filled with high points. He announced himself loudly during his first 

test cricket match, against formidable India in 2002, by striking out two of the most famous cricketers alive, Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar. “Everybody 

wanted to know what it felt like to get out two of the best players in the world,” Mr. Lawson recalled. “I was in my hotel room with all these calls coming 

in. My career took off after that.”
Another moment, well documented on YouTube, was his hat trick against Australia, in which he dispatched three players on three 

successive deliveries. Mr. Lawson is only the fourth West Indies cricketer ever to have a hat trick.
His biggest claim to fame, however, came during another match against Australia, in 2003, when he got an improbable seven 

wickets, or outs, in a single inning. It was a headline-making performance regarded by one announcer as “wonderful hostility.” To the American sports fan, it 

would be akin to a rookie pitcher striking out 19 batters in a game.
“No one will forget that,” said Linden Fraser, a former cricketer now living in New York. “He is still Jermaine Lawson.”
Around the same time, though, his career became marred by the controversy that continues to follow him, if now only in the 

form of snide whispers from opponents on Brooklyn cricket pitches.
Simply put, Mr. Lawson was accused of bowling illegally, a charge referred to as “suspect action” and known colloquially as 

“chucking” or “throwing.”
“What it fundamentally is,” explained Mike Selvey, the cricket correspondent for the British newspaper The Guardian and a 

former England test cricketer, “is you are meant to bowl a ball, not throw it.
“The arm has to be straight. You can’t jerk it, like throwing a javelin.”
Flinging is illegal because it can potentially add extra speed to a ball. The distinction is subtle, resting on a matter of 

degrees.
Mr. Selvey remembered Mr. Lawson’s rising star. “He was very successful for a time, and then he had this incident with suspect 

action, and that finished him,” Mr. Selvey said. “I don’t know what happened to him since.”
After undergoing an intensive physical analysis in accordance with the rules of the sport, Mr. Lawson was officially cleared 

and continued to play test cricket. But he was accused of the same offense two years later, in 2005. Although he was cleared again, the damage was apparently 

done. The public’s opinion of Mr. Lawson changed, however unfairly — as did his own performance.
Interviews with cricketers suggest that suspect-action accusations, even if deemed to be false, can permanently undermine a 

bowler’s confidence. “You can be cleared, but the umbrella is then over your head,” said Mr. Fraser, who said he himself was once accused of suspect action. 

“You know people will look at you.”
During a game after the second accusation was made, two television commentators observed less aggression in Mr. Lawson’s play. 

“It must be really traumatic to keep that all behind you,” one of them said. “Seems almost impossible for a bowler if you’re a normal man to take that kind 

of mental setback.”
Mr. Lawson played his last test cricket match in 2005. Afterward he played for the national team in Jamaica and then played 

county cricket in England. The narrative that has formed around Mr. Lawson, that he was banned from the sport and retreated to New York, is not true. But he 

has certainly retreated.
Early last month, Mr. Lawson discussed his career while waiting his turn to bat at a Sunday game at Floyd Bennett Field, where 

the closest subway stop is 30 minutes away and there is little shade.
He sat in a plastic chair on a hot concrete stretch as the game unfolded on the oval field before him. When the topic of the 

controversy arose, he began picking his fingernails and toying with the silver chain around his neck.
“I don’t really think about it so much anymore,” he said. “They target people when they’re doing well.”
Mr. Lawson said his decision to relocate to New York was motivated by a girlfriend’s move to the city as well as a crippling 

case of acid reflux, which he said had affected his play. But he acknowledged that the suspect-action accusations had bothered him.
“I needed a break,” he said. “Every time I was performing, there was something wrong.
“Change is hard,” he continued. “And it was difficult. But I had to do what was best for me.”
Mr. Lawson, along with other cricket fans, believes that there might have been more at work than just the motion of his arm. 

He suggested that it was no coincidence that the accusation first arose during his now-famous performance against Australia. “They’re supposed to be the best 

team in the world, so if they don’t win, something must be wrong,” he said.
Others claim that racism might have played a part — such accusations would not be the first leveled against Australian 

cricketers. “If you are black and playing well against two teams, you’re going to have a problem,” Mr. Fraser said. “One of those teams is Australia. The 

other is England.”
Rahul Sharma, whose son was playing in the Gateway Field game, said Mr. Lawson had simply chosen the better of two options. “I 

think it was an exit decision,” Mr. Sharma said, suggesting that a third suspect accusation could have resulted in a permanent ban from the game. “Do you 

want to leave when you’re at your peak? Or leave when no one wants you?”
Mr. Lawson said his main criticism lay with the West Indies Cricket Board. If a bowler is charged with suspect action, the 

player’s cricket board can help defend him. Mr. Lawson said he had been poorly represented and spoke of players who openly threw illegally but continued to 

play because their countries were better equipped to defend them.
“West Indies Cricket Board does not take care of their players,” he said. “You are on your own.”
As for the occasional players who make a cruel remark or bark accusations of throwing during a match, Mr. Lawson dismisses 

them. He finds reassurance in the official record. “If you’re cleared, you’re cleared,” he said.
“I don’t let it bother me,” he added. “Maybe they’re scared.”
If controversy and regret seem to follow Mr. Lawson, it is clear that he is unconcerned by the past. He still has the regal 

bearing of a top-flight athlete, even while eating a low-key dinner at an Applebee’s in Bedford-Stuyvesant. He ordered cranberry juice and grilled salmon, 

one of the menu’s healthier items, with a request that no sauce or cheese be added. The Metropolitan Cricket League season runs until Oct. 12, and Mr. 

Lawson’s club is expected to compete for the championship. “People say I can’t train or exercise as much here,” he said, “but I’m still very 

disciplined.”
Mr. Lawson said he had grown to enjoy New York but has moments when he yearns for home. “I still haven’t had any good Jamaican 

food here yet,” he said. When the jerk chicken his dining companion ordered arrived, he laughed and pointed to the cup of tangy white sauce accompanying it. 

“That needs jerk sauce,” Mr. Lawson said.
His other complaint is with the pace of the city, which he, of all people, finds too fast. “In Jamaica there’s more time to 

relax,” he said. “Here, everyone is busy all the time. There is no time to relax, even if you want to.” The closest he feels to home is when he visits the 

South. “People sitting on porches,” he said. “I like that.”
Mr. Lawson is open about some basics of his life in the city, but seems to value privacy. He drives a BMW and wears a nice 

watch. He does not currently have a full-time job, he said, describing himself as akin to a freelance cricketer, playing for American teams that fly him 

around the country to locales with lively immigrant cricket communities. As a professional cricketer for several years, he may well have been highly paid. “I’m a dad,” he offered at one point. “You can say that.”
Offers to play professionally, he said, are not rare in coming, but he explained: “I don’t want to do it just to do it. I have 

a reputation.” After finishing his meal, he pulled up a message from a stranger on his phone: a female fan in Barbados who had found him on Facebook and was 

curious about his whereabouts. “Why don’t u play international cricket anymore?” she wrote. “I miss u.”
“I’m living in New York,” he wrote back. “I’m sorry ur not able to see me play.” He was flattered, but the question seemed to 

fatigue him. “People keep asking me, ‘Will you come back?’ ” Mr. Lawson said. “I could go back. But my life is here now.”
Article from New York 

Times



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