Earlier this year, when Oshane Thomas was named the winner of the RJRGLEANER Sports Foundation People’s Choice Performance Award, there were some curious faces in the audience at Jamaica’s Pegasus hotel. A report in The Gleaner said the 21-year-old fast bowler trumped hurdler Omar McLeod and boxer Kemahl Russell to bag the prestigious award.
A Man-of-Match performance for Jamaica Tallawahs – 3/31, including Chris Gayle’s scalp – against St Kitts and Nevis Patriots in the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) last year said to have played a role in Thomas getting the nomination and eventually winning the prize. More than anything else, though, the adjudicators seemingly wanted to give the young fast bowler some serious encouragement.
Thomas is very early into his international career. He played two matches in the recently concluded ODI series before making his T20 international debut, along with Fabian Allen and Khary Pierre, at the Eden Gardens on Sunday. And he bowled with enough hostility to provide a throwback to the West Indies’ glorious pace age. Thomas gave a glimpse into his raw talent, and pace, in the final ODI Thiruvananthapuram. The tourists had been defending a paltry 104, but the fast bowler gave India early jitters. He castled Shikhar Dhawan and should have had Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma as well. But the India captain was dropped at first slip, while Rohit got a no-ball reprieve. In Kolkata, luck didn’t betray him. West Indies yet again bungled big-time with the bat. A total of 109/8, batting first on a good pitch in a T20 fixture, attested implosion.
The comedy attached to it at times – we would come to that later – brought derisive laughter from the fans. Because of Thomas though, and also Carlos Brathwaite, India were still stretched. A sensible knock from Dinesh Karthik and a lovely, little cameo from the debutant Krunal Pandya helped India get over the line, winning by five wickets with 13 balls remaining. But it wasn’t a cakewalk. Far from it.
Thomas’s searing pace gave goosebumps. He removed Rohit Sharma in the first over with a beauty; the ball going through the batsman to ‘keeper Denesh Ramdin, taking a feather in the process. West Indies successfully reviewed the decision. Dhawan fell to a 147kph snorter – the ball nipping back a little and going through the gate to send the stumps flying. The Indian opener was beaten for pace. Thomas then made KL Rahul hop with a bouncer, although the top edge went to the boundary. The young Jamaican alone softened the Indian batting, allowing Brathwaite to make further inroads with the wickets of Rahul and Rishabh Pant.
Even Rohit was full of praise for the West Indies quick. “Oshane Thomas is a really exciting talent without doubt. Good height plus that jump he takes; if he bowls in the right areas, it won’t be easy for any batsman in the world to counter that. He is really talented. I wish him the best in the future,” the stand-in India captain said post-match.
The world is at his feet and it’s now for the West Indies cricket to make him another Joel Garner or Michael Holding,” Brathwaite said about Thomas.
The other Pandya
First Rahul and then Manish Pandey wasted their starts. When the latter got out in the 15th over, India were 83 for five and West Indies could still sniff a chance, albeit very slim. Karthik needed support at the other end. Pandya, on his international debut, stood up to be counted. A nine-ball 21 not out was the impact knock that the hosts needed that time. Pandya oozed confidence. His reverse sweep against Allen was adventurous. The youngster read the situation beautifully and it never felt like he was playing his first match at this level.
Pandya’s bowling, too, was very impressive. He was brought into the attack in the eighth over and conceded 10 runs to start with. The left-arm spinner gave away just five more runs in his next three overs and accounted for the dangerous Kieron Pollard. For 39 balls between 7.3 and 14.1 overs, West Indies didn’t have a single boundary. Between eight and 15 overs, the Caribbeans lost four wickets for 29 runs, when Pandya and Kuldeep Yadav bowled in tandem.
The latter mesmerised the visitors with his variations, removing Darren Bravo, Rovman Powell and Brathwaite for just 13 runs in four overs. On a pitch that offered bounce and some fizz, the chinaman bowler bowled quicker than usual, hitting 107kph at times. “I have been working on my faster delivery and now I have the confidence to use it in match situations,” Yadav said after the game. He was all but an automatic pick for the Man-of-the-Match award. Spare a thought for Khaleel Ahmed as well. The left-arm seamer, too, made his T20 international debut, giving a very good account of himself with a wicket for 16 runs, including a maiden over. His performance was even more vital given that India missed Bhuvneshwar Kumar due to a gastric complaint.
Comedy of errors
Shai Hope and Shimron Hetmyer ran towards the same end, with the latter ‘winning’ in a photo finish. Hope had called for a single after he flicked an Ahmed delivery to mid-wicket. Hetmyer responded but suddenly Hope decided there wasn’t any run there. Hetmyer turned back but Hope inexplicably started running towards the non-striker’s end. India nearly missed the run-out chance. Rahul threw the ball over Karthik’s head. But Pandey was doing the back-up. He collected the ball and broke the stumps.
Powell misread a Yadav googly and apparently edged it to Karthik behind the stumps. Karthik took the big gloves despite the fact that the 12 announced by the Indian team management on the match eve mentioned Pant as the ‘keeper. But that’s a different issue. As for Powell, replays showed a spike; the bat hitting the boot, and there appeared to be a tiny gap between the bat and ball. The batsman didn’t review the caught behind decision. West Indies were expected to revel in their favourite format. Today they fizzled.