Wonderful words have been written and spoken about Jason Holder following his award of being named among the Wisden Five Cricketers of the Year.
And fast bowling all-rounder Holder, 29, a former West Indies captain, has responded splendidly.
At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, the affable Barbadian led West Indies on a three-match Test tour of England.
It was a very significant series as West Indies were the first team to tour during the pandemic. Holder made his presence felt with a six-wicket haul in the opening Test in Southampton, which his side won by four wickets before losing the other Tests.
“Jason Holder was a giant both on and off the field last summer,” said Lawrence Booth, the editor of Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack.
“After agreeing to lead his West Indies side on a tour of Covid-hit Britain, he inspired his team to victory over England at the Rose Bowl with first-innings figures of six for 42.
“Holder also led a dignified West Indian response to Black Lives Matter, taking a knee with his teammates before each Test and wearing a black glove, a gesture that recalled American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics.”
He spoke publicly and profoundly on the Black Lives Matter, following the death of George Floyd in the United States, and the fight for equality and justice around the world.
“I feel honoured to be a recipient of this prestigious award,” Holder, currently the world’s No. 1 Test all-rounder, said in response to a couple of questions from this columnist.
“No doubt it’s a reflection of all the hard yards I have put in over the years. This award is special just being in an elite company and no doubt I’ll cherish it forever.
“It is important we use our voice as a Black community to stand up for what we firmly believe in. Racism is something that needs to be eradicated and us supporting the BLM movement is just a group of individuals coming together to fight a common cause. The world needs equality and we are willing to fight for that cause.
“I just want to say a simple thank you to all who have sent their commendations. Greatly appreciated and I urge everyone to stay safe and healthy.”
In its essay, Wisden described Holder as “… soft voice, old-world manners and a physique that wouldn’t shame a superhero, he had something of the Golden Age Hollywood star. Now, he graduated into a statesman”.
The publication added: “Holder and his squad were determined to show solidarity.
After discussions with the England management, both teams wore a Black Lives Matter logo on their shirts, while the squads, plus backroom staff and officials, would take a knee before the first ball in each game. It was a rare example of cricket uniting in a humanitarian gesture – and a defining image of the summer”.
In a widely circulated video, Holder said: “This award means so much to me. I’m delighted that my efforts to play well and make a contribution have been bearing fruit and I just want to continue and reach higher heights.
“To be named one of the five Wisden Cricketers of the Year is something truly special as over the years I have seen a list of great players who have etched their names in history. The last recipient from West Indies was Shai Hope in 2017 and after seeing his performances, I must say inspired me to be one of the Wisden Cricketers of the future.
“To be sat here in 2021 being a recipient of this award means so much to me after the sweat, blood and tears I would’ve outputted on the cricket field.
”None of this would have been possible had it not been for my teammates, so I want to say a special thank you to them. Also, I want to thank my friends, family and all you diehard supporters, who would have supported us throughout the years.”
Apart from Holder, the other Cricketers of the Year are Englishmen Don Sibley, Zak Crawley and Darren Stevens and Pakistan’s Mohammad Rizwan.
A couple of months before the tour to England, Holder had spoken of dealing with the absence of action on the field.
“This has been a time of uncertainty and I don’t think any of us in our wildest dreams would have envisioned this. It has been really challenging for me personally as I have always been active in my life,” he told BCAcricket. org.
“It has definitely put a spoke in my wheels but I’ve found ways to keep them turning over.
This time has allowed me the opportunity to ‘learn to cook’ and it has also been really good to sit back and plan/shape a few ideas I’ve had on hold for a while.
“Keeping fit has been hard because with me experimenting in the kitchen it has forced me to eat more, but I try to get in a home workout as best as I possibly can with my little resources.”
Holder received his Primary school education at Charles F. Broome Memorial before attending Louis Lynch Secondary (now defunct), The St. Michael School and the University of West Indies.
In congratulating Holder on his award, one must recognise his leadership qualities from early in his career.
From a West Indies perspective, in December 2014, at the age of 23, he was appointed the West Indies One Day International (ODI) captain for the five-match series against South Africa in South Africa the following month, taking over from all-rounder Dwayne Bravo.
Then chairman of selectors, Clive Lloyd (now Sir Clive), a legendary former West Indies captain, said Holder’s appointment was with an eye to the future.
“Jason is one of the good, young players who we believe will form part of the long-term future of West Indies cricket. We expect him to be around for a very long time. He is a young man with a very bright future. We have invested in him. He was part of the High-Performance Centre and he also played for the West Indies Under-19 team and the West Indies ‘A’ team,” Lloyd said.
“He has played ODIs for the West Indies before and has done well. We know he will continue to grow and demonstrate leadership.
He has a very good cricketing brain and has the makings of a very good leader.”
At that time, Holder had played 21 ODIs, one Test and one Twenty20 International.
By September the following year, Holder was appointed as Test captain for the tour to Sri Lanka, taking over from wicket-keeper/ batsman Denesh Ramdin.
Holder had played eight Tests and 33 ODIs and was the second youngest ever West Indies Test captain.
In commenting on the appointment, Lloyd said: “He is a young man that all of the selectors, people in the Caribbean and worldwide believe has several of the qualities that can take our team forward.”
“We felt the time was right for a change and we feel he will do as well as he did when he was elevated to the position of One-Day International captain ahead of the World Cup.
“We had a number of detractors when he was appointed ODI captain, but he showed during the ODI series in South Africa and the World Cup that he had the qualities that were needed to take our team forward.
“We expect to get new thinking and new dynamism from him. Jason commands respect.
He is a fine young man, very intelligent and he seems to get the best from the players because he is a straightforward guy. I think the players will warm to him. He has a young bunch of players and we feel he can guide them in the manner that is required for internationals,” Lloyd said.
As fate would have it, Holder was replaced as Test captain by another Barbadian, opening batsman Kraigg Brathwaite, for the recent two-match series against Sri Lanka in the Caribbean.
Holder’s record as Test captain showed 37 matches with 11 wins, 21 defeats and five draws including four wins and six losses in the last two years.
When he was replaced as Test captain, Lead selector Roger Harper said the team appreciated what Holder had done over the five-and-a-half year period that he was in charge of the side, adding that this was a perfect time for him to take his game to ‘higher levels.
“We must appreciate what Jason has done as captain. He came in at a very young age, took the captaincy at a time when the team was a little unsettled, and he grew with the job and performed creditably. He’s had his moments of success and he has grown as a player as well to become the leading all-rounder in the world,” Harper said.
While the focus is on Holder, congratulations as well to the West Indies ODI and T20 captain Kieron Pollard for his Wisden award of being named as the Leading T20 cricketer in the world with 59 sixes in various competitions – at a rate of one every 5.5 balls – with a staggering strike rate of 199.07 and averaging 53.58.
Pollard also added to his considerable list of titles, with Trinbago Knight Riders winning the Caribbean Premier League and Mumbai Indians following suit in the Indian Premier League.
Keith Holder is a veteran, award-winning freelance sports journalist, who has been covering local, regional and international cricket since 1980 as a writer and commentator. He has compiled statistics on the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) Division 1 (now Elite) Championship for over three-and-a-half decades and is responsible for editing the BCA website (www.bcacricket.org).
Email: [email protected]