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Feature

Akeal Hosein vows to follow the Jadeja blueprint for West Indies allrounder role

"I'm just working my way up the ladder and hopefully the world can see I'm a genuine allrounder," says the 28-year-old

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
08-Feb-2022
Akeal Hosein at a West Indies training session, Abu Dhabi, November 4, 2021

For me, even now, I still work on variations." - Akeal Hosein  •  ICC via Getty Images

Akeal Hosein has a signed jersey from Ravindra Jadeja in the cupboard of his place back home. It was a gift from Jason Holder while he was with the Chennai Super Kings. At the time, Hosein was an up-and-coming age-group cricketer making rapid strides in Trinidad and Tobago. Bowling left-arm wristspin got him noticed easily, and his prodigious talent as a big-hitting allrounder got him into the first XI of the Queen's Park Cricket Club.
It was there that he would regularly meet Sunil Narine and Kieron Pollard. From being an awestruck teenager then, Hosein is now a mature 28-year-old who is aware of his game and the areas he needs to improve to become the best version of himself. He has traded left-arm wristspin for left-arm orthodox and is happy with his decision. On his first tour to India, he would've hoped to play opposite Jadeja, but for now, he is happy to have picked up certain cues from the Indian allrounder and put it to practice.
Two years ago, when India toured the Caribbean, he actually got to meet Jadeja. At the time, he was bowling to the Indian team in the nets. After the session, he had an opportunity to pick Jadeja's brain. It wasn't a long chat, but one that Hosein remembers fondly.
"The chat was more along the lines of how he deals with international cricket," Hosein said. "He shared his experiences and told me a couple of things I need to do to put myself in positions from where I can do well with bat and ball. It's definitely information I took in and I'm going to go about it as he said. Hopefully one day, I become an allrounder for my team."
Hosein, currently the highest-ranked T20I bowler for West Indies at 18th, switched over from left-arm wristspin accidentally. Ahead of a club final in 2014, Hosein, who wasn't supposed to play because he was nursing a shoulder injury, rocked up at the ground not wanting to miss an important game. He made the XI, and it was there that he bowled left-arm orthodox. It worked wonders and he has stuck with it since.
What has also stuck with him since is his fondness for Narine and Pollard, his club seniors, who are now "more than just friends." Many years ago, Pollard ensured a young Hosein always had his cricket gear and equipment sorted right. Hosein was also a beneficiary of some financial life lessons from Pollard which eventually helped him buy his first car. As for Narine, the proximity of the club ground from their respective homes, helped them develop a bond.
"These guys are always around," Hosein said. "We play at the same club, so that's where the relationship grew up. No matter which part of the world you're in, these guys are a phone call away. Having these guys in your circle helps. They pave the way for you. They have been there and done that and help you with any obstacles or challenges you face. I can always rely on them for any sort of information."
In 2021, Hosein spent nearly four months feeding off lessons from Narine. They were team-mates at Trinbago Knight Riders, after which Hosein earned the opportunity of being a net bowler at Kolkata Knight Riders. Then, he was summoned into the West Indies squad for the T20 World Cup as a late injury replacement for Fabian Allen. He made a mark in his very first outing by taking an outstanding one-handed catch, diving full length to his left, to dismiss Jonny Bairstow. He finished the campaign with five wickets in as many games at an economy of 7.00.
Before his first outing, though, he was slightly jittery and needed Narine's words to calm him down. "I reached out to Sunil and told him I'm feeling terrible in the nets. He said, 'Don't be surprised, that's how it goes. Some days you feel terrible but the next day, the ball will come out perfectly in the match'. It was slightly worrying [at the time] because it was just a day before the game. But after the conversation, I felt much better and, in the match, the ball came out beautifully."
Hosein comes across as a thinker of the game. He loves to work on his variations and picking up various cues and markers from different bowlers. Over the last three CPL seasons, he has an economy rate of 5.56 in the first six overs. Among those who have bowled at least 100 balls during this period, only Narine, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Mohammad Nabi have done better
Hosein is also among a rare breed of left-arm spinners working on variations like the carrom ball and knuckle ball. He already has an inswinger, which he used to bowl Aaron Finch in the T20 World Cup last year.
"For me, even now, I still work on variations," he said. "Playing at this level, you can't stay stagnant fort too long. You have to make sure you are spot-on. It's always about growth and development. As you go along, you meet players, and pick one or two things, have conversations [with them]. For me, it's about reaching out to mates and come up with different things.
"Sometimes all it takes is laying in your room and just flicking the ball around and suddenly something may pop up in your head, and then you go into training and practice it. All of a sudden, it works out for you and then you go into the game and do it. For me, it's about sharing ideas, having an open mind, getting information from guys, and practicing it."
Sunday was Hosein's first outing in India. Having only watched matches here on TV, he's now enjoying the process of learning how to bowl in alien conditions. "It's only been one match so far, but I'm sort of trying to get your own feedback and information. I have gotten info from some people I'm close to. It's about reading what type of pitch it is, soil it is and see what works on the day. Sometimes you get info, and it doesn't help you in the match. It's definitely something you have to go out and feel for yourself and keep that info at the back of your mind."
As hard as he works on his bowling, Hosein wants to make big contributions with the bat. Two weeks ago, he gave glimpses of that ability in a T20I against England, where he smashed 28 runs off the final over with West Indies needing 30. Hosein ended up with 44 not out off just 16 balls, his T20I best. Earlier in the game, he had finished with 1 for 15 in three overs. Is he thinking about the IPL auction this weekend? "No, I'm thinking about the remaining two ODIs," he said. "If we win that, we win the series."
And as far as being an allrounder goes, he believes, "I'm 50-50. I definitely see myself as a total allrounder. I'm just working my way up the ladder and hopefully the world can see I'm a genuine allrounder."

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo