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On Veterans Day, DreamCricket.com salutes all those who have
served and protected America including SrA Dunae Nathaniel, a former
member of USA’s 2006 U-19 World Cup squad who is now an enlisted
serviceman in the United States Air Force.
By Peter Della Penna
Many sports figures grow up dreaming of getting a chance to
represent their country by making a national team in a particular
sport. Rarer is an American athlete who not only played for his country
but also serves it in uniform. In USA cricket, there is someone who has
managed to do both and his name is SrA Dunae Nathaniel.
Nathaniel’s path to both accomplishments started in St. Croix of
the US Virgin Islands. He was born there in 1987 where his Aunt Lilith
was living at the time.
“My mom and dad are both from Antigua,” said Nathaniel. “When my
mom was pregnant, my aunt told her to bring me down there because she
was not doing well.” Shortly after he was born, his mother brought him
back to Antigua. While Nathaniel leads a disciplined lifestyle in the
military now, he wasn’t exactly an angel growing up.
“I went to school there and I got expelled so she sent me back [to
St. Croix]. I was probably like five or six. I got expelled from the
school so she sent me to live with my aunt,” said Nathaniel. “I was
told not to go outside and play in the stones and me and two others
were tossing the stones and throwing them all over and then I got
expelled so my aunt told her to send me down there.”
“He’s never been rude, but very obstinate,” says Lilith Joseph,
Nathaniel’s aunt. “One day for instance the teacher called me and they
had a whole box of crayons and he had the crayons all over the floor,
do things that he shouldn’t be doing, touch this, move this, break
this, something like that. He wouldn’t get into fights, just trouble
things that he wasn’t supposed to. But like I said he has never been
rude, he’d never talk back.”
He moved back to Antigua when he was eight where he started to
discover cricket, something that helped keep him busy without causing
too much trouble. When interviewed, Nathaniel said that it was a youth
cricket camp that first got him excited about the game.
“They had a training camp in Antigua. My uncle told my mom there’s
a kiddie cricket camp in Antigua downtown and to send me and my little
brother down there. We went down there. I never used to play cricket,
went down there and that was it.” Nathaniel said the coaches there
included Curtly Ambrose and Andy Roberts.
However, his Aunt Lilith had a much better answer when asked how Nathaniel got into cricket.
“We have a cousin, Vivian Richards, and that’s where he started from,” said Joseph.
Cricket was in his blood and even though he had spent some of his
early years in St. Croix, once he got a slice of the game in Antigua,
he was hooked. Nathaniel was too humble to mention his family ties to
Richards, but apparently he spent some of his years between the ages of
eight and 13 living under the same roof as Sir Viv and used The Master
Blaster’s old cricket kit when he wanted to play.
Nathaniel’s six degrees of separation also link him to Regis
Burton, a member of USA’s 2010 U-19 World Cup squad who is also related
to Richards, and current USA national team player Adrian Gordon.
“I used to go to his house every Saturday morning,” says Nathaniel
of his long-time friendship with Gordon, “and we used to go to Hayden
Walsh’s Technical Cricket Academy.” The two then went on to open the
batting together at Clare Hall Secondary School where Nathaniel was the
captain and Gordon the vice-captain.
Nathaniel played age level cricket for Antigua, but when he was
16, he moved to live with his Aunt Lilith again. This time it meant
going to Kissimmee, Fla. He went to Osceola High School for his junior
and senior years, earning varsity letters in soccer before graduating
in 2005. Nathaniel held off going to college and worked construction
part-time. Meanwhile, his cricket skills had become valuable to America
as he helped USA go to Canada and win the ICC Americas U-19 Qualifier.
The tall and muscular Nathaniel was slotted in to be one of the
team’s opening bowlers and a handy lower order batsman. But when they
arrived in Sri Lanka, Nathaniel was injured in the first warm-up game.
“After my first spell, I think I blew my lower back out,” said
Nathaniel. It meant that he couldn’t bowl for the entire World Cup and
was restricted to contributing as a batsman only. He finished behind
only captain Hemant Punoo to score the second most runs on the team
with 88 in five matches including a top score of 41 against South
Image: Dunae Nathaniel (center, crouching) celebrates with his
teammates after USA's victory over Namibia at the 2006 U-19 World Cup
in Sri Lanka. Nathaniel opened the batting and scored 19 for USA in
their two-wicket win. [Courtesy: Dunae Nathaniel]
However, when he returned from Sri Lanka, life meandered along and
trying to make a name for himself in cricket didn’t appear realistic
with USACA under suspension. He continued to work construction until
the fall of 2007 when he met with a recruiter for the Air Force and
decided to enlist at the age of 20.
“I wasn’t going to school. I was tired of working construction. I
wasn’t doing anything so I decided to do something, make a positive
move. I spoke to a recruiter and it sounded like the right thing to
do,” said Nathaniel. “I was just being lazy so I figured I’d take
Joseph says that she noticed a rapid change in Nathaniel in the
first few months of his military experience saying that it taught him
how to grow up.
“For instance, even when he had graduated from basic training,
when we went there, we could not have even sat on his bed. His clothes,
everything was nicely folded. He even showed us how to fold a shirt,”
said Joseph. “So being in the military give him a good good way of
being more responsible and seeing things and do things the right way.”
Nathaniel was originally given orders to go to Japan after
completing his basic training in Texas, but he got married during a
short break in December in the middle of his training and as a result
was reassigned to stay close to home in Florida. He is currently a
Senior Airman (SrA) working as a fuels apprentice at MacDill AFB in
Being in Florida means that he is still able to play cricket on
the weekends for Caribbean Sports Club in the Central Florida Cricket
Association. Nathaniel also recently represented the South East Region
at the 2010 USACA Eastern Conference Tournament in Atlanta. He
participated in selection trials for the USA squad that was picked to
play in the ICC Americas Tournament in 2008, but has slipped off the
national selection radar since then. He still hopes that one day he
might get a chance to play for his country at the senior level. Gordon
says it is just a matter of staying focused and getting the chance to
practice outside of Nathaniel’s day job.
“I think he still has the skills,” said Gordon. “The good thing
about him is his determination and his attitude toward the game. He
actually wants to still be on top and I think the one thing that he
should work on is just being more patient even though things aren’t
going his way.”
While maintaining that Nathaniel’s role in the military is of
utmost importance, his superiors try to give him support in his cricket
in the military, the military does come first. You do have to take into
account your mission when it comes down to being allowed to go play
sports for an extended amount of time,” said Sgt. James Hastings,
Nathaniel’s supervisor at MacDill AFB. “We try as hard as we can to get
him to tournaments.”
Even with high standards in the military though, Hastings says Nathaniel’s athleticism stands out.
Image: SrA Dunae Nathaniel, now in the US Air Force. [Courtesy: Dunae Nathaniel]
“He’s always talking about cricket, always talking about soccer,
just an all-around good guy,” said Hastings. “He’s slacking a little
bit right now as far as his PT standards, but he could be one of the
fastest guys in the shop that’s for sure.” Nathaniel says that he
currently runs a mile and a half in around 11 minutes but that his
fastest time clocked is 9:45.
Even though he’s mostly shaped up since joining the military, he’s still prone to the odd mishap.
“We have Nate to thank for new doors on our hangar,” said Hastings
while struggling to hold back his laughter. “He drove into our hangar
doors with the forklift and knocked the doors off the building… The guy
that was supposed to be marshalling him in went running and hiding for
cover because he thought the whole building was coming down. It was
However, Nathaniel is mostly known on base as a guy who always has a smile on his face.
“He’s just an easy-go-lucky kind of guy,” said Hastings. “It just
kind of seems like his nature. He just kind of makes the best of
everything and takes everything in stride.”
His Aunt Lilith says that’s one thing that will never leave him.
“Up to now, he still kids around. We call him ‘The Clown,’” said
Joseph. “He’s very playful and he jokes around a lot. He’ll make you
laugh even when you don’t want to.”
“I can’t stop smiling,” said Nathaniel. “I know that. Everybody always says that.”
USA’s cricket fans should smile too knowing that SrA Dunae
Nathaniel represented USA on the cricket field and has gone on to
dedicate himself to serving America off the field as well.