By Peter Della Penna (Pictures: ICC/Bryan Vandenburgh)
After Team USA ran off three impressive victories to start their ICC U-19 World Cup Qualifier campaign in Canada last month, the team was in deep trouble early on in their match against Afghanistan. After 17 overs, the score was 90 for 1. The Afghans had gotten off to a flyer and were scoring at better than five runs per over.
Captain Shiva Vashishat was searching for answers and tossed the ball to spinner Muhammad Asad Ghous. On his fifth ball, Ghous served up a meaty full toss to Mohammad Jawed Ahmadi that was destined for the boundary. However, the fielder at long on had other plans.
Suited up in his mostly red and blue USA uniform with white numbers, Regis Burton could have easily been mistaken for Superman as he dashed 30 yards to his right before soaring through the air. With his body fully extended, his hands became talons as he latched onto the ball before landing softly along the ground (see photo below). It was the most memorable catch of the tournament and one that momentarily helped turn the tide in USA’s favor. It’s no surprise then that when asked what he loves to do most on a cricket field, fielding trumps batting and bowling in the eyes of this all-rounder from the New York Region.
“You spend most of the time out in the field, so when you learn to love that, you become a better cricketer,” said Burton.
Burton has had more time than most to learn how to love his cricket. After he was born in the Bronx, Burton’s parents took him and his brother back to their native Antigua when he was only a few months old. He grew up in the tiny village of Lightfoot where initially he enjoyed soccer and tennis before his passion for cricket took over.
“He was always forcing me to come with him to practice, practice in the yard or help him with something,” said Ragi Burton, Regis’ older brother. “He’s very focused and dedicated.” These two characteristics seemingly go with him wherever he is. Former West Indies fast bowler Adam Sanford, who took 30 wickets in 11 Tests, has known Regis for almost eight years and says that Burton’s development can be attributed to hard work.
“The truth is I think he’s developed a long way,” said Sanford. “Basically, he always works hard at what he wants to do and he really loves the game.” Sanford has spent a lot of time with Burton in the gym, both in Antigua and now in New York, to help get him better conditioned while also adding on some lean muscle. “Before he started gym work, he wasn’t as quick as he is now. Since he’s started his gym work, he’s developed a few yards.”
Burton’s hard work has started to get noticed in the last few years. At the end of the three-day Digicel Cricket Coaching Clinic in August 2007 at Falmouth Cricket Ground in St. John’s, Antigua, Burton was given the clinic’s Most Outstanding Batsman award. According to a press release from the WICB, the award was decided by Kenny Benjamin, Keith Arthurton, Lance Gibbs, Chris Gayle and Ravi Rampaul, who all coached the clinic and observed the youngsters during training sessions on the first two days and matches on the final day. In 2008, Burton was named captain of the Antigua U-19 side in the 2008 Sir Garfield Sobers International Schools Cricket Tournament held in July in Barbados.
A month later, Burton finally returned to the Bronx, living with an aunt, to finish his final year of high school at Thurgood Marshall Academy. For most people, it would have been a tough transition in an unfamiliar environment. However, the fact that he was named prom king should erase any doubts as to how well liked Burton is by almost everyone who comes into contact with him.
“He’s a very likable guy,” said Lester Hooper, manager of the New York Region U-19 team. “He’s the type of person, through life you meet those types of people that within five minutes you actually have an affinity for them, he’s that type of person. He’s very soft-spoken, laid back. You can’t help but really like the guy.” Perhaps it has something to do with the person he’s named after. Burton’s mother, Francine, named him Regis because she loved watching one of the most likable guys on daytime television while living in New York, Regis Philbin.
One of the few things that Burton struggled with in his adjustment to life in the USA is something that nearly all people from the Caribbean have a hard time dealing with: winter. His first cold season spent in New York was difficult to say the least.
“That was crazy,” said Burton. “I’m not accustomed to all this clothes and things. Every day you had to put on a jacket. I’m a slippers and t-shirt kind of guy. But then I had to come out of my house in a jacket every day, but it’s something that I have to get accustomed to because it’s a move that I know is for the better for me. But I believe I’ll get accustomed to it.”
Burton got involved in the New York cricket scene in the spring after being put into contact with Ricky Kissoon, the captain of Rising Stars CC in the Eastern American Cricket Association. While he enjoyed the action on the field once he got there, Burton wasn’t expecting he would have to travel quite so far to play cricket.
“Antigua, you can take 40 minutes to drive from one side to the other,” said Burton. In New York, the shortest distance he’s traveled to get to a match is an hour. “You leave your house with the intention that you’re ready to play. But then you get into this car and you’re driving for so long. It drops your spirits. Then you’re sleeping. It’s different, but it’s something that I have to get accustomed to and I am.”
Little frustrations such as this are one of the few things that Hooper believes Burton needs to work on to stay focused.
“Regis is one of those people who has to work on his mental toughness,” said Hooper. “Like I told him earlier on in the year, he’s the type of player who takes on too much. When I say take on I mean, if he gets out, if his team bats first and he gets out, it affects him for the entire game. He completely forgets that there’s a second half of a game left. He has to bowl. He’s capable of going out there and getting wickets but when he gets so upset, he tends to lose a little focus sometimes.”
However, his overall skills honed in Antigua have been a great asset to him and definitely helped him attract the attention of USA’s U-19 selectors in his first year playing for the New York Region U-19 team. It’s one of the reasons why he was named a First-Team All-American and helped Team USA qualify for the U-19 World Cup in New Zealand next January. Burton was also named as one of 40 players on the preliminary list of players up for selection for the USA Men’s National Team when they go to Dubai in February for the 2010 ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier and Nepal for the World Cricket League Division Five tournament.
“His outlook on the game is a bit different from someone who plays cricket in the United States,” said Hooper. “He’s played more cricket. He’s accustomed to various situations. He tends to adapt more. He thinks a bit out of the box, which is something that you find that most cricketers from cricketing nations do a lot. He’s able to assess batsmen a bit more and do the extra things that, you would argue that you would really have to force someone let’s say that grew up playing cricket in the United States to do, it’s a natural instinct for him.”
Burton scored 126 runs at 21.00 in seven matches in Canada this past September, including a high score of 52 against Papua New Guinea. With the ball, he took four wickets and had an impressive 4.12 economy rate, tying up one end while opening the bowling for Team USA. He also enhanced his reputation as one of the best fielders on the team with three catches, including the superlative effort against Afghanistan.
“I think Regis has the ability to go places in cricket, but I’ve told him you’ve got to want it and you’ve got to want it bad,” said Sanford.
Now a freshman at SUNY-Old Westbury in Long Island, Burton hopes to do even better for Team USA in New Zealand. A successful event will help justify all the hard work that he has put in over the years.
“It would mean that whatever you do in life, as long as you work hard for it, that it can happen,” said Burton. “You can’t just say that it happened. It would mean a lot to me as a proof and evidence that hard work and determination does pay off.”