The West Indies beat Australia and the final wicket, when Shamar Joseph bowled Josh Hazlewood, was near as damn it perfect. Perfect dismissal, perfect celebration, perfect story, perfect subtext. The ointment wasn’t entirely free of insect life, but you’ve got to expect a couple of flies when you’re Down Under, haven’t you?
To set the scene, let’s somewhat confusingly look to the aftermath, because it’s not enough to describe the situation. You also have to find some way of appreciating some of the emotions underpinning that backdrop.
Commentator cam is as tired and overused a thing as that modern exclamation, “Scenes!” – but both made total sense in this instance.
Ian Smith was on his feet again. He soon passed to Brian Lara, who was still hugging Adam Gilchrist.
Gilchrist, not insignificantly, looked positively delighted with Australia’s defeat.
“Unbelievable!” he began – another cliché uncharacteristically imbued with some of its original meaning. “27 years to beat Australia in Australia. Young, inexperienced, written-off. This West Indies team can stand tall today. West Indies cricket can stand tall today. Today is a big day in West Indies cricket. Congratulations. Congratulations to every single member of that cricket team.”
That doesn’t actually read like much of anything when conveyed as text on a screen. What’s missing here is the delivery. Lara was crying with joy when he said those words. Shamar Joseph’s wicket had reduced Brian Lara to tears.
Now Lara was a cricketer who, it’s fair to say, was obliged to handle his fair share of achievements. However, the ratio of personal to team achievements was definitely canted towards the former – and that’s before we take into account the West Indies’ direction of travel in Test cricket since he first arrived on the scene.
On Lara’s debut, the Windies bowling attack comprised Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh and Ian Bishop. For his final Test, it was Jerome Taylor, Corey Collymore and Daren Powell and then they just sort of muddled through the rest of the overs with Dwayne Bravo, Chris Gayle, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Daren Ganga.
Everyone knows the West Indies have declined as a Test force, but not everyone had a front row seat for a massive great chunk of that journey. Lara did, and the team is still very obviously something he cares a great deal about, so he’ll have worn a few blows through his 18 years of retirement as well.
Lara knew West Indies hadn’t won a Test in Australia since 1997. He also knew they hadn’t won against them at all since 2003. He knew they’d picked seven uncapped players for this tour, one of whom was Shamar Joseph, who was working as a security guard not too long ago and wasn’t certain to bowl in the fourth innings after being hit on the toe earlier in the match.
You could hear quite a lot of this in Lara’s voice when he said, “Young, inexperienced…” but you could hear all of it and much, much more when he added, “written off.”
It didn’t feel like it was only this specific team he was talking about when he said those two words. There was just a bit too much emotional weight behind them.
Not every victory is equal. This one made Brian Lara – momentarily the embodiment of West Indies cricket – a very happy man indeed.
And the on-field events were pretty good too.
There are many ways to secure a Test victory, but one method is head and shoulders above all the others. Sometimes you win with a run-out, sometimes it’s a catch. Sometimes you have to hit a run or two with the bat. Hopefully it’s not an LBW after a review’s drawn-out the drama, but diluted the emotional heft.
The best way is when a fast bowler knocks a stump out.
Beating the bat. Off stump flattened. Perfect.
Shamar Joseph dismissed Steve Smith with his first ball in Test cricket, but his most recent delivery surpassed that.
And then he set off, because what else can you do?
And when your man’s just bowled someone to win a Test match in Australia for the first time in 27 years, there’s only one option. You simply have to go after him.
Just run and run and run, and then jump on top of each other and scream a bit. None of these things feels quite enough and yet they all feel exactly right. And it doesn’t matter. The important thing has been done!
When Shamar Joseph bowled Josh Hazlewood, West Indies had done the undoable. They were a team who had not just been written off. They were a team who’d been written off before they’d named their squad; before the series was even scheduled.
Would it have been better if there had been more than a dozen people at the Gabba to see it happen? Yes, it would. Would it have been better if this second Test wasn’t also the final Test? Yes, it would. Would it be naive to think that such a result could change those two things for next time? Yes, it would. On its own at least.
But it certainly doesn’t do any harm. And really, as moments go, this has already pulled its weight anyway. It was such a beautiful, near-perfect thing; the kind of glistening moment that can only really shine so brightly because of all the shit that surrounds it.
We all can’t spake.