Some situations make or break people.
Emmanuel Stewart, the Windies Under-19 captain, was faced with two such situations on Wednesday (January 17) in their World Cup game against South Africa Under-19 in Tauranga.
The first one was somewhat self-induced, when Jiveshan Pillay, rather harmlessly, picked up the stationary ball from near his stumps and lobbed it to Stewart, also the wicketkeeper.
Somehow, Stewart had the alacrity to appeal for obstruction, and eventually got the decision in his favour. In the process, he also opened himself up for criticism and sharp knives, although he wasn’t breaking any rule.
Before judgments are passed though, it’s worth trying to understand the situation from Stewart’s perspective. He was just an 18-year-old in a pressure situation doing what he could to help his side – defending champions no less – avoid early elimination, having taken a long journey to Windies’ captaincy from one of the region’s smallest islands with no cricket history.
Last week, people and ‘fans’ in his village set up a big screen to watch him lead Windies against New Zealand Under-19. His family wore Windies jerseys with ‘17’ – his shirt number – on their backs while dropping him at the airport ahead of the tournament.
A few years ago, a school cricket tournament was named after him to recognise his rise in the region.
That is how much Stewart’s rise means to Carriacou. One of the sister isles of Grenada, Carriacou, with a total population of around 8000, was hardly on the cricket map before Stewart became the first to represent – let alone lead – Windies at any level.
“There’s some transportation issues logistically just to get to Grenada, so normally you won’t see players from Carriacou,” Dwain Gill, the Grenada Cricket Association president, tells Wisden India. “I first saw him in what was a new West Indies cricket grassroots programme. He stood out. As a keeper, he was commanding. He was one guy that made you say ‘where did this guy learn this from?’
“He played in those grassroots matches for Carriacou and excelled more than the guys in Grenada itself. From there, he got into the Grenada Under-15 team as captain, so he would have been the first person from Carriacou to captain any national team.”
Stewart gradually rose through the ranks and went on to lead Windward Islands – a combined team from Grenada, St Lucia, Dominica and St Vincent – in age-group events against bigger teams like Barbados and Trinidad. Consistent performances saw him graduate to the Windies Under-19 team for the World Cup in 2016 at just 16, and two years later, he returned for another World Cup, this time as captain.
“A new structure in West Indies cricket made us discover him but some would say we didn’t really discover him, because he was always in Carriacou playing,” says Gill. “It’s just that it was brought to our attention that there was such talent in there.”
Stewart had to do it all, while dealing with certain difficulties back home. Youngest and the only boy in the family, he lost his father when he was just five, and also lost one of his four sisters at an early age.
“Nothing really came easy for me personally,” says Stewart. “I had to go through certain experiences to get to what I really want. Those are two motivations in my life and I just wanted to do it for them. Those situations that happened early on in my life – that’s what’s made me the person I am today and I really want to thank my mom for that. My mother is always there for me. She would always instil in me that you must work for what you need and want.”
Interestingly, Stewart’s relationship with his family extended into his cricket as well. Two of Stewart’s sisters are a part of the Carriacou Cricket Board, and his mother has been a regular in every game he has played.
“I think everyone in West Indies cricket, certainly Grenada cricket, knows his mother now,” jokes Gill. “She always calls to ensure everything is in order, in place for him. His sisters and his mother in particular, they’re his biggest fans. They go to the ground every time he’s playing.”
“Everybody talks cricket at home. Even when I’m on tour, we have a family group on WhatsApp and we keep chatting cricket,” chips in Stewart. “They normally come to see my cricket most of the times back home. I’m sure one day, when I get past this level and make it to the senior team, they will be present.”
The confidence in Stewart’s words is striking, and in line with his personality. The situations he faced as a kid – much tougher than the ones he faces on a cricket field – have made him strongly ambitious, not just for the self, but also for a wider cause. The ‘two motivations’ that he talks about and the cricket-crazy family have also made him almost obsessed with the game.
“I’ve been like that since I started. I follow games, I follow scores of all the matches. It’s just a habit and I feel I can get better as a player and understand the game better by doing that,” he says. “Representing West Indies has always been my goal. Even now, the way we’re performing at the senior team is not the level where we would have liked to be performing at. Our generation has to switch that around and get West Indies cricket back to where it was before, and I think that would bring joy to the Caribbean people. That’s one of my motivations: Make the fans at home happy. We have standards to keep and levels that we want to reach as a team and nation, and we’re going to continue working towards that until we achieve it. We won’t give up.”
The way Stewart reacted to the first situation is open to debate, depending on which side of the ‘spirit of cricket’ v ‘rules of cricket’ argument you’re on.
But irrespective of that, Stewart redeemed himself soon when the next situation arrived. Soon after the loss that sent his team’s World Cup dreams crashing, Stewart picked himself up to confess that his appeal “wasn’t really in the spirit of the game”.
“Moving forward, if I’m in such a situation, I’d withdraw the decision to go upstairs,” he added.
One hopes it’s this mature reaction to a tough situation that Stewart will be judged on and remembered by and not the moment where he took a call he went on to repent later.