Joshua Da Silva refused to take an easy single through square-leg when he was on 49 on his Test debut. It was off the first ball of the over. West Indies required 36 runs to make New Zealand bat again with only two wickets in hand. At the other end was No. 10 Chemar Holder, a fellow debutant who Da Silva didn’t want to expose to Trent Boult for five deliveries.
It surprised those watching Da Silva’s impressive innings, even Ross Taylor, who made it a point to walk from the slips to remind the young batsman what was at stake.
“A few moments later, Ross Taylor comes up to me and says, ‘Josh, it’s a Test fifty. Get that run and whatever else happens after that, then you do it. Don’t be a hero’. I’m like alright, no problem,” narrates Da Silva on his YouTube channel.
Da Silva eventually reached the milestone, the first by a West Indian debutant in five years. Refusing the single was a notable sacrifice for a 22-year-old batsman who knew that a debut Test fifty goes a long way in cementing a Test spot. But these moments give a window into the cricketer’s mindset, that even on debut, the thought of protecting the tail-ender and prolonging the team’s innings should have precedence over a personal achievement.
Da Silva has faced several such small, but meaningful, challenges in his short cricket career, that began with the decision to choose cricket over football. After making it into the Trinidad and Tobago Under-19s side, Da Silva was sent on the Kieron Pollard scholarship to play club cricket in England.
A year-and-a-half later and a few pounds lighter, Da Silva broke into the T&T first-class and one-day sides, before getting on the plane to England again, this time as West Indies’ reserve player on their tour last year.
A century in one of the practice matches got him further notice. When Shane Dowrich got injured during the third day of the Manchester Test, Da Silva, donning a white hat, was sent on as substitute wicketkeeper.
“It all happened so quickly,” Da Silva told ESPNcricinfo. “Dow got hit and coach told me I may have to go out there. To him, I said ‘no problem, just let me know’, but on the inside, I couldn’t believe it was real. Am I really going out there? It’s a moment I will never forget.”
Having met these challenges, da Silva earned a place in both West Indies’ Test and ODI squads on their tour to Bangladesh. It hasn’t started well for Da Silva, who was out for 14 and 9 in the first two ODIs, before Jahmar Hamilton replaced him in the third game.
But he remains their primary wicketkeeper-batsman choice in the Test side, which is a new responsibility for the youngster. He is spending a lot of time in the nets, as well as speaking regularly to coach Phil Simmons and batting coach Monty Desai.
“Definitely it’s a new challenge for me, playing in Bangladesh, but I’m really excited to take what I have been learning in training into the matches. The pitches are slower and spin a lot more, but I don’t think that much needs to change.
“It’s just about putting in the work before the games and getting accustomed to the conditions. We have been talking a bit (about batting in the sub-continent), but mostly with the batting coach, Monty Desai and getting the knowledge he has from playing in these conditions,” he said.
While Simmons has helped calm down the young Da Silva, former West Indies captain Jimmy Adams has also guided him from an early age.
“Both (Simmons and Adams) have been a huge help to me. During the last Super 50, Jimmy told me that the only currency in cricket is runs. That really stuck with me. He still checks up on me from time to time.
“Coach Phil, ever since I came into the set up, has made me feel like I belong. That does a huge part in motivating me and helps me to play with a calm mind,” he said.
Da Silva’s hard work was also observed by Roddy Estwick, the West Indies assistant coach and a veteran who has seen the progress of many young cricketers from the Caribbean. He said that Da Silva must realise quickly that the opposition will do research on him even though he is just one Test old.
“Josh is very hard working. He wants to play cricket. He is always asking questions, and looking for information,” Estwick said. “He is always looking to improve. He has made a very good start, but that’s only a start. He got a fifty in the second innings in his Test debut in New Zealand. He will now have to continue to work.
“The same way we analyse the opposition, they do that to us as well. We have to make sure that when we stay a step ahead of the opposition, you have to keep working. You can’t sit back and relax on your laurels. But knowing Josh, he is very hard working. So once he stays focused and disciplined, he should be a good find for us,” said Estwick.
Da Silva understood what he would need to do to become an international cricketer during the tour of England last year. Then later in New Zealand, he had to face one of the best fast bowling attacks in the world, in their backyard, which turned out to be another eye-opening experience.
“It’s a huge jump. The work load, intensity and competitiveness is on another level and just shows me how much more I need to do to have a long, successful career.
“[The Test debut] felt surreal for the duration of the match and for days after. However, it was a good challenge. I faced some of the best bowlers in the business. I just wanted to bat long and do well for the team.
He takes inspiration from watching Steven Smith’s good and bad days, and how the Australian sticks to his work ethic regardless of his performance. “Right now, I look at Steve Smith a lot. He shows how hard work pays off and why you should never stop grinding. Even when he fails, he just continues to trust the process and tries again. That is very inspiring,” said Da Silva.
Part of that process in the last ten months for international cricketers has been to manage themselves in bio-secure bubbles. On his third tour, Da Silva is feeling the mental pinch of the long, often lonely grind.
“This is my third bubble and honestly, it doesn’t get any easier. It’s not too bad when cricket is being played, but the quarantine periods are tough. Even training days, when the only thing to do is train and go back to your room, it is quite challenging mentally,” he said.
But it is also a year of opportunities for West Indies’ players, with several series coming up, and with rotation now a necessity. By scoring runs regularly and by offering stability behind the stumps, Da Silva hopes to have a better year.
“By the end of 2021, I’d like to cement a place in the West Indies squad and to have achieved some other goals, which I won’t reveal at this time. I want to have a long career wearing the beautiful maroon,” he said. (Cricinfo)