Celebrity,  Media,  Motivation

Manning Up: Life Lessons and West Indies Cricket

If you've spent any time in the giant world of cricket social media, you've seen Joel Manning. In addition to his very high-profile role as essentially the face of West Indies Cricket on social media, barely a day goes by where he isn't posting pictures or videos of one of his many other hosting or emceeing gigs. And what you quickly learn is that no matter how good a day you might be having, Joel is having a better one. You found a great parking space? Joel is heading off to explore a coral reef. You discover $20 in the pocket of a jacket you haven't worn in a while? Joel is hosting a beach-side rum-tasting with a bunch of bikini models.

I caught up with Joel during the just-completed England tour of the West Indies to discuss cricket and life.

"I've always just loved cricket. I grew up playing cricket back home in Barbados. I probably started playing as early as seven or eight years old. I remember somebody saw me playing cricket in front of my house and invited me to join a cricket club, which was literally like about maybe 30 seconds away from my house. And since then, I've just always been involved in cricket"

"In terms of the journalism and the media side of things, somebody saw a couple of my writings online and told me to apply for a news house back home in Barbados and I got the job there as a journalist. And then they needed somebody in front of the camera for what we call our Crop Over festival back home in Barbados and they said, 'Well, why don't you go and get in front of the camera?' And I've always been someone that has been into talking. From birth almost, I have been too talkative according to everybody. So, it came almost naturally for me to then begin talking in front of the camera."

Joel CPL 600

This on-camera ease and eloquence led to doing CPL interviews and building up his resume. In 2019, he headed to the University of Sunderland in England to study for a master's degree in sports journalism. Of course, life soon got in the way. "The pandemic hit obviously after that and I had to come back home and finish a degree online. It was 2020 and I was unsure of what I would be doing, my direction, and what opportunities exist, because everything is now shut down. There are no sports being played."

And here is the vital difference between Joel and the rest of humanity. While pretty much everyone else spent the early days of the pandemic trying to figure out which side of the mask was supposed to face out and imagining various end-of-world scenarios, Joel was already planning for the future. "To get myself out of my slump and out of my depression, I started messaging every single person at the International Cricket Council that had a job related to media. And there was one person in particular, Dayle Stancliffe. He's a part of their media production at the ICC. And I remember sending him my video reel. I think I told him that I am the future of sports presenting and broadcasting."

"He actually responded to me and said obviously nothing exists at the moment, but he'll keep me in mind. And I remember every couple of months I would just check back in; I would pitch ideas and all these different things. It wasn't until two years later that the Under-19 World Cup came to the Caribbean in January 2022. He remembered me and asked me if I was available. That would've been my first big break, because I had never worked in a cricket tournament on that scale before."

"And then someone that I was working with on that World Cup recommended me to work for BT Sport for the West Indies-England Test series. I then went on -- literally a couple days later -- to hop onto a plane to come to Antigua to start working for BT Sport alongside David Gower and Mark Butcher. These are guys that I have only seen on TV, but now I have the chance to stand right next to them. I remember meeting Mike Atherton. It was the day before the first Test match. We crossed paths and he said, 'How are you doing?' And this was the first time I've ever interacted with him. I said, 'I guess I'm alright.' And I kept walking and I stopped myself about four steps later. I turned around and said, 'Actually, you know, I am great! I'm about to make my test debut for BT Sport!' And he laughed at me and then went on to do what he was doing."

This enthusiasm and infectious optimism coupled with his on-screen charisma led to a prominent role for the CPL and, most recently, a high-profile position for West Indies Cricket as their digital presenter and in-stadium entertainment host. Check out any of the Windies' videos on any of their social platforms and you'll see Joel in action. And while he used to spend his days trying to figure out what his next career move might be, he now spends his time trying to figure out ways to get up in the head of his colleagues on the West Indies broadcast crew. "Ian Bishop and I have this little battle going back and forth with our banter. I'm always trying to think of what new I can think up to get him to shake his head at me or to catch him off guard, that kind of stuff."

Joel Bish 600

Having grown up as a West Indies Cricket fan, is it daunting to now be talking to and rubbing elbows with some of the Caribbean's top players past and present?

"I guess I have never really gotten star struck. For example, I went to school with Shai Hope. So for me, Shai Hope is like an everyday person. Like, I hang out at the beach with Shai Hope. I have grown up being around a lot of the other guys, especially the Barbadian boys. So, I guess it's never really been a case of being star struck to be around them. It's a case of this is my job. You know, they're here to play cricket. I'm here to get the information out of them about cricket. The only time I would say that I really had a 'wow' moment was on the India-West Indies series. I grew up loving India and Indian cricket. Sachin Tendulkar was a big part of my life growing up. And I remember the first day in Dominica. I was walking on a pool deck and literally like two steps to my left was Virat Kohli. And I'm walking and I'm like, 'Yo, that's Virat Kohli. This is nice. I'm a couple strides away from Virat Kohli.' So, I would say that that's probably one of the only times I've paused in my head and said, 'Whoa, this is a massive cricketer next to me at the moment.' But after that five seconds there, I snapped out of it because it's like, alright, back to work."

The West Indies may have hit a low point with not qualifying for the most recent World Cup -- a tournament they once dominated -- but the future is looking bright. Victories in both an ODI series and T20 series versus England have announced to the world that Windies Cricket might be back.

"With Daren Sammy now at the helm and knowing the type of passion that he has for West Indies cricket, I'm hoping that it's the start of something new and not the resurgence almost of something old. I keep telling persons that I enjoyed obviously the history of West Indies cricket, but at the same time, this is a chance for us to create something new in terms of an identity for this new crop of players because they're playing in a completely different era. And I don't think it's fair to compare the eras and the times that the guys are playing in currently. The cricket is the same in terms of bat and ball, but it's different in terms of the dynamics of it and all that goes along with it."

"I honestly am hoping that it is the start, or the building, of a new identity of West Indian Cricket -- of young men who understand the importance of their role, not just in cricket, but in the context of the wider Caribbean and how many persons actually look up to them and pattern their lives based on who they are as individuals and what they achieve as cricketers. And I'm hoping, especially leading into the World Cup, which is going to be in the Caribbean and in America, that things gel for these young men and that they put on performances that they can be proud of -- performances that not only speak about winning, but performances that speak about who they are as young men and performances that are representative of Caribbean and Caribbean people."

Joel Shai 600

And speaking of the US, where does Joel feel like cricket is heading in this country? And is a strong American cricket good for West Indies cricket?

"I always love the underdog stories, so to speak, in terms of countries who are trying to build their cricket programs and showcase their talent. So, honestly, America being better would be fantastic for the West Indies and fantastic for Cricket on a whole, because you will have another competitive country being a part of World Cups and being a part of the entire ecosystem of cricket."

"I think that minor league certainly was fantastic for cricket in America because it not only revived a lot of the passion for a lot of persons there, but it also put Cricket on show as well. And I think that was also what was missing in terms of the American context -- people being able to see cricket and being able to go into a community and watch cricket. And obviously it's now blossomed now into the major league and into having the World Cup up there. These are bigger stages that will attract bigger audiences. You can see it taking an upward trend and you can only hope that by the visibility that the World Cup will have and that major league will have that a lot more persons get interested in cricket -- and not just persons who have traveled to live in America, but actually Americans who were born and raised there who'll begin to take up cricket now as a sport."

This rise from being stuck at home wrapping up his degree to being seen internationally as part of West Indies cricket broadcasts in such a short time may seem like some sort of far-fetched fairy tale, but not if you dig a bit deeper into just what makes Joel tick. And, in fact, he's made that pretty easy for you. His recently released book, Life at 30 by a 25 Year Old, not only takes you through his own struggles in trying to establish his career, but also lets you use 30 motivational quotes Joel has written to help you deal with life's disappointments and propel you towards your own endgame.

Joel Signing 600

"I knew where I wanted to be when I went to England to study. I said, okay, I'm gonna head off to work for a sports station. My life is gonna be now based in England. That will be it for me. But instead, I had to come back home. Life is not a straight line. And even though you know exactly what you want to do, things will happen that take you on a different path and it's important to learn different things as you go along those paths. Here's this book of quotes that I've written. Here is my life story. And I hope that something in here also causes you to go on and just, you know, keep chugging on and keep achieving greatness in your life."

For more about Life at 30 by a 25 Year Old, click here.

© CricAmerica.com/Steve Steinberg 2023

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