Jason Holder - Holding Windies together with unconventional grace and all embracing talent

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Jason Holder - Holding Windies together with unconventional grace and all embracing talent

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Sritama Panda

09/02/2019

About seven months ago, a thrilled Jason Holder hopped and hugged Shane Dowrich after securing his maiden double-hundred in the longest format. Playing against England in Barbados, he became the third player to score a double hundred as a No.8, hence, declaring himself as an ‘all-rounder'.

Test Cricket, the most competitive form of the game, is the biggest test of characters, be it graceful, aggressive or both. The longest format is the greatest leveller; it tests you and rewards you according to its relentless parameters. Much like the sorting hat in Harry Potter, it knows which character belongs where. In all, the question is whether the character in question is a cricketer of all ages or someone who marks the epoch in their era. 

Jason Holder is neither, he is rather a bridge between the two states of a great cricketer. A really tall bridge, 6 ft 7 inch to be precise. Some might believe it is a bit premature to call him a great already but if we look into this era of Windies Cricket to which Holder belongs, the team has hardly relished being on top of their game. However, when they have, it was always their captain Holder and his ways doing the trick. Moreover, the myth of Test Cricket being a ‘Gentleman’s game’ has persisted through ages, but if there has to be some reality to it, then Holder is the No.1 evidence. Perhaps, the format's bias towards the said cricketer.

Around three years prior to that, in 2015, a 23-year-old Jason Holder with a Test experience of just eight games was put in charge of captaincy. Fair to say, the level-headed young man has acted as a cushion between the dispute of the players and the board. However, he has gained more appreciation than criticism as under his leadership, West Indies has lost 16 games and won only 9 Tests. 

But the fact that Holder was declared a part of the Men's Test Cricket Team in the most recent ICC awards opened many eyes. The choice was based purely on the fact that he was the best all-rounder in the past year. He rightfully deserves to be a part of any team in the world right now. Perhaps, he is that part of the Caribbean team providing the balance that the team has lacked over the past couple of decades. He rises to the occasion whenever the team was in dire need.

“He is bowling great areas. He is not giving you an inch. He was pegging [away] at length and short of length. He doesn’t give you many easy deliveries to score off, so the pressure is always there. Even if you defend him off, he has bowled a 6-7 overs spell and [he has bowled] three or four maidens. As a batsman, you know you are not getting much out of him” - Indian opener Mayank Agarwal’s words to describe the coming of age fast-bowling all-rounder, who bagged his fifth five-wicket haul in a span of 11 months, says a lot about his character.

The track at Sabina Park in Kingston, where the match is underway, once had the radiance that intimidated the visiting teams for the pace it held. West Indies ruled the cricket world with sheer dominance in that era. But the story isn’t the same today. In fact, the story revolving the downfall of Windies Cricket has a life of its own. After losing the first Test match to the visitors, West Indies were looking to square the series in Jamaica where the track sported green grass with a hint of moisture.

Holder decided to go with three-man pace attack, comprising Kemar Roach, Shannon Gabriel and himself, as opposed to the four-man attack in Antigua. Off-spin bowler Rahkeem Cornwall, making his debut at his home ground, bowled 27 out of the 90 overs on his first day of Test cricket. Eventually, a majority of the responsibilities of the Windies side was burdened on their captain. Despite being the third seamer, he bowled better than Roach and Gabriel combined. Throughout Day 1, he switched between attack and defence and produced the figures of 20-6-39-3, which clearly showcase the ability of Holder to be economical while also taking wickets. He completed his sixth career five-wicket haul on Day 2 after dismissing Risabh Pant and Hanuma Vihari. 

Most wickets taken by pace-bowling all-rounders since Jan 2018(min 500 runs scored) © ESPNCricinfo

This was all before Jasprit Bumrah brought down carnage - 6/27 that includes a hattrick - upon the Windies batsman, who only managed to put up a total of 117 in response to India’s 416. Once again, Holder’s heroics were eclipsed. In the last 20 months, no other all-rounder has taken more wickets than Holder, who also has the best batting average in that span. And yet, somewhere between Ben Stokes’ dance with his luck and Bumrah's world-class bowling, Holder’s achievements remain uncelebrated. When in reality, Holder has better numbers than Stokes over a period of 20 months and the Windies skipper also overhauls Bumrah in terms of bowling average and strike rate in the same span.

Best bowling averages since Jan 1, 2018(min 40 wickets taken) © ESPNCricinfo

Holder’s West Indies are a bunch of talented cricketers who have broken records, learned to go out there and win again, not just at home, but also overseas. All that is left for the team to assimilate is how to move on from the shadows of the recent past, a period that marked a steep downfall of Windies Cricket. Since Chanderpaul, the Windies have had their share of Braithwaite(s), Bravo(s) and most recently a Hope and a Hetmyer. These players almost overshadowed Holder's calibre at times. But the captain is a long-form player and the only good bet by the WICB amongst its several blunders over the years. While the team will most certainly fail to Chase the target(478) India has set in Jamaica, there’s Hope for West Indies as long as Holder holds his bunch together.

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