When Clive Lloyd announced the new West Indian skipper before the 2015 World Cup, there was widespread hullabaloo. A 23-year old, unproven Jason Holder was hardly someone the fans had in mind to revive West Indies cricket from the ashes.
But two years hence and Holder is making everyone eat their words although the results haven’t quite been up there with the top Test nations. As a team, West Indies have come a long way; their performances have improved, they have a better team, the management issues are coming to a closure. Cricket is rosier in the Caribbean islands these days. And not just T20 cricket. At the helm of it all has been their silent, yet a proactive leader, Jason Holder.
In most of West Indies’ Test victories in the past few years, Holder has had a significant role to play albeit as the supporting act. But how important his accomplice role has been understood by analysing why Shivnarine Chanderpaul, for all his unheralded charm, couldn’t fabricate victories for the Windies. Chanderpaul had no wingman while everyone from Roston Chase, Kraigg Brathwaite, Shai Hope to Jermaine Blackwood and Shane Dowrich have enjoyed the steely presence of Jason Holder with the bat down the order.
The West Indian captain has transgressed into a bowling all-rounder over the past two years and his contributions have been vital for the Windies in the longest format of the game.
In the final Test against Pakistan in 2016, Holder created havoc with an incisive spell that saw him finish with figures of 5/30 and leading his side to a rare away Test victory. In the return series in the Caribbean, at Bridgetown, Holder once again stood up with Roston Chase to script a memorable win. Chase hogged the limelight with a match-turning hundred, but Holder held fort at one end in the first innings with a valiant 58 off 128 balls.
The Chase-Holder association lifted them from 154/6 to a respectable total of 312. He was brilliant with the ball as well, taking three wickets apiece in both innings while conceding at less than two an over, relentlessly putting pressure on the Pakistan batsman with his immaculate control. In 2015, against England at North Sound, the lower order batsman compiled a match saving hundred from no.8, striking at 69.12.
At Bulawayo, in the ongoing series against Zimbabwe, Holder walked in at no.9 with West Indies at 230/7 and staring at a deficit against the hosts. The kind of ‘leading from the front’ player that he is, Holder stitched together a jaw-dropping 212 run partnership with Shane Dowrich and gave West Indies a massive lead of 122, completing his second Test hundred in the process.
Not for once did West Indies look in control of the game until Holder walked in to bat. His game isn’t built on technique or presenting the full face of the bat. It is all about perseverance, composure and tenacity out there in the middle to conquer the opposition. Against India in an ODI after the Champions Trophy, Holder silenced Virat Kohli with a slew of bouncers outside the off-stump. The plan was simple. Kohli might be a good hooker of the ball, but on a sluggish track, with Holder’s pace, the hook would be a difficult shot to pull off. The West Indian was right. Kohli was dismissed and the rest followed soon as West Indies defended 190 odd runs.
On the outside, Holder might appear a tad meek but the skipper is brim-full on temperament and maturity. There is a reason why Clive Lloyd chose to offer him the captaincy role even when the likes of Curtly Ambrose (bowling coach of the side then) and Phil Wallace, a former player, vehemently objected.
“Jason has shown good leadership qualities so far, but I think to put him as Test captain at the age of 23 is just not right”, Wallace was quoted saying by CNN IBN.
So far, though, Holder has lived up to his tag quite well. He may not have produced mind-boggling results or coaxed out of the World victories but what he has done quite well is lead from the front.
While a few of his captaincy glitches have gained unparalleled attention, very little has been said or written of his tactical nous and ability to cope pressure. “The pressure is there, yes, but that’s quite normal. Coming into an environment you’ve longed to be in brings with it pressures. Nobody comes into international cricket not looking to perform and do well, but when you perform and are relatively successful individually, the pressures come with it. Not just me, all the players have something they must bring to West Indies cricket. The onus is on all of us, not just one or two, to take West Indies cricket forward, with hard work”, Holder had said in an interview.
It is this kind of attitude that West Indies had missed during its dying days. Now, with Holder at the helm, guiding them while learning himself, West Indies cricket have hope. A renaissance isn’t quite declared yet, but unlike in Ambrose’s autobiography where he states the country needs fifteen years to grow back to its glowing days, the golden days may not be so far away.