Shamar Joseph sprints in celebration
Chris HYde / © Getty Images

Baracara's speed demon: the Shamar Joseph story

How a 24-year-old from a Guyanese village set world cricket alight

Nagraj Gollapudi  |  

That man Ian Smith was calling history again. "The West Indies have created the most amazing thing here in the world of cricket. They are all running around the Gabba like you won't believe. Josh Hazlewood is cast in agony…"

In the breathless, emotional tones that have come to be synonymous with moments of high cricket drama in recent years, Smith, on Fox Cricket, was talking about how Shamar Joseph, a 24-year-old from a remote Guyanese village, playing only his second Test, had stunned Australia with a high-pace bowling performance for the ages.

As soon as he had bowled Hazlewood, Joseph dashed with an explosive energy towards the Western Stand. His team-mates chased after him, screaming ecstatically. Kirk McKenzie jumped on Joseph's back and others flocked around in a happy embrace.

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Shamar Joseph talks through his seven second-innings wickets in Brisbane

Joseph's heroics earned West Indies their first Test win against Australia in over 20 years, their first win in a Test in Australia since Perth in 1997. Next to Smith, Brian Lara, who had scored a century in that 1997 match, was choking with emotion.

Joseph bursts out laughing recounting the final moments of the Gabba game when we meet in March in Lucknow, India, where he is playing for the local IPL franchise, Lucknow Super Giants, who brought him in as a replacement for England bowler Mark Wood.

"It was just pure joy, man," Joseph says. "Can't explain how happy we as a young group and a young team [were]. We had legends around us also - Brian Lara, [West Indies assistant white-ball coach] Carl Hooper, Ian Bishop, even [Lucknow] head coach Justin Langer [a commentator for the Test] - he was super happy and proud as well. It was amazing to do it in front of them."

Having won the Adelaide Test in about two days, Australia were favourites to seal the series 2-0 in Brisbane. Their target was 216 and when they started the fourth day, they were 156 runs short with eight wickets in hand, including Steve Smith.

Everyone wants a piece: Joseph enjoys his new-found stardom during the Australia tour

Everyone wants a piece: Joseph enjoys his new-found stardom during the Australia tour Albert Perez / © Getty Images

Joseph had arrived at the Gabba on the fourth morning in his training kit, without his whites or his bowling spikes. The previous evening Mitchell Starc had swerved a vicious yorker into him, which smashed into the big toe on his right foot, leaving him writhing in pain and having to limp one-legged to the dressing room.

In the media briefing after the Test, Joseph said how he struggled to sleep that night, finally dozing off at four in the morning. At 11.30, he got a call from the team physio, former Windward Islands player Dr Denis Byam, who asked him to come to the ground. "I said I couldn't make it," Joseph remembers. "He said, 'Come to the ground.' I said, I'll definitely come and support the guys because they will need it."

At the ground, West Indies captain Kraigg Brathwaite told Joseph he was playing, which he says left him speechless. Byam gave him painkillers and after some assessment, determined that he could play.

"I was sitting there in my boxers and my cap," Joseph says. "Waiting for my clothes [to get to the ground from the hotel]. I got the pills and my toe was strapped.

"I went out there. I was super-anxious, I just wanted to help the guys [by doing] what I can do best."

That 140s show: Joseph lets it rip

That 140s show: Joseph lets it rip Pat Hoelscher / © AFP/Getty Images

Joseph had started playing first-class cricket for Guyana only a year before, and late in 2023 was part of the West Indies A tour of South Africa. That was when Desmond Haynes, then West Indies' chief selector, told him he was in the squad for the Australia tour. Joseph said to his West Indies A team-mates that he would get a five-for if he got a chance to play, and ahead of the Australia series, he said the same to Brathwaite.

"I told him, I will put my name on all these boards in Australia in the Tests, getting five-wicket hauls. Having self-belief and confidence boosts you a lot."

That self-belief played a big part in how Joseph managed to deny Smith and Australia what they will have believed to be a highly probable victory when the final day's play started in Brisbane. When Joseph began his 12th over, the 51st of the fourth innings, Australia needed 12 runs to win. Smith ran a double off the second delivery and then a single two balls later. West Indies were one wicket away, Australia needed nine. "I sensed [Smith] wanted to face the next over," Joseph says, "but I saw it as an opportunity for me also - getting Hazlewood to bowl to."

He then went around the wicket to Hazlewood and flattened his off stump with a 142.9 kph delivery. "I said to [Brathwaite], 'As long as Hazlewood is there [at the striker's end], the Test is ours.' So said, so done - I got that last wicket.

"I told Kraigg: 'I'm not coming off on this end until the last wicket fall', even though I was going through a lot, bowling 11 overs on the trot, with a toe that is in serious pain."

Pay it forward: Joseph gives a youngster tips at the West Indies Cricket 4 Good clinic in Georgetown during this year's T20 World Cup

Pay it forward: Joseph gives a youngster tips at the West Indies Cricket 4 Good clinic in Georgetown during this year's T20 World Cup Darrian Traynor / © ICC/Getty Images

Joseph was possessed by just one thought, he says. "I was just thinking to get wickets. That's all. Just to get the Test over with. It is not just about winning a Test [in Australia] after 27 years. It's about beating one of the greatest teams in Test cricket. Having a young group to play against a giant, it's just like David and Goliath. It was ultra-remarkable for us, beating them at home."

The defeat was the first time Australia had a lost a day-night Test, and West Indies' first win in one such. Remarkably, Joseph had never seen or held a pink ball until he trained in Brisbane ahead of the match.

As Joseph seals the historic win, Ian Smith passes the mic. "Brian Lara, take over. You are in tears now."

Lara, eyes welling, is shaking his head at what he has just seen. A man who once gave goosebumps to us all, Joseph included, has goosebumps himself. "Twenty-seven years to beat Australia, Young, inexperienced, written off - this West Indies team can stand tall today," he says on air.

Soon after, he walks down, where he hugs Joseph. He stands at the back of the room during West Indies' post-match media briefing, listening to Joseph and Brathwaite. Later, with his bag slung across his waist, he walks back to the dressing room alongside Joseph, a couple of bottles of champagne in his hands.

Brian Lara, champagne in hand, accompanies Joseph and Brathwaite to the dressing room after the Brisbane win

Brian Lara, champagne in hand, accompanies Joseph and Brathwaite to the dressing room after the Brisbane win Andrew McGlashan / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Joseph wears a proud smile looking back at the time spent with Lara that evening. "He kept saying, 'You don't know what you did here today,'" he says. "He was super-happy and proud. He went to the dressing room, he hugged me, he walked with me, talked. He said he just can't believe this - that someone that doesn't have much experience in cricket came and did all of this."

Lara noticed Joseph was special when watching him bowl in the practice session on the eve of the Adelaide Test. "The first ball I bowled Alick Athanaze, it hit on length and seamed away on the off stump. Was a similar delivery that got Hazlewood [in Brisbane]. I told [Lara] then that I will do the same on my debut, my first ball. He laughed and said, 'I'd love to see that.'

"He also said, 'I really like your confidence. You will definitely be a good player if you continue doing what you do.'

"[The Brisbane performance] in front of [Lara] boosted my confidence because that's someone that [broke] a lot of records and kept building records. So with him being there and Sir Carl Hooper and all those guys, those were just unforgettable moments."

My hero, my scalp: Joseph with his favourite player and the first wicket in his Adelaide five-for, Steven Smith

My hero, my scalp: Joseph with his favourite player and the first wicket in his Adelaide five-for, Steven Smith © Getty Images

Words of encouragement also came from Steve Smith after the Adelaide Test. The former Australia captain and modern-day batting great is one of Joseph's heroes and his favourite cricketer, he says.

What happened to the champagne? Joseph, a teetotaler, breaks into a laugh. "I don't drink alcohol. The guys enjoy the stuff, but those are times to rejoice and have some fun."

Joyous moments in Test cricket have been rare for West Indies in the 21st century. Lara and Hooper grew up watching their team dominate international cricket in the 1970s and '80s. They and others teamed up with the likes of Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh to keep the flag flying in the last decade of the 20th century. Since their retirements, Caribbean cricket has suffered a decline for several reasons.

When the Brisbane win was sealed, Hooper was in the Australian Broadcast Corporation radio commentary box, where, like Lara, he struggled to hold his tears back.

Joseph didn't get to speak to Hooper at the ground that evening, but at the hotel later that night, Hooper put his arms around Joseph in an embrace. "[He said] what I did there would always be within their minds and within their hearts," Joseph says. "And they are looking forward for progress and for me to continue to do good and not get carried away by other stuff that distracts young people. I just keep those words within me, and actually that brings me a lot of joy and will take me a long way forward."

Joseph speaks with admiration of Bishop, who gave him his Test cap, and who has been mentoring him since the 2023 CPL. He looks at the former West Indies fast bowler as a "father, mother, big brother" and guiding force. "We talk about how to go the best way about moving forward in my career," he says. "He takes out time to make sure to give me a call or drop a message. That actually encourages me, having a legend keeping up to date with you and keeping encouraging you [to do] what you are capable of and [talking of] what you could do moving forward in your career. That inspires me to keep going, definitely."

On the first day of his Test debut Joseph provided a display of his boldness and character, making 36, the second-highest score in the innings and among the highest scores in Tests by a West Indies No. 11. Later that day he ran in to bowl his first over, aborting before gathering his thoughts and delivering a stunner.

He hit the seam on a good length, on about the fifth-stump line, to force an edge off Smith, becoming the 23rd bowler to take a Test wicket off their first ball on debut. "Getting Steve Smith, I'll remember this for the rest of my life," Joseph said after taking five in that innings. "I'll actually take a picture and post it up in my house."

Hear me roar: Joseph says playing Test cricket for West Indies will always be first priority for him

Hear me roar: Joseph says playing Test cricket for West Indies will always be first priority for him Albert Perez / © Getty Images

Has he done that?

"I have it on my wall," he says. "Right in my room - I've printed it out and put it up there."

Taking that wicket gave Joseph the boost he needed to deal with the pressure of bowling in the longest form. He had played only five first-class matches before that first Test. "That opened a way for me, saying that if I could get Steve Smith, I could get any other batter down here. I love to see Steve Smith play. He's an amazing player. So getting his wicket definitely give me a lift from here to up here (raises his hand to indicate from floor to shoulder high). I was confident moving forward after I got his wicket."

Joseph is short for a fast bowler, about 5' 7", but muscular. How does he generate his high speeds?

"I actually train quite hard and train a lot," he says. "When I'm home, I do a lot of running, sprinting. I don't lift weights but do a lot of lifting with the heavy [medicine] ball and slamming, I do stretches, which is important for fast bowlers. I make sure I get my mobility work in.

"Also, I think that it's just within me also - bowling fast."

The agony before the ecstasy: Joseph hobbles off the field after having his toe crushed by a yorker on day three in Brisbane

The agony before the ecstasy: Joseph hobbles off the field after having his toe crushed by a yorker on day three in Brisbane © Getty Images

Before the British Airways flight that Joseph took from London on his way back from Australia landed in Guyana's capital, Georgetown, the Timehri airport had become festive.

It seemed like virtually the entire village of Baracara, deep in the east of the country, not far from the border with Suriname, had come to airport to celebrate Joseph's feat. As he walked out of the arrival gates, the terminal buzzed with music and the chants of family, friends and Guyanese government officials calling his nickname: "Maari, champion, Maari, champion."

Some of those present, including Joseph's parents, his partner, his two young sons and his brothers wore white T-shirts with 7 for 68 on them - Joseph's figures in the second innings in Brisbane - printed alongside a picture of him.

Joseph took his younger son, Amali, into his arms. His own brother Rayon lifted him onto his shoulders and danced.

He might have become an overnight sensation, but for Baracara he was their Shamar. Charles Ramson Jr, Guyana's minister of culture, youth and sport, said Joseph was doing "God's work", which was raucously applauded. Ramson said Joseph's development was a priority and that it was the responsibility of his community to protect him given his stature as someone who was an inspiration to the young.

Joseph's face lights up when he is asked to paint a picture of Baracara, in East Berbice. To get to his village, which Joseph says is "far up in the interior areas", you drive about 110km along the coast from Georgetown to New Amsterdam, which lies on the east bank of the Berbice river. You then get on to a speedboat on the Canje river, which he says takes roughly 80 minutes to get to Baracara.

The villagers there mostly work in farming and logging, which Joseph did his fair share of from a young age, and which he credits his fitness to. "Doing logging is quite tough - you have to use a chainsaw," he says. "I started working from when I was 15 or 16." His parents, Eustace and Carlin, were always supportive of him and his six siblings, three brothers, three sisters. He also has two half-brothers. Most people in the family still live in Baracara.

The village has only one school - a primary facility that Joseph attended. "I didn't have the opportunity to attend a secondary school," he says. "You just had to do self-development. I had to read a lot of books and learn a lot [by yourself] because there wouldn't be anybody out there to sit and teach you. Everybody worked to provide for their family.

"But other than that, there are a lot of supportive people out there. They support you a lot in whatever you want to do and being successful."

Joseph learned to fly-fish when he was young. "There's a lot of creativity in doing that," he says. "We have hook rods, which we make ourselves." His mother is one of the most proficient fishers in the village. "We had to learn about those things. We would go fishing in a creek, river, and all those places."

Tales of a terrific tearaway: Joseph speaks to the camera after his Brisbane heroics

Tales of a terrific tearaway: Joseph speaks to the camera after his Brisbane heroics Albert Perez / © Getty Images

Carlin, whom Joseph describes as a strong woman in all aspects, ensured that the family always had something to eat. "Mom and Dad, they always provide for us. My mom and dad live with me at my place. I want them to be around me and enjoy all the success that comes my way."

Tape-ball cricket was Joseph's first point of entry into the game. Youngsters in Baracara would arrange themselves into two teams, Young Strikers and Show Times, and play each other. Other teams from parts nearby in East Berbice would gather every other weekend to play. "It was a lot of fun," Joseph says. "There were a lot of talented youth that could play cricket."

Growing up, he did not have his own cricket kit; he usually borrowed from his team-mates. He played his first competitive match, for Tucber Park Cricket Club in New Amsterdam, when he was 15. A coach who had seen Shamar play in weekend games, asked the boy's mother if he could play the match, saying he was "quite a talented young man".

"It wasn't that easy for me to go, but Mom still allowed and gave me the opportunity to prove myself. I get three wickets against Police, which had a lot of senior guys."

Joseph played only a handful of first- and second-division matches, mainly because he was more focused on making a living at the time. He moved out of his village to New Amsterdam, the second-largest city in Guyana, which is well connected to the rest of the country. There he tried his hand at construction work before finding a job as a security guard. "You want to maintain your family, especially as a young man," he says. "You want to earn your own living. That security work earned me a bit and then I just decided to further my future in what I want to achieve."

Joseph doffs his hat to Brisbane and the world at the presentation after the Gabba Test this year

Joseph doffs his hat to Brisbane and the world at the presentation after the Gabba Test this year Bradley Kanaris / © Getty Images

In New Amsterdam he happened to meet West Indies allrounder Romario Shepherd, who put him touch with the Guyana head coach, Esuan Crandon, and from there Joseph's cricket journey picked up pace.

His career and life graphs have seen a dramatic upward rise in the last two years. His success in Australia allowed his manager to bargain a handsome IPL deal with Super Giants. Joseph is happy that he has his own house now in Georgetown. Inside a week after the Brisbane win, Cricket West Indies upgraded his retainer handing him a central contract. Recently he was part of West Indies squad for the T20 World Cup, although he didn't play a match.

Everest Cricket Club in Georgetown, for whom he played briefly at one point, gave Joseph a life membership and named the northern end at their ground after him. The Guyanese prime minister, Irfaan Ali, a fan of Joseph, invited him to a state dinner earlier this year.

During the brief time he spent in London on his way back home from Australia, Joseph got himself a haircut. The barber, who happened to be from Jamaica, said he had a "surprise" for him. He sculpted SJ 70 (Joseph's shirt number) with the hair on the left of his head, which Joseph says he loved.

People continue to wear the 7 for 68 T-shirts still.

After carrying West Indies to a famous win, Joseph indulges in a spot of literal heavy lifting during the festivities

After carrying West Indies to a famous win, Joseph indulges in a spot of literal heavy lifting during the festivities Albert Perez / © Getty Images

At the press conference after the Brisbane Test, Joseph finished by talking about the one thing he will never compromise on. "I will always be available to play Test cricket for West Indies, don't matter how much money comes towards me." Braithwaite, sitting to his right, patted him on his shoulder. Lara smiled with pride at the back of the room.

"I have always had the hunger and will be hungry to play for the West Indies team," Joseph says. "What I have always learned while growing up playing cricket - as long as you are playing for the West Indies team, there are always other opportunities around. And the moment you are not playing for West Indies, there wouldn't be anybody that would want you. So for me, representing my country, that's a big part of my life, playing for them as long I have health and strength and I'm moving forward [in] all three formats for West Indies."

Last Sunday, Joseph was at Lord's, his first visit to the ground. He arrived in England on Friday from Guyana, missing the three-day warm-up match earlier in the week due to personal reasons and flight disruptions in the Caribbean due to Hurricane Beryl.

He bubbled with excitement under the early-afternoon sun, which broke through after a cloudy, rainy morning. He was the first player to get on the turf, ahead of West Indies' first training session, three days before the Lord's Test. Well-toned muscles under a sleeveless training vest gave clues to his explosive bowling speed.

Twenty-three West Indies players have got their names on the Lord's honours board, a hall of fame of sorts for international cricketers. The last such was Kemar Roach, who pulled out of this England tour due to injury. Joseph has a big responsibility, sharing opening-bowling duties with his namesake Alzarri, but he is anything but nervous.

Bring it on, he says about the game, which will also be the farewell match for England great James Anderson. "Definitely, I want to ruin that farewell for him. I will put my name there [honours board] for sure. I am just excited."

Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo