"Little Vassy, you think you could bat here?"
This was Chris Gayle to Dominic Drakes after St Kitts and Nevis Patriots were reduced to 75 for 4, chasing 160 in the CPL final in September this year. Drakes, promoted ahead of Fabian Allen, took on the likes of Wahab Riaz and Kesrick Williams, scoring an unbeaten 24-ball 48 to steer Patriots to their first CPL title. At the post-match presentation, Drakes said that his dad, Vasbert, the former West Indies allrounder, had been more nervous than himself while watching the action from Barbados.
Drakes has enjoyed a whirlwind rise in the past few months and is set to become a West Indies international after being called up to the T20I squad touring Pakistan in December.
A day after his CPL title-winning exploits, Drakes flew to the UAE to join Mumbai Indians as a net bowler for the second leg of IPL 2021. While he was there, Chennai Super Kings roped him in as a late replacement for the injured Sam Curran, and Drakes went on to win another T20 title in the space of a month (although he didn't feature in any games). And then he joined West Indies' T20 World Cup squad as a net bowler.
He's still in the UAE, now part of the Delhi Bulls squad in the Abu Dhabi T10 league, where he has reunited with his Patriots captain Dwayne Bravo and is eyeing his third title in nearly three months.
"I wouldn't say [I'm] a champion [like Bravo] yet. It's a stretch," Drakes says. "If someone told me at the start of the year, you would win CPL, you'd go the IPL, Delhi Bulls, I'd have asked: 'Are you crazy?' Everything happens so quickly, and wow, sometimes I don't believe it, honestly. Even at CSK, I felt so welcomed - like you belong there and you've been there for years. Here at the Bulls too, the team environment is amazing.
"Ten [runs per over] on a day is going good with the ball [in T10]. If I've to bat, I've to go for more [boundaries] from the first ball to help out the team. It's challenging to bowl, but exciting to play and watch.
"The temperatures are much cooler now than when I joined the IPL for sure. I'm like: 'Am I in a different place?' When I came down for practice the first day, I felt like, is it a little chill here for the first time (laughs)."
Drakes can hit sixes lower down the order, like he showed in the CPL final, and he can be a pinch-hitting No. 3, like he showed against Deccan Gladiators in the T10. He can bowl the back-of-the-hand slower ball in addition to the standard offcutter, which often dips. His tall frame and high-arm release enable him to find extra bounce from back of a length or short of a length. Plus, he's a livewire on the field, often patrolling the boundary hotspots.
Drakes' multi-dimensional skills prompted Bravo to earmark him as one of the allrounders who could replace him in West Indies' T20I side.
"His skippership is absolutely amazing," Drakes says of Bravo. "He's always believed in his players and I really look up to him. How he goes about his training, how he goes about his diet at such an old - I don't want to call him old, but old in terms of cricket years. He has everything down to a tee. Honestly, I'd love to mimic him - his training and stuff.
"He's always had confidence in me, and once you have that confidence from your skipper, you could do anything. He helped me with little things in my game - not just skills but also the mental aspect of the game. He tells me, 'Be confident and always know what you're doing and take it one ball at a time.' That has really helped me."
Drakes is particularly excited to be playing alongside Romario Shepherd, another seam-bowling allrounder who Bravo believes has the potential to slip into his T20I shoes. After bagging 18 wickets in nine games in the CPL, Shepherd has been lethal with the bat in the T10, clubbing an unbeaten 11-ball 39 against Team Abu Dhabi and an unbeaten ten-ball 26 against Gladiators.
"He's amazing and an extremely hard-working cricketer," Drakes says of Shepherd. "If you look at his performances in the CPL, he had, like, second-most wickets and every time he had a chance, he contributed with the bat, and he's a phenomenal fielder. Here in T10, if you look at his bowling, he's really taken it on. I don't think he went at over ten [runs an over] yet - maybe the odd game."
Drakes' calendar may be packed right now, but things were a lot different earlier this year. He played only one match in West Indies' domestic Super50 Cup for Barbados before being ruled out of the rest of the tournament with an ACL tear. Around the same time, he had to deal with the passing of someone close to him.
"It was extremely difficult," he says. "In February, I felt really good and my pace was up, and I bowled a couple of overs and came back at the death. Then I went to dive at a ball at one point. Going back to the hotel room, the physio was telling me I would need surgery and it will take nine months. That was not a very good place. That was at the height of Covid as well - come home by yourself, quarantine. You had a whole week to think about it."
When Patriots' team management sat down with Drakes before the start of the CPL, they were impressed with his resolve and desire to get fit and succeed despite his recent turmoil.
At that point, Drakes wasn't a CPL regular either. After failing to defend 16 off the final over for the Barbados franchise (then Tridents) on CPL debut in 2018, with his father watching from the dugout as Barbados' assistant coach, Drakes featured in only seven matches until the start of CPL 2021.
He was picked by Patriots in 2019 and retained as their emerging player despite the uncertainty surrounding his fitness and the CPL in general due to Covid. He overcame those fitness concerns and became one of Patriots' main players in 2021.
"From a physical standpoint, we were not able to do much with Drakes," says Malolan Rangarajan, Patriots' assistant coach. "The fact that the CPL was a little bit postponed gave him more time to recover and work on his fitness. We were absolutely certain of retaining Drakes - [it] was a no-brainer. We knew the skills he possesses and how he would be able to provide us with that point of difference. If you have watched him in previous years, even though he didn't have performances like last season, he did show sparks of his ability, both with bat and ball.
"In one of our get-together sessions mid-season, him and Josh [West Indies keeper Joshua Da Silva] and myself sat together and talked about various things. Drakes was very grounded, and they were obsessed to become better cricketers. Whatever he's getting today is a by-product of that mindset.
"If you'd have told him in August that in November-December you'll be playing in maroon [for West Indies], he'd have laughed it off. I just credit the guy's determination and he repaid the faith we had in him."
Drakes repaid that faith in spades in the final against St Lucia Kings. On debut in 2018, it was Allen who laid into him in that final over. Three years later, Drakes was bumped up ahead of Patriots' gun finisher, partly in order to maintain a left-right combination, with Bravo in the middle. With Wahab bowling into the pitch and firing in yorkers, Drakes sat deep in the crease and, once he got the leverage, maintained a strong base and swung for the hills. When Wahab thumped a heavy length and shifted his lines wide of off, Drakes' foot was out of position, but he still extended his hands and crunched the ball over extra cover for six - a candidate for the shot of the tournament.
Drakes has spent most of his time in the UAE since the CPL final, but ahead of his first T10 stint with Bulls, he returned home to Barbados and relived his CPL heroics with his parents.
"He's always nervous," Drakes says of his father. "Even coming down to T10, he's like: 'Make sure, you got this, got that.' I say: 'Yes, Daddy, I understand' (laughs). We actually sat home and watched [the CPL final] it as a family with my mom. After each ball, he would tell me how he was feeling at that time and stuff like that.
"That most exciting part of it was when he said my mom was extremely nervous too (laughs). He said that the one part he could never forget was the last ball, because Roston Chase was playing for St Lucia - he plays for Barbados [in domestic cricket]. So a majority of Bajans were watching the game. He said for that one ball everything stopped in Barbados. He couldn't even hear a car pass."
While Drakes is currently the top wicket-taker for Bulls in the T10 league, with nine wickets from six innings at an economy rate of 9.81, he is yet to fire like can with the bat.
Hitting sixes on demand is a difficult skill, more so in T10 cricket, and Drakes says he just goes back to the basics to get it right.
"Even at the nets, I don't try to smash it from the first ball. I try and make sure I'm in a right position - head over ball - and just try and let the instincts take over."
Drakes is keen to avoid complacency and hopes to build on his gains in the past four months. It may not be long before "Little Vassy" becomes Big Vassy.
"For me, it's always trying to be better and not sit back and relaxing," Drakes says. "I don't want to look back and say I had a better 2021 than 2022. I always want to be better than last year and better than my last performance. I don't want to be stagnant - just want to keep training as hard."