Just yesterday the second fastest man in the universe, Yohan Blake, lit up a stage in Mumbai, headlining a Twenty20 tournament that is set to be played next year to increase awareness about Road Safety.
Blake had plenty to say, from having a go at Sebastian Coe, the head of the International Association of Athletic Federations, suggesting he was “killing track and field.”
Blake did not stop there, saying that Usain Bolt was “barely training” and “partying a lot” when he hit the home stretch of his career in 2017. The key takeaways from Blake’s entertaining India media performance are here.
Naturally, you don’t speak of the second fastest man alive without spending twice the time on the quickest one around. And with all that conversation around Bolt, my mind went back to Kingston, when India toured the West Indies for a Test series in 2016..
There are some things you just have to do when you visit Kingston. You go to 56, Hope Road and worship at the house that once was home to Bob Marley, and listen to reggae. You go to the Kingston Cricket Club at Sabina Park and gawk in awe at the honours board featuring some of the finest feats in the game’s history. You take a cycle and ride up the Blue Mountains early in the morning before the fierce Jamaican sun has burnt all the mist away. And, of course, you meet Bolt.
Not Usain St. Leo Bolt, obviously, seeing as he was in Rio de Janeiro at the time, preparing for an event that’s likely to last less than 10 seconds. The Bolt to meet in Kingston is Sadiki Bolt, who does things at a more human pace.
Sipping a lemonade and watching the cricket on a hot day is the brother of the world’s fastest man – you cringe as you say that to him and naturally he does a little too, the brouhaha of being identified as someone’s sibling is not something you get used to. There is so much more to being Sadiki than that.
For starters, Usain may be the fastest one in the family, but Sadiki is comfortably the best cricketer. Younger than Usain by eight months – they share a father but were born to different mothers – Sadiki was never one for running. Except between the wickets. A compact right-hand batsman who local cricket experts confirm is both easy on the eye and good enough to play first-class cricket, if he makes the push, Sadiki does not bear striking resemblance to his more famous brother.
Considerably shorter, but still tall at nearly six feet, with ripped arms that give his favourite shot, the cover drive, the desired punch, Sadiki is formal but not unfriendly as we begin to chat in the stands at Sabina Park. On the field, his beloved West Indies are putting in yet another sub-par performance.
As time goes by, and he realises this is not going to be a fishing adventure in which some random journalist is looking for juice on his brother, that he isn’t a pawn being used to sell a story, Sadiki opens up, allows himself to laugh, and is utterly down to earth. A strong Jamaican accent and the tendency to finish most sentences with the rhetorical, you’ll know what I mean or you know what I’m sayin‘ makes him easy to chat with.
“Cricket is a family thing,” says Sadiki. “And it’s a Caribbean thing. Growing up, we had greats like Courtney Walsh, Malcolm Marshall, Brian Lara … We grew up in a time when cricket was the No. 1 sport. So anyone from that generation is for cricket. I grew up in Kingston. I normally went on summer holidays, Easter and Christmas to Trelawny where my brother grew up. In the holidays, we played cricket and football on the streets.
“My father would normally get up and put cricket on the television. That’s where we got our love for cricket, from our father and mother watching it.” Papa Bolt, Wellesley, ran a grocery store in Trelawny, some two-and-a-half hours from Kingston, and this meant that Usain was a country boy while Sadiki was more worldly wise and a city slicker.
Sadiki, who was in the Jamaica Tallawahs camp in 2016, meaning he was one small step from something big, grew disenchanted with cricket when it did not show him the kind of love he’d hoped for. “When I was a youngster and doing well, I never got selected, so I kind of lost interest,” says Sadiki. “I missed two or three years, not playing at all. I was all over the world, travelling with my brother, and I missed a lot of games. When I was doing well, they never gave me a break, but when I gave it up and came back, I felt so much more comfortable.”
Sadiki, who is back on track now, has grown more comfortable with answering the Usain question. “I get this question really a lot you know. It’s a good feeling that he’s my family. I’m very proud of him and what he’s done for Jamaica. I look up to him.”
But, while Sadiki lives in his taller brother’s shadow, the two of them keep it simple. When he wakes up early enough, Sadiki will join Usain in his training sessions. If these are multiple sprinting reps, he’ll do the exact work his brother does, but a touch slower, for obvious reasons.
Loud cheers ring around Sabina Park as the last West Indian pair throw their bats around, making life difficult for India’s bowlers. But the fact that West Indies have batted themselves into a corner is difficult for Sadiki to stomach. “Yeah maan, it hurts. You always want to see your team do well. I think we play too much defensive cricket in Tests now,” says Sadiki. “Too many batsmen were too defensive, playing to survive rather than playing to score. When you do that you end up putting pressure on yourself and you get a good ball and bang, you’re out.
“When I say looking to score, I’m not saying big shots like Lara or Gayle, you know what I mean? A guy like Chanderpaul was not aggressive that way, not attacking-attacking, but he was always looking to score. Getting a single here, a two there, rotating the strike. At the moment, batsmen are playing too defensively, like they’re playing for their lives with a gun to their heads.”
Through the conversation, Sadiki stressed the importance of pride. Jamaican pride, Caribbean pride and African pride. He has this in spades. And when he is asked why this tiny island produces the quickest bowlers, the batsmen who score fastest and the greatest sprinters of all time, he can only laugh. “We’re just strong. We eat good food, dumplings and solid food,” he says, before letting out the first full-throated laugh. “We also have some good habits. Some. We always work harder because nothing in life comes easy in Jamaica.”
Pin him down to specifics, and it’s a little clearer. “You put in hard work, because talent is talent, but at the end of the day it’s about how you condition that talent. You have to do that to be different from the average person,” says Sadiki. “You put in the hard work so that when you get on a cricket field or on the track, it’s easy. Train hard, play easy.”
The world looks at Sadiki as Usain’s brother, and while he is that, and deeply proud of what his sibling has done to make the Jamaica flag universally recognised, Sadiki is his own man. The rest of the world can spend their time doodling him into a caricature that’s convenient. If Usain is the slam dunk of Jamaica, Sadiki is the dribble.
And if I’m ever back in Kingston, I know who I’ll be seeking out. The man with the gun cover drive. You know what I’m sayin?