Alick Athanaze has admitted to being nervous before making his international debut, but he shook it off quickly and went onto make it a memorable one by slamming the joint-fastest half-century on ODI debut. Athanaze's 65 off 45 balls, including 51 which came in the powerplay alone, set the tone for West Indies' successful chase of 185.
"I was a bit nervous actually, but the nerves went away when I got my first runs and it was good," Athanaze told CWI media after West Indies swept UAE 3-0 in Sharjah. "It was a really good experience [on debut]. [I] haven't batted much in the night, so it was a first for me actually. But normally that's how I play in the powerplay - I always look to get the team off to a good start."
Athanaze grew up idolising Brian Lara and more recently when he was with West Indies' Test side in South Africa, he worked with Lara, who was on tour as the team's performance mentor. Athanaze said that the conversations with Lara have had a positive influence on his batting approach.
"For me, it has been really good," Athanaze said. "Basically, what we spoke about was judging lengths and trying to get ahead of the bowler. It worked really nicely, and I got myself into some good positions and it was really good to bat out there tonight."
Athanaze put left-arm fingerspinner Aayan Afzal Khan out of the attack in the powerplay with a brace of sixes. Then when UAE's seamers bowled into the Sharjah pitch, Athanaze countered them with a variety of pulls, including the short-arm jab.
Athanaze was the top run-getter in the 2018 Under-19 World Cup in New Zealand, ahead of Shubman Gill, but it has taken him five years to make the step-up to international cricket. Athanaze isn't part of West Indies' ODI squad for the upcoming ODI World Cup Qualifier but could get a run in the following home series against India. Spinner Kevin Sinclair, who had been part of the Under-19 and West Indies A set-ups with Athanaze, was impressed with Athanaze's fearless strokeplay on debut.
"For me, I've always known Alick since Under-19 [cricket]," Sinclair said. "He's a good player and a good batsman. To watch himself express himself tonight at a higher level is something really good to see from the sidelines. I always knew he could bat and he did bring form from Bangladesh and he did very well."
Athanaze also spoke of how the new team management, under the leadership of Daren Sammy and Shai Hope, has encouraged the youngsters to play with confidence and freedom.
"The team did really, really well," Athanaze said. "One thing the captain stresses about is always improving and as you saw right throughout the series, we improved - not just on the batting but fielding as well and bowling. As a young player, it's always good to be in a winning team and it gives you the confidence to go out and express yourself."
Sinclair dedicates Player-of-the-Match award to his grandfather
Friday's match was a special one for Sinclair, too, who marked his international return with figures of 4 for 24. Carlos Brathwaite, who was on TV commentary, noted that Sinclair is now getting his offbreak to grip and turn more than he did in the past. This has in turn made his slider more effective and put him in West Indies or West Indies A contention across formats.
"We were in a bit of a bother, so my thing was just to keep it simple and keep it as tight as possible," Sinclair said. "Hence, getting a breakthrough as well, and that was really good for myself."
Sinclair credited former Guyana allrounder and coach Esuan Crandon for his recent progress. During the Headley-Weekes tri-series, Sinclair also benefitted from working with Nikita Miller.
"As I mentioned I couple of weeks ago, Esuan Crandon," Sinclair said. "The support he has given me and every time I step out [onto the field], I try and do what I can do with the bat, ball and in the field as well.
"It's all about consistency and I just want to take that moving forward and try to be consistent in what I do."
After winning the Player-of-the-Match award, Sinclair dedicated it to his grandfather Carlton, who was employed as a security guard. Carlton has doubled up as Sinclair's mentor over the years.
"Just want to mention that two days ago was my grandfather's birthday," Sinclair said. "It was his 75th birthday. He has been behind me since my tender age of seven, so I want to say this performance is for him."