Friday, April 19, 2024

Bright spot in Windies’ future


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JASON OMAR HOLDER is for real. And one day coming soon, he will bat at number six for the West Indies and provide the balance the team so badly needs.

Holder’s wondrous fourth innings hundred against all odds is proof that this young talent has a maturity and resolve well beyond that of the average 23-year-old.

That innings, which turned him from Bruce Wayne to Batman in the twinkling of an eye last Friday, has positive implications for the future. If Holder can produce a few more astonishing deeds over the next year, he will be just the genuine all-rounder the team badly needs.

A two-dimensional cricketer is rare and special. Holder’s future elevation to number six means the West Indies will have the option of a fifth bowler.

The  6-foot, 6-inch Holder is a batting all-rounder. He is not a Test quality third seamer. He is a fourth seamer and can be an integral part of a five-man bowling attack.

Just ask past South African and England teams about the importance of a player who can bat in the top six and be useful with the ball. Jacques Kallis batted at number four for most of his career, scored over 13 000 runs and took 292 wickets. Ian Botham batted at six, smashed 14 tons and still had time to bag 383 scalps.

Holder has just played four Tests and no one knows what the future holds, but if he turns out to be half as good as Kallis or Botham, he will be a tower of strength and an asset to the West Indies.

Fourth innings hundreds, especially those under pressure, are special. Sir Everton Weekes, Sir Colin Cowdrey, Sir Len Hutton, Clive Lloyd and Martin Crowe went through their impressive careers without scoring a ton in the fourth innings, an indication of how tough a feat it is.

Holder was excellent, but we should not forget that the team’s overall performance was still unacceptable. Marlon Samuels got out in the second innings to a shot that would have embarrassed an under-15 player, Devon Smith succumbed to the pressure, swishing to mid-on; and Jermaine Blackwood charged down the pitch and tried to slog through midwicket.    

I am still not convinced about Blackwood in spite of his first innings hundred. He has glaring technical deficiencies and always keeps the slip cordon busy with his iffy batting. He plays with his bat away from his body and is bound to have issues with the swing in England and the bounce in Australia. Brathwaite could learn a thing from Holder on how to bat in the second innings. He has never scored a fifty in the second innings of a Test and while he averages 55.98 in the first innings, his second innings average is a woeful 12.64. Not nearly good enough for a man who is supposedly the first choice opener.

Captain Denesh Ramdin must know that the West Indies have to do much better as a team in Grenada this week. His captaincy has been defensive and unimaginative while he has managed little with the bat of late, with that last day 57 his highest score in nine matches as skipper.

What about England? They are marginally better than the West Indies and – based on what I have seen of them over the past year – will find it hard to take back the Ashes from Australia this summer.

Ian Bell and Joe Root are the mainstays of their batting and that was clear in Antigua with their huge partnership on the opening day turning the tide. Alastair Cook has 25 hundreds, more than any Englishman in history, but he is not quite the same player he was a few seasons back when he was the most consistent opener in the game.

England have not won an away Test since November 2012 when Cook led them to victory in Mumbai, and once more their attack was exposed on a flat surface. Jimmy Anderson rejoiced at going past Botham as England’s leading all-time wicket-taker, but once again he struggled to pick up wickets consistently in an overseas Test. Anderson is a great bowler in English conditions, but little of a threat away from home. He has 16 five wicket-hauls, 13 of them at home. In other words, he has taken just three five wicket hauls outside of England.

Overseas, Anderson averages 36 with the ball, his new ball partner Stuart Broad, 34. In six Tests, third seamer Chris Jordan, who looks more of a batsman than a bowler, has taken just 17 wickets at 34 apiece. No wonder England are struggling to bowl out the opposition away from home.



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