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Fidel Edwards: A Caribbean Cult Classic

Liam Camps | 11:26pm gmt 05 Jun 2008
FeaturesAs West Indies head into the third Test match against Australia, they do so with aspirations of leveling the series at 1-1. The Frank Worrell Trophy is now out of their hands, but there is still the pride of a drawn series up for grabs. And whatever hope the home team bears depends largely on the potency of the front line bowling attack, particularly Fidel Edwards. A cursory look at the series statistics locates Edwards second only to Brett Lee in wickets. His 11 wickets are already a series high, though he has only once played more than 3 Tests in a series. Now it remains to be seen how far he can extend his personal record in Bridgetown.

Fidel Edwards' series hauls since start of 2006:

New ZealandNew Zealand37
IndiaWest Indies12
South AfricaSouth Africa33
Sri LankaWest Indies15
AustraliaWest Indies211

If Chris Gayle is the blockbuster (the player that crowds turn out to see) and Shivnarine Chanderpaul the art film (the unglamorous, indie superstar), Edwards is the cult classic. Having arrived on the scene with little hype and no audience familiarity, the fast man commanded brief critical acclaim and box office success. His 5-wicket bag against a shellshocked Sri Lankan side stole the headlines and kept the crowds interested, waiting excitedly for the follow-up. The sequel arrived less than five months later, in Zimababwe, where Edwards laboured for 5-133 in his second Test. The reviews remained promising, and Edwards was earmarked as a blockbuster franchise. That potential is unfortunately yet to be realized fully. As we approach the five year anniversary of his 2003 debut, we can reflect on what has been a career of mixed reviews. Long periods of mediocrity have occasionally been interrupted by moments of brilliance. Yet all this time, despite the painful inconsistency, a faithful audience is still on hand to witness every new episode.

There is little question that Edwards was picked too young. He was selected as a dark horse, the surprise element that might unsettle the Sri Lankan tourists. It was a hunch by West Indies captain Brian Lara, who had faced the then 21-year-old in the nets and implored the selectors for his inclusion. The ploy worked on June 27th 2003 at Sabina Park. Edwards counted Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara as his first two Test victims, and finished the innings with 5 for 36, which remains his best haul to this day. His slingy action and raw pace were partnered with significant swing, and it was the combination of these three attributes that forced batsmen into error. Unsurprisingly, with injury a prime concern, his action has since been refined and is now less spectacular, if still somewhat unusual.

Over the past five years Edwards has played 33 Tests and not since his 9th has his bowling average been below 40. It is hardly the measure of promise that has so often been assigned to the young man, but his is a highly unusual case. Unlike the Stuart Clarks and Ryan Sidebottoms of the world, Edwards was not blessed with years of first-class cricket and top-class training to develop his skills before properly entering the Test match frame. His first chance came with a solitary first-class game and one wicket to his name. Such are the burdens of West Indies cricket that a potentially priceless apprenticeship is ignored due to the lack of depth and alternatives. The fact that Edwards succeeded initially did not help the situation, but stirred hype that inevitably ensured that he would remain in the team for the foreseeable future.

The gap between first-class cricket and Test cricket is large, and for Edwards it was a near inconceivable jump from amateur obscurity to the professional realm of top flight cricket. Edwards has had to learn his skill at the highest level and against some of the best batsmen in the world. Only 4 of his Tests were against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. It is then an acceptable assertion that he has only recently begun to resemble a finished article. Overall Edwards has six 5-wicket hauls in his 55 innings of bowling, which is hardly a stunning reflection of striking ability. But three of these hauls have come in the last 18 innings, indicating his improvement. Since the start of 2006 he has played 13 Tests and claimed 38 of his 91 wickets at a strike rate of 52.5 and an average of 35.44.

Top strikes rates of fast bowlers since start of 2006 (minimum 35 wickets):

PlayerCountryMatchesWicketsStrike Rate
DW SteynSouth Africa2011233.0
Mohammad AsifPakistan105143.6
M NtiniSouth Africa2611443.9
B LeeAustralia199648.3
SR ClarkAustralia177749.6
Z KhanIndia135951.1
FH EdwardsWest Indies133852.5
JE TaylorWest Indies165753.6
RJ SidebottomEngland156354.0
SL MalingaSri Lanka175057.2

For Edwards, the pace and swing is still there but better directed and with less generousity of loose balls in between. He will never be a consistently economical bowler, due to his action, but in his recent incarnation he has been far more regularly accurate and consequently more potent. At his best Edwards has made the finest of batting talents look uncertain, and such performances are becoming increasingly likely. Fidel Edwards may not have arrived at Test level yet, but in just circumstances he should have only debuted in recent months. Only now does he have the experience and relative refinement of skill to cope with Test cricket. It is with continued excitement then that his faithful following continue to look at whatever further progress he is due. First up is the Kensington Oval pitch in his home country, and it is an opportunity with everything to play for.

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