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West Indies’ fast bowling attack is dangerous once more – now they must be supported

Shamar Joseph
Shamar Joseph took seven for 68 in Brisbane as West Indies beat Australia for the first time in 27 years - Getty Images /Bradley Kanaris

In its last edition the Indian Premier League made itself look ridiculous by experimenting with one innovation too many, turning cricket into a 12-a-side game by introducing “the impact player.” If you want to see what a real impact player looks like, watch the new West Indies fast bowler Shamar Joseph, 24, who brings a spectacular zest to everything he does on the field.

It was thanks to Joseph that West Indies, in spite of the callowest of batting line-ups, won their last Test in Australia by eight runs in Brisbane, their first victory there for 27 years, and drew the series 1-1. It is thanks to Joseph that West Indies have a pace attack that can rattle England at some stage of this three-Test series starting at Lord’s – not enough to win a match perhaps but to give England a scare.

When the West Indian batting was disintegrating in Australia – and they have only one specialist batsman who has ever made a Test century, the captain Kraigg Brathwaite – Joseph entered at No 11 and smacked a vigorous 36 on his debut. When bowling his first ball, he ran in as quickly as any bowler can have done, and dismissed none other than Steve Smith – the ball angling in before jagging away.

What Joseph has done is to proclaim that West Indies Test cricket is not dead: everything is stacked against it, but as long as he is around, young cricketers in the Caribbean will be inspired to play the longest as well as the shortest format. Anyone indeed with even a vague interest in cricket can only have been thrilled when Joseph, in spite of his damaged toe, defeated Australia in the pink-ball Test and sprinted round the Gabba after taking seven for 68. Pure zest.

Joseph said afterwards he did not drink alcohol, and gave praise not only to God but the security guards at the Gabba for the long hours involved. For that is what Joseph used to be. While the pace-bowling debutants in England’s Test squad, Gus Atkinson and Dillon Pennington, were well-salaried and equipped with all the training facilities that English cricket can offer, Joseph was maintaining his family in up-country Guyana as a security guard.

To lead Joseph and the rest of their attack West Indies have, in Jayden Seales, another successor to the long line of superb fast bowlers that stretches back to the nineteenth century. Seales propelled Sussex to the top of the second division earlier this season; apart from his new-ball skills he dismantled Derbyshire with reverse-swing.

Jayden Seales
Jayden Seales, who will be key for the tourists this series, already has 11 England Test wickets at 26 - Getty Images/Gareth Copley

Seales, Shamar Joseph and Alzarri Joseph – the one player who is a regular in West Indies’ white-ball and red-ball teams – make up a fine young attack. They are backed by the outswing – delivered from the second highest release-point in international cricket – of Jason Holder, who has been keeping Worcestershire afloat in the first division.

Then comes everything that is not in the West Indies’ favour but stacked against them. Seales is 22; their attack leader at Lord’s should have been Kemar Roach, with his 270 Test wickets, but he injured himself while representing Surrey and has been withdrawn from this tour. It is the equivalent of James Anderson or Mark Wood getting injured while playing for Guyana or Trinidad. West Indies cannot afford the central contracts to preserve their players for their own international use, as Australia, England and India can.

West Indies cannot afford to give their budding Test players all the A tours they need. They cannot afford to give the players on this tour the match-practice they need. The old days have gone when every touring team would be given a game at Lord’s, normally against MCC, to adjust to the slope; but the least that these West Indian bowlers deserve is a second warm-up game, at Canterbury, to adjust to a similar slope, instead of one three-day game that was interrupted by rain, against a team of teenagers. England railed, rightly, when Australia put up teams of teenagers as preparation for the 2017-18 Ashes.

Brittle batting, West Indies Achilles heel

The West Indian batsmen need all the help they can get. Apart from Brathwaite, who has been round the county traps as well, their experience is paper-thin: some have scored as many as three first-class hundreds but not all. What they do have is fitness, which cannot be said of all their T20 players, and keenness and athleticism: they sowed the seeds of their own revival in Australia with their enthusiastic fielding.

Even nature has been stacked against them. Hurricane Beryl, the most savage monsoon the Caribbean has suffered in early season, apart from all the other damage, prevented Joseph leaving Guyana and playing in that solitary warm-up game. Without the stamina-building, it is asking too much of these three West Indies fast bowlers to play three Tests in three weeks, while England shuffle their pack-full of resources.

Last week the West Indies CEO Johnny Grave made a valid point in a symposium held by MCC at Lord’s. Instead of the old reciprocal system of touring – you come to our place and we will pay your bills but keep all the profits then vice versa – the Big Three countries should be paying the others something for touring them.

The World T20 Cup final was staged at the centre of cricket in the West Indies, Kensington Oval in Barbados. The central pitches on the square had not a blade of grass. When West Indies were world Test champions there was grass on those pitches, giving their fast bowlers bounce and assistance. The pitch is now bare, and the West Indies Test cupboard will be too if the likes of Joseph are not encouraged.