By Sean Devers
More a Surgeon than a Butcher, former Demerara, Guyana and West Indies middle order batsman, 49-year-old Keith Semple was a classical right-hander whose majestic on-driving and impeccably caressed cover drives were eye-catching.
A brilliant 182 for Demerara against Berbice in the GTM Inter-County U-19 tournament earned him a place on the National youth teams in 1988 in Barbados and 1989 at home.
He scored his first fifty in his second match with a fluent 64 against Jamaica at Wanderers in Barbados in 1988 and his only century; 101 against Jamaica at the Everest in the second round in 1989. In 10 Regional U-19 games Semple scored 409 runs at an average of 29.21.
He made his first class debut in 1990 but was guilty of not converting good starts into big scores and averaged 27.51.
Semple scored 2,311 runs from 56 matches between 1990-2001 with two centuries and 17 fifties which was not a true reflection of his talent. His highest first class score was a delightful 142 against Jamaica at Sabina Park in 1994. He has 29 First-Class wickets.
In 50-over cricket Semple made 1,095 runs from 58 matches with 79 being the highest of his eight fifties while in seven ODIs he scored 64 runs with a highest score of 23.
Semple, who bowled medium pace, played in the Lancashire and Northern Premier leagues and represented Darwen Cricket Club, in the United Kingdom until 2008. In 2012 he moved to the British Virgin Islands and played domestic cricket in the Leeward Islands.
With West Indies cricket in decline in the late 1990’s, Semple was one of several players selected more on potential than production.
After successful ‘A’ team series against Bangladesh and India in which he registered a couple of fifties, Semple joined Lance Gibbs, Clive Lloyd, Roy Fredericks and Roger Harper as ODI players from DCC when he made his debut on January 22, 1999 against South Africa in Johannesburg.
This was the first ever tour to South Africa and the ODI squad, managed by Clive Lloyd, included Guyanese Semple, Chanderpaul, Hooper, King and Neil McGarrell.
Clayton Lambert was in the Test squad with lost 5-0, the first time West Indies had ever been ‘White Washed’ in a series.
West Indies also lost the ODI series 6-1 after winning the second ODI by 43 runs when Chanderpaul made 150 opening the batting.
Semple now resides in Ottawa, Canada with his wife Alexis and is employed as a Graphic Designer by Costco Wholesale Ltd.
Semple was born on August, 21, 1970 in Georgetown to the late Winston Semple and Frances ‘Florence’ Semple, but he grew up in No. 28 village, Onverwagt, West Coast Berbice, before moving to the City at eight.
He attended St. Ambrose and New Comenius Primary before going to St. Stanislaus College and spent a couple of years at GTI doing a Diploma in Mechanical Engineering.
“Sports was very important when I was in high school. Saints had cricket, football, basketball, volleyball, hockey, table-tennis and badminton teams when I entered in first form.
Saints produced National cricketers Timur Mohammed, Travis Dowlin, Rohan Sarjoo, Kenneth Wong and Tyrell Tull.
“We learned about all those sports in PE and were encouraged to play them by our PE teacher Mr. Neville Alert who was himself a first division footballer. I played cricket and football but also played a lot of basketball, volleyball and table-tennis in school,” added Semple who said cricket was always a part of his life growing up.
“We would make bats and balls from anything suitable we could find. I still have the scar on my forehead caused by a carnation milk tin after being hit by a beamer. I enjoyed fishing in the many canals and trenches around the village and flying kites around Easter time,” said Semple, who has one brother and two sisters.
Semple became interested in cricket due his father’s love for the game.
“My dad loved the game very much so my brother Winston and I were always encouraged to play from a very early age. Winston was more passionate about the game than I was so was always dragging me down into yard to play with him.
Unfortunately, a nasty accident while running in the yard at home put an end to his career just as he was about to blossom out.
Academics was always important to me but more so my parents. They wanted me to priorities academics over sports and pushed me in that direction.
It was only after I made the Guyana U-19 team and then the senior team shortly after that they eased up and allowed me pursue cricket as a career,” informed Semple whose favourite Sportsmen are Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Roger Federer and Brian Lara.
Semple’s first match was an inter-school match against Cummings Lodge Secondary from East Coast and he eventually joined DCC after being turned down by two other clubs.
“My first attempt at joining a club came when Nigel Duguid (International umpire) who we knew from primary school, took Winston and I to join the famous Watto (Desmond Watkins) Saturday morning cricket Clinic at GCC.
We didn’t have white pants so he told us we couldn’t take part and need to come back when we had full whites. Winston pushed my parents to get the pants but I never did.
My second attempt was made at joining Malteenoes some years later after playing a school match there. I was told that they had enough youngsters and I should come back the same time next year. I never did and ended up joining DCC a year later.”
“At U-19 level I remember moistly our battles against Malteenoes, which were always intense affairs. My most memorable game in U-19 cricket was the 182 I scored in Inter-county against Berbice,” disclosed Semple, whose brother Winston is now the President of Malteenoes.
His most memorable First-Class match was his 142 at Sabina Park in his fourth match since it was the first time he had batted at number three.
When asked who is the fastest bowler he had faced? Semple said there were quite a few but he remembers fast spells of bowling rather than the fastest bowler he had faced.
“Some fastest spells that stand out in my memory are Jacques Kallis in Durban, – SA, Curtly Ambrose in Anguilla and Vasbert Drakes/Otis Gibson in Barbados.”
The stylish right-hander admitted to being surprised at his ODI selection but not disappointed in not playing Test cricket.
“Yes, I was a bit surprised because at the time I thought my time had passed. But I think my selection came as a result of some fairly solid all-round performances on the ‘A’ Tour to Bangladesh and India, which preceded that ODI series.
I don’t think I was consistent enough at first-class level to force my way into the test team. I am more disappointed that I wasn’t able to make the most of my talent and perform better at that level.
It was a great experience to have played in that era with some of the greats of WI Cricket. Initially it was a bit intimidating coming up against players who I grew up idolizing but as I got more comfortable playing at that level I just wanted to compete and show that I was good enough.
Back then we only played one round of first-class matches so if you got off to a bad start then had a game or two rain affected, your season could be over before you knew it.
So it was quite intense and competitive knowing that you only had a small window to make a mark,” explained Semple.
Semple left Guyana in 2002 for England to pursue a Bachelor of Arts degree in Graphic Design after playing his last match in Guyana against Essequibo at Everest in 2001.
“When I completed my degree in 2007 I joined my wife in the British Virgin Islands where we spent 5 years before moving to Canada.
At the time I that realized my playing career was coming to an end around 2001/2002. I had a couple of options available to me. Remain in Guyana and pursue coaching or use the opportunity while I was still playing league cricket in England to go back to school and continue my education.
I chose the latter since my relationship with the Guyana Cricket board at the time was quite shaky and I didn’t see much of a future for me in that environment,” said Semple who came home last Christmas.
“I would say that one of the biggest challenges in my career, and for many other players around that time, was the lack of any real guidance as to what to expect when transitioning from under-19 to first-class cricket.
It was a matter of learning on the job and figuring things out for yourself as you went along. And at that age I was not confident enough to approach senior players for advice.
Most players would tell you that they wish they knew the things they do now at the start of their careers so if we can have more senior players mentoring and guiding young players as they come through, it would make a huge difference. Players would also have to be receptive to advice,” Semple continued.
He is not involved in Canadian cricket but was approached to get involved with Ottawa Cricket now that he is living in the area but said he has not yet decided.
He enjoys travelling, spending time with my wife, Alexis and watching sports.
“I’m a true sports fan and will watch any sport at the elite level. I enjoy playing golf but haven’t played for a while. I’m hoping to get back to playing soon.
Speaking about the Coronavirus Pandemic, Semple said it has been quite challenging.
“Luckily the Canadian government has been doing a great job in controlling the spread so things are not too bad here.
Also, Costco was deemed to be an essential service and has remained open throughout so I was not affected in terms of work.
I was also able to work from home and have only recently returned to working in the office as Canada slowly reopens,” Semple stated.
The former West Indies batsman also gave his views on improvement of Windies Cricket.
“I think the standard of cricket has to be improved at all levels leading up to first-class. The players need to have a burning desire to succeed and be among the best in the world and not just be satisfied with being the best in their territory or in the Caribbean.
If that desire is strong enough they will push themselves and do what’s necessary to succeed because the raw, natural talent is there.
“It requires lots of hard work and dedication to succeed consistently at the highest level. We also need competent coaches, especially at the junior levels, to assist and guide the players in the right direction, while the pitches across the region need to be improved as this will assist the development of both our batters and bowlers.
“The cricket culture and environment in the 80s was much different. The game was more competitive at all levels and the success of our test team that was so dominant at that time, motivated all the young players to want to aspire to reach that level of excellence.
Over the years’ standards have gradually fallen and that fierce competitiveness is not there anymore. There has been a decline in the standard of club cricket from when I started playing to when I left Guyana and I think this is mainly due to migration of players.
Once players no longer feel they can get into the WI or Guyana team most of them, including myself, leave for better economic opportunities abroad.
Unfortunately, this means you have less and less experienced and quality cricketers playing local club cricket hence the declining standards. Even the ones who remain in Guyana are reluctant to keep playing,” said Semple who says he follows Guyana and West Indies cricket closely.
He thanked his father and brother Winston for getting him to play from an early age.
“The person who probably did the most for me was former DCC president Sherlock Atwell who dedicated his time and resources to developing junior cricket at the club.
I am very grateful for all that he did, not only for me but all the other youngsters who came through the club at that time. After I got into the senior team Roger Harper was always willing to lend support and advice during tough periods,” Semple concluded.
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