The Under-19 World Cup has been in existence for 28 years after its inaugural tournament in 1988.
Only on a handful of occasions could you truly say a star was on show during the competition, a player who shone with ability, temperament and potential. In 1998, Chris Gayle was the leading run scorer; 2000 saw Yuvraj Singh win player of the series honours; Virat Kohli led India to the title in 2008; and 2014 was the first time Kagiso Rabada lit up the world stage.
Then came a strapping 6ft 4in 19-year-old from Antigua named Alzarri Joseph, with the same imposing physique as some West Indian pacemen of the past, if a touch lither.
The 2016 edition of the tournament was in Bangladesh; a place notorious for dry, turning wickets aiding predominantly the spinners. Joseph pretty much belied the conditions by taking 13 wickets at an average of 13.76 with a miserly economy rate of 3.31. He has pace to go with accuracy too: just ask Zimbabwean batsman Brendan Sly, who had his stumps rearranged with a delivery approaching 90mph, the fastest ball of the tournament.
Joseph tended not to bowl at the death. Instead, captain Shimron Hetmyer used him to blow the top order away. This was no more evident than in the final, against firm favourites India, where with pace, movement and bounce he knocked the top three batsmen over and after six overs India were 27/3.
West Indies went on to win the final and rather set the scene for their senior counterparts in the World T20 two months later. After the tournament’s conclusion, ex-seam bowler turned-commentator Ian Bishop proclaimed on social media “I’d have Alzarri Joseph in my next Test squad.”
Joel Garner, the owner of some 259 Test wickets, was equally enthusiastic as he told Joseph and his compatriots at a welcome home function “I would thrust two or three of you in at the deep end now.” Fast forward a few months and as circumstance would have it Garner would be the one handing the young Antiguan his cap minutes before taking the field against India in the third Test.
Whatever the reasons for Joseph’s fast-tracking (and they are plentiful) it shouldn’t be underestimated just how much potential he holds: with his seventh ball in Test Cricket he bowled a sharp bouncer to Virat Kohli which rose steeply and knocked him off his feet, and with his 15th he produced a snorter to the same batsman who could only fend, with the assistance of a glove, to first slip.
This is the same Virat Kohli who is ranked second in the world in ODI cricket, and not two Tests ago swashbuckled his way to a terrific double century against the same opponents. There are no minefields in the Caribbean anymore sadly, no pitches resembling those which used to host the likes of Hall, Roberts, Ambrose which makes his emergence ever the more impressive. Therefore, it’s not just pace that’s needed but guile, patience, and nous on all Test match pitches. He has a wonderful rhythmical action, with long levers propelling his slight upper body through the crease. It’s quick, and much like his hero Dale Steyn, it’s economical and repeatable.
After lunch on the first day, when the ball had lost its zip, he bowled eleven dot balls in a row to Rohit Sharma; knowing the batsman’s propensity to be aggressive, he just hung them out in an area outside off stump, bowling dry to coin a recent phrase. Ball 12 tested Rohit’s patience too much and the outside edge was found. National team captain Jason Holder backed the youngster before the match, saying “He has talent, he has the ability, he has pace. He has done what is done to get here” and when Justin Langer came over to the Islands as Australian interim coach he was equally as enthusiastic: “He reminded me of Andre Russell, he bowled fast, beautiful yorkers – and what an athlete.”
Test Match Focus
Perhaps most encouragingly of all for the West Indies and the wider Cricketing community is his desire to play Test matches. He said recently “I am not trying to look at T20 cricket at the moment, I am looking at Test cricket. I like it.”
At a time when the longer form of the game is in serious jeopardy in the Caribbean and when most of their star players are focused on white ball cricket, it shows what kind of mentality he has that he wants to prove himself in Tests. The cricketing world undoubtedly needs players like him. For the West Indies, he is the next great hope.