Aged just 20, Jayden Seales is a fast bowler on fast forward: he made his Test debut before he had played a competitive first-class match, he is the youngest West Indian to take a five-wicket Test haul and he already takes the new ball ahead of his seniors.
Given the rich history of pace bowling in the Caribbean, Seales is up against an extremely high bar, but England should take note of a cricketer who received his debut cap from Sir Curtly Ambrose and was still a teenager when he claimed five for 55 in the second innings, eight wickets in all and the player-of-the-match award in his third appearance, a victory over Pakistan six months ago.
‘When I was first told I was going to be playing, I felt ready. I was performing to the standard that I believed was up to international cricket,’ says Seales, recalling the exchange with Ambrose in St Lucia ahead of the first match of the South Africa series last June.
Jayden Seales (above) is a hot prospect who broke into the West Indies team last year
‘It was a special moment because he was my bowling role model, someone I’d looked up to when I was younger. I’d watched him and Courtney Walsh bowl in old games from West Indies glory days. He told me that I wasn’t doing it just for the region or my family but also the supporters abroad and that I should make the most of the opportunity.’
Seales certainly did. A few weeks later, at Sabina Park last August, he broke Alf Valentine’s five-for record that had stood for 71 years. The secret to feeling comfortable bowling to top-level batters, he says, was preparation. He had spent the early part of 2021 getting his head round graduating from West Indies’ Under 19s.
West Indies coach Phil Simmons is a big fan and promoted his case despite Seales having just one first-class outing for West Indies A behind him. Weeks before his eventual debut, Seales had been placed on standby for Shannon Gabriel when a hamstring injury threatened his Trinidad & Tobago team-mate’s participation in the second Test versus Sri Lanka.
‘I was actually very nervous at that time because I didn’t believe I was ready whereas, when I did play, I was confident and comfortable. In between, I was realistic with myself knowing that my time could come very soon. I went back home and trained to a level that would help me get to grips with playing Test cricket and handling the pressure.’
Four Tests and 16 wickets in, at an impressive average of 21.31, he is likely to open the bowling with Kemar Roach against England in Antigua in nine days, with Gabriel injured again and Jason Holder relegated to first-change status.
Seales looks set to open the bowling with Kemar Roach (above) against England next month
Seales has an eye on Joe Root (left) and Ben Stokes (right) ahead of the upcoming Test series
Like fellow Trinidadian Ian Bishop before him, Seales bowls booming out-swingers at between 85-88mph, and does so with great control, a skill he hopes can exploit a habitual weakness of England captain Joe Root — playing at deliveries he need not.
‘Do my plans to him involve that channel outside off stump? Yeah, of course. I’ll keep looking to swing the ball away, then bring one back,’ said Seales. ‘I’ve been watching Ben Stokes and Joe Root since the previous Ashes in Australia and, if I am given the chance to bowl against these guys, it will just be a matter of me remembering what I saw on the TV, working with my plans, bowling to their weaknesses and trying to force them out.’
Two absentees Seales would have liked to face, as England attempt to win in the Caribbean for only a second time in 54 years, are axed attack spearheads Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad. He may do so in county cricket later this summer if he can earn a deal via performances over the three-Test series.
‘I always want to play against the best players in the world and so I’d have loved them to be a part of this. Anything I can learn from those who were playing before I even talked about the game, I’ll try to take on board,’ he said.
Incorporating changes in his own game through guidance from a member of the fast bowlers’ union is exactly what happened last year when he got chatting to South Africa’s Kagiso Rabada, who possesses a similar action.
Seales has spoken to Kagiso Rabada (above) about developing his skillset as a bowler
‘When South Africa bowled on the pitch, they made it look completely different to when we bowled on it and Rabada in particular hit it so hard,’ said Seales. ‘That’s something I struggled with during that match because, when I got tired, I tended to just let the ball go instead of hitting the deck. I’ve been working on it and my fitness has improved.’
That has taken place in the gym to make his body more explosive. ‘It’s easy to fall into a trap of trying to bowl faster when you’re young, but I don’t want to do that without the focus being on my control,’ he said.
He is already talking like a pro and very soon England will discover what all the fuss is about.