Shamar Joseph
Shamar Joseph of the West Indies with the Player of the Series medal at the end of the second cricket Test against Australia at the Gabba in Brisbane on January 28, 2024. Joseph’s seven-wicket haul helped the West Indies win the Test and level the series. Image Credit: AFP

Shamar Joseph is the toast of the West Indies and cricketing world. Rightly so, after having bowled the Caribbean side to a Test win in Brisbane on Sunday — their first in Australia since 1997.

The image of Joseph racing to the boundary after rattling Josh Hazlewood’s stumps has gone viral on social media as the world rejoiced at the West Indian victory. The series was drawn 1-1, yet it feels like the West Indies have claimed it. That’s because West Indian wins are a rarity, more so in Tests.

Cricketing enthusiasts love the Caribbean flair. Clive Lloyd’s all-conquering side in the eighties and early nineties ensured that their explosive strokeplay and fiery fast bowling remained seared in our memories. With Lloyd’s retirement, West Indian cricket went into decline.

The Caribbean fount of effervescent cricketers ran dry. There was an occasional Brian Lara or a Chris Gayle, but a steady crop of quality cricketers capable of disrupting the world cricket order never materialised.

The only bright spots were the triumphs in the T20 World Cup. Even that too seemed like aberrations as the West Indies failed to qualify for the 50-over World Cup in India last year. Amid the bleak scenario comes the win at Gabba. An unexpected win, which followed a crippling loss in Adelaide. A win fashioned by the genius of Shamar Joseph.

From Guyana to Australia: Shamar Joseph’s journey

The victory belonged to him. A virtual unknown from Guyana, his rise was meteoric. A year ago, Joseph was not even a first-class cricketer. His village of Baracara is a 225km boatride from the nearest town and was plugged to the internet only in 2018. Joseph, who worked as a security guard, quit his job to pursue his cricket ambitions.

West Indian player Romario Shepherd helped Joseph break into the Guyana side. His impressive performances gave him a chance to figure in the Caribbean Premier League, and earned a call-up to the West Indies A team. Soon he boarded the flight to Australia as one of the seven uncapped players.

It was a dream debut in Adelaide as Joseph dismissed Steven Smith with the first delivery of his Test career, and a five-wicket haul followed. With West Indies battling to save the Brisbane Test, the 24-year-old spent a night pain after his toe was crushed by a Mitchell Starc yorker. He didn’t expect to play on the final day and arrived at the Gabba in shorts. By then painkillers gave him the strength to take the field.

When Joseph came on to bowl Australia were 156 runs away from sealing the series, chasing a 216-run target. The West Indies needed eight wickets for an unlikely win. And Joseph began to work his magic.

Cameron Green’s was the first wicket, the ball crashing onto the stumps from his elbow. Travis Head was yorked next ball, and Mitchell Marsh flashed one to the slips. Alex Carey, Starc and Pat Cummins followed. When Hazlewood was castled, Joseph had bowled 11.5 overs unchanged for a haul of 7-68. Heady stuff, indeed. A West Indian Test win too! That’s precious.

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Kraigg Brathwaite’s team won by eight wickets to square the two-Test series, and former players Brian Lara and Carl Hooper wept in joy. As the West Indies bask in the glory of an incredible victory, the question that comes to mind is, have the West Indies turned a corner?

One swallow doesn’t make a summer. A win doesn’t mean a turnaround in fortunes. Until the West Indies replicate the success consistently, this win can be seen only as a sliver of hope. Remember, the West Indies lost the first Test by 10 wickets. So, there’s plenty of work to be done.

Where will Shamar Joseph go from here? Can he build on the Gabba success? Difficult to say. He had a five-wicket haul in Adelaide, and the Brisbane spell has only burnished his reputation. Soon he will become a hot property, sought by the T20 leagues worldwide.

Will Shamar Joseph deliver on his promise?

Joseph has a languid run-up and smooth delivery stride. He has speed too, and the skills. The Gabba spell showed a steely determination to fight the odds. These attributes will stand him in good stead in testing times. Will he fade away like others before him? That’s a worry.

After Courtney Walsh, the West Indies never had a world-class speedster. Many, including Shamar Joseph’s teammates Kemar Roach and Alzarri Joseph, were spoken of highly, but never lived up to the early promise. The West Indies will hope for more matchwinning performances from Shamar Joseph. That will help the West Indies claw back from the backwaters of Test cricket.