February 21, 2016

Should Alzarri Joseph be picked for West Indies?

Some of the best fast bowlers have been blooded young, and this Under-19 world champion has already impressed the likes of Wes Hall

Alzarri Joseph: ready for the rigours (and the dramas) of playing international cricket for West Indies? © Getty Images

Concerned that the prevalence of spin was "impacting negatively" on pace, the West Indies Cricket Board directed its cricket committee last June "to make further recommendations to prioritise the development of fast bowlers in the region and for the West Indies team".

Whether or not purely coincidental, the powerfully built Alzarri Joseph, 6ft 4in of genuine pace, has suddenly emerged to unsettle batsmen and ease the WICB's anxiety.

The reasonable expectation is that his influence on the West Indies' triumph in the recent Under-19 World Cup, beamed live on television throughout the Caribbean, might inspire a revival of fast bowling, always the hallmark of the finest West Indies teams.

Joseph was clocked delivering the fastest ball in the tournament - at 91.5mph. He consistently hovered around the high 80s-90mph. He claimed at least one wicket in each of his opening bursts. Helmets were hit, gloves were jammed against bat handles. Of his 13 wickets, four were bowled, with stumps ripped out of the ground, three were lbw, and three caught by wicketkeeper Tevin Imlach off tentative edges or miscued hooks. Another was stumped, not a notation to please any fast bowler, as the alert Imlach pinged the stumps when India's careless opener Rishabh Pant was out of his ground after letting the third ball he faced in the final go through.

Joseph performed similar feats for Leeward Islands Hurricanes in the first-class Professional Cricket League, before the World Cup. On a helpful pitch at Windsor Park in Dominica, his return was 7 for 46 against Windward Islands last November.

The questions now arise as to whether his record merits his immediate elevation into the West Indies senior team for their next international engagements, the three-way ODI series with Australia and South Africa in the Caribbean in June, to be followed by four Tests against India, or whether the selectors will waver over his inexperience.

Creating problems for teenaged batsmen is an entirely different proposition from confronting David Warner, AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli and their cronies in the intense competition at the highest level.

Given the struggles of the two bowlers in the current team who once were regularly capable of 140kph pace and above, and with no other genuine contenders, Joseph's pace is enough to secure his ticket through.

On the recent tour of Australia, Jerome Taylor and Kemar Roach, the only active West Indians with over 100 Test wickets each, made negligible impressions. Taylor's two wickets in four innings cost him 128.5 runs each; Roach, his clocking markedly down from his previous top speeds, took none. On his return to the Barbados team in the first-class tournament, he broke down in his fourth over and did not return.

Joseph's present position equates to that of Kagiso Rabada in the 2014 U-19 World Cup. Fast and hostile, Rabada was the key to South Africa's championship, just as Joseph was to West Indies in Bangladesh. South Africa's selectors wasted no time including Rabada in the ODI and Test teams. On his ODI debut, he scattered Bangladesh with figures of 6 for 16; now aged 20, he already has 24 wickets in six Tests (average 24.7) and 30 in 14 ODIs (20.13). Cricket's sky is his limit.

Wes Hall, one of the famous West Indies tearaways of an earlier generation, is in no doubt that the same route should be open to Joseph. "Fast bowling is one area you can take the chance of selecting raw talent," he says.

Hall was 19 and had converted from wicketkeeper to fast bowler at the Combermere School in Barbados in the space of a year when chosen for the West Indies 1957 tour of England purely on his potential, pace and powerful physique. He didn't make the Test team, ending with 27 first-class wickets, but it was a valuable experience.

"I really didn't know much about bowling, didn't even know how to hold the ball, but I took my time to learn," he explains. When West Indies next toured, for five Tests in India and three in Pakistan in 1958-59, Hall was a last-minute replacement for Frank Worrell. His 46 wickets in eight Tests, including a hat-trick against Pakistan, the first by a West Indian, heralded the start of a ten-year career that ended with 192 wickets and a reputation as one of the game's fastest bowlers.

Big Bird Garner would like to see some of the U-19 players thrown in at the deep end of international cricket © Getty Images

"I believe Joseph is much more advanced at 19 than I was," Hall says says. "I first saw him in a feature on the Sportsmax television channel about two years ago, bowling in the nets. I sat up and took notice right away. It was much the same in the World Cup. He has a strong action that helps his pace and his control. I'd be disappointed if he doesn't go on to lead the West Indies attack for the next decade or so."

Joel Garner would go even further than Hall with the promotion of young players. "If I had to take a chance, I would thrust two or three of you in at the deep end now," he told the U-19 world champions at a welcome function on their return home. Now president of the Barbados Cricket Association and a WICB director, he said the team had "brought back energy and excitement to watching West Indies cricket again, even though it was at junior level".

He himself had been "thrust into the deep end" in the 1977 home series against Pakistan, aged 24, after just five first-class matches. He took 25 wickets on his way to an eventual 259.

Wayne Daniel was the last West Indian fast bowler to move quickly from the U-19 team (to England in 1974), aged 18, into the Test team two years later against India in the Caribbean, and against England in England. The glut of fast bowlers at the time limited him to ten Tests. Instead, he became a feared opponent with Middlesex in the English County Championship.

Hall used the cases of Wasim Akram and Fidel Edwards to illustrate his point that it is worth taking the chance with raw talent. Wasim and Edwards were first spotted by the respective Test captains, Imran Khan of Pakistan and Brian Lara of West Indies, filling the job as net bowlers. Recognising their pace and their potential, the captains had them immediately propelled into the Test team.

Akram's vicious left-arm swing earned him 414 wickets over a celebrated career. Edwards' roundarm outswing brought him 5 for 36 against Sri Lanka on debut and 165 wickets overall in 55 Tests, numbers limited by various injuries.

Not all picked at an early age fulfil their promise, and those promoting Joseph's case might be anticipating too much. They won't know unless the selectors are bold enough to take the chance.

Tony Cozier has written about and commentated on cricket in the Caribbean for over 50 years

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ravi on March 4, 2016, 18:00 GMT

    This guy needs to take wickets at Regional level...he received a pasting vs Trinidad

  •   Gavin Grant on February 28, 2016, 22:32 GMT

    i wud really want alzarri to make his debut but not so early atleast after the next pcl season rabada had 60 wickets in 14 matches b4 making his debut alzarri only has 17 in 5 thats good havin 2 5fors and all but i think he shud wait a while

  • Sekou on February 26, 2016, 9:57 GMT

    Including young players/bowlers is not a hit on those already in the team. It is a natural progression that happens. Also, it a 'wake up call' for established players-competition raises standard (remember when WI had more than 4 good bowlers). Joseph could play with Taylor and Roach is some tests. I also don't think you can blame Ambrose for Taylor/Roach's lack of focus and form 'down under'. Taylor proved it in the field-dropping some catches at critical times (yes-many of our great bowlers were terrible fielders but they could go back and create multiple chances with the ball-did not have dead pitches like there are today everywhere- so each catch was not as vital). In any case-the young men (batsmen and bowlers) should be included where/whenever WI can to encourage them to stay focused on their development as players on field and persons 'of the field'.

  • Robin on February 25, 2016, 12:45 GMT

    My first impression is that the tournament being held in India, due to conditions there wouldn't work in Joseph's favour. If his discipline is naggingly accurate and has the variety to bowl slower-balls/bouncers, as well as reverse-swing and yorkers. Maybe the Board didn't want to expose him at Senior Level, in the event of such dangerous players on display, capable of knocking the confidence out of him. But knowing the Board, there's probably a whole other set of political agendas going on behind closed doors. Personally, i don't see the harm in taking him, the experience of being with the Seniors would've been a bonus in his development.

  • Jack on February 24, 2016, 14:52 GMT

    @logan49 I share your view on Ambrose. He was a fantastic bowler but he is the worst bowling coach. While Tony has stirred up very real issues with facts, would you put Joseph under Ambrose? No fast bowler under Ambrose has increased in pace. He likes medium pacers with line and length. The U-19 fast bowlers bowled more bouncers in one day than Ambrose charges did in the tour of Australia. So Joseph, tell Ambrose thanks for your help but stay away from his coaching.

  • Jonathan on February 23, 2016, 15:56 GMT

    @Fictionaliser the only seniors on that Australia tour were Taylor, Roach, Samuels and Ramdin. Everyone else is part of Clive Lloyd's master "youth" plan. Also to the people who seem to know very little about West Indies cricket Jerome Taylor has been West Indies' best bowler since his comeback, he had one bad tour and that was in Australia. He hasn't had a good partner to help him with the new ball. So I really don't understand the logic implied that Alzarri is a better bowler than Taylor given that Jerome can swing the ball both ways, reverse the ball, and is consistent. Alzarri on the other hand can only get the ball to naturally come in with his bowling angle and occasionally get it to move away. He is basically Kemar Roach only 6 feet 4 inches.

  • D N on February 23, 2016, 8:06 GMT

    In any event, they will not do worse than Roach and Taylor

  • Sekou on February 23, 2016, 7:28 GMT

    Joseph and a few others from U19 should be included immediately in squad for tours. Going from there to actually playing their first test match to becoming regular members of selected test 11 is a process over which they will hopefully earn their credentials and gain experience.

    Hopefully, the entire U19 team has formed a bond in which - it does not matter which of them are selected for senior squad first - they remain unified in their aim to raise the level of WI test and 1 day cricket in future (I think we will always competitive in T20 and have enough good players of this format) . Some of those allowed to develop more and selected later can also make major contributions.

  • o on February 23, 2016, 6:36 GMT

    His best bet if he loves the long formats would be to follow Chris Jordan.

  • Fictionaliser on February 23, 2016, 5:21 GMT

    WI could either delay Joseph's entry to main team & allow him to develop further or make wholesale changes to the team by inducting more youngsters & have a past great forge a new culture within the new WI team. What I saw in the U19 team was more camaraderie & the fact that they cared to win unlike the seniors who perished in Australia recently. Putting Joseph in the current Windies squad will push him towards being mediocre.