Jason Holder says West Indies will always be feared
West Indies begin their World Cup campaign against Pakistan, at Trent Bridge, on Friday, May 31
Last Updated: 28/05/19 11:19am
"He is a young man with a very bright future. We have invested in him."
So said the West Indies Cricket Board in late 2014 when 23-year-old Jason Holder was named ODI captain of a fallen and troubled giant.
The side had imploded and gone through several skippers, retirements and squad pull-outs, but the young Holder was not daunted.
The Bajan embraced the challenge of captaining former captains and now, heading into a second World Cup as leader, he is assured in his role.
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"Lots of people would have questioned that maybe it was a little too early - even myself," Holder tells Sky Sports. "But with everything that has gone on in West Indies cricket, I guess they saw leadership in me.
"Looking back, if I knew the full dynamics of captaining a country, I may have questioned whether I should have taken it!"
Adversity and tough times
Holder was appointed in December 2014 after the sacking of Dwayne Bravo, who had spoken up in a contract disagreement with the country's board. The impasse even led to a tour of India being abandoned with games still to play.
It was Clive Lloyd - winner of two World Cups in England as West Indies captain - who as a selector saw Holder as the future of cricket in the Caribbean.
"At that time, if I didn’t take over, I don’t know who would have," Holder says. "Not to say I was the only option, but I guess they were limited. But that’s one of the best decisions I have made. It has really built my character.
"I have been through so much adversity and tough, tough times. A lot of people would have crumbled under the pressure I was under - and no doubt I still have a lot of pressure to come.”
Eoin Morgan could argue his England side, as hosts and No 1 ranked side, are under more pressure this summer, but Holder's West Indies are not short of star quality and can cause upsets on their day.
Holder - who did not play in the World T20 final win over England in 2016 - is the leading all-rounder in the long form of the game while former captain Chris Gayle will be looking to end his international career on a high.
The recall of Andre Russell, who has the IPL's all-time leading strike rate (186.41) but has played only one ODI since 2015, shows the West Indies may have put behind them disputes of the past as they look to the future. However, their recent form has been mixed.
Pressure of expectation
Despite those two World Cup titles under Lloyd in the 1970s, they have a poor recent record in the competition. In the past two editions, they have been knocked out in the quarter-finals and they had to go through a painful qualification process even to reach England this year.
They have also suffered two recent series defeats to Bangladesh, though strong showings against India and England have given cause for optimism. Then they lost to both Bangladesh and Ireland in the recent tri-series in Dublin.
“One of the beauties of being involved in West Indies cricket is that you’re never quite settled,” says Holder.
'We may be underdogs, but people always fear the West Indies because you never know what team will turn up'
Holder on opponents' perceptions
“The expectation is another thing. People always expect West Indies to get back to the forefront of world cricket and we embrace that challenge. But it will take time.
“These are the things I enjoy most about captaincy: trying to get the best out of a group when people probably don’t think you can compete at that level."
Camaraderie and togetherness
A level the West Indies may not have expected to have to compete at was last year's ten-team World Cup qualifying competition, which featured such emerging sides as Nepal, Hong Kong and Papua New Guinea.
During the tournament in Zimbabwe, Holder's side lost twice to Afghanistan - including in the final - but Holder took positives from his squad having to reach the finals the hard way.
“It’s funny - the qualifiers were a blessing in disguise and an eye-opener for us," he says. "We were seen as favourites, but we had to play good cricket.
“The most difficult part was playing opposition you hardly knew. A lot of them were fearless and had no hope of qualifying.
"They just wanted to show you up and were going to do everything in their power to be seen to have a memorable day against the West Indies.
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Tough loss today for the #MenInMaroon 😞. @bangladeshtigers win by 5 wickets. There's still one more match, let's get them boys! 🙌 🌴 v 🇧🇩 WI 247/9 (50.0 ovs) 🏏Hope - 87 (108) 🏏Holder - 62 (76) 🏏Ambris - 23 (19) BAN 248/5 (47.2 ov) 🔥 Nurse 3/53 (10.0 ovs) 🔥 Holder 1/43 (8 ovs)
“I thoroughly enjoyed time with the guys who went through qualifying. Some of them gave up money to come and play.
"It was one tournament where everyone was behind one another. We had good camaraderie. From then to now, we have really built something in the group."
Underdogs to be feared
Such white-ball stars as Kieron Pollard, Marlon Samuels and Sunil Narine have been left at home, so it is clear Holder and West Indies feel the players who got them through qualifying deserve their pop at the big time.
"I like consistency," Holder says. "I'd rather give players a run and more chance to succeed. I'd like to keep this group together for as long as possible because they can take us to the top."
Gayle will offer class and experience as vice-captain, while few can claim a better pedigree than Russell. They may have taken the scenic route to the finals, but Holder is adamant they should not be underestimated.
“We may be underdogs, but people always fear the West Indies because you never know what team will turn up.
“My job is to find a balance and consistency. This is not a situation where we can just go around with the tag of showing up and playing the perfect game.
"If you want to be the No 1 side in the world, you’ve got to be consistent. Once we get that, we will see progression."
If Holder is looking for consistency, a good place to start would be in their World Cup opener against Pakistan on May 31 - and you can see how they get on, live on Sky Sports Cricket.
You can watch every match of the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup on Sky Sports Cricket, starting with England vs South Africa at The Oval on Thursday, May 30.