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W/Cup addict comments: Whither Windies? When will we write off  witless ODI captain Holder?

Call it arrogance if you like; I really could not care less.

Whether or not Phil Simmons, Michael “Whispering Death” Holding or anyone else agrees with me, I re-affirm that Jason Holder is not the man to lead West Indies out of the ODI doldrums. I have long been very certain of that and have already used a lot of time, my own and my editor’s, energy, space and words to make the case.

But here we go again.

Photo: West Indies captain Jason Holder (right) celebrates with teammate Chris Gayle after dismissing Sri Lanka captain Dimuth Karunaratne during 2019 Cricket World Cup action at the Riverside Ground in Chester-le-Street, England on Monday 1 July 2019.
(Copyright AP Photo/Scott Heppell)

The West Indies, dark horses at best, qualifiers, remember, showed some fight on Monday against Sri Lanka, chasing 339 and losing by a mere 23 runs. But they are going home early anyway. No surprise there.

It’s not 100% Holder’s fault. I agree with the view expressed by AJ HERE on Wired868 that there are others who must front up and shoulder their share of the blame. I have already dealt with the ways in which they are culpable.

But Holder must accept the major share of the responsibility for this World Cup disappointment.

It needs to be said that the team’s early exit is neither a debacle nor a disaster, despite what some are saying; it only feels that way because of the manner in which the pace attack savaged Safaraz Ahmed’s Pakistan in their opening encounter on 31 May. And, still riding that wave, went on to devastate Aaron Finch’s Australia’s top order in the next match on 6 June.

In the eyes of many, Holder, hero after the Test series win over England and up to the mauling of Pakistan mere days before, only became a villain after that game. His incompetence was made manifest when 37 for four became 79 for five and, eventually, 288 all out, which his batsmen failed to overhaul.

It is worth noting here that, during his match-winning 92 off 60 balls in the Australia Man-of-the-Match Nathan Coulter-Nile, sprayed aerial shots here there and everywhere. It’s very revealing, I submit, that he had had a top ODI score of 34 before that game. Since then, his scores have been 4 against India and 2 against Pakistan.

Photo: Australia batsman Nathan Coulter-Nile goes on the attack against West Indies.

It is also worth noting that the WI are the only team against whom a score of 300-plus has been successfully chased, Bangladesh getting 322 for 3 to defeat Holder’s side by seven wickets.

And that the WI, on three points after three matches following the South Africa washout, are still on three points after eight matches. Beaten out of sight in their opener, Pakistan, in sharp contrast, are in the final four if they get past Masrafe Mortaza’s Bangladesh and Kane Williamson’s New Zealand knock off Eoin Morgan’s England.

So Holder’s credentials as an ODI captain are in serious question. He has demonstrated little understanding of the degree to which in this arena inflexibility is self-immolatory; it is both a zealicide for his own team and an encouragement to and a pressure release valve for a struggling opposition.

What is bothersome is not just the questionable tactics, the unrelenting insistence on what Holder, omitting the obvious qualifier ‘mindless’, calls ‘aggression’. No less troubling is the captain’s use of the available personnel.

Holding is one of the pacemen whom Malcolm Marshall, in the Behind closed doors chapter of his book Marshall Arts, reveals was responsible for coming up with many and varied plans for dismissing opponents in Clive Lloyd’s world-beating team of the 1970s and 80s. During the Bangladesh game, Holding dismissed the team’s thinking—using the word very loosely—as ‘one-dimensional’, a view echoed by Lloyd’s successor, IVA Richards.

Photo: West Indies bowler Carlos Brathwaite (left) reacts after being hit for four by England batsman Joe Root (right) during their Cricket World Cup match at the Hampshire Bowl in Southampton, England on Friday 14 June 2019.
(Copyright AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Holding has also insisted from the start of the tournament that the man who should consistently be given the new ball is Oshane Thomas. Oh, he will concede a few extras, Holding argues, via wide wides and high wides. But are a few extras too high a price to pay for priceless first powerplay wickets? Particularly when your whole strategy seems premised on the penetrative power of proper pace?

Clearly, the former pacer and the current captain disagree. Or it might well be that the current captain is not really calling the shots and is not strong enough or sure enough of himself to disagree with whoever is.

But we have already said more than enough about that.

In yesterday’s game, Thomas (10-0-58-0) was given the new ball. He disappointed. And against India, he conceded 21 runs in his first three-over spell and 15 more in a two-over spell from the other end. With a maximum of nine overs left in the innings and Kemar Roach (3/36), Holder himself (2/33) and Fabian Allen (0/52) having already completed their 10-over allotments, Holder summoned Carlos Brathwaite to bowl his first over, number 42.

Would Thomas (7-0-63-0) have bowled the last two overs from Brathwaite’s end if the allrounder had not shipped 33 in his three? Would Brathwaite have been called up at all if Thomas’ first five overs had not cost 36 runs? Hard to say. It was all very puzzling, which, to be fair, was unusual for Holder; his norm is predictable, not puzzling.

Photo: West Indies bowler Carlos Brathwaite (centre) talks to teammates while captain Jason Holder (top left) looks on during the 2019 Cricket World Cup.
(Copyright GQ India)

Which is why I was completely untroubled by his decision to take the new ball himself in the game against Bangladesh and again against India. To tell the truth, on the rare occasions when Holder manages to surprise me, I am wont to applaud. I do, however, wonder about the effects on Thomas of the skipper’s apparent lack of confidence in him.

I find it very hard to have confidence in any aspect of Holder’s handling of the team. I am unable to cite any empirical data from the eight matches but I remember very few catches being taken in the slip cordon. And I am clear that, in my view, it was peopled far more often than it should be.

Despite the insistence of many of the television commentators that you must take wickets to win, I doubt that you would lose if your team fails to take a single wicket but contrives to bowl 50 maidens!

So the bowling leaves unanswered questions and the field placing fails to satisfy. Now, tell me, which ODI captain worth his salt does not regularly fiddle with his batting order? The ‘worth his salt’ bit means you can’t answer “Holder.”

Short-format cricket, after all, as the English pundits were telling the world once their rampaging team suffered more than a couple of setbacks, demands that you adapt your play to suit the conditions and the situation on the day. 

Photo: West Indies batsman Shimron Hetmeyer walks back to dressing room after being run out for 21 against Australia.

Holder’s unchanging, one-size-fits-all captaincy will bring the West Indies no more success than England’s inflexible approach to the task of batting has, according to Michael Vaughan and Kevin Pietersen, brought England in this World Cup.

And unless and until he can be convinced of that or is relieved of his responsibilities as ODI captain, the WI’s prospects for the immediate future will look no less bleak than England’s looked before Sunday’s defeat of India.

About Earl Best

Earl Best
Earl Best taught cricket, French, football and Spanish at QRC for many years and has written consistently for the Tapia and the Trinidad and Tobago Review since the 1970's. He is also a former sports editor at the Trinidad Guardian and the Trinidad Express and is now a senior lecturer in Journalism at COSTAATT.

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