West Indies won the first two matches of their ODI series against Ireland in contrasting fashion, cruising to victory with 100 balls to spare in the first game, and sneaking home in a last-gasp, last-wicket, penultimate-ball finish in the second. Across those two wildly different performances, one thing remained a constant, literally: in both games, Alzarri Joseph finished with figures of 4 for 32.
Joseph's emergence as a middle-overs enforcer has been a pleasing development for West Indies in recent months. Since his return from a shoulder dislocation suffered during last year's IPL, Joseph has taken the new ball only once in eight ODIs, with West Indies instead using his pace and height to unsettle teams and take wickets in the 11th-to-40th-over period.
In those eight ODIs, Joseph has taken 14 wickets at an average of 25.21, an improvement from his average of 34.08 across his first 16 games. His economy rate, too, has dropped from 6.48 before his injury to 5.34 since his comeback.
Ten of Joseph's 14 wickets since his return have come in the middle overs, at an average of 25.50, and he's maintained an economy rate of 4.81 in this phase of the innings.
West Indies coach Phil Simmons is pleased with how Joseph has been going about his game.
"Not just on the pitch, but the way he prepares and the way he talks about cricket and about bowling," Simmons told CWI. "He seems to be maturing very quickly and it showed in the two games, in the way he bowled."
He picked out Joseph's consistency as the most pleasing aspect of his bowling against Ireland. "I think he's hit the areas he's wanted to hit more often than the other bowlers in the team, and he's come out with success."
Simmons was less impressed with West Indies' top-order displays against Ireland. They lost five wickets while chasing 181 in the first ODI, and slipped to 148 for 7 in the second before the lower order came to their rescue in a chase of 238. Simmons felt the batsmen needed to go back to how they were approaching innings during the recent tour of India.
"The batsmen need to go back to what we were doing in India and how we were putting scores together," he said. "We were putting proper partnerships up at the top and creating a platform for the big hitters down at the bottom, and we need to make sure we do that in this coming game."
Simmons was, however, delighted with the lower order's efforts in the second ODI, where Khary Pierre, Joseph and Sheldon Cottrell batted around Hayden Walsh, who made an unbeaten 46, to haul West Indies home.
"I think it's good to see them taking their time and batting and not coming in and looking to win the game with sixes, and they thought about how to get that 80 runs from the lower order," Simmons said. "It was great for me to sit and watch and take heart in the fact that they understand what they need to do for this team too. It was great to see."
West Indies play their final ODI against Ireland on Sunday night in Grenada. They have retained the same squad of 14 that played the first two ODIs in Barbados.
West Indies squad for third ODI: Kieron Pollard (capt), Sunil Ambris, Roston Chase, Sheldon Cottrell, Shimron Hetmyer, Shai Hope, Alzarri Joseph, Brandon King, Evin Lewis, Keemo Paul, Khary Pierre, Nicholas Pooran, Romario Shepherd, Hayden Walsh