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By Nikhil Uttamchandani
After five rounds of first-class matches, many West Indian players have done well, but the upcoming Headley-Weekes Tri Series of matches will be a different test. The three first-class matches arrive at a critical juncture in West Indies cricket with a golden opportunity for talent identification with a two-Test series against India at home, the West Indies “A” tour of Bangladesh, and the ICC Men’s World Cup all happening this year. Here are my five players to watch in the upcoming Headley-Weekes Tri Series:
Alick Athanaze – The free-scoring left-hander might be the most obvious pick and one that many will have an eye on. He will captain the Weekes team like he did with the Windward Islands Volcanoes and seems to thrive with leadership. He accumulated 647 runs in the five matches he played in West Indies Championship first-class season with four fifties and two hundreds. Before this season, Athanaze only averaged 27.5 in 36 FC innings and had never scored a century. He also scored back-to-back hundreds in the CG United Super50 on challenging pitches to bat on in Trinidad. Within the last 12 months, he has unlocked a new level to his game that could allow him to stand out in the upcoming series. His fearless batting approach and fluency in the offside have cost him sometimes but make him a real treat to watch when he gets going and someone who is expected to do well in the series.
Brandon King – The West Indies T20 International opener has only played five first-class matches in five seasons due to his prowess in T20 cricket. Still, his return could open up another avenue. Since debuting in 2015, King averages just under 35 in 32 first-class matches with three hundreds. Early in his career, the classy right-hander was mainly a red ball player before branching out and has batted in the middle order for the Jamaica Scorpions. If he adapts that role for Team Weekes, it will be interesting to see if he integrates his white ball expertise into his red ball game by counter-attacking. If he opens the batting as he did against New Zealand “A” a couple of years ago, King could be a handful for bowlers with the new ball coming on nicely, as he does in the white ball formats.
Dominic Drakes – The tall left-handed all-rounder is only 25 years old has performed well with bat and ball. Since his match-winning heroics in the 2021 CPL final, Drakes has traveled to T20 leagues in Pakistan, India, England, and the United Arab Emirates, gaining experience and developing his game. He has only played three first-class matches to date, but in his most recent, he bowled well, taking 3-38 in 13 overs against the Leeward Islands Hurricanes. He can swing the new ball and pull his length back as the ball gets older, bowling a consistent heavy length, making him hard to score against. He is an intelligent cricketer who analyzes the game quickly and can play vital innings with the bat. In the T20 format, Drakes can be a match-winner, as we saw in the CPL final, but his batting has grown exponentially since then. This could be the perfect opportunity to display his skill in all three facets of the game.
Kevin Sinclair – Tall with a high action, this off-spinner has been in and out of the Guyana Harpy Eagles side for the two seasons before 2023, but this year got his opportunity and capitalized. The 23-year-old took 18 wickets at 16.61 with match figures of 8-81 against the Leeward Islands – a match which they won in spectacular fashion to secure the Headley-Weekes trophy. He was also the only player in the top ten of both the batting and bowling charts, as he scored 285 runs averaging over 30 with two half-centuries. On pitches that do not spin, Sinclair uses the angle of the crease well and can extract some drift through the air. He has drastically improved his consistency by being persistent on a specific length for several overs creating pressure. His all-around ability and hunger to return to the West Indies team make him one to be vigilant of in the series.
Ackeem Auguste – A former West Indies Rising Stars U19 captain, he exhibits immense class at the crease. In the ICC Men’s U19 World Cup 2022 he only played two matches due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the highlight was a brilliant 57 versus Australia in his first match. He was also part of the West Indies Academy side at the CG United Super50 and, in one game, recovered the team from 84-6 to 211 with his superb strokeplay. He is an excellent timer of the ball because he plays it extremely late.
He pounces on anything full, prolifically sweeping against the spin, and plays exquisite drives down the ground versus pace. He has been part of the St. Lucia Kings CPL franchise and the Windward Island Volcanoes for the 2022 West Indies Championship. Although Auguste has yet to have the most opportunity, he has shown he has something about him, and the red ball format, which will present time at the crease, may suit his game the most. It will be challenging against the region’s best bowlers, but he will undoubtedly be up for the fight. (Windiescricket).