ONE AFTERNOON in mid-2016, Oshane Thomas came back from school to play a practice game at the Melbourne Cricket Club (MCC) ground in Kingston. In the audience were Chris Gayle and a couple of officials from CPL franchise Jamaica Tallawahs’ ownership group. Thomas, then just 18, bowled like he usually did, with a lot of pace and fire, and intimidated and bullied the batsmen into submission. His performance left Gayle so impressed that the West Indian batting superstar immediately recommended that the Tallawahs sign the teenager up for that year’s CPL season.
“I had just come back school, was bowling quick and next thing I know, I’m in the CPL,” Thomas recalls to The Indian Express. He played two matches that season, the preliminary final and the grand final, which Jamaica won to lift their second CPL trophy after the youngster got them going by dismissing veteran Dwayne Smith.
A year later, Thomas was back at a packed Sabina Park, where thousands of Jamaicans had gathered to welcome their beloved Gayle, who was now in a St Kitts & Nevis Patriots jersey.
And the tall, lanky fast bowler would provide the T20 phenomenon a personalized reminder of what had impressed him 12 months ago. Thomas welcomed his benefactor with two quick away-going deliveries before the third ducked back so sharply and so rapidly at nearly 150 kph, that the ball rammed into Gayle’s pads before he could even bring his bat down past his ribs. And the left-hander just stood there shocked at having been vanquished by the same bowler that he’d discovered. Thomas went on to dismiss Carlos Brathwaite and Mohammad Nabi too to be named man-of-the-match.
“It was a great ball but not my best ball. I liked how I set the wicket up. He was very appreciative though and gave a speech later saying I was one for the future,” says Thomas now with a chuckle from Guwahati, where the West Indies play India in the first ODI of the five-match series.
This is Thomas’s first tour with the senior West Indies team, and he’s yet to make his international debut. For now, he’s still getting acclimatized to the surroundings of the biggest stage having endured the “longest flight journey” of his life—“we left on the 13th and finally reached on the 15th but it felt a lot longer” as he puts it.
He’s no stranger to being the centre of attraction when he has a ball in hand or in showing off his pace in front of large crowds. “Jamaica people always love to see fast bowling, especially if someone’s bowling bumpers and hitting batsmen. A crowd used to gather around to watch me bowl, and they would get really excited when they would see me,” Thomas, now 21, reminisces.
The once brimming fast bowling cupboard in the Caribbean has been experiencing a serious drought, especially in the raw pace section, for over a decade now. The likes of Fidel Edwards, Kemar Roach and Shannon Gabriel have made their presence felt, but only intermittently. So it’s only natural that the emergence of Thomas—who took a wicket off his first ball in first-class cricket—has ignited considerable excitement around the West Indian islands. While he’s consistently hit speeds of over 150 kph, he’s flirted on occasions in the late 150s too, reportedly touching 160 kph in a domestic game.
Thomas, who grew up in a cricket-mad family playing in the backyard with his brothers, also recalls having watched a lot of footage of Courtney Walsh and Michael Holding—former MCC players themselves—as a kid. And he’s had the fortune of interacted with both his heroes, with Holding having personally sought the youngster out for a chat at the MCC ground.
The youngster displayed a lot of maturity and new-found control to go with the genuine speed during this year’s CPL, where he finished with the most wickets for a fast bowler—18 at 17.66—and overall second only to leg-spinner Fawad Ahmed. But despite the hype around his speeds, Thomas wants to focus more on maintaining control and “hitting the stumps”.
“I practice my yorker a lot. Bowling the short-ball is the easiest to do for a fast bowler. But I don’t use my bumper to scare batsmen, I only use it to get batsmen out.”