IN JUNE 2011, The Cricket Legends of Barbados museum had organised a meet-and-greet plus seminar with former opener Seymour Nurse, the late Tony Cozier and then West Indies Academy coach Carl Hooper. In the audience was the entire Academy team, including their captain a young Jason Holder. After the three Caribbean legends had held court with glorious reminiscences, the floor was thrown open to the audience to ask questions. It was Holder whose hand went up first. The question from the earnest-faced future West Indies captain, then just 19, was about leadership and the legacy of West Indies cricket. And he chipped in with a couple of views of his own, earning him applause from the entire crowd and nods of appreciation from the guests on stage.
It was a similarly earnest-faced Jason Holder who sat facing the media on Sunday evening in Hyderabad. But there was also a significant and frustratingly familiar sense of disappointment. Now 26, and three years into his Test captaincy, the Bajan all-rounder was for the umpteenth time, away from home anyway, left to defend or at least explain his team’s shambolic obliteration. Try anyway. His team had been clean-swept within 5-and-some days of play in a Test series that though was expected to be challenging was also expected to be one where the visitors could compete.
They’d after all come off one of their best runs in Tests earlier this year. Holder had been at the forefront too in the tied series against Sri Lanka and the win against Bangladesh. He’d come into the series averaging less than 15 with the ball and over 35 with the bat — numbers of Soberesque proportions — in 2018. For the record, by pure numbers alone the youngster is the best all-rounder the West Indies have had since the great Garry Sobers.
Forget for a moment what he brings to the table with bat, as an out-and-out bowler too, his record this year has been phenomenal. In fact after India’s first innings on Sunday, his bowling average in 2018, 11.87, was better than any bowler in the last 100 years(minimum 30 wickets in a year).
A reassuring presence
Holder had to miss the opening Test in Rajkot owing to injury, a gargantuan loss for his team. And he’d made his presence felt enormously here. He started off by scoring 52 and steadied the ship in Roston Chase’s company in the first innings. He then made up for Shannon Gabriel’s expensive beginning with the new-ball by providing control and also dismissing KL Rahul and Virat Kohli on the second day. He’d then produced an inspired spell on the third morning to deny Ajinkya Rahanea century and then adding two more scalps to finish with figures of 5/56 — making him the first West Indian since Malcolm Marshall to do the double in India. He’d hung around gamely in the second innings too, amidst the carnage, to provide some resistance. And you could feel the pain as he slowly ambled off after being adjudged caught-behind via DRS. It was a defeated walk.
And here he sat, with his team having been bowled out within or just around 50 overs for the third time in four innings. There are those in the Caribbean who consider Holder a scapegoat, thrown into the deep end at a young age, while others constantly pick on his captaincy and credentials, even pulling him down more than they would Darren Sammy during his contentious reign. But to his credit, Holder has soaked it all in, and in fact has become a better cricketer than he was before he was handed the reins.
Here too, Holder kept his nerve and his composure, and preferred not to just indulge in a blame-game, which he would completely have been vindicated in doing. Instead he chose to be pragmatic without walking away from the issue.
Throwing in the towel
“It’s a tough one, there are times that you got to put your foot down and let people know exactly they are not pulling their weight. At the end of the day, you got to get deeper into it, understanding why the collapses keep happening. And it’s not a matter of guys having technical deficiencies,” he said when asked about the repeated collapses that have become a theme of West Indies’ Test cricket.
The worst part of the implosion on Sunday was that their bowlers led by Holder had actually given them a chance of making India earn their victory. They’d knocked off the final 6 wickets for just 59 runs and on a flat pitch, left West Indies with a very possible chance of setting a competitive total. Then they just threw it away. While there were a number of needless dismissals, the one that stood out was Shimron Hetmyer. He fell to the same shot he’d succumbed to in Rajkot off Kuldeep Yadav, and somehow survived in the first innings here — an open-spliced waft towards the point region. “Where have we seen that shot before?,” bellowed an angry Ian Bishop on air from the commentary box. And the angst in his tone would have been echoed around the islands. Holder didn’t hold back either.