Of course, it was Virat Kohli’s birthday on 5th November. That number 1 ranked ODI batsmen, India’s best Test captain, an assured legend, who owned the last decade with his batting mastery in all formats of the game.
You can’t bombast enough about Kohli, can you? But, although less eminent, another player had his birthday on Thursday. He is also an ICC number 1 – the best Test all-rounder - another master of all formats and also a brilliant leader. No, he isn’t Ben Stokes. He is arguably someone even better – the underrated Jason Holder.
Jason Holder in IPL 2020
When the two birthday boys came head to head on 6th November in the 58th match of IPL 2020, it was in the backdrop of contrasting campaigns for their respective teams. A high-flying Sunrisers Hyderabad met a plummeting Royal Challengers Bangalore in the Eliminator.
The stakes were high, and after losing the toss, Kohli opened for the first time in the tournament. The plan was set for him to dominate the power-play with names like Aaron Finch, Ab de Villiers and Moeen Ali rearing to go. But Kohli failed.
In the second ball of the second over, Jason Holder nipped one back into Kohli, and the batsman awkwardly tried to work it on the leg-side. The ball brushed his glove before it was gobbled up by the wicketkeeper Shreevats Goswami.
h RCB aiming for a move on, Jason Holder sent back the other opener – Devdutt Padikkal - too. Again a short delivery did the trick, with Paddikal not making it past short mid-wicket with his pull. RCB were strangulated and could only manage 32 runs in the power-play of a must-win game.
The ability to extract bounce from a height of 6’ 7’’ and movement early on in the innings makes Jason Holder a tough customer to deal with. Especially on the slow surfaces of the UAE, his deliveries come at a speed, stick on the surface but still bounce to waist height, leaving the batsmen in all sorts of discomfort.
Jason Holder took another crucial wicket in the Eliminator. This time, it was in the closing stages of the RCB innings, when Shivam Dubey couldn’t manage to up the ante and perished in the process.
Taking crucial wickets at opportune moments was Jason Holder’s forte this season. In the six games he played, he picked up 13 wickets at a brilliant economy rate of 7.62. He bowled in the powerplay with spunk and then brought his variations to good use in the death-overs.
If this wasn’t enough, Jason Holder was a cog in the wheel for the SRH batting order as well.
In a tricky chase of 121 against RCB in SRH's previous game against Kohli's men earlier in the tournament, Jason Holder counterattacked the bowling and hit 17 off just four balls to seal the game before the opposition could put any pressure.
Again in the Eliminator, Holder came just after a batting collapse and shone under the pump. He first steadied the ship with Kane Williamson and then picked his moment to perfection, hitting two consecutive boundaries to take his team home.
He wasn’t the first choice for SRH, though. Jason Holder, at first, came as a replacement for an injured Mitchell Marsh. He had to warm the bench for the first few games in IPL 2020, as SRH chose to go with the flamboyant opening partnership of David Warner and Johnny Bairstow. A papery middle-order couldn’t support the openers, and SRH lost six of their first nine games.
The gutsy move of bringing in Wriddhiman Saha for Baristow to allow Jason Holder to come in proved to be an inspired one.
Jason Holder repaid the franchise's faith in the very first game he played, taking three wickets and effecting a run-out, subsequently proving instrumental in turning around SRH's flagging campaign. He also led the bowling attack in the absence of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and helped SRH secure four wins in five games to narrowly edge out KKR for the final playoffs berth.
Jason Holder - the all-rounder
This shouldn’t come as a surprise to people who have followed Jason Holder in the last decade. This is what Jason Holder essentially does for a living. The West Indies batting hasn’t been anywhere near consistent over the years, which often forces Jason Holder to single-handedly steady the ship.
Indian maestro Sachin Tendulkar also understood the value of Jason Holder when he called him the "most underrated all-rounder" in a conversation with West Indies legend Brian Lara on Tendulkar's app '100 MB.'
"Jason Holder is the most under-rated all-rounder, because on the field, maybe you will look at Kemar Roach or Shannon Gabriel, but Jason Holder only when you look at the scoreboard, you realise that he has come in and taken three wickets," Sachin Tendulkar said.
Jason Holder’s average of 32 with the bat is highly commendable, given the position he bats in. Moreover, this is above the average of almost every other batsman in the West Indies lineup who has played more than ten Test matches. This speaks volumes about the responsibility Jason Holder carries on his shoulders. Moreover, he can use the long handle to tonk the cricket ball a fair distance, as his strike rate of 94.3 and nine fifty-plus scores in ODIs would suggest.
"When he is batting, he scores those crucial 50-55 runs when it matters. He is an underrated player, but he contributes on a regular basis. He is a terrific player to have in a team," Sachin Tendulkar added about Jason Holder.
Jason Holder's maiden Test century against England in 2015 was an epitome of his fortitude. West Indies were 189-6 when Holder came out to bat, and his defiant 149-ball-103 saved the match for his team.
Jason Holder also has an impressive bowling record; he has 116 career Test wickets garnered at the rate of just 26.7. His strike rate of just over 62 doesn’t do justice to what he brings to the table; Jason Holder holds one end tight and allows his strike bowlers to be audacious.
His recent numbers are even better.
In 11 Tests over 2018 and 2019, Jason Holder picked up 53 wickets at an average of just 14.22. In 2020, when the first Test series began after the pandemic-enforced hiatus – the Wisden Trophy between England and West Indies – it was again Jason Holder’s best figures of 6-42 in the first innings that set the tone for a memorable victory for his team.
Before the series, he was quoted as saying that maybe he doesn't get "as much credit” as he deserves. Nevertheless, despite his all-round efforts, West Indies lost the 3-match series 2-1, and this perception about Jason Holder surely got a major hit.
Holder’s aforementioned statistics are at par, and in some cases, a lot better than that of Ben Stokes. But, as is often the case in cricket, numbers and data don’t always narrate the complete picture, more so when it comes to captaincy.
Jason Holder - the leader
Jason Holder broke into the scene by receiving the prestigious Lord Gavron Award in 2009, which is given to a Barbados Under-19 cricketer considered as outstanding on the playing field. Holder was yet another lanky hit-the-deck bowler with the ability to bowl longer spells. And he would have remained so until of course, he was elevated to the saddle.
Holder, still in his salad days, replaced Dwayne Bravo as the ODI captain in December 2014 to become the youngest West Indian at the job. This transition wasn’t any piece of cake for the then-23-year-old, though.
It was preceded by a bit of bad blood between the West Indies Cricket Board and some of the senior players in the team over issues about player payments and contracts. This discord had eventually culminated in the West Indian team pulling out from an ongoing tour in India. Again, Jason Holder had to resurrect a sinking ship.
The trust in Jason Holder was shown by arguably the greatest West Indies captain of all time Clive Lloyd and erstwhile players Vivian Richards and Brian Lara. Holder was chosen because of his 'very good cricketing brain', and he showed the selectors the 'makings of a very good leader' too.
The transition wasn’t just for Jason Holder alone but also for the entire West Indian squad. The contract troubles still lingered, and the captain was robbed of his senior-most players. Off-field controversies were rife in the Carribean islands as were the problems due to plummeting finances. Amidst all this was a soft-spoken, level-headed Jason Holder, who was working his way through with whatever he had at his disposal.
He couldn’t do very well in his debut series against South Africa in 2015, and the ensuing performances were also a mixed bag. West Indies reached the quarter-finals of the 2015 World Cup only to be blown away by a Martin Guptill double hundred (237*).
The Caribbean side lost many home and away games in the next few years, but the management stuck with Jason Holder – possibly because he was their best option.
Jason Holder didn’t flinch despite the indifferent returns. He acknowledged that he wasn’t too sure about how he wanted to lead in the beginning and had to learn the job the hard way. He appreciated good performances and plainly accepted the ignominious ones. Meanwhile, his plan didn’t deteriorate a sliver as he tenaciously held on to that number one spot.
Results started coming soon as West Indies (called Windies at this time) under Jason Holder defeated mighty England 2-1 at home. The first of these victories also brought the zenith for Jason Holder, as he led from the front to score a ravaging double hundred to record his highest Test score.
His team won the first match by a gargantuan margin of 381 runs and then stepped up in the next to clinch it by a thumping 10-wicket margin. If it was Jason Holder, the batsman, who won the previous game, it was his 4-for that played a pivotal role in the second.
In that series, he broke Vivian Richards' record of hitting eight sixes - the most against England by a West Indian batsman. His score of 202 was also the second-highest by a West Indian captain against England, only behind Brian Lara’s 400. And with the win over England this year, Jason Holder usurped Lara to become the West Indies’ third-most successful Test captain.
But again, numbers fail to show Jason Holder’s true prowess as a leader.
West Indies landed in England this year, close on the heels of the Black-Lives-Matter movement. Like in other sports, cricketers and their boards were in the crosshairs for lending their voices to it.
Jason Holder, earnest as ever, was the first voice to call for stricter cricket laws against racism - on the lines of match-fixing. It was his message for unity and equality that pushed the domino for racism-related conversations in the cricketing fraternity.
Both the English and West Indian cricketers 'took a knee' as a symbol of solidarity with the BLM movement and donned its emblem on their jerseys, which was again Jason Holder’s initiative.
Why is Jason Holder so underrated?
West Indies cricket gets selective attention from the world. One has to be too great a player like Frank Worrell or Clive Lloyd, too good a character like DJ Bravo, or someone like Vivian Richards and Chris Gayle to get noticed.
Uncharacteristic of a quintessential West Indian cricketer, Jason Holder isn't a modern-day T20 giant too. His numbers are decent in the format, but his flamboyance falls short of that of someone like Bravo or Darren Sammy.
Had Jason Holder been an Australian captain rescuing his team from the mud every time they failed, he would have already been labelled the next Allan Border. Making it worse, West Indian cricketers don't get enough opportunities to play against the best as much as the 'Big 3' (India, Australia and England) get to play among themselves.
Does it affect Jason Holder, though?
"I don't get caught up with it, to be honest. Journalists are there to write their stories. I am merely here to play cricket," said Jason Holder in July 2020. Paradoxically, this might be one of the factors that keeps the limelight away from him: he is just too good a sportsperson for that.
At the end of the England series, Jason Holder even requested the England Cricket Board for a return tour to the Caribbean to support the islands' dwindling finances. This was unprecedented coming from an international captain as Jason Holder displayed his humility in the face of adversity.
The adversities are far from over for Jason Holder and co. West Indies are still reeling in eighth spot in the Test rankings and had to go through qualifiers to compete in the 2019 World Cup.
West Indies' batting is still iffy; the team is still in transition, and there’s a dearth of fresh talent for Test matches. However, under Jason Holder, the West Indies have proved that they are no pushovers and that they will continue to march on under Holder's able tutelage.
Jason Holder wasn’t like his counterparts - Kohli, Eoin Morgan or Steve Smith - when he was given the captaincy. He wasn’t born to lead a great team; rather, he had to build a good team literally from scratch. Jason Holder has been doing this through his understated attributes – gravitas, sincerity and candour – and will continue to do so, as underratedly as ever.Published 10 Nov 2020, 13:46 IST