Oshane Thomas has a habit. The habit of turning heads with his fierce pace. It has already hooked Chris Gayle, who picked him for Jamaica Tallawahs when he was 19, and Tom Moody, who has signed him up for his BPL team Rangpur Riders. On Sunday, it made a big impression on India’s stand-in T20I captain Rohit Sharma, who was stunned by a 147kph inswinger.
On a sticky Kolkata evening, India seemed assured of victory, set a target of just 110. But on an Eden Gardens pitch where dew made the ball skid on much more than usual, Thomas cleaned up India’s openers. He forced Rohit to inside-edge to the keeper before flattening the middle stump of Shikhar Dhawan, his bunny on this tour, as he left a gap between bat and pad while looking to drive one that swung back into him.
Dinesh Karthik and Krunal Pandya repaired the early damage, but Thomas had done enough to earn Rohit’s praise. “Oshane is a really exciting talent without doubt,” Rohit said at the post-match presentation. “He’s got 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’s really talented, and he also has the advantage of height which gives him the extra edge. I wish him the best in the future.”
At 21, Thomas is the youngest fast bowler in the West Indies squad. He has had a very short career so far. But within that time, he has shown plenty of promise. He got into the West Indies team after finishing CPL 2018 as the tournament’s highest wicket-taker among fast bowlers, and second-highest overall behind the legspinner Fawad Ahmed.
More than just the number of wickets he’s taken, it’s the quality of batsmen he has rattled. In last year’s CPL, he bowled Gayle – who had moved to St Kitts and Nevis Patriots – with a 150kph yorker. And on this tour he has continually troubled India’s top three. How many other bowlers in world cricket can stake that claim?
Thomas has dismissed Dhawan, bowled each time, three times on this tour. Twice in the ODI series he inside-edged him while playing with an angled bat, misjudging the pace off the surface.
Virat Kohli rarely plays an false shot. And yet, in the fifth ODI in Thiruvananthapuram, Kohli sparred uncertainly at a nasty lifter from Thomas and edged to first slip, where Jason Holder failed to hold on to the chance. A few overs later, Rohit edged one that left him off the pitch, into Shai Hope’s gloves, only for the umpire’s signal of no-ball to halt Thomas’ celebrations.
Kohli and Rohit would eventually settle down and eventually steer India to a breezy nine-wicket win. Had Holder held on, and had Thomas not overstepped, things might have been rather different.
On his ODI debut in Guwahati, Thomas clocked 147kph, 147kph, 140kph, 149kph, 147kph and 147kph in his first over. That speed comes from his run-up, which accelerates gradually as he approaches the crease, and a big jump just before his delivery stride. That jump, coupled with his height, gives him bounce to go with his pace, and this combination can unsettle any batsman, particularly early on while still coming to grips with the pace of the surface.
Thomas knows pace isn’t enough. In a recent conversation with The Indian Express, he spoke of the importance of guile to go with it.
“Bowling the short ball is the easiest to do for a fast bowler,” Thomas said. “But I don’t use my bumper to scare batsmen, I only use it to get batsmen out.”
It’s a distinction fast bowlers often forget when adrenaline takes over in an international game, but Thomas has shown he’s a thinking cricketer. When he yorked Shai Hope with what was arguably the ball of CPL 2018 to send his stumps cartwheeling, Moody gushed in the commentary box at what he was seeing in front of him. It was no surprise that Moody snapped Thomas up for his BPL franchise a few weeks later.
Carlos Brathwaite, West Indies’ T20I captain, says Thomas has the potential to emulate the West Indies greats of the past.
“We’ve had a few chats with him, and he’s in the best place he could be,” Brathwaite told icc.com. “He understands the opportunities he has, he has to continue to get fitter and stronger. The world is at his feet, it’s for West Indies to help him become another Joel Garner or Michael Holding.”
Those are huge names to live up to. At Eden Gardens, where Thomas was scaring India’s top order with his new-ball spell, some viewers were reminded of another legend, Malcolm Marshall, whose 19th death anniversary happened to fall on Sunday.
Thomas has only just begun his career, and it’s clearly too early to burden him with such comparisons, but if he keeps learning and adding to his repertoire, West Indies will have quite a bowler in their midst.