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Feature

Impressive Test debut adds to Athanaze's special year

He battled nerves of facing the likes of Ashwin and Jadeja, and shone through to top-score with 47

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
13-Jul-2023
Alick Athanaze spent a sleepless night, tossing and turning. The prospect of being handed a Test cap against India, that too on home soil, got his adrenaline pumping. In the stands, his parents were watching him play live for the first time, making it a day of many firsts for the family.
"I didn't sleep a lot," Athanaze said after the first day's play. "I slept at 9pm, woke up at 12. Then went to sleep, woke up again at 2am. I was trying to get to the day to come. It was just excitement, I'm happy for the opportunity. It was special playing in front of my family, they've supported me right through. Normally when there's a Test match, we sit in the crowd and watch. To have them here was special."
When his chance came, Athanaze showed why he has been rated very highly. He was solid against pace, combated R Ashwin's spin with poise and composure, and was the lone bright spark in the West Indies innings as he top-scored with 47.
More than the runs, there was an unmistakable confidence in the manner in which he went about trying to limit the damage after West Indies elected to bat. He came in to bat in the opening session with the side tottering at 47 for 3, and saw the middle order cave in quickly.
But right from the moment he drove Shardul Thakur on the up for his first runs in Test cricket, Athanaze showed he wasn't going to merely dig in and occupy the crease. On the rare occasions the bowlers erred, he was quick to pounce on them, like he did in pulling an Ashwin half-tracker behind square or whip a short delivery off his hip to the square-leg fence.
He occupied the crease for 99 deliveries in all, hitting six fours and a six in West Indies' 150 all out. He later admitted to having battled some nerves as he walked out to bat.
"Yeah definitely," he said when asked if there was nervousness. "Coming against a team like India, facing guys like Ashwin, [Mohammed] Siraj, [Ravindra] Jadeja, obviously there were some nerves at the start. It was really about settling, trying to get my feet [moving], trying to work out what the bowlers were doing.
"There was the pressure of wickets falling around me, and their guys were being accurate, bringing in a lot of variations, especially Ashwin. I think we could've handled it a bit better as a team. But we'll learn from this and move on. It was really about giving myself a chance. As long as I did that, you could cash in at the end. Unfortunately I fell a few short of my half-century."
At 24, he has already had five years of domestic cricket behind him, having first made a splash in 2017-18, the year he was selected for the Under-19 World Cup. There, he topped the run charts in the tournament; his 418 runs in six innings comfortably ahead of second-placed Shubman Gill's 372 that would earn him the Player of the Tournament.
But it's his recent exploits that have made heads turn. Athanaze scored 647 runs at an average of 64, including two centuries and four half-centuries, for Windward Islands in the previous domestic season. Those runs earned him a place on the Test tour of South Africa earlier this year. While he didn't get a chance to play, he got an opportunity to interact with Brian Lara.
"I've been working hard. I've been working closely with Brian and he has contributed a lot to my game mentally - I wouldn't say much tactically but mentally - and that has helped me to carry my form right throughout the year," Athanaze said.
The year 2023 has been special for several reasons, not least being his Test selection. He made his ODI debut in June against UAE in Sharjah, where he slammed the joint-fastest half-century on ODI debut. The news continued to get better from there on as he then earned a maiden CPL gig with Barbados Royals. Topping all that, of course, is the Test cap that he received from Desmond Haynes in Dominica.
Athanaze doesn't speak much but is keen to make a mark with a style of play he thinks will suit him best. "My game plans basically remain the same," he said. "I am an attacking player and I will try to carry that throughout the Test match [but will] just [try] being more responsible."

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo