West Indies completed a series win over England as they took an unassailable 2-0 lead in Antigua. Patrick Noone looks at how Alzarri Joseph played a pivotal role in the home side’s win.
Alzarri Joseph cannot have had many more difficult days as a cricketer than today. Before play started this morning, it was announced that his mother had died after battling a long illness. At that point, no-one could have blamed Joseph if he had chosen to take no further part in the game. To his eternal credit, and in an act that demonstrated supreme mental strength and courage, Joseph not only took part but played a key role in West Indies’ ten-wicket win.
His first involvement in the day’s proceedings was to hang around with the bat to frustrate England, facing 20 balls and adding seven runs. That might not sound like a lot, but it was an early indication that Joseph was as focused as ever and was not going to let the most personal of tragedies affect his team’s chances of winning the match.
It was not until the 16th over of England’s response that Joseph was thrown the ball by his captain, Jason Holder. It began a thrilling, relentless 7-over spell before tea that accounted for both Joe Denly and Joe Root and helped to swing the game even further towards West Indies. He did not even concede a run until his fourth over.
England were simply unable to get Joseph away; he bowled shorter than a good length 81% of the time during his spell and England did not score a single run off those shorter deliveries. Joseph peppered the visitors with that consistent length, pinning them back and limiting their scoring options.
Tellingly, England were unable to score a run off the back foot against him during that spell. That speaks not just to a persistent length but to an unerring accuracy that tied England’s batsmen down.
When bowling to England’s right-handers, Joseph bowled 45% of his deliveries in the channel outside off-stump. A further 21% were wide outside the off-stump and only eight balls were in line with the stumps at the point they reached the batsman.
Two of those eight balls were the wickets of Denly and Root though. The former was undone by a subtle change of pace and length from Joseph that served to illustrate the fine margins between success and failure in this game.
The delivery before his dismissal, Denly correctly ascertained that the ball would harmlessly pass the stumps and confidently let it go through to Shane Dowrich behind the stumps. The next ball, he attempted to do the same, but Joseph had bowled 2kph quicker and 78cm fuller. Denly could only hold the pose as he heard the death rattle of the ball clipping his off-stump.
In recent years, it has become commonplace to criticise bowlers, particularly opening quicks, for not hitting the stumps enough. Fans and pundits are frequently frustrated by bowlers continually bowling outside batsmen’s off-stump rather than attacking the front pad or firing it in at the base of middle stump. It’s sometimes seen as a case of the bowler wasting deliveries when we intuitively think that attacking the stumps would naturally bring more reward.
But Joseph showed that it is not how often you hit the stumps that counts, rather when you do attack them, make it count. That’s exactly what he did with the wicket of Denly, luring him to leave the one delivery he couldn’t afford to. It looked ugly from the batsman’s point of view, but it was the only ball of Joseph’s spell that would have hit the stumps; as poor a dismissal as it might have been, Denly deserves at least some leeway for that fact alone.
Joseph flew somewhat under the radar in Barbados, not because he bowled poorly, just that it was the other members of the West Indies bowling attack who took centre stage. Shannon Gabriel with his raw pace, Kemar Roach and Jason Holder for the way they skittled England for 77 in the first innings, Roston Chase for his remarkable 8-60 in the second innings.
Even in Antigua, Joseph will perhaps not attract the same headlines as some of his team-mates; Roach picked up another eight wickets, Darren Bravo faced more than 200 balls on an up and down pitch, Holder took key scalps in the second innings on his way to match figures of 5-86.
However, it was Joseph’s spell in the hour before tea that embodied how West Indies have played in these two Tests – spirited, skilful and ruthless. The 22-year-old showed maturity beyond his years just to take part today. To then make the unimaginably difficult appear so easy and so natural speaks volumes about the temperament of the young quick.
Today’s victory completed a famous series win for West Indies; it will be talked about, cherished and lauded for many a year. For Alzarri Joseph, the Antiguan fast bowler who took to the field on his home ground to win a match for his country, it will mean more than any of us can ever know.
Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.