Former West Indies captain Clive Lloyd’s foresight on promoting the elevation of Jason Holder to the captaincy of the regional side is bearing fruit.
Despite some lean times in Test matches which have included recent heavy away series losses to Bangladesh and India, West Indies’ wins column is starting to rise under Holder even though their defeat column is greater. Saturday’s win over England was the eighth in their last 21 matches to go with 11 defeats.
What should encourage West Indies supporters is the fact that, while the inconsistencies remain, wins against higher-ranked teams have started coming more often lately. In these 21 Tests, they have notched up two wins each against England and Pakistan, and one against Sri Lanka; apart from that, they also have two against Bangladesh and one against Zimbabwe.
There was a period between 2012 and 2014 when West Indies had a slightly better win-loss ratio, 9-11, in 24 Tests. However, six of those nine wins had come against Bangladesh – who were a much poorer side then than they are now – and Zimbabwe.
Two factors have chiefly contributed to these wins: the bowling, more specifically their pace attack, and the captain, who also happens to be their best batsman and bowler over the last two-and-a-half years.
Pace was the cornerstone of West Indies’ dominance in the 1980s, and it seems to be playing a part in their revival now. Since October 30, 2016, West Indies’ seamers have averaged 25.59; only South Africa’s fast bowlers have done better in this period, averaging 21.50.
In the previous 21 Tests, West Indies’ pacers had averaged 42.70, which was worse than all those of all teams except Bangladesh. This resurgence of their pace attack has made the biggest difference; the spinners have improved their average from 47.23 to 37.17, but the batting numbers have actually dipped in this period. West Indies’ batsmen average 25.93 runs per wicket, compared to 26.99 in the previous 21 Tests. Given this reliance on pace, it isn’t surprising that West Indies struggled in the subcontinent, where conditions were generally more favourable for spin.
Three of West Indies’ seamers – Jason Holder, Kemar Roach and Shannon Gabriel – have taken 40-plus wickets at sub-25 averages during this period, which is reminiscent of West Indies’ fast-bowling numbers during their glory years. From the start of 2000, until this phase, West Indies’ fast bowlers averaged 35.87, which means they have shaved off more than 10 runs from that average in the last couple of years.
Holder, who took over the captaincy at the age of 23, leads the batting and bowling averages for his team during this period (among players who have played more than one Test). He is also second in catches taken by non-wicketkeepers, and he has pulled these feats off while shouldering the captaincy. Jason Holder has been West Indies’ Superman in these last two years. He hasn’t played four Tests in this period, and West Indies’ results in those four games are as follows:
• Lost by 240 runs v New Zealand, Hamilton
• Lost by an innings & 272 runs v India, Rajkot
• Lost by 64 runs v Bangladesh, Chattogram
• Lost by an innings and 184 runs v Bangladesh, Mirpur
Clearly, Holder has been West Indies’ talisman. Among all the West Indies players who have played more than one Test, Holder’s batting average of 39.04 is the highest, while his bowling average of 20.61 is third among fast bowlers with 40-plus wickets during this period.
Holder is also the only player to score 750-plus runs and take 30-plus wickets in Tests since October 30, 2016. Holder’s ability to perform at his best with both bat and ball while also leading the team puts him in truly elite company in an all-time list. He is one of only nine captains to achieve the double of 1000 runs and 50 wickets, while the difference of 6.96 between his batting average (33.68) and bowling average (26.72) is third in this list, next only to the legendary Imran Khan and Garry Sobers. Not surprisingly, he is currently on top of ICC’s rankings for Test all-rounders.
All Holder needs now is a little more help from the batsmen, to take West Indies to the next level in Test cricket.