Match Analysis

Alzarri Joseph raises his game, and pace, to give WI's World Cup hopes a shot in the arm

The team needed someone or something special to bail them out against Zimbabwe, and Joseph was up to the task

Danyal Rasool
Danyal Rasool
Alzarri Joseph is in great form, but that's little consolation for the man right now. He had finished as the top wicket-taker in the CPL 2022, only to see his side, St Lucia Kings, slump to a thumping defeat in the eliminator three weeks ago. He had followed that up with five wickets in two games against Australia - comfortably the pick of the West Indies bowlers - but couldn't prevent the hosts from winning in both games. With West Indies needing to qualify for the Super 12 stage of the men's T20 World Cup 2022, they faced Scotland on the opening day. Joseph shone again with a couple of wickets but it didn't prevent a heavy defeat for West Indies. The two-time T20 World Cup champs were in danger of an early exit. And now, Zimbabwe are about to finish them off.
Zimbabwe outwitted West Indies with the ball to restrict them to a below-par 153, and benefitted from some profligate bowling to be 29 for none after two overs. The asking rate is under seven, and Zimbabwe have all ten wickets in hand on a true, hard pitch. A lively bunch of Zimbabwean cricket fans, some of whom have come from significantly warmer climes of Townsville, have decided to brave the late-evening chill in Hobart, where single-digit temperatures in late October are unheard of. But their side is making it worth their while.
West Indies have tended to turn to Kyle Mayers with the new ball of late, but it is a gamble that backfires spectacularly here. Instead of giving Mayers a second, Nicholas Pooran calls on his fast bowling ace early. Joseph begins with the classic warning shot across the bow - a bouncer that finally gets Regis Chakabva off that front foot, from where he mauled West Indies in the first two overs. It's also at a pace that Mayers could never manage, and that's important because of what Joseph has in mind next.
"After the start they got, we knew Zimbabwe had the upper hand," Joseph said. "But in the powerplay, the batter has the upper hand anyway. So I was just thinking of coming in and doing something special, which I would have needed to."
Joseph follows it with a fuller ball that sees Chakabva rooted to the crease and drag an attempted smear over cow corner onto the stumps. It is not a special delivery as such, but Joseph is only getting started.
Zimbabwe then send in the explosive Tony Munyonga, likely as a low-value wicket to take advantage of the powerplay. There's nothing wrong with that strategy, but an in-form Joseph isn't one worth taking on. The next ball that Munyonga faced of Joseph is the one this game will be remembered by - the Alzarri Joseph yorker at over 90mph. It's often touted as a high-risk delivery but not when you can execute it like Joseph does these days.
"I've put a lot of work in on the yorker because if you can bowl the yorker at different stages of the game, it can really surprise the opposition," he said. "I wouldn't yet say I've mastered it, though." Zimbabwe might disagree.
Jason Holder then joins the party, backing up the young gun who would call him a "father figure to a really young group" with a first over that gets rid of the dangerous Wesley Madhevere. Holder later traps Ryan Burl dead in front before Joseph returns to knock back Richard Ngarava's stumps at such searing pace that the off bail flies up and lands three quarters of the way to the fine leg boundary. Luke Jongwe might have been having some fun, but the first ball Joseph bowls to him is that guided missile programmed to hit the base of the stumps. There's no defence Jongwe can mount in response.
Zimbabwe had used spin to rein West Indies in with the ball. The seven overs of Sikandar Raza and Sean Williams went for only 36 runs for the return of four wickets. It could have been tempting for West Indies to stifle Zimbabwe with spin. But instead, their fast bowlers combined for nine of the ten Zimbabwe wickets. On a cold Hobart night, did anyone really think West Indies would rather strangle an opposition with spin rather than blasting them out through pace?
There's little point in comparing this West Indies unit with that of the 2012 or 2016 T20 World Cup title-winning ones, both because such comparisons are strategically inaccurate and chronologically premature. This was simply West Indies showcasing they have the specific bowling skillsets so valuable to succeed on the surfaces they will encounter over the next couple of days, and potentially the next three weeks. It does not make them legitimate title contenders; it doesn't even assure them a place in the second round of the competition. Joseph acknowledged how much of their work still lay ahead them.
"Everyone got together and knew the value of putting in a big performance because it's essentially a final," he said. "We knew we had two finals to play in order to get to the next round."
The job might be only half done, but as Joseph walked out of the post-match presser, his face remained as impassive as it had been throughout. There was no hint of a smile, no sign of any impending celebrations. Being the star player of a vanquished side can wear thin fairly quickly, after all. West Indies seem to understand qualification for the Super 12s is merely the floor of their ambitions, even if Alzarri Joseph is hitting ceiling after ceiling to make sure his side gets there.

Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000