Remember that notebook celebration from Virat Kohli during last year's West Indies tour of India?
That celebration sprung West Indies pacer Kesrick Williams into the limelight. Throughout the three T20Is, the Kohli-Williams battle was fascinating to watch. There was sledging, words were belted out and creative celebrations were performed and all of that led to meme fest on social media.
Williams has been known for his celebratory antics but there is more to the pacer than just that. He's a passionate and aggressive cricketer who can’t just ramp up pace but also add smarts to it through his variations especially the changes of pace. He also plays a lot of mind games with the batsmen. The Vincentian pacer has had an impressive start to West Indies career in T20s.
Since he made his debut in September 2016, he's been their highest wicket-taker in T20Is with 41 wickets from 25 matches at 18.82 and a strike rate of 13.1. While he has the tendency to go for runs (his economy rate is 8.59 in T20Is), he also has the knack of picking up wickets. His strike rate of 13.1 is the best among all West Indian bowlers who have picked up at least 10 wickets. His bowling average of 18.82 is the best among all West Indian bowlers to have taken at least 20 wickets in T20Is.
The West Indies pacer is a consistent performer in the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) and this season has been no different. He's picked up 13 wickets from 12 matches playing for St Lucia Zouks at an average of 23.46 and a strike rate of 15.7. Zouks ended as runners-up losing in the final to Trinbago Knight Riders.
Williams took out time from his hectic schedule to talk on a wide range of topics including his early days, those celebrations, what gets him pumped up on the field, his battles with Kohli and much more.
Excerpts from the interview.
How did you take up cricket? Were you always interested in fast bowling?
I came from a cricketing family, a lot of people may not know but my mom played cricket for St Vincent and my sister played for St Vincent at a senior level. My dad was also good enough to definitely play for St Vincent but he is more of a type of, (someone) who wanted to secure the family and so he went off to Canada to work for a bit and then he joined the tourism sector where he worked in a cruise ship for 20 years.
He was more of a family man and passed through the worse and cut (down) his cricketing career. From there on, I knew that I wanted to do something that my mother and father never did which is playing cricket for West Indies. And from the age of 9, I startd working on it, focusing on cricket knowing what I wanted and I've never stopped.
How did you take up fast bowling? Who were the players you grew up idolising?
At first, I started spin bowling. I really liked Carl Hooper as a player, I used to do a little bit of batting then. And then my batting got better. I started to spin and bat and made it to St Vincent U-19 as a batsman who can bowl offspin. It sounds surprising. And then, funnily enough, I was in the nets, fooling around trying to bowl fast and there I hit our main batter on the head in the nets. And our coach at that time Ortis Jack, he was like, 'You should try fast bowling'. I was like 'Nah! Not my thing and I don’t want it'.
And then we went into a U-19 game against Grenada, I took the ball and started spinning it in my hands which spin bowlers do while getting ready. He suddenly shouted out from the stand. 'You only spin that ball and you'll never play another game'. So then I marked up my run-up and bowled fast and the fastest in that game. And from then on Delron Johnson who was from St Vincent and played for West Indies A as well was like 'You should pick this up and try it out'. And from there on, I started bowling fast and enjoying it. First, it was just the joy of hitting people on the head and getting people to fear you and stuff. But when I started taking wickets I realised how important it is and how much I cherish it. I started loving it for the love of fast bowling. And that brought me here.
Coming from a low-profile place like Spring village, St Vincent where cricket is not as popular as Barbados or Trinidad, was it difficult taking up and pursuing cricket while growing up?
To be honest, the village where I am from has so many talented cricketers but they never got opportunity to reach that level of playing for St Vincent and there are guys who were so good that they even beat national team. Say like 10 guys came to my village and my village team beat them. My father was a top blower at that time.
The guys in my country were from different places. So they said, the guys from the town would make it to the St Vincent team whereas those from the countryside won't. I am from the countryside so they always have that talk going around, according to where you are from, you make it to certain teams. And I guess that trickled in from the village to country to region to international cricket. The more cricket you play, the more you go on, you realise certain people get picked for certain team according to where you are from. Even though that stigma was there I never believed in it.
I know as long as I work hard and put in that effort and I do what I am supposed to do, I am going to get picked because performance is the key. And I try my best to perform in every game that I play. I don't want to be in a position where I want a selector to pick me, I want to be in a position where the selectors say 'Yo, this guy deserves to play, he performed, did well, we are going to pick him'. So, I always try to put my best foot forward and perform no matter which team I am in.
What has been the turning point of your career so far?
The turning point of my career came when Floyd Reifer invited me to come to Barbados, at the University of West Indies. I was very fortunate to study at the university and play for them for a couple of years. Chadwick Walton, Rovman Powell and Carlos Brathwaite, these guys were also there. So, I was fortunate enough to go and play quality club cricket in Barbados. Listen, the level of club cricket there is top-notch, in the Caribbean. So that's where I learnt my trade. I started enhancing my skills, started bowling fast and got more matured and learnt a lot faster. I have always thanked Reifer for the opportunity he has given me to change my cricket around. That was the breaking point.
What's your biggest strength?
When it comes to fast bowling, my biggest strength is T20 cricket. And in T20s I love bowling in the middle and at the back end, that’s what I like. A lot of people will stray away from bowling at the death because of the batsmen going after the bowlers but I cherish that. Because T20 is a batter’s game, everyone wants to see fours and sixes, so if I can come out on the top as a bowler in the back-end, I am going to be the hero. That's why I love it.
What gets you pumped up on the field?
Looking at the runs on the board and seeing that 'You have to bowl a good over here.' And when they give the ball in my hand I know I have to take a wicket.
What all things have helped your development as a fast bowler?
Over the years, I have dealt with so many coaches but what I do is...It's not that everything a coach tells works for you, so I take out the bits and pieces that can help me, put them together and work with it. Over the years what has really helped me as a fast bowler coming into international cricket is basically knowing when to do certain things and be aware of the situation most times and thinking ahead of the batsmen.
You have had a decent start to your West Indies career and have done well consistently in the CPL as well, what has been the key to your success, especially in T20s?
Being aware and knowing when to bowl certain balls. Having played for West Indies, I think I have the most wickets since 2016. I think I have played 25 international T20 games, and have 41 wickets and it feels good to be up there with top blowers like Jasprit Bumrah, Chris Jordan and these guys. I always try to put my best foot out and perform and make sure that when I come off the park, I leave nothing. I give everything, 110 percent (on the ground) all the time and that's why I am getting success. The work that I put in before the CPL and throughout the year to get to this point is a lot.
You show a lot of aggression on the field, did you develop this aggression over the years or it came naturally?
It's a natural thing. I am a hard worker. I am aggressive. I like to have fun as well. A lot of people can see the fun that I have in the field. The thing with me is, the more fun I have, it's better for me when I play. The happier I am, the more you are going to get out of me. Whenever I perform is when I am happy. And whenever I am on the field, I show a lot of aggression according to who I am bowling to. Because there are guys, you show aggression to them and they feed off that aggression. So you have to know who you are playing against, who is a bit timid and who wants the aggression to feed off. So I know the players who I play against and study a lot. I guess that's the reason why I am gaining success in T20 cricket.
You seem to play a lot of mind games as well and like getting into the head of the batsmen?
I play a lot of mind games. For example bowling to certain players, I will walk up to them and tell them, 'Listen, you can't beat me, you can't beat me, you can't beat me', just for them to go after me. I don't mind getting hit for a six because sometimes I get hit for a six because I want to get hit for a six...sometimes...there are times I want to get hit for a six so I will make you feel comfortable like yeah, you can hit me for a six. And then I get you out and just smile because I love it when a plan comes together. I like to play a lot of mind games, I would like to tell them but I wouldn't like to tell people my secrets. It's probably one of my strengths.
You have been known for your celebrations. You did that notebook celebration to Kohli and there was selfie celebrations as well in the BPL. How did you first come up with the idea of these different celebrations? What makes you do these celebrations?
Honestly these celebrations...they come naturally. I don't know, they just come naturally. I remember the first time I did the selfie celebration, I was playing in the BPL, Daren Sammy was my captain. I think I got the wicket of Dwayne Smith, I just ran over and called Sammy like let's take a picture together and did that selfie celebration. Everyone in Bangladesh just went crazy. When I went on the boundary, everyone was like, 'Yo, let's do the selfie celebration'. I was like this thing is going to get big.
After the BPL, people messaged me before the CPL and asked what dance are you going to come up with this year, what the celebration is going to be like. I was like 'Dude, ask me how many wickets I'm going to take'. Because it's not like I sit at home and plan the celebrations. It just comes naturally. Like this year, I raised my leg and gave a kick that's basically a simple way of saying get off. It just comes naturally, whenever I get a wicket something just happens.
You were involved in a fascinating battle with Kohli, tell us in detail about that battle, in all three matches...
In the first game, when Kohli walked in to bat, he walked straight to me and he was like 'Hey, you got me in Jamaica the last time you bowled against me, it's not going to happen here'. I was like this thing happened in 2017, this is 2019, this guy really studied this thing? I was like I can't believe this guy.
So I bowled a ball, someone tucked it on to the leg side and I was running for the ball but he was running for a single and I almost butt on him so I stopped and let him pass, and then he looked at the umpire and was like 'what's going on?', I am like mate, I am sorry I didn't spitefully do it, I didn't try to run into you. And from there he started. He started saying stuff that I really don't want to repeat. He started saying all sorts (of things), I am like 'Yo mate, can you just back (off)'. I was walking back and he was at the non-striker's end and he's like 'This is not going to happen today, I am not going to make you get me out today, never, never you are going to get me out today'. I am like, 'mate, can you just zip your mouth and bat? Just bat, just play the game and please leave me alone'. And he said some stuff.
He finished the game and wrote me up in his notebook, I don't know what notebook he had but he wrote me up in it and got on with his antics. He won the game, fair enough. When we left, Hyderabad for Kerala, I was in the economy class and he was in the business class, he is looking back, watching me and smiling and he's making a gesture. I am like 'Yo, I'm going to dismiss you in the next game like for real'. I said, 'the next game it's going to be me and you'. Because I had him in my mind now. I am like you are not going to beat me again, never in cricket. This is not going to happen again.
In the second game, I was on the fine leg boundary and he's sitting there, just staring at me and was like 'Kesericcccc'. I mean obviously he beat me in the last game so he can do what he wants, he is on top...'Kesriccc' (he went again), I am like I can't wait for this guy to come and bat. A wicket falls and I am like I am really ready for this guy to come in because I want to get this guy out so badly tonight. I am confident enough that I will get him out.
When he came to bat, he didn't say much to me. And I got him out. And I could remember he did a celebration in a Test series where he pinned his lip. And when I dismissed him, the whole crowd went silent and I just told the guys, 'Relax, let's keep it silent and let's just applaud the legend and let him go off. It's fine. He's gone. Let him go'. I just pinned my lip and walked back. No celebrations for him. I don't want to celebrate. Let him go.
The third game now, I am warming up. And the skipper (Pollard) was like, Kohli's really staring me there. And I'll be honest, every ball I bowl, every step I make...He is warming up with his team and his eyes are fixed on me. He came into bat, I think I got Rohit, I did that (welcome) gesture and looked at him and said come. He looked at me and started chirping. I was confident then, I got him out in the last game. The first over went for 14. And the other three balls, I bowled to Rahul and they weren't bad ones. And in my two middle overs before the last over, I got him (Kohli) tied down.
He didn't score a lot of runs off me, it was just singles. And then in the last over, I felt like I haven't bowled much slower balls to him in this game, now I am going to try to get him out again with a couple of balls left of my last over. And he walked into it and flicked me over mid-wicket for a six. He looked at me and was acting like 'Yo, I beat you again.' I am like, dude, I went for 35 for two in the game (It was 1/37) and you hit one six off me and acting big and macho. And then Pollard was like 'Yo, don't give him that energy, leave him alone, go back'. I walked back and was like 'Mate, try and beat me'. I am confident now. At that point when I went for 60 in that first game, he acted all sorts. I don't have anything against him. It's just banter. Because honestly, that guy is one of the best players in world cricket.
So, would you say it's tough to bowl to him?
Tough to bowl to Kohli? No, it's not. When he gets going, he's a talented player. He's a great player but I am not worried about Kohli. I don't go to bed at night and am like 'ohhh it's Kohli'! No.
Looking forward to the Kohli battle again?
Definitely, I am looking forward to it. I know whenever he sees me, he's going to be pumped and be like 'Yo, I am going to beat him'. But mate, at the end of the day, cricket is cricket. It takes one ball to get him out. And I will get that one ball again.
Would you come up with a new celebration if that happens?
You better count on that. I like playing against Kohli, he is a very aggressive guy. And I love playing against aggressive guys because it brings out the best in me. As I said, that guy is a talented player. I know when he sees me again, whenever, if I ever play against India, it's going to bring out the best in him and the best in me.
What's your ultimate goal?
To play as long as possible for West Indies when it comes to T20 cricket. When I was younger, growing up and started fast bowling, I knew that I can bowl a good slower ball and always looked up to (Dwayne) Bravo. He passed 500 T20 wickets, which is a great achievement. I don't know how long it's going to take for someone to reach 500. That guy is a legend, you've to respect that. He's still doing well, playing for West Indies. And it feels good to be playing with him. So the first goal for me as a Vincentian is to create that sort of T20 atmosphere as a T20 bowler in St Vincent. I want to be the first T20 bowler from the country to even reach 200 wickets. And then pass the mark of reaching at least 100 T20 wickets for West Indies. And hopefully, it's going to be the most for a Windward Islands and St Vincentian bowler.
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