For the Fire in Babylon generation, West Indies cricket is synonymous with fast bowlers. But, you have to go back to The Oval Test of 2000 where Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh paired up for the last time for the last genuine fearsome pace bowling pair from the Caribbean island.
By then, West Indies were slipping; many promising seamers faded away. The vacuum for more than a decade is one of the reasons why heads turned when Alzarri Joseph and Chemar Holder broke the back of Pakistan’s batting with sheer pace and accuracy during West Indies’ five-wicket win in the quarterfinalof the ICC Under-19 World Cup 2016.
Expectedly, the Antigua-Barbados pair was the talking point ahead of the semifinalagainst Bangladesh at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium in Mirpur on Thursday (February 11).
“It’s a good feeling to be in a team with express pacers. I think we had one pacer in the last World Cup, who really went all the way through the tournament, and there was (Kagiso) Rabada from South Africa who was the fastest bowler in the tournament,” said Shimon Hetmyer, the West Indies captain, making his second World Cup appearance. “This year being in the team with the fastest bowler is a big boost for us. Playing in the subcontinent, which people don’t really [associate] with pace pitches, so far the pacers have done well for us.”
When Joseph hit the 147-kph mark against Zimbabwe, he was immediately compared to Rabada. But, it was the arrival of Holder, nowhere on the radar till then, as a replacement player for an injured Obed McCoy two days before the quarterfinal, that added an extra edge to Joseph, and turned West Indies into a potent threat.
Against Pakistan, the pair conceded just one boundary and picked up three wickets in the first ten overs.
“I think it’s fair to say that there’s always an element of luck in any performance. However, we can’t rely on that,” said Graeme West, the West Indies coach, when asked if his team had been lucky with McCoy’s injury. “We have to rely on the skills that we have and most importantly the learning that’s taken place in the last four to five matches.
“Decisions go your way some days, they go against you other days. You have to make sure what you do is appropriate to the situation,” he said. “And, certainly some of our players are starting to put in good performances. Hopefully we will carry on for the remainder of the tournament.”
That the conditions in Mirpur have assisted the seamers in the first hour in overcast conditions throughout the tournament makes the performance of Joseph and Holder crucial on Thursday.
In the first game at the venue, India were reduced to 55 for 4 in 16.5 overs against Ireland. In their second match against New Zealand, India lost both their openers in 5.5 overs. Nepal were at the receiving end next, as they were 24 for 2 in 6.5 overs against India. Sri Lanka reduced Pakistan, England and India to 27 for 1 (4.5 overs), 47 for 3 (14.5 overs) and 27 for 2 (9.2 overs) respectively, while Nepal were 19 for 2 in 6.1 overs against Bangladesh.
“We watched the (semifinal) game (between India and Sri Lanka) yesterday and we were encouraged to see the ball get through. The seamers from both sides were effective in the first ten overs,” said West. “Anyone that would have watched the Pakistan game will see our strength lies with the new ball. We got to look to make early in-roads into the Bangladesh batting, set the game up and set the tone.
“We can demonstrate positive intent from this part of the game and that’s something that people expect from West Indies,” he added. “People are now starting to demonstrate those things that historically and traditionally the West Indies always seem to possess.”
Whether West Indies win the World Cup or not, considering how unsettled the senior team has been for a while, it may not be long before Joseph, who has taken nine wickets so far in the tournament, makes his international debut.
Rabada has shown that the transition to the senior team within a year of playing Under-19 World Cup can be successful, while Ray Jordan, who was West Indies’ fastest in the previous edition, has played just four Twenty20s for St Lucia Zouks in the Caribbean Premier League.
In those journeys lies an important lesson for Joseph. Talent apart, Rabada is the beneficiary of a structured grooming mechanism of Cricket South Africa, while many West Indies seamers have been victims of a myopic administration.
West, who has been involved with West Indies cricket since 2012, was aware of the challenge ahead of Joseph.
“The challenge for anybody that’s successful is to continue to be successful and managing that expectation,” he said. “Yes he’s been very successful and he’s bowled really well. We need to make sure that he continues to perform at that level, not to get too carried away. If he starts looking at how fast he’s bowling as opposed to where he’s looking to land the ball, then he might lose some of his potential.”
In the here and now, Mehedi Hasan Miraz, Bangladesh’s captain, felt that his batsmen had the ability to handle the pace of Joseph and Holder.
“We like playing fast bowlers. Playing against less pace, there’s a chance of mistiming the ball. We are always confident facing pace,” said Miraz. “We have done well in South Africa and also against West Indies. We haven’t faced a really good pace bowling attack yet in this tournament, which has caused problems for our openers.”
Joseph and Holder would be itching to test the logic of that statement.