Warwickshire teenager signs first professional contract as Caribbean talent drain continues

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Jacob Bethell’s talents have excited club’s coaches but his contract is part of a concerning trend

Jacob Bethell’s name might not be familiar right now, but his signing for Warwickshire may prove significant for years to come.

Bethell is a talented young player. Aged 17, he has already played county second XI cricket and has been training with England’s Young Lions squad. He has won a player of the week award at the Bunbury Festival, the Sir John Hobbs Memorial Prize (previously winners include Mike Atherton, Mark Ramprakash, Mike Gatting and Dom Sibley) and the Gray-Nicolls Young Cricketer of the Year award.

Now, despite looking so fresh-faced Ollie Pope could be his dad, he has signed a three-year deal with Warwickshire.

It’s always dangerous to speculate on the future of young players, but Warwickshire think they have something special with Bethell. Some suggest he is the best batsman to emerge at the club since Ian Bell and the best spinner since Neil Smith. He could feasibly be playing first-team cricket within the next couple of years.

“Jacob has the potential to achieve a huge amount in his professional career at Warwickshire,” Paul Greetham, the club’s high performance manager, said. “He can bat anywhere in the top order, he presents a very attractive slow left-arm spin option and he is a natural athlete who is excellent in the field.”

But there is a deeper significance here. For Bethell is the latest in line of talented young Caribbean players to choose to pursue their career in England. And, like Chris Jordan and Jofra Archer before him – both of whom have proved huge assets to England cricket and one of whom went a long way to helping win a World Cup for them within months of making his debut – it could well mean that England’s gain is West Indies’ loss.

Bethell was born and raised in Barbados. He attended Harrison College – the same school as Sir Clyde Walcott and Cammie Smith, among others – and was player of the tournament in the West Indies Under-15 competition in 2017. Indeed, he was also ‘most valuable player’, scorer of the most runs and took the award for the highest individual score, which was a century against Jamaica.

By then, he had already caught the eye. His sporting ability helped him win a scholarship to Rugby School where the director of cricket, retired Warwickshire captain Michael Powell, alerted his former club. Bethell joined them at Under-13 level and has progressed smoothly ever since.

It is, in many ways, a success story. Certainly, there is no faulting Warwickshire, who have pulled off a coup in signing such a talent. Nor can there be any reasonable criticism of Rugby School, Barbados Cricket or Bethell and his family. It’s telling that the reaction to the news in Barbados has been overwhelmingly positive: a young man has secured an excellent education and given himself the chance of a sustained and lucrative sporting career. It’s a positive reflection of the mobile, modern society in which we live; he can still return to Barbados whenever he likes. He could yet represent West Indies.

But that doesn’t appear to be the direction of travel. So for anyone with a soft spot for Caribbean cricket – and if you like cricket at all, the chances are you like Caribbean cricket a lot – the nagging doubts remain over whether this sport is really being played on a level playing field, and whether anything can be done to change that.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo