From using fruits as balls to pink ball heroics at Gabba - Shamar Joseph's stellar journey as WI new hero
Shamar Joseph, injured by Mitchell Starc's yorker on Saturday, resiliently returned on Sunday to dismantle the Australian batting lineup, claiming seven wickets as West Indies clinched victory by eight runs in the Gabba Test match.
In the picturesque village of Baracara, nestled by the Canje Creek in Guyana, lies a tale of resilience, determination, and cricketing prowess that captured the world's attention. On Sunday, as the West Indies scripted a historic victory against Australia at the 'fortress Gabba', it was one of Baracara's own, Shamar Joseph, who led the charge, defying odds and making headlines across the globe. Shamar Joseph, injured by Mitchell Starc's yorker on Saturday, resiliently returned today to dismantle the Australian batting lineup, claiming seven wickets as West Indies clinched victory by eight runs in the Test match.
Just last week, Shamar Joseph's explosive debut in Adelaide, where he outfoxed Steve Smith with his very first delivery, elevated him among cricket's elite debutants. Less than a year prior, Joseph hadn't even played first-class cricket. Rewind to 2021, and he was employed as a security officer in Berbice. Fast forward to January 2024, and he stands as a strong contender for the ICC's Test Cricketer of the Month award.
Baracara, a maroon village steeped in rich history and strong religious beliefs, remained unknown to many until Joseph's heroics on the cricket field thrust it into the limelight. Home to only 400 residents, Baracara's passion for cricket runs deep, despite the challenges of limited resources and parental restrictions on playing the sport on Saturdays, observed as a day of rest and worship.
For Joseph and his cousin Orlando Tanner, cricket meant makeshift balls crafted from melted plastic bottles, fruits and games played along the waterfront. Despite parental constraints, the allure of the sport remained irresistible, fueling dreams of cricketing glory amidst the tranquil surroundings of Baracara.
“The village that we’re from, the only thing that we know in terms of sport is Dominoes and cricket. We used to play cricket right in front of Shamar’s residence. That was by the waterfront. We used to call it jungle-land cricket," Tanner told The Indian Express in an interview.
He added, "At times, we used fruits. Because of the distance and because it’s a remote area, we hardly used to get taped balls. So we used anything that looked like a ball. Sometimes we’d melt the plastic from bottles and turn it into a ball and play cricket with that."
It was Damion Vantull, a former Guyana cricketer-turned-businessman, who recognized Joseph's potential during a visit to Baracara. Vantull's mentorship and support paved the way for Joseph's journey from a security officer in Berbice to a budding cricketer with dreams of representing the West Indies.
“He was very competitive, I saw the potential in him but he was living in the river. We stayed in touch. Around 2021, he kept asking me to sign him for the cricket club in Georgetown, because I was a member. I told him, ‘As soon as things get a little better for me, I’ll definitely bring you here so that you can play'." Vantull told the publication.
“At first, he asked if he could come and work for me at my business, but I told him, ‘You’re a fast bowler. If you work, you wouldn’t get the time to practice. You’d be tired. Come down here (Georgetown). Live in the apartment that I used to stay in. I’ll pay the bills. What I need you to do is to perform and stay committed to your family – at the time he had his girlfriend and he had his son. Whenever you make it in cricket, you can give it back to me,” he added.
In a heartfelt WhatsApp exchange, Joseph had shared photos of his inaugural cricket kit with Vantull, marking a poignant moment in their journey together. Vantull openly acknowledges that his support for Joseph was not just altruistic but also deeply personal. Through Joseph's meteoric rise as a fast bowler, Vantull found a conduit to fulfill his own unfulfilled cricketing aspirations. Reflecting on his past, Vantull reveals that he had relinquished his cricketing ambitions to pursue studies in business management and marketing. Understanding Joseph's struggles firsthand, Vantull empathized with his relentless dedication and unwavering work ethic.
For Joseph, transitioning from a stable job to pursue cricket in Guyana was a monumental decision, fraught with uncertainties. Lacking credentials in the junior cricket circuit and burdened with familial responsibilities, Joseph faced formidable challenges. However, with the unwavering support of his girlfriend, now fiancée, Trish, Joseph embarked on this arduous journey. Vantull's reassurance that their sacrifices would yield promising rewards in the future served as a guiding light during their moments of struggle. Despite the hardships, Trish remained a pillar of strength, steadfastly supporting Joseph as he pursued his cricketing dreams.
Although Joseph's journey to his first-class debut in the Caribbean may have taken longer than most of his peers, once the Baracara native committed himself fully to cricket, success became inevitable.
Vantull fondly recalled Joseph's introduction to the practice nets of the Muslim Youth Organisation (MYO) Sports Club, where he played club cricket in Georgetown. "His very first delivery fractured the wicketkeeper's hand," he told the Indian Express.
Within just a year of dedicating himself to full-time club cricket, Joseph earned a coveted spot in the Guyanese national side. Serendipitously, the head coach of Guyana at the time was Esuan Crandon, the brother of Royston Crandon, with whom Vantull had visited Baracara in 2014, where he first encountered Joseph.
"I asked him if Shamar could train. He said yes, and Shamar made the most of it. If he had to do 10 laps, he would do 10 for you, and then more for himself. Almost like a bunny, who always wanted to keep going. This curious guy, who was always eager to learn. This journey he went through, it’s very difficult but he made it look so easy. He had the confidence that he’d make it to the West Indies team. He didn’t mind doing anything for it," Vantull was quoted as saying.
When Joseph entered the reckoning for international selection, his credentials were so impressive that even Curtly Ambrose, during a fast-bowling clinic, validated his talent. It was fitting that Joseph's remarkable 7-wicket haul on Sunday marked the first instance since Ambrose in 1993 that a West Indies pacer had claimed four wickets or more in the fourth innings of a Test match against Australia.
Joseph's ascent in the cricketing ranks was meteoric. From practicing with makeshift balls in Baracara to shattering wickets in Georgetown's club cricket scene, Joseph's talent was undeniable. His dedication and work ethic earned him a place in the Guyanese national side, a testament to his unwavering commitment and relentless pursuit of excellence.
The story of Shamar Joseph epitomizes the essence of West Indies cricket - a tale of triumph against adversity, fueled by raw talent and unwavering determination. His stellar performance against Australia not only brought joy to cricket enthusiasts across the Caribbean but also reignited hopes of a cricketing resurgence in the region.
As West Indies cricket basks in the glory of Joseph's triumph, it serves as a poignant reminder of the untapped talent that resides in the remote corners of the world. Joseph's journey from Baracara to Brisbane symbolizes the indomitable spirit of cricketing dreams and the power of perseverance in the face of adversity.
In a cricketing landscape dominated by glamour and glitz, Shamar Joseph's remarkable journey stands as a beacon of hope and inspiration, reminding us that greatness knows no boundaries and that dreams, no matter how humble their origins, have the power to transcend barriers and redefine destinies.
As the cricketing world celebrates Joseph's heroics, one thing is certain - the journey from Baracara to Brisbane is not just a tale of cricketing triumph but a testament to the enduring spirit of the human heart and the boundless possibilities that lie within every dream.