Lenny Kirton

CRICKET EDUCATOR: The late Lenny Kirton

One of the sadder things about living in a COVID-19 world is that death gets even more lonely. The dead are none the wiser but the living must mourn almost in isolation.

When Lenny Kirton’s final rites are performed on Friday morning, just five persons will be present because of the new safety regulations and not the scores of people who would have shown up in normal circumstances. Many of those people would have played cricket in their youth; people like West Indies legend Brian Lara and former Trinidad and Tobago cricketer Keno Mason. As teenagers, they were taught about the game by the deceased coach at the Harvard Coaching Clinic.

I say taught, not coached, for Kirton was one of a breed that may no longer exist.

To those who knew him over the many decades he operated at Harvard, Kirton was an educator.

“He just had this drive towards developing people. Cricket was the vehicle,” Ken Franco tells me.

Franco, the man behind much of the success of the Malick Secondary football teams in the 1990s, and himself a Harvard coach of long standing in both cricket and football, was a student himself of the Lenny Kirton way.

I had only passing contact with Coach Lenny in my Clinic days, so I leaned on Coach Ken for this piece.

“He was not only a very good coach, I think he was in some ways way ahead of his time,” Franco says. “He was the first person I saw using a camcorder to analyse players. He did it in Barbados on a tour (1980s). He would sit and tape the person batting or bowling. Years after, I heard the West Indies talking about that.”

Today, video analysts are regular members of international teams but Kirton’s use of such technology said something about his vision, attention to detail and pure passion for the sport.

First and foremost, though, Coach Lenny was a teacher.

How would you teach players about setting a cricket field? Take them out in the middle and put them in position? Probably.

But Coach Lenny went further. Says Coach Franco: “He would get the caps from soft drink bottles and he would go on a table and set fields and ask the person if this happens, what you going to do? He was the first person I saw do that. He made you as a player think about what you want to do. He really exposed youngsters to how to look into the game.”

Coach Lenny was also a man who believed firmly that practice, practice and more practice made for a decent cricketer.

“I remember him on a Friday afternoon, bringing in about six or eight guys after school, and he would just spend time with them, working with them. There was a lot of individual and collective work,” Coach Ken recalls. He adds that this extra work took place in November, the Clinic’s off-season.

It was fascinating to hear some of these Kirton anecdotes, like this one about teaching fellows to play the on-drive, one of cricket’s more difficult shots to master.

“Lenny used to stand up on a chair and drop the ball so the player could on-drive the ball, over and over and over.”

I wonder how many coaches today delve into the unorthodox? With so much technology available today, with so much “structure” in the game, there seems less encouragement to be imaginative. But a coach who thinks outside of the box will more likely produce players who will do the same; players who will think the game and not just react to it.

Lenny Kirton was a man who understood the basics but found creative ways to teach it. I’m not at all sure that coaches, especially at youth level, approach their work similarly. They certainly don’t spend the same amount of time giving players individual attention.

“The love that Lenny put in, the majority of coaches now, it’s a kind of a livelihood. It was about love (for Kirton), it was not about money. I don’t think they spend as much time developing players. They want to win.”

These are different times that make greater demands on people. The numbers of men and women able to volunteer several hours to coach and teach others are few. The likes of Lenny Kirton, Kelvin “Pa” Aleong in cricket and football, and Geoff Chambers in football belong to a different era. But their ground-breaking work in local sport has left its mark.

A limited few would say goodbye to Coach Lenny in person on Friday. But his work lives on through the playing legacies of people like Lara and the careers of professionals in various fields who took his lessons on cricket beyond the boundary.

garth.wattley@trinidadexpress.com

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