Upbeat Holder unfazed by underdog tag
It had all the visual impact of a David and Goliath portrait.
But, as a diminutive Steven Smith walked out onto the Bellerive Oval with a towering Jason Holder for the obligatory captains' photo shoot next to the Frank-Worrell Trophy, the irony was clear: Smith's Australia side is the undisputed giant in this three-Test contest, while many observers believe the West Indies would have a better chance of winning if they played with slingshots rather than bats and balls.
The task facing Holder and his players is not just immense. It makes Everest seem like a speed bump. West Indies come into this series just a few weeks after losing two Tests and three ODIs in Sri Lanka, and they suffered a 10-wicket defeat at the hands of a modest Cricket Australia XI in their sole warm-up match in Brisbane.
When they faced Australia earlier this year in a Test series on home soil, they lost 2-0 and no West Indies side has won a Test abroad in nearly eight years. Not to mention the fact the Frank-Worrell Trophy has now resided in Australia for more than 20 years.
In Barbados, a high-performance centre - where the next generation of West Indies cricketers should be honing their skills - has been empty for many months. Half a world away from Hobart, the management of West Indies cricket is in serious danger of imploding. A Prime Ministerial Committee recently issued a damning report, describing the WICB as "antiquated", "obsolete" and "anachronistic", and demanded that the board be disbanded immediately and an interim board established. The WICB has not yet complied.
There are many other examples of political infighting, financial mismanagement and conflicting self-interests that have contributed to the decline of West Indies cricket, not least the neglect of the ICC. The carve up between the Big Three has meant those left outside the tent are in danger of perishing in the elements.
But, somehow, Holder must put this all aside and lead his team into a contest in which few give them hope of being competitive, let alone winning. Somehow, with the help of coach Phil Simmons, he must find a way to instill self-belief in his players. And, somehow, he must try to expose and exploit weaknesses in an Australia side coming off a two-nil series win over a highly fancied New Zealand outfit.
Much of the West Indies hope rests on the not inconsiderable shoulders of Holder, who just turned 24 in November. He talks of being upbeat, of being confident and positive. But he also knows his side does not exist in a vacuum and, while his players can only control their own performances, there are wider issues that must be addressed if West Indies are to become a serious force once more. He admits the constant criticism hurts.
"We're only human," Holder said. "I suppose we're meant to get offended by things that people say but I guess some have the right to say what they say."
"At the end of the day we haven't been at our best, we haven't been near our best in the recent past but I still have faith that we can turn things around. But it has to be a systematic approach where we just set things up, set up a good foundation in terms of our system at home in cricket and I think once we can do that we can see us producing some better cricketers in international cricket.
It is only a year since the WICB restructured its first-class competition as the Professional Cricket League, a move Holder feels will help produce better Test players. But without a high standard training academy, the production belt for talented young crickets has stalled.
"I think [the Professional Cricket League] is probably the first step in us trying to get our cricket back on track in a sense," Holder said. "And just trying to have academies where we can groom players.
"In the recent past we've had the high performance centre [in Barbados] but, unfortunately, we haven't had a group in there for the last year-and-a-half, two years and it's something that has reaped results."
"We have, I think, eight or nine of our players who have been through the high performance centre currently in our Test side. I think once we can be consistent there in terms of keeping the programs going, you know finances are a big problem back home as well.
"Again it's all out of my hands but I can only hope that we can keep these kinds of things going so we can, in a sense, produce cricketers. "
What is in Holder's hands, and the hands of his team-mates, is their approach to this match. They face an Australia team in transition and, compared to recent sides, lacking in Test experience. They have a seam attack that could, if the fast bowlers are at their best, trouble the opposition. Only six players in the current Australia side played in the series victory in May, and Holder senses an opportunity.
"They have guys like Shaun Marsh coming back into the side, Joe Burns is trying to make his mark, and there are other guys who are just trying to settle into the Australian side who we can try to exploit and put pressure on if we can get their top order out.
"It has to start somewhere. We just have to be consistent in what we do. We fell down in putting up a strong first-innings total and that's something I really highlighted in the dressing room. I think once we start doing that we've shown in the past we can take 20 wickets. We just need to put our heads down and just think a little bit more, try to fight through situations.
"We know the Australians will come very hard at us, we know they will be very competitive, so we've just got to absorb that pressure early on in those instances as batsmen and when we bowl just try to be a little bit more patient than we have been in the past. Then I'm sure we can get these results."
West Indies supporters can only hope the turmoil back in the Caribbean resolves in a way that gives this very young side the support they need to win at home and abroad. If they start doing so in Australia, it will be an achievement just as worthy of legend as David's victory over Goliath.
Melinda Farrell is a reporter at ESPNcricinfo