Jason Holder is the unsung hero of West Indies cricket…….
He seems the obvious weak-link in the Windies’ line-up, yet he skippers the side. With a bowling average of 38.52, 53 wickets in 29 Tests and a batting average a shade low of 30, Jason Holder has nothing that makes him a promising Test player. Beyond the game of numbers, though, there is something inexplicable in cricket that makes a player a team man and an indispensable player, yet an unheralded one. That guy in the Windies team is Jason Holder.
When Windies managed to eke out their first overseas Test win in nine years against a top-eight side, Holder was the leader (against Pakistan in UAE in 2016). He was the only wicketless bowler in the first innings of the Test and managed just 16 with the bat. But with a decent lead going into the second innings, Windies had a chance to snuff in the Pakistanis.
Holder was at the forefront of Windies’ attack, dismissing three of the top four in the space of four runs. He finished with a five-wicket haul as his side chased down the 150 odd runs in the final innings to emerge victorious. Of course, Kraigg Brathwaite’s 142 and 60 earned him the Man of the Match award, and deservedly so. But Holder’s hand in the win wasn’t minor. This has so often been the case. In most of Windies’ good performances in the past few years, there is Holder’s invisible hand.
In the return series against Pakistan in the Caribbean, at Bridgetown, Roston Chase stole the headlines with a cracking 131 in the first innings. But it was Holder’s valiant 128-ball 58 that held one end up for Chase to fight on. The partnership lifted them from 154/6 to 312, giving them a fighting chance in the Test match.
As a bowler, he is so nagging that you could sense the batsmen itching to slam him over the stadium. Against a brilliant Indian batting line-up two years ago, Holder, despite being the fourth seamer in most Windies’ sides, took on the mantle of the bowling attack and bowled stringent lines to Cheteshwar Pujara. At one point, the Indian no.3 had scored just 1 off 38 balls against Holder. India made 500 plus but Holder’s 206 balls went for just 2.09. As though that weren’t enough, he went on to compile a match-saving 64 with Roston Chase for a company.
At North Sound in 2015 against England, Holder stitched together a brilliant hundred from no.8 to salvage a Test match. Not really the match-saving kind, Holder kept English bowlers on their toes with a positive mindset. It was his maiden hundred in Test cricket and it came when the team were searching frantically for a firefighter.
At Leeds, in Windies win over England last year, Holder played a silent hand, assisting Shai Hope to get Windies past 400 with a 43 from no.9. The stand took Windies from 329/7 to past 400 and eventually a game-changing lead. Holder returned with the ball and consistently tempted Alastair Cook with his relentless channels. After four balls on a persistent line outside Cook’s off-stump, the England batsman poked at the ball uncertainly. The edge was snapped up by Dowrich as England wilted.
Against Zimbabwe at Bulawayo last year, West Indies played out 178.2 overs, the most they had done in a long time. Yet again, it was Holder leading the charge, alongside Shane Dowrich. With Windies down at 230/7, Holder walked in to accompany Dowrich. Still 94 behind Zimbabwe’s first innings score, Windies needed the duo to stick together. They did and how!
It took Zimbabwe 68.5 overs to separate the duo as they stitched together a 212 run stand, both batsmen scoring hundreds. In Zimbabwe’s second innings, Holder returned to take one wicket, the most important one, cleaning up the eventual Man of the Match, Sikander Raza, for 89.
Holder was at it once again in the company of Dowrich against Sri Lanka this Test. From 147/5, he helped Dowrich lift the Windies to a pretty good total. His 40 from 88 was drowned in the efforts from Dowrich and the tail, but deserves as much accolades as them. With them needing some quick runs in the second innings, Holder took just 40 balls to smash 39 and help Windies declare both their innings’ for the first time since 1985 at Georgetown.
He returned with the ball to stifle out Angelo Mathews, the fighter in Lanka’s line-up. Although the delivery was nothing special, Holder’s ability to strike when it matters is what actually makes him indispensable. His 10 overs at the fag end of day 4 went for just 18 runs. He was the tightest of the Windies bowlers and returned with the most prized scalp.
At 6 foot 7 inches, Holder is the same height as the fearsome Sir Curtly Ambrose. He doesn’t have the swagger or fire of Ambrose. He doesn’t have the notorious stare or the deadly bounce of the former West Indian seamer. What he does have is an ability to grit it out, with bat or ball, when the going gets tough. He isn’t a captain, but he is a worthy leader, one who shows the way for his team. Windies cricket needs Holder as much as he needs them now.