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Is Jason Holder the most underrated player in world cricket?

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6th September, 2019

Clive ‘Supercat’ Lloyd turned 75 a few days ago. His legacy has probably been the most demanding in West Indian cricket since every captain after him has tried — and most have failed – to emulate his success.

Wandering away in these thoughts while watching the game, Jason Holder, the current skipper, produced a delivery that swung more than a teenager’s mood to breach Rishabh Pant’s defence, the fourth of his five wickets in the first innings of the second Test. It’s tough not to feel for him because carrying the burden of a foregone era with people constantly looking over your shoulder is an unenviable job.

Having captained the team for as long as he has, it’s easy to forget that the man is still only 27 and has a long way to go before his legacy is sealed. Yet people in the recent past have written him off whenever things have started to go south and have questioned his value to the team, so much so they forget his very recent heroics.

Looking at player performances from the past two years – which is long enough to represent a player’s quality – Holder deserves a real shout for the best Test player. Seems unbelievable, right?

West Indies cricketer Jason Holder

(AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

The table below, which comprises data as of 3 September 2019, shows the five bowlers who have taken at least 25 wickets with the best bowling average since 2018. Look at the kind of bowlers here: Mohammad Abbas, Duanne Olivier and Pat Cummins are feisty, hit-the-deck hard kind of bowlers, and Vernon Philander can swing the red cherry silly.

But topping the table is the soft-spoken giant who seems to be a West Indian Jim Halpert. He doesn’t bowl it at 1000 miles per hour – much to the dismay of so many who want all bowlers from the West Indies to be like the four horsemen of the apocalypse. He doesn’t swing it like Wasim Akram or James Anderson. Yet there he is. And maybe that’s symbolic of his story.

Bowler Wickets (min 25 wickets) Bowling Avg Economy
Jason Holder (WI) 48 14.83 2.55
Duanne Olivier (SA) 31 17.12 3.82
Mohammad Abbas (PAK) 43 17.53 2.47
Vernon Philander (SA) 41 18.56 2.44
Pat Cummins (AUS) 75 18.72 2.75

Even if his average were higher, he would be picked as a specialist bowler because of his economy. And because other bowlers feed off him. Because of his parsimony, batsmen go after the other bowlers and give their wickets away. When they’re not giving their wickets to him.


He reminds me of Mike Hendrick in that regard. Hendrick, standing at six foot three inches, used to bowl with unerring accuracy on one end while Bob Willis and Sir Ian Botham used to railroad the batting line-up from the other end. He too, like Holder, was as underrated as one could be. He had a better average than Harold Larwood, John Snow, Sir Ian Botham, Angus Fraser, Darren Gough, Stuart Broad and James Anderson, yet he’s at best a footnote in the history of English pacers.

Bowler Wickets (min 15 wickets) Bowling Average Economy
Shannon Gabriel 50 24.6 3.49
Jason Holder 48 14.83 2.55
Kemar Roach 46 19 2.76

He always was a good line and length bowler. But what he seems to have done in the past couple of years is make the batsmen play the ball more than he used to. And that shows in the type of his dismissals. Until 2018, the percentage of his dismissals that were either bowled or LBW was 41 per cent. Since 2018 that percentage is 50 per cent. With his back of length deliveries, this change in line towards the stumps has made him a much more dangerous bowler than he was.

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2014-2017 2018-2019
LBW or bowled 22 24
Total Wickets 53 48
Percentage of wickets either LBW or bowled 41.50per cent 50per cent

It would be an understatement to say that he’s a handy batsman. His average of around 45 since 2018 means that he ranks in the top 15 batsmen for that period. And he has a double century to his name in an excellent rearguard innings against England when West Indies were in hot water. He’s one of only four double centurions in that period. Not bad for a bits-and-pieces all-rounder, eh?

Batsman Runs scored since 2018 (min 500 runs) Batting Average
Tom Latham (NZ) 1052 65.75
Henry Nicholls (NZ) 901 64.35
Kane Williamson (NZ) 949 63.26
Steven Smith (AUS) 603 60.3
AB de Villiers (SA) 638 53.16
Virat Kohli (IND) 1481 51.06
Babar Azam (PAK) 760 50.66
Travis Head (AUS) 823 45.72
Angelo Mathews (SL) 727 45.43
Mahmudullah (BDESH) 724 45.25
Jason Holder (WI) 669 44.6
Rishabh Pant (IND) 754 44.35
Colin de Grandhomme (NZ) 512 42.66
Dimuth Karunaratne (SL) 1170 41.78
BJ Watling (NZ) 577 41.21

A fact that needs to be looked into for the right reasons is that he’s captained the team in more matches than all but four other captains, namely Clive Lloyd, Sir Viv Richards, Brian Lara and Sir Garry Sobers. For a team whose captain is prone to change more times than a baby’s nappy, he’s held his own for a considerable amount of time.

As rare as captains who are bowlers are, it’s even rarer to find some discussion about how captaincy affects a bowler. Anil Kumble, for example, was asked quite a few times if he underbowled himself when he led the Indian Test team. Even though the number of overs he bowled as captain wasn’t much less than when he was not the captain, his performance did go down considerably when he was the captain. Even though a lot of factors were involved in this decline of form, saying that the captaincy had nothing to do with it would be naive.

Looking at captains in this millennium who have taken more than 50 wickets when they led their sides, Holder is third in terms of wickets and second in terms of bowling average. Captaincy is tough, and as a bowler it’s even more so. Otherwise we would have more captains who are bowlers.

West Indies captain Jason Holder bowls

(AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

Of the players who captained their sides in at least 50 Tests, Hansie Cronje was the only all-rounder. There were no designated bowlers in the list. And MS Dhoni was the only wicketkeeper in the list.


And Holder has taken excellently to captaincy, at least in terms of his performance. Which is more than what you can say about so many others.

Player Matches captained Wickets taken as captain (at least 50) Bowling Average
Shaun Pollock (SA) 26 103 21.36
Jason Holder (WI) 31 85 25.74
Waqar Younis (PAK) 16 54 26.62
Shakib Al Hasan (BDESH) 13 56 29.16
Daniel Vettori (NZ) 32 116 33.38

And yet when people see him as the top all-rounder in Tests, they’re surprised and say that the ICC rankings are a farce. For the record, he’s also ranked fourth on the Test bowlers list. These uninformed detractors need to get out of wherever they’re living, which is a small little bubble, and acknowledge the existence and dominance of other players than their own.

It would be great if West Indies cricket experts could showcase some of their talents rather than keep looking for the team that most resembles the West Indies team of the 1970s and 80s. You shouldn’t have to wait a couple of decades to acknowledge someone’s great performances, irrespective of the country he or she is from.

If you don’t pay attention to them, then there’s no point in shedding tears when they get attracted elsewhere.