Shamar Joseph shows he, and the West Indies, have the heart for Test cricket
Debut Test series don’t come much better than the one enjoyed by Shamar Joseph.
Even if the sum of the 24-year-old Guyanese rookie’s achievements had been to be named player of the series after bowling his team to a famously unexpected victory at the Gabba, it would have marked a dream start to his Test career.
But the way in which he did it is how genuine legends are created.
Lying awake in bed at 3am, his toe throbbing and “in terrible pain” after being crushed by a vicious Mitch Starc bouncer earlier that night, even Joseph didn’t think he’d be able to play a role other than cheerleader on day four.
“I wasn’t expecting to play, so I came in my training kit to just watch on,” Joseph said.
“At 11:30 [West Indies team Doctor Denis] Byam told me I need you at the ground.
“I said, to be fair I’m not feeling well but I will just come and support the guys.
“So the skipper come up to me this morning and said, ‘[Are] you ready? You’re starting this morning.'”
That led to another problem.
“I was in the dressing room [with] my shoes on, my boxers and my hat, just waiting for my clothes to come because I knew that my skipper needed me out here,” Joseph said amidst much laughter.
It’s a hilarious aside to a stunning tale.
Joseph was, first, pressed into wearing substitute fielder Zachary McCaskie’s kit while someone urgently went back to the hotel to get his.
Denied entry to the field until he had McCaskie’s number and name taped up, Joseph eventually took to the field.
Soon after being reunited with his own playing shirt, Joseph was thrown the ball.
At the end of an 11.5-over spell, split only by a delayed dinner break, Joseph was wheeling away in pure ecstasy after castling Josh Hazlewood’s off stump to hand the West Indies a first victory on Australian soil in 27 years.
“I think the pain was just off then,” Joseph said with a grin.
“After getting that last wicket I didn’t feel anything., It was just pure joy.”
‘Special’ Joseph shows incredible heart
“From speaking to him, I knew he was special,” West Indies skipper Kraigg Brathwaite said.
“He was just confident. He always has that self belief. He’s a star.
“Today was a prime example.
“He told me, ‘I’m not putting down this ball until the last wicket falls’.
“This was a guy who had an injury on his toe. I mean, that’s just heart.”
A bold and prophetic claim from a man who only made his first class debut for Guyana in February last year.
“I can’t explain it, to be fair,” Joseph said, having limped into the press conference with his player of the match medal around his neck and the Richie Benaud medal for player of the series firmly clasped in his grip.
“Having people that believe in you, that gave me a lot of confidence.
“When I met the captain — we met on this tour — having a captain like this, that doesn’t know much about you, just from watching you play first class cricket but you still know that he believes in you.
“I say, ‘just give me the ball. I’m not coming off.’
“Even if he want me to come off, I wouldn’t come off.
“I just want to make him proud, I think i did make him proud and happy. I will always stick by his side. and he believed in me.
“He said, ‘just keep going, just keep going,’ Alzarri [Joseph] came to me and said the same thing: ‘Take that pain and get a wicket’.
“So I said I’d do it for him and the team.”
Putting the pain aside, Joseph tore through the Australian top order.
His 7-68, the product of his relentless line and length and genuine pace — he was clocked at 149kph towards the end of his spell — drove the West Indies to victory.
His joyous celebrations following every wicket though were the heartbeat that helped infuse the tourists with the belief they needed to secure their biggest result in a generation.
“Going out there, to pick up eight wickets, to just get 154 runs against a great team like Australia, that’s amazing,” Joseph said.
“Bowling with Alzarri Joseph and Kemar Roach, I don’t want any other better feelings than support like this.”
West Indies must push on
Prior to the series, few gave the tourists any hope of being competitive.
With seven uncapped players and several big names left at home, the West Indies were, frankly, disrespected.
Brathwaite called out former Australian Test player Rod Hogg for saying the tourists were “pathetic and hopeless” during the post-match presentation, adding fuel to a fire that still burns bright for Test cricket in the Caribbean despite fears to the contrary.
“He expressed himself how he felt about us as a group, so we just wanted to let him know that we heard him,” Brathwaite said.
“Playing Test cricket is never an easy thing to do … but if you have a guy disrespecting West Indies and West Indies cricket and us as players, it’s hurtful.
“So for us to come and do it it was great.
“[But] We just won one Test match.
“This is a new beginning for us, we now have work to do.
“I believe we have the talent and it shows the world that we are going to be competitive and win Test matches, but we need more Test cricket.
“What we have to do now, we have to go back home and we have to keep the same mentality towards preparation.
“Be examples. Be leaders. Don’t get success and then [be] slacking off.
“The key for us is never to slack off, and to have heart.
“We did well, but this is just one Test win. We have a number of Test matches remaining this year, so it now begins. This time type of attitude, It has to continue. We can’t be slacking off.”
Some of that work is to play more Test cricket, but another will be to maintain Joseph’s focus on the long form game while he is doubtless besieged by the pitfalls of the franchise short form game.
“It’s a balance,” Brathwaite said.
“Alzarri Joseph, he’s in IPL, he has a lot of heart for Test cricket, and he wants to be here.
“Once you have the love for this game, this hard Test cricket, once you have the right balance, that’s key.”
Joseph’s response though, had Brian Lara clapping in the back of the room.
“This was my dream, to play Test cricket for the West Indies,” he said.
“There will be times that T20 will come around … [but] I will always be available to play for the West Indies, no matter how much money it takes.
“I will always be here to play Test cricket.”
It is a sentence that is as much music to our ears as his emphatic celebrations.
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