COZIER ON CRICKET: Holder in at deep end
THROUGHOUT two decades of disputes and decline, the West Indies captaincy has been an unbearable burden, even for its most prominent holders.
Under pressure as the team began its downward slide from its indisputable No.1 position of the 1980s, Richie Richardson stepped aside for a year midway during his tenure.
Brian Lara quit in 2000 “after two years of moderate success and devastating failures” to seek “professional” help; he subsequently returned for two stints that were no less turbulent.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul resigned in 2006 after 14 Tests, declaring that he did not have the full support of his players; nine years on he remains in the rank and file.
Such instances put into context the unreasonable task of captaincy now placed on Jason Holder at a period as unsettling as any the West Indies have ever endured.
At 23, Holder was handed as his first assignments the current One-Day Internationals (ODIs) in South Africa and the subsequent World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. He is younger than any of those under him (he was three years old when Chanderpaul first appeared for the West Indies); no previous West Indies skipper in any format was as youthful.
Taking on South Africa (ranked third in ODIs to West Indies’ eighth) and then the game’s 14 leading teams in the World Cup would be demanding enough. The timing of his appointment, in the volatile aftermath of the team’s devastating pullout of the tour of India in October and the contentious exclusion of Dwayne Bravo, the captain then, made it all the more so.
In explaining the decision to appoint Holder, head selector Clive Lloyd described him as “one of the good, young players we believe will form part of the long-term future of West Indies cricket”.
“He has a very good cricketing brain and has the makings of a very good leader,” he added.
There seemed no thought to the need for Holder to develop his game at the highest level or to the strained circumstances of the situation. The damaging effects have been quickly evident in South Africa.
No sooner had Chris Gayle loaded his verbal AK-47 following his match-winning, series-clinching 90 from 41 balls in the second Twenty20 in Johannesburg and aimed a volley at the selectors, charging victimisation of Bravo and Pollard for their part in the exit from the India tour, than Sir Viv Richards foresaw the inevitable problems.
To the most feared batsman of a golden age of West Indies cricket, Gayle’s outburst was a clear sign that “players are disgruntled”. He wondered how unified they were, asserting that “the dressing room will not be a comfortable place to be in”.
Lara, as brilliant a batsman as Sir Viv in a later, less memorable era, made similar observations some months earlier, even before Holder was installed as captain.
The potential for disharmony in the team was so obvious, such comments could have come from anyone, anywhere on the planet. Somehow, they seemed to escape Lloyd and his fellow selectors.