Thu, 06 Aug 2020

Jason Holder's Windies ready for the 'unbelievable'

ESPNCricInfo
16 Jul 2020, 05:42 GMT+10

12:24 AM IST

The question left Jason Holder somewhat disgruntled.

The question, asked during the virtual media briefing on Wednesday, was: "The West Indies, you are pretty much on the verge winning a Test series. I mean it is unbelievable to be saying this, but are the guys gee-ed knowing that they are just one Test win away from winning a Test series in England in some 30-odd years?"

Holder heard it stone faced. He did well to put on a smile as he started to respond, but made it clear that he was not impressed with the usage of one specific word.

"Not sure I like the words in terms of 'unbelievable'," Holder said, rubbing the back of his head with his two fingers, trying hard to hide his annoyance. "But, look, this series is still wide open. There's 10 days of cricket left. It is one day at a time for us. England is a very good cricket team, they have got some world-class players, so we have got our work cut out in order to win another game. Again, I don't like the word you use in terms of 'unbelievable', but if that's the word you choose to use, fair enough."

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Whether he likes it not, though, Holder's team now stands on the cusp of history after taking the series lead in Southampton, a significant achievement in itself. Not since 1995 have West Indies won a Test series against a major Test-playing country, a feat achieved Courtney Walsh's team which won 1-0 against New Zealand. But in a series involving three or more Tests, West last emerged victorious under Richie Richardson when they pipped Australia 2-1 to win the Frank Worrell Trophy in 1992-93.

West Indies started their training on Monday in Manchester, but not once has Holder uttered the word history in the dressing room or various group chats he has been part of. He wouldn't say it, but it might be because he does not want to saddle his team with any added pressure.

"No, I haven't mentioned anything about history to the guys. Again, it is hard for us to get caught up in the peripheral stuff. We are here to play cricket. And we are here to win the series," Holder said. "That's the only thing I am going to shout to the guys, I'm going to spoon feed: how are we going to win a cricket game, what do we need to do in order to win a cricket game. I know once the guys share as much information together, to get that end result, afterwards we can look back and we can feel pleased with whatever we achieved as a group."

As much as he would want the pulse of the dressing room to be in check, Holder cannot and will not be able to control the excitement, the emotions, the joy that victory in Test cricket can bring in the Caribbean. The joy is double now in time of the pandemic where the fans are deprived of the pleasure of living a normal life.

The Southampton win also had heads of some of the Caribbean states stop all other important work to take a moment to "rejoice" and join the happiness that spread fast and thick on the final day of the first Test on Sunday.

Among those who celebrated the victory were three premiers: Mia Amor Mottley (Prime Minister of Barbados), Dr Ralph Gonsalves (Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines) and Dr Keith Mitchell (Prime Minister of Grenada).

Talking on the Mason and Guests show, hosted on a Barbados-based radio station, on Monday, all three politicians pointed out discipline, maturity, commitment and pride were the characteristics that stood out in the Southampton victory. Listening to them, from Manchester, in awe and surprise was Holder.

Mottley felt she could "cross the ocean" and hug Holder because she was "so, so, so proud" of him. Motley had seen Holder and his team beat England at Bridgetown in three days last year when West Indies won the Wisden Trophy.

According to Motley, the best part of the Southampton Test came at the end when Holder and John Campbell kept their heads and stayed calm to cross the finish line after Jermaine Blackwood departed five runs short of a deserving century and 11 runs adrift of the target. "You are just carrying us to greater heights," Motley said. "For me the highlight was just how long you took to make the winnings runs, the last 10-11 runs. That said to me that the maturity is there - to understand that unless you finish the mission you have not achieved what is required of you. You brought that sense of hope in us again that this is a team that is now going to carry us on a pathway to victory because what you showed was the maturity and the discipline to keep the mission in focus."

As for Mitchell, he was not surprised to see the "discipline and approach" of West Indies' bowling unit. Mitchell said that this West Indies has been "different" because of its commitment to the cause.

Gonsalves said he has been "very happy" since the win. "I rejoice in the victory. Cricket is cultural and sporting institution of our Caribbean civilisation. When I saw that Jason and his team took a lead on the question of Black Lives Matter - and this is a great cause, and great causes have never been won by doubtful men and women - I said these young men are on the right track. And when I saw that the English team were persuaded to join Jason and his colleagues, I said, 'well, yes, this is a historic moment'. And I felt a supreme confidence in the whole confluence of circumstances that we were in for a game of historical proportions. And this what we had."

Gonsalves pointed out that even when West Indies were reeling at 27 for 3 chasing 200 for victory, he remained confident. "I didn't think at all that this was another West Indian collapse. We had played with such, to use Mia's words, discipline. We had played with such commitment that I felt it. There was something in me which said the purposefulness with which the players as a team went about their job that I felt absolutely confident that we are going to make the 200 runs."

Motley summed up the emotions stirred by the feats of Holder's men and that had unified the Caribbean. "You have lifted in our hearts a pride even as we face this pandemic (which) is indescribable. We the Caribbean people want to be wind beneath your wings."

Obviously politicians do like to be on the winning side, but the feelings expressed by the three reflect the fact that Holder and his men are not just playing for the result. No matter the result, if the players put up a fight, show resolve and show daring to do the impossible, then the fans will stand by you.

On Wednesday, Holder said he was "blown away" speaking in such company. "To be on the show with the three Prime Ministers it was great," Holder said. "Great knowing that they are 100% behind us. Great knowing that they pay so much attention it. I was actually blown away and amazed at how much they actually followed it and how closely they followed it. It tells us a lot about our Caribbean people. It is great again, to have their support.

"The reception that we got not only particularly from the heads of the government but the people in the Caribbean has been tremendous. This Covid period has really put a dampener on things for the world per se. Things like cricket especially in the Caribbean, unified Caribbean, and it is really good to see how many hearts we have really pleased in the Caribbean so far. But in order to take it a step further now they all want us to win this series. So we have got a lot more to play for."

For Holder and his men nothing is unbelievable.

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