An informed opinion: Oshane Thomas

Thu, Aug 1, '19



As our current status forces us to reside on "memory lane", it becomes increasingly difficult to ever distance ourselves from the fact that the West Indies was once the force in world cricket; a force we have yet to shadow. Still, how ironic is it, that, the more we falter, the farther down that same street we relocate—centering ourselves in the nation's former glory? The dominant WINDIES, was a fast WINDIES. Therefore, when the arrival of Oshane Thomas signaled pace, it invited hope in Caribbean fans. Two years on--spoiler alert: what if he’s not that cliché—pace like fire, rather, another—more than just pace?

The Caribbean Premier League, for the fourth edition of the Hero-sponsored tournament in 2016, encouraged each franchise select a player from its home territory. This opened the door for a, then, 19-year-old Thomas, in the Jamaica-based Tallawahs’ framework, through which, the fast-bowler was handed his T20 debut against the Trinbago Knight Riders—the first of two outings that season. The Cuban matched his appearances the following season in CPL17, turning heads with his man-of-the-match performance against the St. Kitts and Nevis Patriots, taking 3/31, boasting the wicket of Chris Gayle for a three-ball duck, to send the Tallawahs to their fifth consecutive play-off, in Caribbean Premier League history.

There was no slowing down for Thomas, who continued to take the proverbial ‘step up’. In 2018, he was the highest-ranked seamer on the Caribbean Premier League’s wickets table—second only to Fawah Ahmed over all—with 18 wickets, a best of 3/39, an average of 17.66 and an economy of 8.36. Numbers which propelled the Jamaican into the CPL18 team of the tournament and deservedly so.

Following his fantastic CPL season, where the, then, 21-year-old led his franchise--turning in performances after performances; the abeng sounded, inviting the Jamaican to join the international maroons. And on the 21st of October, he was handed cap number 186 for WINDIES in One-Day Internationals. Thomas, not unlike left-arm seamer Obed McCoy, was being trialled, as the West Indies assessed their seam-bowling options ahead of the then, upcoming 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup.

Though, there were justifiable concerns around his fitness, when the Jamaican was unleashed in India, the excitement that surrounded him in the Caribbean, was mirrored when he was exposed to cricket’s largest TV audience, as pundits, teammates, opposition players and fans alike lauded the youngster’s pace.

O Thomas v Oshane Thomas

However, by December of that year, Oshane Thomas was no longer Oshane Thomas. And by the end of West Indies’ tour of Bangladesh, it had become evident that contemporary West Indies cricket heritage had claimed yet another victim. For the record: for all his pace in franchise cricket, the most impressive things, about the young man that pried open the door to take a seat in West Indies’ senior team, were despite his pace.

As a result of his pace, there is the presumption that Thomas’ success was based solely on beating the batsman, but anyone who is keen will know that Thomas’ I-N-T-E-L-L-I-G-E-N-C-E was almost incongruous, for a modern 150 kph West Indian.

Aside from the right-hander’s innate ability to move the ball—swing the ball both ways, seam the ball both ways—construct an over and deceive with subtle variations, Thomas was one who absorbed information—in-innings. The few times he would have a poor start, he would return for his second spell, adjusted—a learnt cricketer. His in-swinging yorkers? A. Thing. Of. Absolute. Beauty. Still, we go on, and as Winston Cassanova would, all those year ago, we inquire: Where Are They Now? However, try going to Gayle, Sharma, Lewis, Hope or Dhawan singing ‘All Pace’ and report back what moves they showcased to that particular tune.

It would be fair to wonder if a, now, 22-year-old, who is still relatively new on the international stage, is being influenced by the overwhelming reception of his most visible attribute (pace) to—unintentionally—abandon the combination thereof, which defined him. Defined, as Oshane Thomas has left his, once-defining, characteristics behind—he is no longer the same bowler.

Contemporary West Indies cricket Heritage

West Indies v India in the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup comes to mind. It was Kemar Roach and Sheldon Cottrell who opened the bowling, then. Where Roach immediately picked up the line and length of the wicket, Cottrell struggled. And Jason Holder being Jason Holder, followed in Roach’s footsteps as first change. Thomas, too, like Cottrell struggled. However, Sheldon Cottrell, in his second spell, was able to make the adjustment. As for Thomas, he continued to struggle, doing so for the entire game.

There could be an argument made for the youngster bowling to a plan. A ‘plan’ of fast bouncers on a slow and sticky wicket... Assuming the West Indies did not send Thomas out with those instructions (as we’d like to believe sensible people are in charge of our cricket), it seems it was a case of a player, in his 16th ODI, needing a senior member of the team to tap him on the shoulder and nudge him in the right direction. Except we don’t do that here, in the Caribbean.

One might purport that Thomas himself should have made the adjustment. After all, he is an international cricketer. Well, then apparently MS Dhoni—who still coaches the number 8 ranked, 24-year-old, 51 capped, Kuldeep Yadav, ball-by-ball to end results of wickets—does not have that memo in his possession.

Envision Thomas steaming in, short to a tailender, in the final over of a CPL game. Admittedly, the game has already been won; still, he passes his captain five times, returning to his mark, to repeat the process. His captain never once stops him to say, “pitch it up”, “full and straight” or “york him”. Instead the skipper waits for the over and ultimately, the game to come to a close. That is contemporary West Indies cricket heritage.

Thomas, from the comfort of his couch would, undoubtedly, know what to do in these moments. However, on the world's biggest stage, where, despite all his skill, he is not yet experienced? If only he was playing in a team sport.

The prudence in Thomas being second change

In WINDIES’ current seam attack, Roach and Cottrell are most effective when the ball is at its newest. Though some would prefer to see the Rajasthan Royals man with the new-ball in hand, being second change—there is something to it: in modern ODI cricket (assuming the opening bowlers are taking early wickets), first and second change bowlers will come up against the best batsmen in the world, some of whom are arguably among the best to ever play the game—the Kohlis, the Smiths, the Roots, the Williamsons and the Babar Azams. That is not the worst scenario to have Thomas coming into. As, it is already a ploy (following West Indies’ tour of Bangladesh) for Holder to hand Thomas a relatively new ball (4/5 overs old), while ensuring that his first spell continues into the second powerplay; where the West Indies lack wicket-takers.

Thomas might not be as fluent when he faces the camera, with a microphone being shoved into his face. However, if you have ever read any written quotes from the Jamaican, the young man speaks fluent cricket—as fluent as the cricket he once played.