Dubai: It’s day after after the West Indies’ four-wicket win in a thrilling first Test against England, but it’s still trending on the social media - with people from all walks of life drawing on the positives of the contest and most heaping praise on winning captain Jason Holder.
If the majority of the fans were not aware that the soft-spoken, articulate gentle giant is currently world No.1 in ICC rankings for Test allrounders, then they must have by now. Yes, Holder has certainly had the last laugh in the first round, but rest assured that the No.2 allrounder Ben Stokes will be hurting from this - and their rivalry is going to be the key sub-plot in the remaining two Tests at Manchester’s Old Trafford.
The imagery of two gifted allrounders as rival captains is one which international cricket had been missing for a long time, and the cricket romantics must have had a field day over the five days at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton. Joe Root will be back in the saddle for England from the next Test, but the contest was rivetting as it lasted.
“When Stokesy and Zak [Crawley] were batting, the game started to look a little bit less likely for us to win. We knew we couldn’t lose - we backed ourselves not to lose - but we wanted to win the game, and we knew how important it was for us to win,” said Holder, who has come a long way since being thrust into the role of Test captain at 23 years of age in 2014. From ploughing a lonely furrow in the initial years, the Barbadian had done exceedingly well to be rated on top among the allrounders and ahead of Stokes - finally seen as the answer to England’s prayers as a successor to Ian Botham after few decades of wait.
Speaking on the eve of the first Test, West Indies’ journeyman coach Phil Simmons had predicted that the rivalry between the two may set the tone for the series. There were enough logic in his argument - these two being almost evenly-matched teams – mediocre with the bat, menacing with the ball and reliant to a heavy extent on Holder and Stokes, respectively.
Standing at six feet seven inches, Holder walks taller than Stokes but more importantly, his career-best 6-42 from 20 overs in the first innings against England beneath cloudy skies had set the tone for the match while he dismissed the rival captain in both innings. Stokes had scores of 43 and 46 under trying conditions and against some hostile pace bowling and went on to claim the wicket of his counterpart in the first innings, but the last Ashes series has seen how potentially damaging he can be in the face of adversity.
To be a great allrounder, however, is not simply to bring the skills to the table but but it requires a sixth sense to seize the moment - either with a deadly spell or an innings under crisis. Stokes did it with elan at Headingley last summer, near single-handedly winning an Ashes Test that neither he nor England had any right to win.
Holder did it with a double hundred against England in Barbados last year, which set his side on course for a 2-1 series victory.
“There are a lots of positives in retrospect and this game was a good learning curve,” Stokes said later. “I’ve loved captaining England, but this is Joe’s team and I welcome him back.”
Over to Old Trafford then...