On Tuesday September 24, 2019, when the rain that had been threatening Kingston, Jamaica finally made good on those warnings, teaming up with strikes from both the drivers of the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) and taxi drivers, it was a task in and of itself to make my 4 o’clock appointment with West Indies Women’s cricketer—Chinelle Henry. Still, I would see the inside of Sabina Park in good time. Though, we struggled to find a spot where the noisy dance moves of the falling waters wouldn’t affect the recording of our conversation for later use, as it would turn out, talking cricket did not give much thought to aesthetics—leaning against a dusty piece of wood in the halls of the famous Sabina Park sufficed. As for the well-spoken and pleasant Miss Henry–oh, she needed no invitation in directing the traffic of her journey—what I would deem an inspiration to aspiring young female cricketers—thus far.
How’d you start out in cricket?
I started off where my dad would bring me to cricket with him, ever since I was small.
He’d bring you to Sabina?
Nah, all over, where he was playing (even though my dad still plays—but just for fun—especially in Masters Leagues and stuff). Then, in primary school, I started playing with the boys. First, it was football and then I saw cricket and I wanted to try, and my coach actually said that I was pretty good at it. So, I continued. And then I just dropped football [and just] started playing cricket.
I went to Ocho Rios High School, but there wasn’t much cricket there, it was all about football or tracks (track & field). That’s how I ended up back in football, because there wasn’t much cricket to play. Then my coach, well my national coach up to today, he is the coach at York Castle High school (Cleon Smith)—he had me transfer to York Castle High where I could get involved in cricket and stuff. Because, while at Ocho Rios High school, I was playing a thing called ‘Mini League’, where it was just for boys. But, because he knew that I could play, he invited me.
At what age did you make the switch from Ocho Rios High to York Castle High?
I went to York Castle at about 14 [years of age]. And I started playing High School cricket—everything with the boys. I mean, the boys were coming pretty hard at you; not because, you know, you’re a girl.
When you said you were ‘pretty good’ in primary school…
Well, it wasn’t hard-ball in primary school. It was kind of [a] plastic ball.
But, I wanted to know which you preferred at the time; batting or bowling?
Even up to now I’m still an all-rounder, [but] batting. To be honest, bowling helps so much with my game. Doing both, I’m at an advantage [to help get into the team].
Back to playing with the boys.
I went to York Castle High School, started playing with the boys, Grace Shield, Headley Cup, everything and then after that now it was all about St. Ann. They developed a St. Ann league and then, you know, there aren’t many female cricketers, especially in St. Ann where I’m from to play with and stuff.
Was this league gender-specific?
Well, I guess it started a while back where girls were just literally not interested in playing cricket.
Did you encounter any raised eyebrows or anyone looking down their nose at you as a girl playing cricket and playing with the boys?
Yes, they’re like ‘yea, she’s a girl’. Especially as I was saying in the Mini League—I was the only girl playing in Mini League, you know, and people were like ‘[but] she’s a girl’ and whatever. As I said, the boys always coming at me hard. So, that’s how I started to grow tough. Then I started playing for St. Ann and then that was where, you know, everything started off for me, really.
Yes, because you made your international debut at the age of 17. But what was that like when you got the message? Did you know the West Indies were looking at you?
To be honest, no. I just started playing for Jamaica at age 13. I think I made the senior team before I made the under-19 team. ‘Cause, as I said, there’s not enough young girls in Jamaica to play cricket. But, that year, we founded the under-19 team [and] we won. I started playing for the senior team in 2008, the under-19 team came a year after in 2009. And then after 2009, the Under-19 Programme just went dead again. Nothing after that. This year April was the first since I played under-19 in 2009 that Jamaica actually had an under-19 team. I think I was in Grenada the year I got called for the West Indies. You know, I had a really good tournament in Grenada for Jamaica. But at that time, I wasn’t really bowling because, then, I had picked up a back problem.
The doctors said that I needed to lay off bowling for a while. So, it was just basically me, the bat and fielding. I got a lot of scores. It was 2013, I could remember, and then the selectors told me that I’m up for selection for the West Indies T20 squad, really. And I played [for the West Indies] that year, made my debut in Barbados against England.
But then you were away for three years from T20Is and five years from ODIs?
Yea, I was out of cricket for a while.
Why was this?
I think it was based on performances, really. Yea, because at the West Indies level you must keep performing at a level to be in the side. Especially as young players.
But how many games did you play (before being dropped)? You played like two T20Is.
Yes, (laughs) that’s how it is sometimes in West Indies cricket. To be honest, I just kept going, kept trying. It was a point where I was like ‘I’m still young’.
Yes, because I was going to ask how that was for you, being out for so long.
It didn’t seem like forever, as I said, based on the fact that I was so young at the time. So, I mean, getting back into the West Indies team now, I’m [still just] 24. My biggest, or my main focus right now is—because, I see this as my career—is just to stay in West Indies cricket. Especially, [because] where I’m from, as I said, in Ocho Rios, I’m the only female in that area that plays cricket at the highest level.
Then how do you go about getting the facilities to practice?
Down there (in Ochi), there’s no way to facilitate training. So, if I need to get work in, I have to drive to Kingston, probably camp out in Sabina Park, just to get some work in. A fitness trainer is here (at Sabina). We’d call him up and ask when he’d be here, even if he’s not going to be here, he’d still come in just to help us out. So, you know, we just make arrangements with the Jamaica Cricket Association (JCA) and they’ll allow for us to stay here (Sabina) for as long as we want. So that’s basically how I get by, really.
The T20 World Cup last year, that was when you got back into the fold?
Yeah, I got invited to the camps a couple times before getting back into the squad itself. And, as I said, it was basically just hard work for me.
And when you were actually named in the World Cup squad?
Well, to be honest, it was kind of surprising because there was a tour before the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup in the Caribbean, where South Africa came and I wasn’t part of that squad. So, when I got called for the World Cup it was kind of surprising. But it was good news at the same time and then I just tell myself that– I can remember saying to my friend that if I’m going to be out of West Indies cricket after this, it’s my fault.
Describe the feeling of playing in a World Cup at home.
I mean, to be honest, the home support was awesome. Female cricket? I never expected to see so many turn out in the Caribbean and stuff. It was great and I just think that the girls, the team, literally took that as an inspiration to make it memorable for the supporters.
And in the just-concluded series (against Australia), you guys were missing several key players, but you were swept… twice. What do you take from a series like that?
Well, to be honest, coming from an England series where we lost and then coming to play the best team in the world—which is Australia, of course—we all know that it was going to take some fight. As you said, without our most senior players in the squad due to injuries. But I think the young ones will learn and I think most of them came to the party. It’s just that, at the end, as a team, or let’s just say as individuals; I’m sure players are looking at where they think they could have done even a little bit better. And that would have helped the team. But I just think that it’s a learning process and the 2020 ICC Women’s T20 World Cup next year, which we are going to Australia, it’s going to be hard. And I mean, Australia are the defending champions so that’s where our main focus is right now. [Along with] the India series coming up, in November.
But how was it for you being handed the new-ball in the absence of Shakera Selman? Was it huge considering you had just come back into the team?
It was huge and knowing that I had just started bowling for West Indies. I think my first time bowling for West Indies was in the World Cup and to hear that our senior bowler up front was injured and I was the next option to open with the new-ball; I think I wasn’t as nervous as I thought that I would have been, based on the fact that, for Jamaica, I’m the one who opens with the new-ball. So, even though I don’t have the experience at international level, I still have some experience on how to bowl the new-ball so, it wasn’t so bad.
Would you want to bat higher for the West Indies? Do you want more responsibility with the bat?
And because knowing one’s role and accepting same is such an underrated aspect in a team sport, Chinelle’s answer to this question is my favourtie part of our conversation. With more volume and a bit more clarity, she states:
At this moment, my role in West Indies cricket as a batter [a finisher], it suits me because that’s the type of cricket I like to play—being aggressive. And yes, sometimes your role might change, or you’re asked to do something different—and I think I showed that in the Australia series, you know, you have to be more patient and stuff—but to be honest, my role as a finisher, I’m pretty happy with that.
What about the injury you picked up in the T20 series?
Well, I picked up… I never thought that it was an injury. It started in regionals. And I thought that I was just feeling a little niggle [in my left knee]. I thought it was a normal thing, so I just kept going, kept going, kept going and I realized that it wasn’t getting better. The more I kept going, the worse it got. And when I got to the West Indies camp, I had a talk with the physiotherapist to let her know what’s going on and stuff. We did some work, had some rehab done and it was getting better, and then in the second T20I (against Australia); I guess I just lost a footing and everything kind of went. (But) I don’t think it’s a big problem.
You’ll be back for India’s visit to the Caribbean?
Yeah, definitely. Right now, I’m working on some strength, still doing rehab and stuff.
Basically, I know what to do, but I got in contact with the physio—Marita Marshall. She’s been helping a lot and with her help, the knee, literally got better, but I thought I would have been out of the series based on how the knee was acting. But then they ensured that it wasn’t something as serious to be out for a long time—I managed my workload and stuff, so I will be back for India. It’s just that I just have to continue working.
Does the lack of support for women’s cricket affect a professional such as yourself, any at all?
Us, as female cricketers in the Caribbean, understand the fact that, right now, we won’t get the support that we need like men’s cricket. [Like] even CPL or any men’s game. But there are a few who follow women’s cricket, that come out to support us. But I just think that the development for [women’s] cricket needs to get better, especially at the regional level.
What would you suggest?
I think that it has more to do with the cricket boards in each region, in finding or putting interest in female cricket. For each territory to make sure that the young players see that it’s okay to be a girl and play cricket.
You used the phrase ‘it’s okay’, is there something you encountered why you’d say that?
There was this thing where my teammate Rashada Williams, it was the Headley Cup or Grace Shield, where she even played with the boys. And I can remember, I think she hit one of the guys for four, but you know guys—they are bowling to females and you hit them for four, it’s a big deal. And then, he, in return, bowled a bumper, and almost literally injured the girl. If it was a girl bowling bumpers at Rashada, it would have been so much easier, ’cause we’re not as fast as the men. If I had a little niece or somebody that was watching that game, then that would have changed her mind from playing cricket.
In what I now describe as ‘true Chinelle fashion’, she makes a statement that is as profound as any you’ll come across with respect to female cricket in the West Indies:
Cricket in the Caribbean, for females, on the whole, is going to take some time, but I think it’s a work in progress. And it’s good to see Kiddy Cricket coming out and the little girls are involved it. It’s going to take a while, but eventually, it will get there.
As a cricketer who prefers batting, you’ll be amazed at what she is able to do with the ball. There is much to admire about young Chinelle Henry, and if fit, you’ll see just why when India’s tour of the Caribbean begins in early November.
MostlyCricket thanks the all-rounder for being kind enough to chat with us. All the best, Chinelle!