Captaincy fitting reward for Holder's early promise
He comes with a flattering endorsement from West Indies' most successful captain, Clive Lloyd, now head of the selection panel that chose him, and concern from others that the circumstances and timing of his elevation are too daunting to impose on a promising player entering his third year of international cricket.
His first assignments are next month's five ODIs against South Africa, the team ranked No. 3 against West Indies' No. 8, followed by the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand in February and March, the game's most prestigious, intense and extensively followed tournament.
That he succeeds Dwayne Bravo, captain and forthright spokesman for the players, who sensationally abandoned the tour of India in October over a contractual dispute with the West Indies Cricket Board, creates a contentious backdrop to the issue.
Lloyd and the WICB did not make the connection between the two in the decision to change; they didn't have to. It was clear that Bravo's removal as captain and demotion, along with senior players Darren Sammy and Kieron Pollard, to the T20 squad alone was payback for their part in the dramatic exit from India. Their attorney, Ralph Thorne, a Barbadian Queen's Counsel, was wary of the WICB's "victimisation" of the players from the start; he maintains this is clear evidence that it is just that.
Lloyd followed the team around India. He subsequently made his position plain in an interview on a Jamaican sports channel. "I spoke to them on every occasion, I told them what was the situation," he said. "They didn't listen. I'm very disappointed they didn't. It was just a dialogue that was needed. I told them to play and assess the situation [later]. I don't think it was the intelligent thing to do. I am very disappointed."
Lloyd's explanation for the change is that it is with "an eye on the future".
He describes Holder as "one of the good young players who we believe will form part of the long-term future of West Indies cricket". "We know he will continue to grow and demonstrate leadership. He has a very good cricketing brain and has the makings of a very good leader."
Ezra Moseley, the former Barbados and West Indies allrounder, is coach at the St Michael School in Bridgetown. He recognised the certainty of Lloyd's judgement as soon as Holder switched schools and came into his team.
"His leadership qualities were so obvious I immediately made him captain," Moseley recalls. "Last year, after he was already in the West Indies team, I told the St Michael scorer that he would soon become West Indies captain. I wasn't joking."
Moseley's initial opinion was that Holder was a better batsman than a bowler.
"His height was an advantage for his quick bowling but my impression was that he would develop into a batting allrounder," he said. "I can't understand why those in charge concentrated more on his bowling than his batting once he left St Michael."
Holder advanced into the Barbados and then West Indies team via the customary route of age-group cricket. He was among the leading bowlers in the 2010 Under-19 World Cup in New Zealand in which Kraigg Brathwaite, his team-mate at Wanderers club in Barbados since coming through the junior programme together, was the second-highest run-scorer.
Since then, he has worn the West Indies maroon against seven of the top ten ODI teams; South Africa will be the eighth. Only Zimbabwe is missing. He has had a couple of IPL stints with the Chennai and Hyderabad franchises.
In his 21 ODIs with the senior team, he has batted no higher than No. 8 (twice No. 11); scores of 38 and 52 at No. 7 against New Zealand at Kensington Oval in June in his only Test were compiled with technical competence and a calmness that supported Moseley's point about his batting.
I know Holder as a fellow member of Wanderers and fully agree with the comments of Lloyd and Moseley on his cricketing acumen and his leadership aptitude. His method is likely to be more persuasive than assertive, more Richie Richardson than Viv Richards.
Like several others, I'm also apprehensive over the immense task immediately confronting him.
"I would have thought they would have given him a chance to develop as a player before they thrust upon him the responsibility of captaincy of a West Indies team that is really struggling," former West Indies wicketkeeper Mike Findlay, himself a former head selector, says. "They have pushed him into the firing line too early. It's bound to affect the young man. I hope he is strong enough to cope."
Bryan Davis, the former West Indies and Trinidad and Tobago opener of the 1960s, questions the timing of the appointment.
"The young captain doesn't have time to get experience on the field of play and bond with his team," he says. "If you were thinking about a transition to youth, that should have happened after the World Cup."
Moseley has no such reservations. "From what I know of Jason Holder, I think he'll handle the challenge pretty well."
Holder himself is equally upbeat. "It's just about moving West Indies cricket forward and I think most of the guys can buy into what I'm about to put forward and what I think is best for West Indies cricket."
For all that, he is level-headed enough to appreciate how tough the going could be.
Tony Cozier has written about and commentated on cricket in the Caribbean for 50 years