When was the last time you saw West Indies dominate a test match, that too against a top team like England?
Chances are, it happened at a time when smartphones were meant only for talking and the world hadn’t heard of Justin Bieber.
Maybe we are exaggerating.
But it’s a fact that test cricket in West Indies has been on a terminal decline for nearly a decade now.
But thankfully, things are changing.
There are clear signs that the West Indies cricket team is getting competitive again. And one man can take some credit for it – Jason Holder.
This is a great development for world cricket and cricket fans have every reason to rejoice.
So here is what happened.
In an event that could have made it to Ripley’s Believe it or Not series, the Windies defeated England by four-wickets earlier this week.
The Windies are in eighth spot on the ICC rankings.
But more significantly, they’re now just a win away from a first Test series win in England since 1989.
Yes, the ‘1989 team’ that had Viv Richards, Malcom Marshall, Des Haynes, Ambrose and Richie Richardson.
And leading the way is their 28-year-old captain, who is quietly becoming one of the world’s best all-rounders.
The stats tell a story.
Today, Jason Holder is the 2nd ranked Test bowler, just behind Pat Cummins. He is ahead of guys like Ravichandran Ashwin, Trent Boult and Nathan Lyon, which surely means something.
And yes,he is also the top ranked all-rounder in the game, ahead of Ben Stokes.
Let’s look at his bowling first.
Since February 2018, he’s taken 59 Test wickets at an average of 14.18.
At a time when cricket is dominated by docile pitches and rules that favour the batsmen, these are surreal numbers.
Holder also manages to keep it tight, building up pressure on the batsmen and helping other bowlers get wickets. Something the stats don’t capture but a fact, his team mates and opposing batsmen will readily acknowledge.
There batting numbers are equally impressive.
Holder has made 699 runs at 41.11 which is better than the likes of specialist batsmen like Marnus Labuschagne and only marginally lower than that of Ajinkya Rahane.
His 6-42 in the first innings of the Test against England was a BIG factor in the visitors’ four wicket victory.
Former cricketers praise Jason Holder
Among Holder’s many fans is former Australian captain Mark Taylor.
“When I first saw Jason Holder play, I thought he was going to be a handy one-day player,” Taylor admitted.
“He bowls, at best, first change, if not second change, and he bats at seven or eight. He had all the markings of a good all-round player who’s not quite Test cricket level.
“But then you look at his stats, and overall he’s got 113 Test wickets at 25 and averages 32 with the bat.
“Those figures are fantastic for an all-rounder at Test level. He’s certainly proving a lot of people wrong, including me!”
Mark Taylor is known to be one of the shrewdest brains in the business and not a man known to be liberal with praise.
Hence his words carry a lot of weight.
A different breed
When you think West Indian fast bowlers, you think of pace.
The likes of Michael Holding, Andy Roberts, Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose and Colin Croft who relied on an awkward length, bounce and lightning speed.
To play them well, batsmen needed quick reflexes and strong hearts.
Thanks to the battery of pace bowlers, often hunting in pairs, batsmen had no respite.
But Holder is different.
He doesn’t have the support from the other end his predecessors had.
So, he has to operate like a lone hunter, on the prowl for a kill.
He has to use his brains to work the batsmen out.
For this, Holder depends more on movement and bounce than outright speed, and still manages to fox batsmen.
For this reason, Holder is seen as one of the intelligent cricketers to come out of the islands.
Leading by example
Holder is a new-age cricketer.
A lot of things go into his repertoire, including maturity and outstanding man management skills.
No wonder, Holder gets the best out of his team.
Plus, he leads by example.
Just 18 months ago they beat England 2-1 in a Test series in the Caribbean.
In the Barbados test, Holder made 202 not out, sharing an unbeaten partnership of 295 for the seventh wicket with wicket-keeper Shane Dowrich.
Also, Holder’s heroics seemed seemed to have instilled a fighting spirit in this Windies side.
In the second innings, England looked well set to build a lead of 300. That would have put huge pressure on the West Indies batting.
In the past, the Windies would have just caved in.
But here, they fought back and bowled England out.
Now that’s the Jason Holder effect!
Jason is a fan of Winston Churchill and no prizes for guessing what his favourite adage is – Never never never never never give up!
Cover image credit: Jason Holder