There was an imposing figure out on the WACA pitch the day before the game between India and West Indies. He was animated, he was tall, and he was passionate. Beside him was a shorter man. Who listened and smiled, occasionally looking at the deep backward square boundary like he was eyeing it off. In the nets there was another man who picked up a well-hit drive, spun around and prepared to launch a throw.
There was another figure in the nets. Chatting, planning, working, training and hoping. One who could bat, bowl and field.
Jason Holder isn't a scary fast bowler. Jason Holder isn't pure top-order swagger. Jason Holder isn't a cat in the field. Jason Holder is a young man who bats at No. 9, bowls medium pace and leads a fractured team. It's an odd choice for a leader. An odd choice for your only hope.
It wasn't a contest until he came in. In fact, before he came in, it was the end of West Indies. T20 had ruined their game. Infighting ruined their team. Old tactics clouded their strategies. Ireland had ruined their tournament. Business would end their future. They were ghosts who didn't know they were already dead.
They say West Indies bat until nine. Today it started at nine.
Watching Dwayne Smith and Chris Gayle come out to bat was like watching a cricket team who hadn't been paying any attention to the World Cup. A makeshift sloggy T20 opener and an ageing franchise star. Smith failed to guide the ball to third man. Smith failed to play a pull shot. Smith failed to run between the wickets. Smith failed. Gayle was dropped twice on the way to a 45-minute, 27-ball 21. On the way there, he helped run out Marlon Samuels.
At No. 4 was Jonathan Carter, a man without a single ODI before getting picked in this squad. He was out sweeping, like so many of the Associate players had been this week. Denesh Ramdin has a career batting average of 24.71. He was in at No. 5. At the start of last year he batted eight. This sentence is already longer than his innings. Lendl Simmons has been the form man of West Indies' batting. In his last five innings he had scores of 45, 55, 102, 50 and 0. At No. 6 he looked cool, calm and in control, right up until the ball was caught at deep backward square. A six was scored second ball by Andre Russell, but there were only two other scoring shots in his brief innings.
West Indies, 85 for 7. Doom. Apocalypse. Ghosts.
At nine, the innings started.
In his first 20 deliveries, Holder scored six runs. There was no panic as the world condemned his team; Holder was just batting. When a partnership had formed, and his eye was in, he played shots. Not the other way around, like the other batsmen. There were straight sixes from fast bowlers. There was use of the feet to the spinners. He rotated the strike, built partnerships, batted with Darren Sammy, coached Jerome Taylor and took the West Indies to something. Not a total, but the hint of one.
Holder's innings wouldn't change history, it wouldn't inspire the tiny nations that make up his team badge, it wouldn't win the World Cup. But it was something, and the only something West Indies had.
There were two key moments as West Indies ran out on the ground to bowl. One was from Curtly Ambrose screaming at the team "We can win this". The other was Holder, running ahead of his team on to the pitch.
They had the spirit of Curtly with them, they had his pitch, and they had a leader who was taking control.
Holder made mistakes, but without him, there would have been no mistakes to make. Holder made the match a match
They bowled like they knew this. Taylor was smooth. Holder was steady. Russell was quick. Kemar Roach was quicker. They attacked, they bounced balls, they lost control of the ball, and they pushed as hard as they could.
When pace and length wouldn't help, Holder played with Virat Kohli's ego, and won. For one ball he put all three men out on the leg side boundary, gestured for a short ball, and watched Roach bowl a wayward full toss instead of a bouncer to complete his elaborate bluff.
Holder brought on Dwayne Smith. Smith had not bowled in his last nine ODIs. The last time he did, his four overs went wicketless for 68 runs. But he also took 5 for 17 for Barbados when Guyana failed to chase 69 recently. Smith had Suresh Raina in his first over - it was some hunch. There was a time, when Holder's Chennai Super Kings team-mates were in - Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, MS Dhoni and R Ashwin - where you could see a very smart cricket brain at work.
Then at six wickets down, and 19 runs to get, something stopped. Holder had tried his quick bowlers. Russell's last over had gone for ten. Roach's last over had gone for nine. The spirit of Curtly had been replaced by the awful spin of Samuels and the gentle wobble of Smith.
The cricket-watching world rose up as one and abused Holder as Dhoni and Ashwin nudged their way to the final 19 runs. They seemed to believe West Indies had given up. And the man who they thought gave up, was the only man who never really seemed too.
Holder became the man fans abused for not closing out the match. Holder made mistakes, but without him, there would have been no mistakes to make. Holder opened up the match. Holder held the match up. Holder made the match a match.
Holder is not imposing. Holder is not a legend. Holder is not a ghost. Holder is West Indies as they are now. Imperfect. Flawed. Barely alive.