30 May 2013
They are the Caribbean slogging masters of the cricketing world – boasting some of the best six-hitting players the game has ever seen.
But the plaudits for one of the great cricket nation’s recent batting success can now be laid at the door of a Welshman.
Toby Radford was snapped up by the West Indies Cricket Board to head up their high performance training centre after the 41-year-old’s work with Middlesex Academy.
Now the Caerphilly-born former professional cricketer is the batting coach and assistant coach of the West Indies national team, working alongside head coach and Windies legend Ottis Gibson to craft a side capable of winning the upcoming ICC Champions Trophy.
And with the squad now in Cardiff preparing for a warm-up match against Australia this Saturday, Radford has spoken of the journey that took him from Caerphilly to the Caribbean.
Radford’s love for the game began when, as a young boy watching television, he became captivated with an innings of bespectacled English batsman David Steele.
Father Brian Radford nurtured his son’s love for the sport, taking Radford to face a hard ball in the park whenever possible.
Hard work paid off when Radford was scouted by Middlesex at the age of 16, with legends of the game tipping him as a hot prospect.
“I’ve always loved being a batsman,” said Radford.
“It’s a battle, with you against the bowler. It’s a test to see whether you have the nerves and the stamina. At the higher level, if you’re really not up to that battle, then you really don’t survive.”
Modelling his batting style on Geoffrey Boycott, another childhood hero, Radford was willing to plant himself at the crease for hours as he worked the field for runs.
“I’m not a Chris Gayle type person – I wouldn’t have lasted in Twenty20,” he said.
Playing alongside the likes of West Indies legend Desmond Haynes while he was at Middlesex, Radford plied his trade at the club, facing giants of the game like South African pace bowler Allan Donald.
He said: “Allan Donald was the quickest white man on the planet at the time. Facing him at Edgbaston – it was pure pace.
“On that particular day I can remember thinking for the first time ever that if he got the ball in a certain place, I wouldn’t have had time to get out of the way. That certainly gets the adrenalin pumping.”
But limited first team appearances during a career at both Middlesex County and Sussex County Cricket Club saw Radford consider a training role while still a player.
He said: “As a player I probably didn’t reach the heights I was expected to reach. I was strong at the county club Middlesex but it was very difficult to cement a place in the side with all the big names around you.”
After gaining his coaching badges he spent the winter close seasons teaching cricket in London schools.
“I had a passion for coaching and really enjoyed it,” he said.
“If you can’t go out and play at Lords, then the next best thing to do is train people who are playing at Lords.
“It felt that going into coaching was a natural thing. It was almost like a hobby. Getting up to work with sportsmen in a game that I love – that gives me great happiness.”
After leaving Sussex there were very few full time professional coaching roles available but Radford took a role as Berkshire cricket development officer in 1998 before launching the Middlesex Academy in 2003.
While in that position he signed a 15-year-old, unproven Steven Finn who has since gone on to become a regular in the England national side’s lineup.
The Welshman’s success as academy director and later head coach at Middlesex caught the eye of the West Indies Cricket Board and he was hired to head up their high performance centre – an attempt to rival the training academies found in England and Australia.
By 2012, Radford – who first played cricket with his father in Caerphilly’s Victoria Park – found himself coaching the sport to the likes of Darren Sammy and Dwayne Bravo in Barbados.
Knowing how to handle a dressing room full of big egos has been one of the main challenges for Radford as he attempts to nurture the potential of youngsters like Kraigg Brathwaite while keeping more seasoned players like Chris Gayle and Bravo happy.
But the Welshman says the dressing room is united and ready for the upcoming one day international cricket tournament.
“I do back myself in terms of technically working with batters. The key is going into an environment with confidence and belief and knowing that you can help,” he added.