In December last year, West Indies pacer Kemar Roach was on the sidelines of a practice match between New Zealand A and West Indies A at Nelson. The home team had won by a large margin of 101 runs, but Roach’s attention was elsewhere. He was fascinated by the way 19-year old Jayden Seales was getting the ball to move both ways to make an experienced Tim Siefert uncomfortable. According to commentator and former Windies pacer Ian Bishop, Roach described Seales of having all the abilities of “a future legend of West Indies.”
Seales’ returns of five wickets from three innings in his debut series against South Africa was nothing significant. He could’ve been sent back to play first-class matches, which he has six until now, but Shannon Gabriel’s injury presented a longer leash.
Along with the opportunity came added responsibility. Seales was to be West Indies’ second strike bowler against Pakistan on a minefield green top at Sabina Park. The surface was never going to be a batter’s dream, but bowlers were not the favorites either.
Keeping the ball on the fourth stump and looking for edges was going to be the key and Seales did that consistently over 190 balls in the match. In the first innings, he kept landing the ball in the fuller-length area, making the likes of Abid Ali to wait for the odd ball. He then pulled back his length and fired an in-swinger, forcing the right-hander to take a stride forward and then go backwards which took an outside edge to the keeper. It’s common to see a young fast bowler trying to bowl a wicket-taking delivery every single time. In Seales case though, he seemed to have understood the importance of set-up in Test cricket.
His wicket celebrations were wild, which only followed after long hours of restraint. He tried an occasional short ball early in the innings, but quickly learnt his lesson when Babar Azam pulled it to the boundary. Against the patient duo of Fawad Alam and Faheem Ashraf, he bowled a disciplined line in the good length area and saved his short balls for the flashier Hasan Ali at the end.
In the second innings, he combined with mentor Roach to a devastating effect on the fourth day, but this time he had license to show off. Under scorching heat, there was a reverse-swinging ball that bamboozled Yasir Shah, then an in-swinger that trapped Shaheen Shah Afridi and for the second time, a short ball that got Hasan Ali. Seales had become the youngest West Indies bowler to claim a Test fifer with Roach claiming the catch.
Later in the day, it was trail by fire for young Seales when he walked in at No. 11 with 17 runs to win. Roach was once again by his side. “Just protect the stumps. The biggest threat is the straight ball,” was the advice. Batting against quality pace bowling under immense pressure, he just stuck to his senior’s advice. His 2 runs off 13 balls were as valuable a contribution as his wickets earlier. And Seales punched the air in jubilation just the way he did for his wickets. Among a crop of youngsters populated with limited-overs stars, West Indies may have found a rare gem for the longest format.