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Finding Shamar Joseph: ‘The impact he’s had is unreal’

One of the first people involved in West Indies cricket to set eyes on Shamar Joseph has recalled the excitement at seeing him bowl.

Roland Butcher, who played international cricket for England, was a West Indies selector until earlier this year and was present at various stages through Joseph’s rapid rise which made global headlines with his 7 for 68 at the Gabba to bowl West Indies to a famous eight-run win despite an injured toe.

It was last year at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua that Butcher was convinced they had found a special talent. He quickly took his thoughts back to fellow selector Desmond Haynes and the wheels were set in motion.

“I immediately saw this guy bowling and thought, wow, this guy has got talent,” Butcher told ESPNcricinfo. “Went back to the hotel and sat down with Desmond and said, I saw a boy today who I believe is what we’ve been looking for. He’s the real material as a fast bowler.”

“What I saw was a guy with great athletic ability,” he said. “He’s not a big lad, but he’s strong and extremely fit. You could see that in him then, and once he started playing for Guyana, you saw the easy run up and the pace and the areas that he bowled. He’s not a guy who is all over the place. He bowls good areas but at serious pace.

“It surprised us all that he’s done it so quickly but we always believed he had the talent. We took a chance, a calculated risk. I believed Australia was the perfect place for him to play because the pitches obviously favour fast bowling but you still need to know how to bowl there.

We knew his capabilities but don’t think we expected that sort of impact. How can you?

Roland Butcher

“What you saw in Australia is what he did in that first game. The same lengths, movement, pace, everything you saw he did in the first game.”

Butcher and Joseph had first crossed paths a couple of years earlier at a cricket clinic in Berbice, Guyana, when he and Andy Roberts had been invited to visit by the local board.

“We had a long conversation. I saw him and realised he had talent,” Butcher recalled. “We spoke about it, I said listen, you have a lot of talent and I believe if you get serious about the game I know what could happen.

“Then during the Super50 last year in Trinidad he came and sat down and said do you remember when you spoke with me about taking the game seriously. Then he said, six to eight months later he decided to take it serious.”

Although Butcher’s contract as a selector has ended, the pair kept in regular contact during the Australia tour with Butcher passing on advice about bowling in the conditions.

“He’s not a bang it into the pitch bowler,” he said. “We talked about not getting carried away with the bounce and bowling a fuller length and about being quicker through the air.”

They were all attributes on display at the Gabba where he continually challenged the defence of the Australia batters and was still getting movement with the pink ball as it grew older. His stamina, too, stood out as he touched 150kph deep into the matchwinning spell.

“We knew his capabilities but don’t think we expected that sort of impact. How can you? The impact he’s had is unreal,” Butcher said. “What he has achieved is unbelievable. From his background, what he had to do…he’s one of the most natural athletes I’ve seen for a long time.

“You have to remember where he came from. You must have real love for the game and serious desire to play in a place where there’s hardly any cricket, hardly any facilities, a very difficult place to get to. The support he got from within his village, he must have had huge desire to be a cricketer.”

“I talk to him about things happening quickly, the type of people he needs around him to handle this kind of thing,” Butcher said. “That will be key now in terms of him getting good advice. He’s got a strong family background, so I have no doubts he won’t get carried away. He’s the catalyst for dragging that young team forward.”

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo

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