Overcast conditions, a compact sand-based pitch, an expansive outfield that would require some splashes by fielders, dogs having a scratch and barking, parents bustling in the home caretaking while children indulge in a cricket match on the beach is an afternoon’s delight in Saxacalli.
One of those youngsters screaming “my turn” was the energetic Keemo Mandela Angus Paul, who was drafted by Delhi Capitals for the 2019 edition of the Indian Premier League.
The purse of US$69,000 (approx. G$14,490,000) is quite nominal to what his fellow countrymen are poised to cash out, but who would have believed 20 years ago, a star, a millionaire, a possible icon was born on the island.
Defying the odds
The island is originally an Arawak community located on the left bank of the Essequibo River some 25 miles from Parika. It has a deep Christian grounding, the focus is on agriculture and there is minimal space for any constructive cricket match.
So instead of running laps in the park, lengthy swims were done in the river; instead of swinging bats to bill speed, rods were cast for fishes; instead of pelting balls, stones were used to pluck the mango from the tree.
But even against the odds, there was still something special about Keemo and, according to his father David Paul, for him and wife Rita Paul, Keemo was their “baby and still is their baby”. He is the youngest of their four children, David Jr, Candy and Keon being the others.
David, a city man, who followed his heart for the love of wife Rita to the island, said there was always something uniquely different about Keemo.
After sitting the country’s National Grade Six Assessment at age 11, Keemo attended the Essequibo Islands Secondary School, where he was an instant hit.
He mastered everything from wicket-keeping, fielding, batting, bowling spin and pace, and not surprisingly he made the National Under-15 and from since then reverse gear went out the window, given rise to his rapid progression through the ranks.
While he reaped success on field, his family played the chess moves to ensure he can focus on cricket and education. From Saxacalli they moved to another Island, Wakanaam, where a life-changing relationship with the Sheriffudeens occurred.
It is through that connection long-time friend Siddiq Mohamed gave him the name ‘Blush’ (You really need to see nerves before a picture is taken!)
The benevolent Sheriffudeen family was another who spotted the cricket-crazed youngster and supported in every possible way through their company V-Net Communications.
Rattling through age group cricket, it was now time for the test of senior cricket, despite still being under-19.
Family again stepped up and made a move to Cornelia Ida, a village on the West Coast Demerara, so he can attend regular training in Georgetown with less hassle.
He quickly repaid and earned a spot as Vice-captain of Windies Under-19 team at the Youth World Cup, where he hit the winning run and brought a title which previously never touched the Caribbean territory.
After a superb 2017-18 season with bat and ball for Guyana Jaguars, Windies senior team came calling at the World Cup Qualifiers in Zimbabwe. Coincidence?
Two years after winning a Youth World Cup, he was now helping the senior team qualify for another and they did just that.
Performances in international cricket and the Caribbean Premier League have not rocked the headlines, but he gets the job done and of recent has grown to be an integral member of the Windies’ limited overs team, especially with regards to ‘death bowling’ and pinch-hitting.
The Dehli stakes
With such attributes, IPL side Delhi can count themselves as securing a bargain, who has the ingredients to produce match- winning performances.
More so, comfort should not be much of an issue since Delhi teammate Sherfane Rutherford and Royal Challengers Bangalore Shimron Hetmyer are all countrymen who progressed through the ranks together from Under-15 cricket.
The money bags are now out and the new found fortunes will make big difference in his family’s life, according to father David.
“Keemo has been achieving so much that concerning finances that you do not look at the money, you look at the achievement. He is just 20 and we focus on the performance. He came from a small community and it was tough from the beginning so it [the money] will make a big difference.”
He added, “It was emotional seeing the auction as several top players went unsold. But he has achieved so much in one year. I expected this but still had to wait until the right time comes.”
Apart from developing his skills, attention has to turn to managing funds, something his father is confident his son can do well once he remains humble and committed to Windies cricket.
His advice was: “Keep playing cricket at the highest level; franchise cricket is just a part of cricket. For me, I prefer to know you play for West Indies, you cement your place in the West Indies team and you would end up playing franchise cricket all over the world.”
David breathes confidence his son will not be consumed by the impending fame, given his sound grounding, his graciousness to family and his humble persona.
Time will tell, but the odds are stacked in the favour of Keemo producing the goods and remaining an asset to the ailing Windies cricket.
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