"Is this for real"?
Alzarri Joseph reacted when he received a message from the Mumbai Indians manager enquiring about his availability for the 2019 edition of the Indian Premier League. A few days later he had traded the sand and blue water of Antigua for the concentre jungle and the hustle and bustle of Mumbai.
Joseph had never been to India before in his life, but the 22-year-old West Indian speedster certainly wasted no time in ensuring the cricket-mad nation was aware of him by claiming the best figures ever recorded in the IPL on Saturday night, against Sunrisers Hyderabad at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium. Joseph capped off a dream debut by finishing with figures of 3.4-1-12-6 to lead the Mumbai Indians to 40 run victory against the Sunrisers Hyderabad.
Joseph cleaned up the in-form David Warner with his first delivery and gave Mumbai the much need boost to defend a modest target of 136. However, it wasn't until the West Indian pacer picked up his fifth wicket that he finally smiled. Asked about his muted celebrations prior to his fifth scalp the softly spoken Joseph said "We had a game to win so I just wanted to remain focussed" he told Murali Karthik at the post-match presentation.
The 22-year-old hails from the village of All Saints in Antigua and started his cricketing journey as a 10-year-old playing as a leg-spinner. But soon after came the growth spurt and by the time he was a teenager, he had a built that mirrored former West Indian and Antiguan great Curtly Ambrose. By the time he was 15, Joseph had earned the reputation of being the fast bowler in school cricket. But it would be another former Antiguan in Winston Benjamin that would transform him into the finished product.
An Under 19 World Cup winner in 2016, Joseph had grabbed plenty of headlines in the Caribbean for his pace and skill. He was the joint-highest wicket-taker in the competition that helped West Indies clinch the title. A few months later he was hitting AB De Villiers on the helmet in the CPL and bouncing out Virat Kohli on his Test debut.
It was his form in the last few months season that had the Mumbai Indians considering him in their plans. He picked up 10 wickets in West Indies' Test series win over England in the Caribbean earlier this year. He impressed everyone and gained the respect of the cricketing world by playing on in the Antigua Test despite the overnight death of his mother.
"Alzarri was exceptional. It took a lot of heart for him to be on the field today, I think a lot of people wouldn't have been able to, but credit to him," his West Indies captain Jason Holder said after that Test.
The Antigua boy wasn't to be picked up in the auction, but an injury to Adam Milne at the start of the season opened the doors for Joseph and he grabbed it with both hands on his debut. The experience of playing in the CPL seems to have helped.
"It's great to see the confidence of playing in the CPL and the West Indies he has brought over here" stated Rohit Sharma after the match.
More than Joseph's pace it was the bounce he generated that caused Sunrisers batsmen to miscue the horizontal bat shots. Vijay Shankar's attempted pull to a back of length delivery ended up at point and Rashid Khan had no clue about a short lifter that was aimed at the badge of his helmet. The pitch by no means was quick, but Joseph's wide release point created an awkward angle for the batsmen. Close to 40 percent of his balls were short, but each one of them was venomous especially against a middle order that lacked match practice.
Importantly, at the death, he was able to disguise his slower balls and also fire in the yorker at the base of the stumps. Out of his six wickets, Joseph had hit the timber on three occasions reflecting his smartness with the ball.
Commentating on Star Sports Select dugout Dean Jones felt Joseph could even generate more pace by using his left arm more, but at the same time praised his ability to execute under pressure.
"We saw what happened to an experienced campaigner like Tim Southee last night, but to have a debutant execute the yorker and bounce so well is simply brilliant," said Jones.
Even at post-match presentation Joseph barely smiled preferring to look down and whisper a few quiet words. The shy boy from Antigua had made his mark in the biggest T20 competition in the world. He has rewritten the record books and in the process received plenty of praise from the stalwarts of West Indies cricket.
Brain Lara described Joseph's spell as "another Windies boy made us proud" while Vivian Richards took to Twitter stating "Brilliant from this man Alzarri Joseph. Good to see the impact our boys are having in the IPL".
At the end of the night, it was another West Indian in Kieron Pollard that lifted Joseph high over his shoulder. In his introductory video for Mumbai, Joseph had spoken about his ambition to discover India. After a sizzling debut, it is fair to say that the people in India will want to learn and know everything about Alzarri Joseph.