The ban on Jason Holder hurts, but was not totally unreasonable. Yet, in spite of the absence of the superb all-rounder, the West Indians do not lack the firepower to inflict a blackwash…..
The saga of England being trounced by West Indies, the hostile pacemen skittling them out again and again for sub-respectable scores. That does hark one back to the nostalgic days of the 1980s. All that is missing is perhaps the Mike Gatting nose.
But, things are different in a lot of ways. We already touched upon the absence of the batting superheroes who seemed to emerge from the Caribbean in those days, at a rate almost equivalent to the supply chain of fast bowlers. The West Indian batting of the current day has put on a very disciplined and commendable performance in this series. Yet, they remain a fighting but a vulnerable unit, rather than an impregnable array of greats.
And of course, other changes have come into the world of cricket through the intervening years. One primary difference is the strict stipulations for the over rates, that the ICC has imposed and are adamant at sticking to.
Yes, it does hurt when a figure as heroic as Jason Holder finds himself on the wrong end of the stick. Picking up wickets with hostile bowling, hitting a mind-blowing double hundred, leading the side with aplomb as well as reviewing decisions with accuracy … Holder has done it all. And he finds himself out of the scheme of things because of slow over rate.
This is not an article to exonerate Holder. The ICC rules do make a lot of sense. We have come a long way from the 1970s and 1980s when we had shorter days, slow over rates and a humongous number of draws. Draws are a rarity these days, and along with the changes brought about by the shorter formats of the game, the 90-overs-per-day rule has really had a lot to do with this positive change of scenario. People who grew up watching stalemates of the 1980s do know how quickly a Test match with 77-overs-per-day stipulations could become a yawn-inducing tale of going through the motions.
The 90-overs-per-day rule ensures that spectators do get the full value for their money … and they do so every day. The argument that the Antigua Test ended by 3 days and therefore there was time to make up for the slowish over rate does not really hold water, because the spectators watching the proceedings on Days 1-3 deserved to get their money’s worth of cricket. Some of them might not have been at the ground or in front of their TV sets had the match went on for five days. Hence, each day has to be played to the full. That the full match was completed within three days is an independent issue and does not really change the clauses around the 90-overs-per-day rule.
It is perhaps true that if such a rule was in vague during the 70s and 80s, Clive Lloyd would have ended up playing far fewer than his 110 Tests. Or we could have seen more overs from spinners those days. But, we cannot really compare the scenarios. Again, the ICC regulations are there for a reason and have brought about some excellent results. And if the rules say that Holder deserves a ban, it is unfortunate but has to be abided by.
It will hurt the West Indies, since Jason Holder has been the best all-rounder in the world in recent times. In fact, with England trying to make do with bits-and-pieces players masquerading as all-rounders, Holder has shown them how it is done. Yet, the heartening aspect is that, Keemo Paul is there to step in, replacing like for like, a fast bowling all-rounder for a fast-bowling all-rounder.
There were the days when a Joel Garner would be hampered by injury, and there would be Winston Davis, or Wayne Daniel, or Tony Gray stepping in to fill the breach. Or perhaps Eldine Baptiste. Each one of those substitute bowlers good enough to be the envy of every other Test side. Some supreme fast bowlers produced by West Indies at that time did not even end up playing Test cricket. For example Franklyn Stephenson, the Nottinghamshire legend, who was an all-rounder among those fast men, widely regarded as the best cricketer not to have played Test cricket.
It does speak volumes for the recent ascendancy of cricket in the Caribbean that Holder can be immediately replaced, at least temporarily, by a young all-rounder who has a First-Class hundred and takes wickets at 18 apiece with his fast stuff.
As Kraig Braithwaite takes on the reins of the side, it will serve the West Indians well if they don’t get psyched by the absence of the leader. They have plenty of firepower in their bowling, with Kemar Roach, Shannon Gabriel and Alzarri Joseph aided by Paul. And they are up against a brittle England outfit who cannot put a foot right.
The key is to ride on the waves of positivity and aim for that blackwash that was so abundantly common in the 1980s.