When Jason Holder abandons the beaten track, it is to get back on to the main road. Conservative rather than adventurous, the West Indies all-formats captain opts for an oviparous style of captaincy, putting a premium on small gains and largely eschewing the daring that often yields success in shorter-format cricket.
So if, come the ICC World Cup final on July 16, he and his team are not still around, that would come as no surprise to me. The reasons are obvious.
The ODI requires copious, careful, detailed pre-game planning, particularly for the often decisive middle period spanning overs 11 to 39. As former Aussie captain Michael Clarke pointed out on television during the recent pre-tournament special “I captured the World Cup,” this planning is one of the major factors that allowed his team to walk away with the 2015 trophy.
In “Behind closed doors” also, a chapter of late West Indies fast bowler Malcolm Marshall’s 1987 ghosted autobiography entitled Marshall Arts, the one-time West Indies coach revealed that he and his fellow pacers in Lloyd’s team ritually developed multiple careful plans for dismissing all the frontline batsmen of whatever team they were scheduled to come up against.
In the 1983 World Cup final which India won, WI boasted the combined cricketing acumen of Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner and Malcolm Marshall, a virtually irresistible force. In 2019, in the absence of such firepower—the combination of Kemar Roach, Shannon Gabriel, Sheldon Cottrell and Oshane Thomas seems rather less formidable—a truly knowledgeable backroom staff becomes essential. Without that kind of efficient, well-oiled machinery which winning teams often need to convert potential into achievement, the current WI team will struggle, especially in a tournament formatted as this 2019 edition is with a nine-match league.
As part of the pre-game minutiae, multiple options are examined, possible permutations identified and calibrated, allowances made for imponderables. Yet, despite all this beyond-the-boundary planning, little can be cast in concrete. It serves largely to inform and define strategy and tactics, the latter having to be constantly concretised later within the ropes, refined inside the skipper’s head.
The data have to be humanised, individualised and adjusted in terms of the new information received with each new ball. Not for one moment am I suggesting that Holder espouse the kind of reactive behaviour that people of my generation called laglee captaincy. However, Holder’s MO is, in my view, much too formulaic, much less responsive to the reality of the moment than England’s Eoin Morgan, say, or South Africa’s Faf Du Plessis.
There’s more. Orthodoxy, often an asset in the five-day game, is a clear liability in the shortest format. In both shorter formats, the value of spontaneity, unpredictability, creativity and innovation is demonstrably multiplied many-fold.
If the Test game affords one the luxury of outwaiting opposing batsmen, in the ODI, one often has to outwit them. But as his unspectacular record as ODI captain—15 wins in 44 matches, with no series wins—attests, Holder doesn’t really pass muster in that department.
Cast your mind back to the just concluded Tri-Nation Series in Ireland. Go, if you like, even further back to the four ODIs and three T20s which followed the Tests against England. Where, pray, was there evidence of any such minute preparation?
Could we discern any real plan for, if not dismissing any of the Bangladeshis, at least keeping them quiet? Did anyone have the sense that our bowlers were at any time seeking to exploit chinks in Shakib Al Hasan’s armour, say? Or Mushfiqur Rahim’s? Or Soumya Sarkar’s last Friday?
I doubt it.
Can you remember any occasion on which the WI skipper was deliberately allowing one batsman a single so that he could perhaps get at the seemingly more vulnerable partner? Or at the partner who was less adept at piercing the field? Or he was inviting a particular batsman to attempt a particular stroke? Or starving a particular batsman of his bread-and-butter shot?
I doubt it.
Can you recall a single moment of puzzling captaincy—à la Brian Lara—that had you scratching your head, wondering? A placement of the field so unorthodox as to make you say to yourself, ‘Buh wait nah! Wha he trying? Nah!’?
A bowling change so brazen or a reshuffle of the batting order that made you smile and say to yourself, ‘Buh eh-eh! The skipper on de ball today, boy!’
I doubt it.
Holder is not about that trail-blazing life; he prefers to do everything by the book. The problem is that it’s a book the opposition have read. And they’ve seen the film too, which gives them a huge advantage.
So how did WI beat England and Ireland twice? WI won, I think, because a few batsmen, mainly Shai Hope and Chris Gayle, came to the party. And sometimes got more than a little help from their mates.
But in the Tri-Nation final, for instance, Hope did not get the tactical help he needed from his skipper. Help may not be forthcoming in the selection room either.
“It is inconceivable,” commented former England captain Nasser Hussain as England wrapped up a fourth ODI win over the hapless Pakistanis on the weekend, “that the selectors will not give (current England captain) Morgan and (England coach Trevor) Bayliss what they want.”
The commentators were speculating about the composition of the England World Cup 15 and there was not a dissenting voice. All agreed that Morgan knows with absolute certainty what his needs are.
Do Michael Holding and Ian Bishop, included in the ICC World Cup panel—Tino Best, thank God! is not—think the same is true of Holder? Who among us imagines that he does? And, assuming that he does know, does he have the cojones to insist on it?
Why? Well, given current bowling resources, WI might well be in for some more of the kind of whiplash-inducing treatment AB De Villiers dished out in Sydney in the 2015 World Cup.
Will Holder demand, for instance, that these meagre resources be enhanced, that Guyanese Keemo Paul, say, be included in the final 15 in place of the Barbadian Brathwaite?
I doubt it.
So we arguably have a lack of the requisite tactical nous, questionable testicular fortitude and a shortage of wicket-taking bowlers. Will there be proper planning?
I doubt it.
But the best laid plans of mice and men, the poet has warned, often go awry.
Think back to India, April 2016 and remember the name Carlos Brathwaite. Or, more to the point perhaps, think Lord’s, June 1983 and remember the name Kapil Dev.
In the end, you see, it will come down to what WI do inside the ropes between May 31 and July 4, when they take on Afghanistan in their last league stage game.
After all, the same people who insist that cockroach eh have no right in fowl party also tell us that yuh could make track fuh gouti to run on but lappe does make he own track.