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Holder, the gentle giant destined to be a leader

There will be many lamenting the fact that, when Kraigg Brathwaite strolls out to contest the toss in tomorrow’s third Test in St.Lucia, the suspended West Indies captain Jason Holder will be sitting quietly in the dressing room, a passive force in a team suddenly infused with desire and resolve.

The world’s top ranking all-rounder has been consigned to the fate of an observer due to the vagaries of the ICC’S over-rate stipulation which have condemned him to missing the final match of a landmark series.

Holder assumed the West Indian ODI captaincy in 2014, aged 23, before taking on the Test role a year later, latterly maturing into a real leader of men whilst driving spirit and belief in a team that seemingly had none.

The remarkable events in Barbados topped by an undefeated double hundred, and a share in an unbroken seventh wicket partnership of 295 with Shane Dowrich, were mere confirmation of what other notables like Sir Viv Richards and Brian Lara had known already.

As West Indies interim coach Richard Pybus notes: “The team kept their cool and that’s all credit to Jason, a calm and composed guy. There were many special performances, but his was exceptional.”

It is no surprise, then, that Northants have been inspired to chase his services for the new season.
Holder learned his cricket at the Wanderers club in Bridgetown where the sadly departed broadcaster and journalist Tony Cozier was a long-term admirer (incidentally my own club, too, for four happy seasons way back when).

“Tono” was never given to hyperbole or outlandish praise but was more enthusiastic as Holder progressed through the ranks.

He adored him unreservedly. Nor was it purely on cricketing ability. Any discussion on the Barbados captain would invariably include comments like “he was raised right, such a polite young man”.

Natural charm and a physically imposing athlete are a rare combination, and at 6ft 7in, Holder is quite literally head and shoulders above most of the squad.

Softly spoken and a flash-free zone apart from the twinset diamond earstuds, like many big blokes he’s not overly demonstrative but still lost himself in joyous celebration of passing 200 which was wholly understandable. Reaching the milestone with a six would have been enough, but this was the eighth in an astonishing knock.

Quiet authority, keen motivational skills, a cheerful disposition and strength of character are his leitmotifs.

“It’s a thinking man’s game,” he says, “and success lies in your mental preparation. Fitness is vital pre-tour, then I’ll dial it down and focus on recovery. Leadership is easier when you do so by example and I take pride in that. I try to nurture the team in a comfortable environment.”

Typically, he dedicated the second Test victory in Antigua to the memory of Alzarri Joseph’s mother who had passed away. He cites Curtly Ambrose as the ideal role model and has three passions in life – family, cricket and golf, strictly in that order. “My parents and three brothers are everything,” he says. Any spare time is consumed by golf, the complete fanatic in a land that boasts a few decent fairways.

West Indies have replaced Holder with Guyanese all-rounder Keemo Paul who seams it around at up to 85mph, fields athletically at backward point and has a first-class hundred to his name.

The pitch in St Lucia is touted as the quickest in the region and the Jamaican speedster Oshane Thomas, 22 next week, patiently awaits a Test debut.

Even now, however, after inflicting two crushing defeats on England, it would be wrong to suggest that we’re witnessing a resurrection of sorts because the Caribbean game is bedevilled by all manner of constraints and caveats and a chronic lack of finance.

West Indies have been here before, and fallen at the first. Determination to prevail over the English, though, is always a given – Jimmy Anderson has referred to a discernible “fire in their eyes” over the years and the current side has certainly developed a more combative, physical edge.

So, anything can happen in this match, and probably will, but the spectacle is diminished by the captain’s absence. At least he’s there, present and correct, to hoist aloft the Wisden Trophy any day now, a well-deserved marker in a career destined to deliver so much more.

STEPHEN THORPE | GETTY IMAGES

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