West Indies' Alzarri Joseph set to challenge England again during three-Test #raisethebat series
Young quick showed skill and heart when sides met in Caribbean in 2019, playing on in Antigua just hours after the death of his mother
By David Ruse
Last Updated: 29/06/20 7:01am
Alzarri Joseph's first Test on his home island of Antigua is one he will never be able to forget.
That looked set to be because of the brutish delivery with which he dismissed Joe Root on day one at North Sound in January 2019.
Joseph - who, six overs earlier, had Joe Denly caught behind off a long hop with his first ball - got a delivery to bounce venomously off the surface and into the shell-shocked England captain's bat handle before it was caught at gully by Shai Hope after a parry from John Campbell at third slip.
But ahead of day three news broke that Joseph's world had been rocked by the death of his mother, Sharon, after a long battle with illness. Dismissing England's best batsman no longer mattered.
Yet, Joseph played on - and dismissed him again, and Denly once more, too, during a speedy and skilful seven-over spell as England tumbled to 59-4 and, ultimately, to 132 all out and a series defeat.
The seamer, quite understandably, did not bellow with delight at his wickets - he didn't even appeal after the delivery from which Root was eventually given out caught behind following a successful review.
But his team-mates were ecstatic for him and must have known, if they didn't already, that this was a man with serious potential. Serious ability. Serious courage.
For me that was a really hard time. But I used that as motivation for me to go out and on that day especially make some memories, something to remember her by. I just kept on doing everything I had to, to make her proud.
Alzarri Joseph on playing on after the death of his mother
"Alzarri was exceptional," West Indies skipper Jason Holder said after a day on which both sets of players wore black armbands as a tribute to the bowler's late mother and Joseph received a long ovation from the crowd after coming out to bat in his team's second innings.
"It took a lot of heart for him to be on the field. I think a lot of people wouldn't have been able to but credit to him.
"I felt it personally when I got the news that [Sharon] had passed away and to see [Alzarri] in tears this morning was even harder.
"It was up to him if he played. If he felt he could manage and take the field for the West Indies and perform then I wasn't going to deprive him of that.
"I knew he wanted to do something special for his mum and credit to him - he held his hand up high and did an exceptional job for us."
Unfortunately, injury has often prevented Joseph from adding to his reputation, before and since that match in Antigua.
The 6ft 4in quick has only managed nine Tests since his three-wicket debut against India in St Lucia in 2016 - a game in which he made one of Root's 'top four' contemporaries, Virat Kohli, his maiden international scalp with another superb bouncing delivery.
A stress fracture of the back meant he went 17 months without a Test appearance between August 2017 and January 2019, while a dislocated shoulder suffered at last year's IPL ruled him out of the Cricket World Cup.
The Caribbean side could certainly have done with him if his IPL-record 6-12 from 3.4 overs on debut for Mumbai Indians against Sunrisers Hyderabad is anything to go by, in which he dismissed David Warner with his first delivery during a wicket-maiden.
Joseph at 2016 Under-19 Cricket World Cup
Joseph picked up 13 wickets in six games for champions West Indies, including each of India’s top three in the final, which his side won by five wickets. His tournament bowling average was 13.76 and his economy rate just 3.31, while he bowled the fastest ball of the competition.
Now fully recovered, Joseph, 23, managed some sustained cricket before coronavirus halted the game worldwide, with nine wickets in as many CPL games for St Kitts and Nevis Patriots preceding a return to the West Indies line-up for ODIs against Afghanistan, India, Ireland and Sri Lanka.
After steady displays against India and Afghanistan before the turn of the year, Joseph upped things come January, February and March with 18 wickets in six games, including three four-wicket hauls and two three-fors across the matches at home to Ireland and in Sri Lanka.
West Indies head coach Phil Simmons said of Joseph during that excellent run: "I think he's hit the areas he's wanted to hit more often than the other bowlers in the team and he's come out with success.
"He seems to be maturing very quickly. Not just on the pitch, but the way he prepares and the way he talks about cricket and about bowling."
And now Joseph is poised to come steaming into England once again, having been named in a 14-man party for the behind-closed-doors, three-Test #raisethebat series - games in which he is determined to prove he is not the "weaker link" in West Indies' potent pace cabal.
He played just three matches in West Indies' first-class tournament for Leeward Islands this season but still picked up 11 wickets at an average of 25, with a best return of 5-41 against Windward Islands.
Joseph's batting stats, however, were the most eye catching as he averaged 117.50 from his five innings with a strike rate over 96 after being dismissed only twice and tonking a career-best 89 from 92 deliveries against Jamaica, an innings that featured six sixes.
It is his bowling, though, that Root's men will be most wary of, with great Antiguan quick Andy Roberts suggesting Joseph and the uncapped Chemar Holder can become the "backbone" of the West Indies attack.
I know my abilities – [my opponents] might not know, but once I get out there on the day and get the job done, I know I can get on top of any opponent.
"[Holder], along with Alzarri, will be the backbone of West Indies fast bowling within the next five or six years. I'm hoping that I don't talk too soon. But you need to have two genuine fast bowlers who can bowl in pairs. Alzarri is a good youngster coming up," Roberts said on the YouTube channel of fellow former Windies quick Michael Holding.
This good youngster endured a tough time in his only Test in England to date, going wicketless and for 109 runs across his 22 overs in the pink-ball Test at Edgbaston in 2017 - but says he learnt from the trip.
"I think I have made some improvements as a bowler, that was a really big learning experience for me, my first time in England," said Joseph, who took six wickets across West Indies' first intra-squad warm-up match.
"I have some experience here now, I'll know more about these conditions the second time around. The ball does a bit more here in England than in the Caribbean, so it needs some slight adjustments."
Roberts, speaking before that series three years ago, said Joseph certainly had the skills for English conditions.
"He swings the ball a bit which is not common [for West Indies seamers]. I won't be surprised early on, if he takes the new ball, if he takes one or two early wickets," Roberts had told Cricinfo.
Swinging the ball in England this summer could prove trickier with the saliva ban implemented by the ICC but Joseph has come through challenges before, none tougher than day three in Antigua in early 2019.