Keeping his sniper-gun aside, Dunstan Devlin is prowling the stairs that take you to the West Indies dressing room. He’s restless and, by his own admission, angry. Not just that the hosts are reeling, but he feels his close friend, Sheldon Cottrell, would have made a massive difference. “Did you see the way we bowled? Wouldn’t Sheldon been better? It’s his home ground and he’s not playing. It’s a tragedy,” he fumes.
Devlin and Cottrell go back a long way. The left-arm seamer was his immediate senior when he joined the Jamaica Defence Force. “I was nervous, and he says come on, we gonna rock. I was just 23 and I hadn’t played any competitive cricket. Now I’m a regular for the club, and the reason is Cottrell.”
Cottrell is the man who salutes after taking wickets and the man who blew England in the ODIs earlier this year. The Defence Camp is just a few kilometres from the stadium, guarded of course, but not as heavily as it’s in India. There’s no ‘trespassers will be shot’ signages or barbed wires, the walls don’t touch the sky, you can see the quarters from outside, though you can’t just walk in or take photographs.
Deep inside the camp is a ground, where Devlin, Cottrell and others play cricket. “Don’t tell him, but he hardly comes for practice. He just turns up for the match and starts bowling. He’s just incredibly talented. But he will always be there watching us, helping us out. He’s a good soccer player too. A defender you can’t beat,” Devlin says.
His colleague Floyd Junior agrees. “He’s like a bull. Very strong. Have you seen him taking push-ups? He takes them for fun, 100, 200, 300… He always wins the push-up competition, and of course not a bad sprinter too,” he says.
Cottrell’s cricket was plunging to obscurity when he joined the force a decade ago. “But one day he was watching our senior team practise, and one of the players asked him if he were interested. He jumped in and started knocking the hell out of him. That’s the reason they don’t him bowl in the nets. They’re scared,” says Junior.
With Cottrell amidst them, JDF, as their acronym goes, emerged as a force to be reckoned with, culminating in their league triumph in 2017. “He took some 40 wickets in eight or nine games. As he was also playing for Jamaica, he didn’t have much time. But he ensured that whenever he was free, he would come and play with us. We won the league after some 30 years,” Junior says.
There are several versions of how he started his salute routine. “There was a time when he was depressed that he was not getting into the Jamaica team. Then one day he got the call from the selector, and we sought a party. It was during the party that he told us about his plans to salute after getting wickets. For he says he wouldn’t have got anywhere in cricket but for the JDF,” remembers Junior.
Devlin has another version: “There was a tough superior who used to ask him to salute every time he saw him. So during one of the net sessions, he clean-bowled him and then saluted him. I have heard he never played cricket again.”
There are other stories of his bravado too—like nabbing a bunch of gangsters in Downtown Kingston, a task the police couldn’t accomplish, saving lives during hurricanes. “He’s a very serious guy when it comes to his work, doesn’t make any excuse for drills and still does any job he’s asked to.”
Floyd and Cottrell have been on stadium duties several times, guarding the dressing room. This time, though, he was expecting him to spot his friend inside the dressing room. “It’s unfair,” quips Devlin.
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