Ravi Rampaul is no one's idea of a great pace bowler, comparable to Dale Steyn or James Anderson or Zaheer Khan. He is also a late bloomer in many ways and injuries have forced his career to be a stop-start one. But in recent times, Rampaul has become a very valuable Twenty20 bowler, for the West Indies, for Royal Challengers Bangalore in the Indian Premier League and, of course, for his country, Trinidad and Tobago. And that's because of his ability to pick up wickets early and keep things tight later on.
"That's something I find myself doing very often, picking up early wickets," says Rampaul to Wisden India. "I back myself to do it each time I am bowling. I only do what I know I can do. I know I can move the ball, swing the ball ... I have a pretty good short ball as well as a slower ball. So I go with what I have and do it the best I can. And it works most of the time."
He has played 18 Tests, but the last of those was in November last year in Dhaka. And the next one isn't coming anytime soon, after he was left out of the West Indies team for the upcoming series in India. "I have been injured a couple of times, so I guess they want me to get better and then, for the one-day series, I'll be there," he promises, before adding with a smile, "I am heavy, I tend to put on weight, so there's more to burn."
Not being a part of the Test team also means missing out on a chance to be a part of Sachin Tendulkar's 200th Test match - "a historic occasion" - but Rampaul is happy that he has Tendulkar's scalp in his kitty, the wicket in the Mumbai Test in November 2011 still fresh in his memory. "I was bowling at him and he was playing me from outside the crease and then I pulled one back of a length," remembers Rampaul - he got Tendulkar caught by Darren Sammy at second slip for 94.
"But it's great that the Test match will be against the West Indies. Bowling to Tendulkar is like a dream. Sometimes when he hits you for four, you just have to stand and appreciate the shot he has played. His wicket is very cherished, and I have it."
He might be not be coming to India with the Test team, but his relationship with India is growing stronger by the day. "My first season in the IPL (in 2013) has really lifted my career and also opened my way of thinking in terms of my career. It has also made a difference financially," says Rampaul, adding that the T&T players playing in the ongoing Champions League Twenty20 are also hoping to impress a few IPL franchises while they are here, much like Kieron Pollard and Sunil Narine did once upon a time. "They want to do well, they know that if they play well and score runs and take wickets, they have the chance for an IPL contract. That's an extra motivation for them to perform as well."
But, at some level, representing T&T is a bigger deal than anything else as far as Rampaul is concerned - it beats playing for any club or even the West Indies. "It's always a pleasure to represent your country," he says. "We don't do it internationally much, but when we do, the passion, the support ... I love playing for my country.
"We play good cricket because we play for each other, we are a close-knit group and we give it everything on the field. Trinidad is my country - that's where we grew up and that's where we learnt to play our cricket. That's where the passion really is. Lot of youngsters were waiting for the opportunity and they got it because some of our top players (Dwayne Bravo, Narine, Pollard and Kevon Cooper) were playing for their IPL teams. We all want to win it (CLT20 2013) for Trinidad."
But there might not be another chance to do it, not at such a big stage for sure, as the winner of the Caribbean Premier League and not the domestic T20 champions will represent the West Indies in the next edition of the CLT20. "Change is good, you know. It's good for cricket in the Caribbean. Most of the guys have now broken up and are playing for different franchises ... but it's all for cricket in the Caribbean, so it's okay," says Rampaul, but you can tell that he would rather it hadn't changed.
He is also aware that West Indies are fast building a reputation of being a T20 team, the format where their flamboyance gets rewarded best. Rampaul, like others from the islands, wants everyone to believe that Test cricket remains important and the West Indians are trying to move up the rankings in the longest format too. "All islands take days' cricket seriously. We have the four-day competition. We're doing better than we used to some time back," he says. "We need to take it one step at a time."
A career in franchise cricket is there for Rampaul but, at 29, he wants to make a splash in international cricket, especially Test matches, before the chances run out. Fitness permitting, the paceman of Indian origin might be even more effective in the days to come - more's the better.
Story first published on: Saturday, 05 October 2013 13:20 IST