Shamar Joseph's journey: From a village by the Canje river to the Gabba | Cricket - Hindustan Times
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Shamar Joseph's journey: From a village by the Canje river to becoming the face of West Indies' miracle at the Gabba

Jan 29, 2024 01:13 PM IST

Just three years before he entered West Indies folklore, Shamar Joseph made a decision to leave Baracara, a remote village in Guyana, seeking better employment.

"I am not afraid to say this... there will be times when T20 might come around and Test cricket will be there. But I will always be available to play for the West Indies no matter how much money comes towards me," Shamar Joseph said in a press conference with his captain Kraigg Brathwaite, who proceeded to give him a couple of pats on his back. That statement was lost in the sea of positivity for West Indies fans, and fans of cricket in general, after the Caribbean islanders managed to pull off one of the all-time great shockers by beating reigning world Test champions and world No.1 Australia at the Gabba in Brisbane.

Shamar Joseph returned figures of 7/68 in a stunning 10-over spell despite having fractured his toe the previous day while batting (AP)
Shamar Joseph returned figures of 7/68 in a stunning 10-over spell despite having fractured his toe the previous day while batting (AP)

The odds that were stacked against them were seemingly endless. West Indies had won just two Test matches in the last four years before this game. Their ICC ranking was eighth and star names like Jason Holder and Kyle Mayers chose to sit this series out and focus instead on T20 leagues with an eye on the T20 World Cup later this year. They had not beaten Australia in a Test match since 2003 and never beaten them Down Under since 1996/97. This depleted West Indies side had also been thrashed in the first Test of this series. Joseph, who made his Test debut in that match, remained the lone positive for the West Indies, famously dismissing Steve Smith off the very first ball of his career and going on to take five wickets. With Australia needing just 26 to win in their second innings, Joseph bowled just 1.4 overs but he included a few nasty deliveries in that, even sending back Usman Khawaja with a vicious bouncer. He ended up becoming the face of the West Indies' historic win in the second Test and with that came renewed interest on the story of his life, with South Africa great AB de Villiers saying that it brought a tear to his eye.

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A meteoric rise that started on the banks of the Canje river

Joseph grew up in Baracara, a remote village by the Canje river in Guyana. It is only accessible by boat from the port city of New Amsterdam and it is only in 2018 that the village got access to landlines and the internet. Like most in the village, Joseph worked as a logger and three years ago, a tree almost fell on him and crushed him to death. Joseph's partner was pregnant at the time and both these factors prompted to him to leave the village to seek better employment. This prompted him to travel 121km by boat his native to New Amsterdam where he initially worked in construction, just three years before he would become part of West Indies cricket folklore. "But I wasn't very good at my job. I am scared of heights and this job involved working at great heights. So, I just ended up becoming a labourer there," Joseph told Cricbuzz. Then came a job as a security guard, where he was working 12-hour shift. Safe to say that playing any kind of cricket in these circumstances was impossible. "But I have no regrets from having worked as a security guard. I earned from it to maintain my family. It was great. I worked around good people," he said.

Impressing a legend

Joseph's cricket experience growing up was watching Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose in the grainy broadcast that his village would receive and imitating them in tape ball games. He reportedly started bowling with fruits such as lemons, limes, guavas and peaches along with a tape ball. In New Amsterdam, he happened to be neighbours with Romario Shepherd, who has played 28 ODIs and 32 T20Is for the West Indies. The all-rounder introduced Joseph to the rest of the Guyana cricket team and head coach Esuan Crandon. He trained with the national players briefly and among the experiences he had was attending a fast bowling clinic in Berbice run by Ambrose.

"Curtly saw me bowl. He tapped me on the shoulder. He said next year I want to see you in the Guyana team next year. I ended up taking eight wickets in a trial game soon after, and I get my maiden call-up. And he reached out to me right away and he said he was happy and proud that I kept my word to him. That I made him proud. He still reaches out and advices me," said Joseph on Cricbuzz.

The breakthrough

He did get a break in Division 1 cricket, where he recorded figures of 6/13 on debut. He stayed in and around the higher level of the sport while playing club cricket as a net bowler in the Caribbean Premier League. Eventually, he was one of four uncapped players named by Guyana ahead of the first class season in February last year. Soon, Joseph had to come to terms with concepts such as fitness and training. Someone asked me once, if my bowling was just natural ability or if I'd trained to get here. And I didn't know what training meant. It was just natural ability, I said. I did running. But I didn't know that running was part of fitness. I remember when I played first-class cricket, all this running through cones and stuff, I had no idea about. Everything was new for me," he said. His first class debut came on February 1, 2023 against Barbados. Later, he was named as replacement for the injured Keemo Paul in the CPL for the Guyana Amazon Warriors. Joseph has said that he has since been thankfull to Guyana's talent scout Prasanna Agoram, who had convinced captain Imran Tahir to sign him up as he had seen Joseph a number of times as a net bowler.

Both these events sparked a meteoric rise through the ranks that culminated in him being named as one of seven debutants in the West Indies squad for their two-Test tour of Australia. And then came that blockbuster first delivery in international cricket that knocked Smith over. A crushed toe in the second Test and the 10-over spell thereafter which made him the life of the kind of victory that brought tears into the eyes of Brian Lara and Carl Hooper.

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