From fatigues to flannels
India Express article.
Kolkata, India - When the West Indians enter the Eden Gardens on November 6, it will be a garrison for the visitors.
And if Sheldon Cotterell wins his maiden Test cap in Kolkata, he should expect nothing short of an ambush with 60,000 raucous Bengalis cheering in unison for one man. The cauldron that is the Wankhede Stadium will be no different if he is made to wait till the second Test.
Cotterell, however, is unlikely to feel out of place. He has after all dealt with gun-toting gangsters on a blood-soaked battlefield and lived to tell the story. And it's not surprising that 24-year-old Cotterell, a private in the Jamaican Defence Force (JDF) who is presently in Kolkata on his first international tour with the West Indies, rarely looks fazed on a cricket field.
"I prefer balls to bullets any day. Cricket is not life and death. There is a certain intensity in both situations and you have to think on your feet, but bowling yorkers is far easier than being fired and shot at," he tells The Indian Express.
In line of fire
Cotterell, who was one of the finds of the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) a couple of months ago, recalls his first call of duty not too fondly.
It came in May 2010 during the deadly Tivoli Incursion that turned a portion of Kingston into a war zone as the police and military combined to thwart the Shower Posse drug cartel in their quest to find druglord Christopher Dudu Coke.
Cotterell lost a couple of his colleagues during the mission.
"It was really like being in a movie. I was the rifle-man, and the gun-battle went on for a few days. And I was right in the forefront of it exchanging fire. It was surreal," he says.
Incidentally, Cotterell had just received his first call-up to the Jamaica team around the same time. Apart from giving the young soldier his taste of action on the frontline, the Tivoli affair delayed his first class debut, which would come some six months later.
The strapping, 6'5" fast bowler though has made up for lost time and over the next three years has emerged as one of the brightest talents in the Caribbean, especially during the last season in which he finished with 17 wickets at 19.29 apiece.
In June 2011, Cotterell showed his true potential by getting the Indian batsmen, including Rahul Dravid, to duck and weave with his express pace and hostility in the Sabina Park nets.
A more memorable episode had occurred the previous day, as Cotterell, decked in army camouflage and beret, found himself as one of the four army personnel guarding the square during the final ODI of India's tour.
"That was a wake-up call for me. I was standing there in front of thousands of screaming spectators. I just wanted to jump out of my camouflage and right into the maroon West Indian jersey. I realized that I was close to that reality. It changed everything," he says.
Cotterell's love affair with the game began by watching the likes of Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose running through opposition line-ups at Sabina Park.
"It was pace like fire. And I only remember them running to the crease and you wouldn't see the ball again till the wicket-keeper would throw it back," says Cotterell.
Though he played junior cricket for Jamaica, he made a career-changing move by joining the armed forces right after school, mainly at his mother's behest.
In addition to being a whole-hearted performer on the field, Cotterell has also earned a reputation among his peers as being the ultimate soldier, extremely disciplined and a consummate teammate.
"The military life and upbringing helps me stay squarely focused on my cricket and ward off all the distractions. But that doesn't make me boring off the field. I am generally the life of the dressing-room," says the Portmore resident.
Apart from his bowling in the CPL, in which he snared eight wickets and had some of the top batsmen hopping against his bouncers, Cotterell also grabbed eyeballs with his distinctive wicket celebrations, sending off each victim with a straight-backed military salute.
"It was just to tell my army colleagues that I am always thinking of them. And that though I'm here playing cricket, I will always be a soldier," he says.
Cotterell, who now has his eyes set on squaring up against Sachin Tendulkar, doesn't find it too difficult to separate his two passions in life and is always aware of the fact that he could be called to military duty at any time, except when he's playing cricket at the highest level.
"It's a wonderful feeling just to be playing with some of the greats in the sport and I am looking forward to donning the maroon," he says.
He adds that his mother, despite being cricket-impaired, is equally proud of his achievements on the cricket field and is his No.1 fan, who only has a simple word of advice each time.
Says Cotterell, "All she wants me to do is to blow the batsman's head off. Wish all mothers were like her."