A new year in USA cricket has brought a new look squad with it. Four players have made their debut on tour in Antigua at the Cricket West Indies Super50 competition. Among them, none carries higher acclaim than former West Indies batsman Xavier Marshall. With an opportunity to return to international cricket in his adopted home, it is also a chance for him to show that he should never have felt like he had to leave his true home.
"I've been playing professionally for a while now," Marshall says. "I have it in the back of my head every time I get a chance that I have to deliver. I've got a point to prove and show a couple of people that I'm supposed to be there playing. They didn't respect that [despite] from Under-15, Under-19, getting most valuable player and getting all those things up to the senior team [in Jamaica]... So I have a point to prove to a lot of people."
After excelling at junior level, Marshall's West Indies career began as an 18-year-old in 2005 when he was picked to go to Australia in the ODI squad to play in the VB Series. Though it should have been an exciting time for him, Marshall says making his debut at such a young age set the wheels in motion for a future rift within the Jamaican cricket set-up.
"I got a lot of fight back home from players who became selectors... I won't name names but I used to play with them. When I first played for West Indies, they dropped them to pick me. When they retired, they became Jamaican selectors and gave me a hard time, so that's why I decided to move on from there.
"I never had a problem with West Indies selectors. It was Jamaica."
Aside from any grievance he may have with Jamaica, Marshall says the biggest turning point in his career also came against Australia, at home during the Test series of 2008. Opening the batting in the fourth innings of the Barbados Test, when the hosts were set 475 to win, he appeared on his way to a century when he attempted to flick a short-of-a-length ball on leg stump from left-arm wristspinner Beau Casson behind square. But the extra bounce resulted in an edge off the thigh guard and a sensational diving catch at forward short leg by Phil Jaques accounted for Casson's maiden Test wicket.
"I made two half-centuries in two Tests," Marshall says. "I think if I go on to score 100 when I made the 85, I think that would have made a big difference because hundreds count."
Instead, he lasted just one more year in the side, playing his final match the following June in the World T20 in England. Things continued to go south from there.
"My last tour was in Guyana. The same tournament, 50 overs [in 2013]. I heard if I failed, I'm going to get dropped. They said, 'Yo X, if you don't make a hundred or big fifty they gonna drop you.' So that was it." Back-to-back ducks against Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago sealed his fate.
A year later, he moved initially to Atlanta and was playing league cricket there before heading north to New York in 2015. It's where he met his wife, a fellow Jamaican immigrant, and decided to stay. He continued playing on Saturdays for Somerset Cavaliers in New Jersey's Millenium Cricket League and on Sundays in New York for Villagers CC, the same club that is home to his cousin, former USA batsman Rashard Marshall. Their fathers are brothers and the two cousins grew up together in the Jamaican parish of St Ann's, eventually both playing cricket at York Castle high school before Rashard migrated to New York in the mid 2000s while Xavier was with West Indies.
After settling in New York, Xavier Marshall says he initially just wanted to keep playing cricket to prove to himself that he could continue performing. After strong seasons in New York, playing for USA down the road entered in the back of his mind. It became a stronger target for him after USA selection chairman Ricardo Powell, another Jamaican who played for West Indies before heading stateside, reached out in 2016 to gauge his interest and eligibility. Once Marshall got the green light over the winter, having met the ICC residency requirement, he was fast-tracked in.
That his debut tour is back where his career began in the West Indies is fitting. He's relished the opportunity so far, top-scoring in each of USA's first two matches with 40 against Leeward Islands and 51 against Guyana. Up next in USA's third match is Jamaica. While Marshall is eager to give a reminder of those in the Jamaican administration what they're missing, he also has other objectives, including catching the eye of CPL scouts. He's also mindful though that he wouldn't have such opportunities if it wasn't for the faith the USA administration has placed in him.
"I represent the USA with pride. It means a lot to me. It's the US, man. It might not be big in cricket but it's a great country," Marshall says. "The main goal to is to get a couple hundreds and get into the CPL. That's the main goal, to get into the CPL and take it from there, step by step. This is a great opportunity for the world to see me again. I might be playing for the US but it's the same Caribbean league. It's a great opportunity for me playing back in the West Indies again in a first-class competition."