Jason Holder is not a wily speedster like some former West Indies players. He is not even remotely close to being the best batsman of this era in his region. Former West Indies coach, Ottis Gibson, said as much that it was one of the reasons why Holder wasn’t ready to lead yet. In the February of 2015, when the World Cup just commenced, Gibson said that Holder “has got the character to elevate himself to captain over time and loves taking responsibility but he has to work on his game at the moment.”
However, Clive Lloyd was the chairman of selectors. He knew about the pressures of leading at a young age. And he announced Holder as West Indies’ new One-Day International (ODI) captain.
Whatever doubts naysayers harboured about Holder were quelled a month later when West Indies faced United Arab Emirates (UAE) during a World Cup fixture at Napier. Holder bowled ten overs for four wickets, conceding just 27 runs. That performance led from the front, but an incident during the course of that game thrust his leadership credentials to the fore. It occurred during the 33rd over of the UAE innings.
Former West Indies captain Darren Sammy — still an integral part of the side at the time and a regular bowler — was asked to bowl for the first time in that match during the 30th over. Despite conceding just four runs off it, he was not given a second over. Sammy was peeved. He had switched off. He paid no heed to the balls thrown at him by teammates expecting him to apply shine, nor was he too enthusiastic chasing the balls hit by the UAE batsmen. “Sammy [is] behaving like a five-year-old who has just been told he won’t get to bat or bowl today,” exclaimed one tweet.
Himself a captain until recently, Sammy led with great panache and marshalled his troop with sublime authority. He mentored the juniors and was assertive with his seniors. His demeanour contributed to West Indies’ mini-revival. Even when he was relieved of captaincy, he threw genuine support behind Dwayne Bravo, and then Holder. To see Sammy sulk on the ground because he disagreed with Holder’s viewpoint hence came as a surprise.
Holder then took the ball, crossed over the wicket to where Sammy had been fielding inside the ring and rebuked his former captain appropriately. It was dealt with on the ground, since the sulk was unwarranted at the moment and clearly unprofessional.
Holder proved two things with his response to Sammy’s unprecedented actions: he would not stand for deeds that would disadvantage or cost his team regardless of a player’s stature, and that he would not bow to the whims and fancies of the seniors. Moreover, he ordered Sammy to the long-off boundary. Although Sammy enthusiastically chased every ball that came his way thereafter, he was not given a second over. UAE were bowled out for 175, West Indies chased it within 31 overs, and Holder was announced Player of the Match. During the post-match press conference, Holder talked down the incident with a smile, stating “It’s just part of the game. At the end of the day we shake hands and still smile together.” Holder was a natural leader.
Agreed, man-management does not alone define a good captain. Ability as a player is tantamount, too. Any questions one had about Holder’s prowess in the longer format of the game was answered when he thwacked a ton against England at a time when West Indies were staring down a barrel at Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, Antigua. Chasing 438 to win, the West Indies were reeling at 189 for six, with a major part of two sessions still remaining, when Holder etched defiance of the highest quality. West Indies drew the match with Holder unbeaten. He later expressed his gratitude through a lengthy Instagram post thanking “fans who never left their seats, fans who care and the fans who [are] hurt when we don’t do well but still come back to cricket and keep supporting” while going on to explain what the knock meant to him. A man as passionate and aware as Holder in a leadership position is what West Indies cricket needs for resurgence.
While former players like Gibson, and more recently Philo Wallace, may have a point pertaining to Holder’s young age and inexperience, they must appreciate former West Indian stalwart Sir Viv Richards’s counterargument that “it is better to start at that particular age”.
There is a dearth of options, and if Holder’s appointment pays off like Graeme Smith’s did for South African cricket, West Indies will be in good hands for the foreseeable future.