A man for all seasons
Few would argue that when it comes to sport, whether it be prowling the attacking third in the autumn and winter as an opportunistic, goalscoring maestro or roaming the island’s cricket pitches as a veritable three-point stud during the spring and summer months, Dion Stovell has proved himself a special talent, geared for all seasons.
In football, Stovell’s best days are behind him, as advanced age and a few extra pounds have diminished a key element required of strikers, that being pace. But such is the circle of life for a sportsman.
However, when it comes to cricket, where raw speed and athleticism are of lesser demand, the 37-year-old Southampton Rangers and Somerset Cup Match star continues to shine brightest among the local constellation.
After many years in the spotlight, Stovell’s incandescent glow refuses to dim or fade, despite the emergence of many of more youthful existence who would want to cast him into the shadows.
The 2022 cricket season has provided another platform for the Rangers vice-captain to expose his wares and remind all who might have forgotten just who he is and what he does so much better than most.
By necessity, Stovell, normally a middle-order batter, converted to opening the innings at his club after an early-season loss to Bailey’s Bay, which dramatically exposed an untenable frailty at the top of the order. To regard his experiment as a success would be to dramatically understate the value this tactical adjustment has since wrought.
Being able to “pencil in” a half-century for an opener each week is a godsend for any team — for Stovell, such can be written in permanent ink, as evidenced by him averaging 50 for the season.
While yet to score a century this year, with top scores of 96 and 72, his aggression, pace of play, ability to see off the new ball and fear-inspiring, psychological effect towards opponents should serve to the benefit of later batsmen — even as Rangers have more often than not failed to seize on these nuanced opportunities.
And so it has been that whither Dion Stovell and Janeiro Tucker go, so blows the team’s fortunes. Yet one would not find a discouraging word spoken by Stovell of his lesser-established younger team-mates.
“We have guys here like Charles [Trott], Robi [Nirobi Smith-Mills], Tay [Tayo Smith], even our captain, Dalin [Richardson], who are still learning,” said Stovell, who understands the need for patience, while providing guidance that sanctions the maturation process. “As young guys, they sometimes lapse mentally and stray away a bit, but all in all there are a lot of positives to work with and a lot of natural talent in all of those guys.
“I believe Dalin to be an up-and-coming cricketer, a really good talent and that this is an opportunity for him to lead.
“I tell him that he has the potential to become one of Bermuda’s greats. And if he wants to take his cricket any farther, for him this is the perfect time for him to be around certain guys, to be captain, to learn how to lead and we more experienced guys can help guide him along the way.”
The form demonstrated by Stovell at the crease, combined with the all-around talent for bowling, precision fielding, and tactical and technical awareness is rare, while those having the ability to sustain and produce great performances week in and week out, as had been his wont, are scarce beyond the lore of ancient times — stories often suspiciously exaggerated from generation to generation.
Stovell’s, in contrast, is a tale not of vivid imagination, grainy pictures or accounts passed down. His is a tangible reality of skill and dedication, honed over decades, yet clear to see today in the flesh, without need for Photoshop or technologically enabled alteration … he’s the real deal.
Years of studied practice and performing have resulted in him being able to win more via cerebral methodology than physical superiority.
“Everything for me today for me today is mental,” explained Stovell, after leading Southampton to a crushing Western Counties Cup second-round win over PHC, taking three wickets, while topping the batting and throwing in a spectacular diving catch for good measure. “Physically I’m in better shape, but much of my success these days is coming off of the mental approach I’m taking.
“The skipper gave me the role of opening bat at the beginning of the season, and I’m really liking it.
“He’s given me a role that demands a greater, disciplined approach and attitude in order to play better innings more often for the team.”
Indeed, for years spectators have fallen in love with what Stovell has done, and continues to do, with the bat. Which is to bludgeon opposing attacks, even the most ardent and respected. He demonstrates few weaknesses in his technique and its application, treating both pace and spin with equal disdain, the lone glaring failing perhaps being a tendency to be so aggressive to the point of arrogance inviting recklessness.
Such was the case most recently in a match against Somerset Bridge, when Stovell, untroubled and in full flight, with his team cruising to an emphatic victory and him facing a new bowler, discarded the sensible notion — at least for a more normal player — of being watchful for at least the initial ball, even if as a token glance.
Instead he allowed his natural aggression to overrule prudence, contemptuously flashing at a ball more than a foot outside his off stump and having a thick edge travel into the wicketkeeper’s gloves, thus denying himself a sure half-century.
“That was a mental lapse,” Stovell admitted of the play. “I wanted to get fifty, and in order to get fifty I had to hit that ball outside. But, of course, I got out.”
While batting may have been his initial calling card, by no means is it his only trump card or modus operandi. Although viewed earlier in his career as nothing more than a part-time bowler, who might be occasionally used just to change the eye level of a set batsman or alter the pace of a game, Stovell has morphed into a legitimate slow-bowling weapon, possessing an arsenal of variations centred around his stock, off break. There is an arm ball, as well as a mastery of the use of the return crease rough, which, much like club team-mate and fellow veteran Janeiro Tucker sets them apart — even as they age beyond what would be a “past due date” for mere mortals.
Asked what makes him so special, Stovell pointed to the heavens, revealing his talent as a gift, yet there’s clearly more to matters than being granted ability. It is often said that “God helps those who help themselves”, while ancient Scripture relates how, “To whom much is given, much is required”.
Stovell may be blessed with natural talent, but he has not forsaken the need to put effort in to further hone his skills to elite levels of performance.
“I don’t know, it’s a gift that God’s given me,” he said. “I mean, I take my game seriously. I take all my sports seriously — physically, mentally and technically.”
He pointed a finger at the Tuckers, Janeiro and Kwame, as influencers driving him towards the pinnacle, where he is able to consistently operate at the peak of his powers.
“Janeiro has coached me hard and pounded it in me to be the best in Bermuda and Kwame Tucker has given me the same vibe,” he said. “So, at the end of the day we have youth here like Nirobi, Charles, Dalin, which gives the team a good balance and allows the older guys like me the ability to free up and play, while having a responsibility at the same time.
“In the context of where my career is at now, the balance that we have in the team is beneficial to me, as well as the team and what we want to do.”
Stovell told of how he sets a personal target of 1,000 runs each year in all competitions, and he’s more than a third of the way to the mark entering the final week of 50-over matches, with the T20 competition beginning next month.
However, there is an event known as Cup Match also occupying the all-rounder’s mind, when he will be a member of the Somerset team and expected to produce his best to ensure they remain champions.
Noting St George’s as worthy challengers, Stovell expressed confidence in the West Enders being able to retain and his ability to positively impact their quest.
“The game is played on the day, but Somerset is in good shape going in,” said Stovell, who could be called to revert to his more customary middle-order batting role. “I feel that mentally we’re always up for the challenge and physically we’re also up for the challenge.
“Jeff [coach Jeff Richardson] puts us through the paces, but we also have Janeiro, Reggie Tucker, we have Jekon [Edness] also on the coaching staff who keep us sharp, give good instructions, keep us on our p’s and q’s, whereby nobody can even miss a training session. It’s to the point where, if certain guys don’t come they’re not picking you, so I believe they hold a good standard.
“All I really want to do is just win Cup Match. Of course, I want to score a hundred, but things happen in cricket. Over recent years I’ve only batted once or twice, I was knocked out one time [in 2019], but, at the end of the day it’s nothing personal for me, I just like winning. So if the team wins, I’m happy, whether I get a duck, five, ten or 100. As long we win, I’m happy.
“I think St George’s have a great coach in Clay Smith. He’s a fighter and I believe they have a good group of guys there who will fight because that’s their character.
“They’re going to bring toughness; that’s how they are. But at the end of the day, we won’t allow that and the way they play to overcome us.”