25 Year-old Akeem Dodson, one of only two American-born players currently in the US National team; the other being Steven Taylor, was born in Queens, New York, and went to live in Guyana, South America, at the age of 2. Dodson began to hone his cricketing skills from as early as six years, when he attended the Cricket Academy at Malteenoes Cricket Club in Georgetown, Guyana. Dodson continued his training there until he returned to the USA at the age of 12, and settled in Pennsylvania with his dad. With cricket clearly in his veins, Dodson took to perfecting his game indoors, usually knocking over valuables in the home, which often engaged his father’s wrath. He returned to New York in 2002, and after watching a few games, joined up with Rorimer Cricket Club in the Brooklyn League in 2003 were he played for one season, before switching over to the Metropolitan League to join Villagers Cricket Club. This is where he met current USA T20 captain, Orlando Baker, who was then captain of the Villagers cricket team. Baker took Dodson under wings, and nick-named him “Spooky”. (meaning “big bat”). In 2003, Dodson caught the eye of the National selectors, and was selected to play in the Under-19 Americas Qualifier in Canada. In 2006, Dodson travelled to Canada with the senior team, but was did not get an opportunity to play in any of the games. Dodson would get his first break in 2008 when he was selected to represent the USA Senior team in the West Indies Cricket Board cup tournament in Guyana. Dodson’s rise continued as he travelled to England in 2009 to play for Waresley Cricket Club in the Tucker Division- One tournament. Dodson carried his bat for three centuries that season, with a career best of 190. This would be an invaluable exercise for the young Dodson, but he would have to wait another four years for a call-up to the US National team. I sat down with him earlier today for an interview.
OH: Good evening Akeem. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to do this interview.
AD: No problem. It’s always a pleasure to talk with the media.
OH: You were born in Queens, New York. Why cricket for an American born, when there were so many other sports at your disposal ?
AD: Like anything that you truly love, cricket is in my blood. My father love cricket, my mother love cricket, and my grandfather love cricket so it was natural that I took it up for myself and grew into loving it too as well.
OH: You started to play cricket from the time you were about six years old when you went to live in Guyana. Tell me about that?
AD: It was a very enriching experience. I was able to be around individuals who have played cricket at the highest levels, including Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Ramnaresh Sarwan. I also think from seeing them and being around them help me to further gain my love for the game. At that time, Sarwan and Chanderpaul were stars even at a young age. They really taught me a lot about the fundamentals of cricket and everything that goes on around it.
OH: Apart from Sarwan and Chanderpaul, who are some of the other individuals who would have influenced you while you were at the Cricket Academy in Guyana?
AD: There were several other persons, as you know, during that time, cricket in Guyana and throughout the Caribbean was at a very high point, Clive Lloyd was one of the persons who would frequently come to speak at the academy, and also I remember Colin Stuart being part of the program. Also people like Nazem Hafez who is now deceased, but played for the US as well. Kenneth Wong who helped me a lot with keeping, and Steve Messiah, who was also at the academy when I joined at that age. These are all good cricketers, and they were all around me, so I picked up something from each of them.
OH: When you joined the Villagers Cricket Club in New York, how critical was Orlando Baker’s influence in helping you to develop into a better cricketer?
AD: I would say that “Bakes” is the one that first taught me everything. Even though I had cricket down for a few years, I was still rusty and it was just raw talent, and “Bakes” was able to mold that talent into something I could work out and figure out for myself, and build it into something solid. Orlando Baker is the one who is responsible for me becoming a wicketkeeper even more so than Kenneth Wong. “Bakes” is the one who gave me the gloves and said “you keep”, and showed me a lot about keeping as well.
OH: How did it feel when you got the first call to represent the USA in 2004?
AD: Well, that was one of the happiest moments of my life I should say. If I remember clearly, because at that time I was the youngest player ever selected for the USA. For me it was a pleasure to be among all of these good cricketers, and it was an opportunity for me to learn more and progress with my game.
OH: You were selected to play on the USA senior team in the ICC Americas Division One tournament in Canada in 2006. I was the manager on that tour. You didn’t get to play, but, as I recall, you were an integral part of the team in every respect. What lessons did you take away from your first senior tour?
AD: More than just batting and fielding, just by being off the field, I was able to put into perspective how much it takes off the field to help the guys on the field to put out their best performance. I think that was the biggest lesson for me
OH: It has taken about four years for you to get another call-up for the National team. Now that has happened, how do you plan on ensuring that you can secure a permanent place in the team?
AD: Well, my premier objective would be to work on my game of itself. I had the opportunity to go to Malaysia recently to work with coaches Robin and Kenny. From that experience, I was able to improve my game between then and now and I’m really seeing the progress. I’m just trying to go block by block until I get to where I really need to be. Once I can execute the plan that they’ve provided for me, I’m sure that I can become even a much better cricketer.
OH: You have been in Florida with the team for the past two weeks. What is the most important lesson that you have gained from being there and playing in just about every game?
AD: Just coming off these two weeks are still fresh in my mind. What I can say is that the success of going forward depends on how much we can rally and play together. We have the talent and the coaches are working with us, so once we can put in the work on and off the field, we should be ok, but it has to be a collective struggle more than anything else. We all have to come together and take each other forward.
OH: You did an overseas stint with Waresley Cricket Club in England. Tell us about that.
AD: I loved the experience completely. I had the opportunity to go to the UK and play with Waresley for a little while in 2009. They were very welcoming and the coaches there were also very helpful. I was able to play a different kind of cricket, as I tried to find a different part of my game because there is a lot of grass on the wickets, so that was a great experience for me. I was also able to get some runs which is always a good thing. I actually scored three centuries while over there. So, all in all, I would say my cricket really benefitted from the experience.
OH: Since you are American-born, If you were asked to give any advice to an American teen here in the USA who might be interested in playing cricket, what advice would that be?
AD: Whatever game you play, you must play for the love of it. When you play for the love of it, you enjoy it much more, and it makes you a much better winner.
OH: It’s possible that you might be in the team heading to Bermuda next month for the World Cricket League Division Three tournament, if you are included, what would you be looking to accomplish to help get the team to Division Two?
AD: Right now I think my game is about 40 percent; I need to get it up to about 60 percent. So, the only way I can do that is through constant practice and working on the things that the coaches have put forward and everything they have set out for me. Maybe not up to 100 percent, but if I can get it up to 60 or 70, I will be able to make a positive contribution that will push us forward.
OH: Well Akeem, thanks for taking the time to speak with me this evening, and the best of luck with the National team.
AD: Thank you Mr.Hall, and I pray that God will continue to bless my ability that I can continue not only to be a positive role model, but a good ambassador for US cricket.