Jason Holder exerts his Bridgetown hold once more as England come a cropper
Career-best T20I figures continue remarkable run of success against England on home ground
It was Kieron Pollard who put it best: "When it comes to Kensington Oval and Jason Holder, he steps it up a bit. This is his ground." It has become a familiar tale: West Indies beating England in Barbados, with Holder to the fore.
Supporters in England who had tuned in on a Saturday night expecting an Ashes antidote were left with another dose of top-order turmoil. With Holder and Sheldon Cottrell sharing new-ball duties, England crumbled on a spicy pitch that caught them by surprise after they had warmed up on one which Jason Roy - who hit a 36-ball hundred - described as "massively flat".
The new ball moved a little in the air and off the seam, but the key factor was the variable bounce, which Holder used to his advantage by banging it in on a length and letting the pitch do the rest. He pitched the ball up in his first over, looking for early swing, before dragging his length back and beating Eoin Morgan time and again in the off-stump channel.
He struck twice in two balls to remove Tom Banton, tentatively edging an outswinger to slip, and Moeen Ali, who poked a wide half-volley to backward point, but England struggled to lay a bat on him; according to ESPNcricinfo's ball-by-ball data, they were in control of only seven balls in his three-over powerplay spell.
"I think up front it had a little bit of swing," Holder said at the interval. "Also, there was a bit of bounce as well. So for me it was just to hit the surface as much as possible and let the ball do the rest. Traditionally here at Kensington Oval, the bounce plays a big part.
"Whenever you get the hard new ball in your hand you try to utilise it as much as possible when it comes to swing, and the ball did swing today up front," he added. "It was just trying to use that first, and we felt that the ball held in the pitch a little bit so we tried to use the surface as much as possible. After it stopped swinging, the plan was to go into the wicket, hard, and that worked out for us today."
He came back to bowl a single over at the death, the 20th, which brought wickets in consecutive balls once more: Saqib Mahmood was caught in the deep, and Adil Rashid lost his leg stump while attempting to paddle-sweep. That meant career-best figures in this format for Holder, both at domestic and international level - a remarkable 4 for 7.
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Two years ago this week, Holder enjoyed his finest hour as Test captain, hitting a remarkable double-hundred on his home ground to set West Indies on their way to a 2-1 series win against England. It was one of three standout performances by Bajans in that match, along with Shane Dowrich's hundred and Roston Chase's eight-for, and the second of Holder's three star turns against England at Kensington Oval, after five wickets in a 2015 Test and three more in an ODI later that year.
It was fitting, then, that he was the star of Barbados' first international match since it cut ties with the UK and became a republic in November. It was also the first time fans had attended a West Indies game on the island since the pandemic - albeit with a 50% capacity limit and mandatory proof of vaccination - and a statement to the selectors who made him a travelling reserve for the T20 World Cup. Perhaps unsurprisingly, those selectors have since been replaced.
The timing was notable for another reason, too. The IPL auction is three weeks away, and Holder knows that performances like this will only serve to drive his price up. He has entered with a base price of 1.5 crore ($200,000 USD approx.) but with several seam-bowling allrounders missing from the long-list - including Sam Curran, Chris Woakes, Ben Stokes and the recently-retired Chris Morris - and several others retained in Andre Russell, Marcus Stoinis and Hardik Pandya, Holder's skillset will be in greater demand than ever.
He has enjoyed two impressive seasons in a row for Sunrisers Hyderabad, resuming his top-level T20 career after a break, and his versatility - he can bat in the middle overs or at the death, and is a bowling option across phases - should make him an attractive purchase. Back-of-a-length bowling is in vogue in T20 cricket, and while Holder may not have express pace, his height helps to create extra bounce.
Holder was unexpectedly removed from the Test captaincy 10 months ago and admitted recently that he was still "transitioning" back into the ranks. "It was a little strange," he told talkSPORT, "but it's been a burden off my shoulders… I'm getting to the point where I'm understanding how to get back just playing."
He has always prioritised international cricket over leagues since being appointed as captain at 23, but after turning 30 at the end of last year, he has a short window in which to cash in. "It's still something that I've like to do a bit more of," he admitted. "Now that I've just crossed over an age category from my lovely 20s into the 30s, I feel as though I need to make hay while the sun shines."
Few would begrudge Holder from shifting his balance slightly, and cashing in while he can. Besides, a healthy payday at February's auction might enable him to pay back whoever has been writing his scripts for him at his home ground.
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98