Thomas tale a triumph of talent over adversity
Oshane Thomas is sitting in the back of a van talking to the camera about growing up in Clarendon, Jamaica.
The conversation turns to the murder of his brother. “He was shot in his foot, so his foot was broken and he could not run away, so they gave him six more [bullets].” Thomas’s family found the body. “He was in a trench lying down. I am from a nice place, but sometimes the violence can be a bit rough … but, as an individual, if you can separate yourself from gangs you should be OK.”
The film crew take Thomas, 23, to the scene of the murder. “It was here,” he says, pointing at waste ground next to a cart selling drinks. “It’s been tough for a while, but eventually you get over things.”
Thomas, who was yesterday bowling at Emirates Old Trafford in West Indies’ practice match, is proof of how fast bowling is still a way out of ghetto life and how the hunger to succeed is driven by supporting a family back home in Jamaica. It also shows talent can emerge without academies and costly talent-pathway programmes.
Thomas’s story can be seen on YouTube. It is part one of the Caribbean Premier League’s powerful life stories series in which West Indies’ youngest, newest stars go back to their home villages to talk about childhoods shaped by the struggles of gang violence and poverty.
He is not in the main Test squad on this tour, but that could change, especially after he started this week’s practice match by bowling Shayne Moseley with the first ball. He is tall, powerful and can bowl at 95mph – the great Andy Roberts said his name would be the first he would pencil in to play England.
Thomas is part of a battery of new fast bowlers that harks back to West Indies’ greatest days. This generation is dispelling the myth that West Indians have lost interest in Test cricket and are chasing Twenty20 riches. “I definitely want to play Test cricket; I want to do well in all three formats,” he told the Jamaica Observer. “Test cricket is the ultimate that everyone wants to play to be great. You don’t want to just be an average cricketer; you want to be among the greats.”
‘My brother was shot in his foot and could not run away, so they gave him six more bullets’
Life took a different route for Thomas. A teacher saw his talent and introduced him to Melbourne Cricket Club in Kingston, the club of Michael Holding and Courtney Walsh. From 2014 to 2018, he lived at the ground, working on his cricket and sleeping in a bunk, with his feet hanging off the end. A scout from Jamaica Tallawahs, the Caribbean Premier League franchise, signed him after watching him bowl two balls, one of which bounced just once on its way to hitting the sight screen.
Now he is in England trying to bowl his way into contention for the first Test. Standards have risen in domestic Caribbean cricket under Jimmy Adams, the performance director, and chief executive Johnny Grave. This is why it is important England do not forget the favour they owe West Indies cricket. The players have come to a Covid-19 hotspot, despite having their pay slashed by 50 per cent by their cash-strapped board.
If West Indies are to continue to improve they need fixtures against teams such as England and India and a more equitable share of the game’s income. Domestic four-day competitions are expensive, but if they fail then the Test team will eventually whither, too.
A lot rides on this series. The financial well-being of English cricket for a start. But West Indies make money out of TV deals only when England and India tour. England are due to play five Tests in India after Christmas. The chances of that happening look slim, given the pandemic in India. The Caribbean is a safe haven – a series there would be payback and the money made may ease the way for the next Oshane Thomas.
Rapid: Oshane Thomas sees Test cricket as the ‘ultimate’