by our incoming Journalism Scholar, Liam McCullagh (mentored by John Harms, Footy Almanac)
If ever there was a way to win-over Australian cricket fans, then that was it.
Played with all the right gusto, spirit, and grit, intertwined with Caribbean flair, the West Indies won a Test match for the first time in 27 years on Australian soil.
It was a completely different West Indies side to the one that toured last summer.
This win was headlined by a remarkable performance from Shamar Joseph, who backed up his impressive five wickets on debut with 7/68, bowling on a suspected broken foot.
A cricketer with Shamar Joseph’s backstory is rare, he hasn’t risen through pathways or dominated school-boy cricket. Two years ago, he was a security guard and had barely bowled with a regular leather cricket ball. It would take him double the time to pave his way through the ranks of Australian cricket.
Australia’s cricketing structure, where players progress through pathways since under 14s and have access to elite coaching early in their careers is what has made us a strong cricketing nation, but also what denies us the opportunity to see stories like Shamar Joseph unfold.
After Shamar was struck by a toe-crushing Mitchell Starc yorker late on Day 3, many thought he would not return to the field. The reports were that he initially would not make it to the ground, then he wouldn’t field, then he wouldn’t bowl. But bowl he did.
Hitting paces just shy of 150kmph consistently, Shamar had the full bag of tricks in his repertoire. A settled Cameron Green was undone by extra bounce and Shamar backed that up with a searing yorker at the base of Travis Head’s off-stump, handing him a king pair.
Shamar was raw, enthusiastic, a breath of fresh air in an otherwise often tame cricket landscape. It was infectious. The energy seeped into teammates such as 24-year-old debutant Kevin Sinclair, who made a first innings 50, and cartwheeled into a backflip after dismissing Usman Khawaja for his first Test wicket on Day 2.
Shamar and Sinclair were among seven West Indies players with 10 tests or less experience; Tagenarine Chanderpaul (nine Tests), Alick Athanaze (three Tests), Kirk McKenzie (two Tests), Kavem Hodge (two Tests), and Justin Greaves (one Test).
Chanderpaul at 27-years-old still has plenty of good cricket ahead of him, Athanaze, McKenzie, and Greaves scored 30-plus runs each in the second innings. The West Indies also had five cricketers 25-years-old or under in Joshua Da Silva, 25, McKenzie, 23, Athanaze, 25, Sinclair, 24, and Shamar Joseph, 24. It’s quite the parallel when compared to an Australian side with only Cam Green under 30-years-old.
Managing the workload, especially for pace bowlers like Shamar, and 27-year-old Alzarri Joseph is the key for the youthful West Indies.
For the Aussies, maybe it was the loss they needed to have, they have won four out of five Tests this summer, and had a hectic year retaining the Ashes and winning the ODI World Cup.
Steve Smith’s innings nearly guiding Australia home and was magnificent. His audacious ramp shot for 6, mixed with his fluent back and across movement launching into cover drives brought Australia within an arm’s reach of a historic victory.
The only fault in Smith’s 91 not out was his inability to protect the tail end from the West Indian attack, which saw Australia lose 4/36 to finish the game.
Marnus Labuschagne’s lean run continues with him posting scores of 3 and 5, reducing his summer batting average to 27.7 without registering a hundred. Head’s Test match proved the adage that cricket is a great leveler. Ironic isn’t it, Man of the Match in Adelaide after a superb 119, then two balls faced for no runs at the Gabba.
Touring teams often have their token battler that Aussie cricket fans adopt as one of their own, Neil Wagner from New Zealand, Anrich Nortje from South Africa, and Aamir Jamal from Pakistan. But none has moved people to this extent. None has revived the relevance of an otherwise dying Test cricketing nation more than Shamar Joseph.
The historic West Indies win left legends such as Brian Lara and Carl Hooper teary-eyed showing how much Test cricket means to the West Indies. A nation whose stars have previously deserted it for coin in franchise cricket now finally has a young core group invested, and enthusiastic.
Test cricket is more fun to watch when the Maroon Caps are playing good cricket, they ooze swagger and are box office, let’s just hope this isn’t a one-off. Something tells me it won’t be.
Australian Cricket Society’s literary scholar Liam McCullagh is mentored by writer John Harms. His pieces are also published at www.footyalmanac.com.au .