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How West Indies beat all odds to break a 27-year-old jinx at Gabba

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Last updated on 28 Jan 2024 | 11:24 AM
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How West Indies beat all odds to break a 27-year-old jinx at Gabba

The Men in Maroon last won a Test in Australia all the way back in 1997

What are the odds? Pretty high. 

How are the odds? Pretty stacked against the Windies. 

West Indies had not won a single Test in 27 years Down Under. The last pacer to pick up a five-wicket haul for Windies - Shamar Joseph - had gone down with an injury, too. 

Only a night separated them from returning home empty-handed, having travelled 16,207 km. Even if they had returned home empty-handed, you wouldn’t bat an eyelid. Australia’s perfect series was motoring on perfectly; Steve Smith and Cameron Green were batting together. 

Enter Shamar. The man, only late in the night, was cleared of any fracture on his toe after getting smacked by a Mitchell Starc thunderbolt a few hours ago. Shamar is 24 in all. He played one Test before the second clash at Gabba, having only been featured in six first-class games. 

In a village with just more than 400 people, Shamar was the unlikeliest of candidates to spearhead Windies’ greatest win. Until a few years ago, he worked as a security guard before turning up daily to become West Indies’ biggest hope in Australia. You can’t even point Baracara out on the World map.

In the years at Baracara, all that Shamar had and practised with was fruits and plastic balls without having the money to get professional-quality balls. By his own admission, Shamar wasn’t even supposed to be at the Gabba and forget taking part in the second innings.It was yet again an event against all the odds, with the pacer sleeping till 12:15 PM local time and the game starting at 2 PM local time.

An hour before the day’s play, even their skipper, Kraigg Brathwaite, was highly unsure of the 24-year-old’s participation. It required an effort of the highest kind from the team doctor Byom even to entertain the thoughts of Shamar getting to Gabba. 

"He called me this morning and I was in my bed, then after 11, I was sleeping at 12:15 so he asked me how I was feeling, I said not well, feeling pain and all these things and he said 'Come to the ground. I have a reason',” Shamar said in the post-match presentation. 

If all of this wasn’t enough, fuel was fueled elsewhere when former Australian cricketer Rodney Hogg irked the Windies, calling them “pathetic and hopeless”. 

As a visiting team, you don’t need any more motivation than this. You have absolutely nothing to lose, but have it all to win. On top of that, you have the ‘Gabba’ factor right in front of you. If there is one venue that has been breached famously recently, India in 2021, it is the Gabba. 

If you have to imagine West Indies winning a Test at the Gabba, your thoughts immediately go to this particular spell from Sir Curtly Ambrose, where he picked up seven Australian wickets, conceding just the ONE RUN, having bowled 32 deliveries. Windies had plenty of motivation behind them, but did they have the personnel? 

12 straight overs, one Shamar. His first spell, or rather the only spell, was fully lit. In between overs, he required medical assistance and more energy for his body, but Shamar was emitting energy on his own with the ball in his hand. Every delivery was quicker than the other. 

Every dismissal was better than the other. If aesthetics went out and took meth amid the Test at the Gabba, it would be less impactful and give you less high than what Shamar did on Sunday (January 28).

When he picked up his fifth wicket, the 24-year-old Guyanese pacer went down on his knee, perhaps still wincing in pain. Around him was the entire Windies team, who took turns to talk to the youngster, patting him on the back. It even led to Cricket Australia tweeting, ‘The kid is a machine’. 

Seven wickets in just one spell, Shamar matched wicket for wicket with what Ambrose did back in 1993 at Perth. At around 3.23 AM in the morning, West Indies were victors, winning the humdinger Test here at the Gabba by eight runs. Shamar wasn’t even born when the Windies last won a Test in Australia. 

Even when Brendon Julian wanted to talk to the youngster, his first words were, “Can you hang on for a second?” with Shamar wiping his sweat. Until then, the Guyanese pacer made Australian batters and Australia’s record at Gabba sweat for the longest time. 

“I feel like we win the entire series by winning this Test. Shout out to my teammates for their support. I cried for my five-wicket haul but I'm so happy now. I'm not even tired. I would have kept bowling,” Shamar said in the post-match presentation. 

It wasn’t just the 24-year-old who cried; his exciting spell and the exhilarating win also put two of Windies’ greatest legends - Carl Hooper and Brian Lara - in tears. 

“Twenty-seven years to beat Australia. Young, inexperienced, written off – this West Indies team can stand tall today. West Indies cricket can stand tall,” a teary Lara told Fox Cricket.

Shamar wasn’t tired; he wanted to keep bowling. Only four Windies pacers have picked up a seven-wicket haul in Australia, and Shamar belongs to an elite company. 

Gerry Gomez (1952), Andy Roberts (1975), Curtly Ambrose (1993) and now, Shamar Joseph (2024). 

****

Australia have never been beaten in a Day-Night Test. 

Mitchell Starc has the best record for any pacer on the earth with the pink ball. It was never just the bowling; it was West Indies’ batting ability that was always under the scanner. Throughout their loss in Adelaide, there was never a piece of evidence that suggested that the Windies would turn a different face under lights here at the Gabba. 

On the first day, all the remaining hopes were crushed when they were reduced to 64/5. Even their captain, Kraigg Brathwaite, a pillar of their strength, was lessened to a minute role on the first day’s play. 

Joshua da Silva and Kavem Hodge were the last hope. Da Silva was a wicketkeeper whose career average quickly dipped under 25. A wicketkeeper who hadn’t contributed for the longest time. A wicketkeeper who the Australian bowlers quickly exploited in recent times. 

Da Silva was already under immense pressure, with the Australian bowlers finding out that his game was more susceptible against the high pace of short deliveries. Despite the ball moving around, Australia stuck by the short-ball plan, but the right-hander played everything with great control, scoring runs at a good pace and looking very comfortable. 

Also Read: Joshua da Silva finally stands tall to save the Windies

At the other end was Hodge, who was playing his first Test series, that too away from the comfort of home where he had scored over 2500 runs, with four 100s. None of his four hundred was up against a bowling unit, even half the calibre of what Australia had put up before him. 

Hodge didn’t budge one bit. In fact, during his stay at the crease, he looked far more assured than the rest of the Windies’ batting unit, with 71 crucial runs for the visitors, who went on to put up a partnership of 149 runs, the highest for any wicket against Australia in a pink-ball clash. 

Furthermore, it was the first time Australia had allowed three batters to get to their half-centuries in a day-night clash. The partnership defied Australia’s winning culture and acted as the foundation stone for the West Indies’ breaking a 27-year-old drought. 

While Shamar’s spell might have garnered all the limelight, it would have hardly mattered had Da Silva-Hodge not planted the seeds in the first place. 

“That was our inspiration (Rodney’s comment). We wanted to show the world we're not pathetic. And I must ask him, are these muscles big enough for him (Shows his biceps). I wanted to show the world what we’re made of,” Brathwaite said in the post-match presentation. 

Pathetic or hopeless, it doesn’t matter, West Indies cricket lives another day and writes another tale to inspire the up-and-coming generation of cricketers.

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