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Match Analysis

Jason Holder, the batter, sets the benchmark for West Indies

West Indies' No. 7 was at it again, trying to dig his team out of a hole - the way he often goes about it begs the question: does he deserve a promotion?

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
Jason Holder hits down the ground  •  BCCI

Jason Holder hits down the ground  •  BCCI

Not for the first time in his career, Jason Holder had to clean up a top-order mess. And not for the first time, he showed how the job ought to have been done. Again, not for the first time, he made you wonder if he was batting too low at No. 7.
Ahead of the series, Kieron Pollard spoke of batting out 50 overs being a realistic goal, but West Indies were in danger of folding inside 30 overs in the series opener against India. Holder's defiance, which quickly turned into a full-blown attack, especially with India's spinners trying to exercise control, helped them bat out 43.5 overs eventually. This was by no means any consolation.
For the record, West Indies haven't batted out 50 overs for seven matches in a row now, stretching back to the Australia series at home in July 2021. It merely reaffirms Pollard's statement that West Indies have a batting problem.
Holder put on a batting show that many of his team-mates would do well to emulate. There was no premeditation, neither was there an attempt to throw the bowlers off their lengths. He was simply reacting to what was presented to him and played shots he thought were appropriate without worrying about how the pitch was playing or how one good ball could get him.
The essence of his innings was built around trying to get fully forward and using his long levers to play Yuzvendra Chahal's teasing legbreaks, and playing Washington Sundar by going right back into the crease because the offspinner was looking to largely bowl good length.
It wasn't that the class of his batting suddenly stood out; he has oozed plenty of it right from his debut seven years ago. You don't average 30 across 53 Tests at No. 7 without possessing it. You don't make a Test highest off 202 not out without learning to apply yourself at the crease. Yet, you couldn't help but marvel at his ability to loft the ball cleanly with the spin, pick lengths early to punch through the covers, and nonchalantly play the pickup shot to anything that veered into the pads. More than anything, Holder seemed to revel even when he walked out to immense scoreboard pressure at 71 for 5 in the 20th over.
For a better part of the last seven years, Holder has shouldered much of West Indies' lower-order batting in ODIs. Since the 2015 World Cup, Holder has walked into bat inside the 25-over mark 19 times when he has batted at No. 7 or lower. He has made 564 runs at an average of 35.25, including six half-centuries, in these games. He has struck these runs at 88. Does this merit a promotion? You'd think yes.
"When you're looking at different things, you can say that," Pollard told host broadcaster Star Sports at the presentation ceremony, when asked if there was merit in promoting Holder. "For instance, 12 months ago, guys wouldn't have been saying that from a statistical point of view. But last couple of games, he has done well. He has played Test cricket, he has made a double-hundred, so he can bat at any position in the order.
"But again, the combination of the team, when you look at it, yes he can bat at No. 6 or at No. 5, but when you watch the make-up of our team, we have international batsmen who have played Test cricket. He (Holder) has a role to play for us, and he came into a crucial scenario and made a crucial fifty. In the last couple of weeks, his cricket has improved and he's doing well for himself. We're happy for Jason as a team and long may it continue."
This batting ability from a bowling allrounder is something teams around the world yearn for. Holder's batting, along with his nagging bowling, has contributed largely to whatever success West Indies have had in Test cricket too, in recent years. It has allowed them to play five bowlers for one thing. But Holder's improved batting hasn't quite been enough to mask the inefficiency, and in some cases recklessness, of some of his colleagues.
In Ahmedabad, Shai Hope was out driving with no feet in the same over that he dispatched Mohammed Siraj for two glorious boundaries. Pollard was out looking to hit out, disregarding Chahal's dip and spin as he attempted a big mow first ball with his team four down and trying to rebuild inside the 20th over. Brandon King and Fabian Allen tamely lobbed return-catches to deliveries that stopped on them. Nicholas Pooran completely misjudged the length trying to sweep a full delivery, only to lose his balance and wicket. Of course, you could make some allowances for the fact West Indies came into the series barely having had one full training session, but the question remains: if Holder could, maybe some of the others could, too?
Holder aside, there were a few other positives too for the visitors. Alzarri Joseph, fresh off a short stint in the Bangladesh Premier League, was zippy and nipped out the wickets of Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli in an over. Kohli's, in particular, was a wicket well-earned because he surprised him for pace and got him to top-edge an attempted pull to fine leg. Rohit was beaten and nipped out lbw trying to play across the line.
West Indies have little time between now and the second ODI to get their mindset right. If they need to look for inspiration, they needn't look beyond Holder. In an era of the Pollards, Bravos, Narines and Gayles, that he has managed to carve a niche for himself speaks volumes of his drive and resolve. His team-mates will do well to try and match the benchmark he has set.
With stats inputs from Sampath Bandarupalli

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo