Global game’s flaws mean Holder is a world leader with­out ac­claim

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport | First Test - By Tim Wig­more

There was just a hint of a Test slip­ping away. West Indies’ re­morse­less bowl­ing be­fore lunch had given way to more way­ward fare.

Twice, West Indies had set up Ben Stokes; twice, they had spilt chances in­ter­na­tional crick­eters would ex­pect to take. Stokes and Jos But­tler were adding brisk runs.

At this point, Ja­son Holder, the cap­tain, could be seen urg­ing his team to main­tain their in­ten­sity. “It was a piv­otal mo­ment,” Holder said. “We weren’t dis­ci­plined enough af­ter the lunch break. And I just wanted the guys to get back on it.”

Four overs later, Holder took on the role, bring­ing him­self back into the at­tack. His plan to Stokes was sim­ple. “I just wanted to be re­ally con­sis­tent to him. He was re­ally set­tled and coun­ter­ing the line we were bowl­ing. But I was get­ting just enough move­ment to keep him at bay, keep him play­ing.”

His ninth ball kissed Stokes’s out­side edge, ter­mi­nat­ing the most dan­ger­ous part­ner­ship of Eng­land’s in­nings. In his next over, Holder found late move­ment to snare But­tler, too.

From risk­ing frit­ter­ing away their ad­van­tage, now West Indies were in the as­cen­dant. Not long af­ter­wards, Holder led his team off the field with Test-best fig­ures of six for 42 from 20 overs.

In the mid-1980s, in­ter­na­tional cricket had the great­est as­sem­blage of all-rounders the sport has seen, with Ian Botham, Im­ran Khan, Kapil Dev and Richard Hadlee.

The build-up to this se­ries has al­most re­called those days. With Stokes cap­tain­ing Eng­land for the first time, the sides are led by the best and sec­ond-best all-rounders in the world. Ex­cept their rank­ing runs counter to per­cep­tion.

“Ben has al­ways been talked up, and quite right­fully so,” Holder said this week. “But the rank­ings say

that I’m the No1 ranked all-rounder and maybe I don’t get as much credit as I de­serve, who knows.”

Part of the ra­tio­nale is the no­tion that Stokes is a bet­ter big-game per­former. But con­sider Holder’s prepa­ra­tions be­fore this Test. While bat­tling an an­kle in­jury, he bowled only five overs and scored seven runs in three in­nings.

Come the test that mat­tered, Holder was ready. Again. This was his third defin­ing con­tri­bu­tion to the first Test of an Eng­land-West Indies se­ries, to go with his match­sav­ing 103 not out in 2015 and 202 not out in the first Test of 2019. Stokes’s big-match pedi­gree is not in doubt – but nei­ther is Holder’s.

And, in re­cent years, Holder’s con­sis­tency ex­ceeds even Stokes’s. Since the start of 2018, he has 680 runs at 42.50 apiece to go with his 59 wick­ets at just 13.49. This is a 30-month body of work that any of those great 1980s all-rounders would gladly have claimed.

Per­haps the in­ter­est­ing ques­tion, then, is why Holder still weighs some way lighter than Stokes in pop­u­lar per­cep­tion. The an­swer sheds light on modern cricket.

Since the start of 2018, West Indies have played only 16 Tests. Eng­land have played 29 – and, had they not left Sri Lanka pre­ma­turely due to Covid-19, it would have been 31.

Even the Tests that West Indies do play tend to be in two-match se­ries, deny­ing Holder a chance to shape a broader nar­ra­tive. That Stokes is hailed as a big-game per­former with­out peer is partly be­cause he gets to play more big games.

The same ar­gu­ment can be ap­plied to New Zealand’s Tom Latham, un­ob­tru­sively one of the world’s best open­ing bats­men; Bangladesh’s wick­et­keeper Mush­fiqur Rahim, who av­er­ages 51 in six Tests against In­dia; and Holder’s team-mate Ke­mar Roach.

For all their con­sis­tent ex­cel­lence, the bar­rier be­tween these men and wider ac­claim is the same. How­ever good you are as a West Indies or New Zealand Test crick­eter – or re­ally, one from any­where other that Aus­tralia, Eng­land and In­dia – eco­nom­ics mean you do not get to play much Test cricket.

Holder him­self has sug­gested some of the best so­lu­tions. A min­i­mum wage for Test cricket, which he ad­vo­cates, would en­sure that, when their coun­tries do play, play­ers would not be bet­ter off play­ing do­mes­tic cricket else­where.

Add it to a World Test Cham­pi­onship, or a Test World Cup wor­thy of the name, and the sport would not al­low the No1 Test all-rounder to be a ti­tan hid­ing in plain sight.

Set­ting the tone: Ja­son Holder dis­misses Jos But­tler (above) on his way to Test best fig­ures of six for 42 (be­low)

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