Jason Holder: The Underrated Genius

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 07: Jason Holder of the West Indies celebrates taking the wicket of Joe Root of England during day one of the 3rd Investec Test Match between England and the West Indies at Lord's Cricket Ground on September 7, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Jason Holder is underrated. This is despite scoring a Test Match double century batting at number eight. This is despite being the number one ranked all-rounder in the ICC rankings. This is despite being named in the 2018-19 ICC Test team of the year. The only bowlers ranked ahead of Holder in the Test Match rankings are Pat Cummins and Neil Wagner.

Yet, still, he goes unnoticed.

The basic accolades are more than enough to get some recognition, but maybe you don’t put much credence in the ICC rankings. So, let’s delve a little deeper as to why the 28-year-old should be viewed as one of the better fast bowlers in the Test arena.

Perhaps he goes under the radar due to his bowling style. Despite his natural height, 6 foot 7, Holder uses his ability to move the ball through the air and off the seam rather than the typical pace and bounce associated with the West Indian bowlers of old. He operates around the 130kph (80mph) mark on the speed gun, less like Michael Holding and much more like James Anderson.

This becomes even more apparent when you look at the amount of movement created by fast bowlers in Tests. According to the cricket statistics site, CricViz there is only one bowler who has extracted more average degrees of swing since 2006. That bowler is Anderson. The Englishman finds about 1.15 degrees of swing whereas Holder extracts more than 1.1 degrees of swing. This figure is more than noted swing bowlers like Trent Boult and Tim Southee. If viewed as a swing bowler alone the West Indian Test Captain is one of the very best in the world.

As the above table from CricViz shows, he is not only an exponent of swing bowling. He is also extracting a higher than average amount of seam movement during the same time period. Holder’s 0.60 degrees of movement off of the seam is greater than Kagiso Rabada and Cummins, two of the best wicket-takers in International cricket at the moment. It has allowed him to take wickets like this one of KL Rahul. Perfect seam movement, leaving the batsman powerless to stop the ball catching the edge.

Extracting movement with greater control has been a trademark for the Barbados born Holder over the last two years. Over that time period, he has taken 53 Test wickets at an unrivalled average of 14.22. This paces the field with the Indian trio of Bumrah, Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma the next best. They take their wickets at around 19 runs per wicket. Holder’s purple patch was what led to being named in the ICC team of the year and his 33 wickets at an average of 12.30 was the best average for a fast bowler in more than 100 years across a calendar year.

There is one other factor to consider, however, when looking at Holder’s career so far. His captaincy.

When taking over the ODI captaincy in 2015, he became the youngest captain in the history of West Indies and upon his appointment as the Test Match captain, he became the second-youngest to assume that position for his nation, 15th youngest all-time across all countries.

The raw numbers of his captaincy may not stand out as exemplary but his reign has coincided with a volatile period for West Indian Cricket. The standoff between some key players, Like Kieron Pollard and Dwayne Bravo, and the West Indian Cricket Board ensured that Holder was robbed of some players who would have been vital pieces for the recent World Cup campaign and the preceding series.

He negotiated this period with grace and managed to lead his side in producing some really strong performances, despite being hamstrung by a situation out of his control. Holder also oversaw the blooding of young, exciting talents like Shimron Hetmyer and Nicholas Pooran. We have seen players become captains in much stronger situations and their games have suffered, Holder has only taken his game to another level.

We have reached this point without even mentioning Holder’s ability with the bat. A double hundred, nearly 2000 Test runs and at an average of 32.72 displays his talent. If he manages to improve as much as he has with his bowling then it won’t be long before he is mentioned in the same breath as Ben Stokes and Shakib Al Hasan, two of the best all-round cricketers right now.

When cricket does finally return, the West Indies have a series in England. Dukes ball in hand and in conditions that favour his style of bowling, the English cricket watching public will get to see just how good Holder has become. The similarities with their own king of swing bowling will become even more apparent. Jason Holder likely won’t go unnoticed much longer.

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