West Indies can be No. 1, says Jason Holder

Captain Jason Holder says he will stay around as long as he possibly can to carry the Test team forward.

West Indies all-rounder Jason Holder believes his side has the potential to become the best in Test cricket.   -  FILE PHOTO/AP

 

As an individual, Jason Holder is very big on patriotism, and representing the West Indies is a childhood dream come true for him, he says. That’s the reason the all-rounder cites for opting out of playing franchise-based cricket around the world – for now.

“... I know the leagues won’t go anywhere and hopefully I can cash in on a few of them at the back end of my career. I really want to go back and play the IPL (Indian Premier League) next year. I am definitely going to be in the auction,” the 28-year-old says.

Holder, who has featured in 40 Tests, 108 One-Day Internationals and 17 Twenty20 Internationals, adds that the West Indies side has the ability to be the No. 1 team in the world.

In an interview, the 6”7 West Indian talks about his dreams, mental health issues affecting sportspersons today and more...

At a time when most of your teammates are busy playing T20 leagues across the globe, you have kept yourself out of those and have been leading the West Indies in Test cricket...

It is a sacrifice I have made for a reason. Growing up, I always wanted to play Test cricket, and I have got the opportunity to play Tests. So far, it hasn’t been too bad for me. I have thoroughly enjoyed it and Test cricket is my favourite format. I enjoy T20 cricket as well. For me, personally, it has been tough to play all three formats. It’s a tough gig on your body. With the T20 World Cup next year, I still want to bring myself back in contention. I had a pretty good domestic T20 competition, particularly with the ball, and I just really want to build back into international T20 cricket to hopefully earn a spot for the T20 World Cup. But like I said, I enjoy playing Test cricket and I have made sacrifices to play Test cricket. That’s a decision I don’t regret and I am glad that I took that decision.

You spoke about sacrifices. But why did you choose to focus entirely on Test cricket? You had every opportunity to play franchise cricket. There is a huge demand for West Indies players in the leagues...

I have age on my side, to be fair. I am blessed to be playing for the West Indies now for a number of years. I am relatively young – I have played around the world, but I am still 28-years-old. I have still got more years in international cricket and I do want to hop around and play the leagues. I have had a number of opportunities to play in the leagues, but I have turned down the offers to make myself available for the West Indies. As an individual, I am very, very big on patriotism and I am basically living a dream. This has been a childhood dream for me to be able to have this and it means a lot for me. It’s something I want to make full use of and I know the leagues won’t go anywhere, and hopefully I can cash in on a few of them at the back end of my career. I really want to go back and play the IPL next year. I am definitely going to be in the auction. Then, looking to see what happens there. Hopefully, I am picked up and I can come here to India and play some cricket.

There was a time when the West Indies pace attack comprising Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding, Joel Garner and Andy Roberts was regarded as the best in the world. But over the years, there has been a decline. Despite having quality players, the team has struggled. Being the Test captain, how do you see the journey?

It’s been an interesting journey, to be fair. Trying to understand Test cricket takes a while. I am very close to Clive Lloyd and he had once said that it took him three years to understand the dynamics of Test cricket. I have been playing for couple of years and I am only now grasping to know what it takes to be a Test cricketer. We have been able to stay in the park and that’s the most important thing. You can’t play unless you are in the park, and staying fit and healthy are the two parts you need to pay specific attention to. With the blessings of the masseur and under his guidance, we have been able to stay in the park and put performances in. We have had a pretty good run particularly at home and it has been the case when we travel abroad that our numbers are actually getting better. Overall, we have seen significant improvement in terms of our bowling attack. Our bowling attack has led this team for the last three-four years. That’s something we use as a strength because at the end of the day, our batting hasn’t been as consistent as we would have liked. To be fair, we have got some quality players, we just need some time to understand the game. We need to put a little more emphasis on our first-class cricket and programmes need to be put in place for players going back to continue to build and develop...

You agreed that there’s ample time to prepare. But in today’s time, workload management is becoming very important. As a fast bowler, how do you ensure that you avoid from injuries?

For me, I haven’t had much rest, to be fair. And I’ve had some conversations over the last couple of weeks with particularly our coach (Phil Simmons) and coaching staff. We need to manage players a little bit better. I haven’t had much rest. I’ve been playing lots of cricket. Playing all three formats makes it a lot more difficult to rest, but again, I have been blessed not to be injured... I just focus a lot on recovery. And there’s not much time to really push physical fitness per se, so I just focus a lot more on recovery, do a little bit of top-up work here and there. I just try to keep my body as fresh as I possibly can. Another thing for me is having a fresh mind. I think if you have a fresh mind, it makes playing cricket a lot easier and it is not more of a physical burden as it already is, to be fair. And I just think we need to find ways to manage players and set the whole system up in a way that we have a lot more structure towards player management and player participation. I think that if we have that, we could probably breed a few more international cricketers and then have a bigger pool of players.

How challenging is it to shift across formats for a fast bowler?

I also bat, you know (laughs). For me, it’s not that difficult. I have found ways to transition into different formats. It's cricket, man! I just see it as normal cricket. For me, I think once you have the skill set to do it, then you just know when is the time and place to exhibit your skills. Its not a situation where every given game you would do everything you have in your locker. It’s a matter of you understanding the situation and scenario, and you move in to swoop. It hasn’t been difficult for me. As I said, the biggest challenge for me is just maintaining my fitness and keeping myself in the park.

Now the focus is more on the limited-overs format. But do you think the West Indies should play more Test cricket?

I think the World Test Championship is a good move. It gives everybody a level playing field to fight for a championship. Everyone plays the same amount of Test games and the points system is such where you are not at a disadvantage. For instance, if you are playing a five-match series or a three-match series. I just think that we would love to play more Test cricket. Unfortunately, situations aren’t there for us to play more Test cricket. Financing plays a bit part of it. We are not as fortunate as England or Australia or India, who definitely have the financial backing to facilitate playing more Test cricket. So we’ve just got to make do with whatever we have. I would always encourage us to play more Test cricket, but I understand the challenges that we are faced with. As I said, I just move in to swoop, but to be fair, it becomes a little bit disappointing sometimes. I have played international cricket for so long and Test cricket for so long, and I have got only 40 Test matches. Some players who I probably started with at the same time have got double the amount of Test games I have played. But again, it’s something beyond my control, and whenever I do get the opportunity to play Test cricket, I make the most of it.

In Test cricket, everybody is talking about playing with the pink ball. You have been involved in a pink-ball Test. How do you enjoy that challenge?

We have played three pink-ball matches and I personally enjoyed them. For me, it is a different dynamic. It has its challenges. But I think there’s a place for pink-ball cricket.

Do you think pink-ball Tests is the way to go?

I think there’s a place for it. I wouldn’t burden the calendar with number of pink-ball matches, but I have no problem playing a couple of pink-ball matches a year. For me, it just brings a different spectacle to Test cricket. It is challenging, as I said, but even Test cricket is challenging. It’s Test cricket for a reason. I’m all for pink-ball cricket, to be fair.

The West Indies has now appointed Kieron Pollard as captain for the limited-overs side. How do you see the move? Were you consulted before they decided to opt for a split captaincy?

About your question about the change in captaincy, it is what it is. I’ve just moved on, to be honest. I honestly wasn’t as happy with how it was done, but it is what is it is, to be fair, and I have accepted it for what it is. The guys in the Test team really give me that drive to continue to do what I want to do and to continue to play the cricket with the passion and pride I play it with. And had it not been for this Test group, I probably would have been in a worst state mentally. But these guys have helped me through a lot. I love them, I love playing Test cricket with them. And I will stay around as long as I possibly can to carry this Test team forward. I do believe its got what it takes to become the No. 1 Test team in the world. But obviously it is a work in progress, and with the support around in terms of our systems and the backing abroad, I definitely think that we can become the No. 1 team in the world.

You spoke about mindset. At a time when the mental health of cricketers is being discussed, could you explain what one goes through during the rough patches? How can one overcome the problems?

It’s a tough question, to be fair. Different people deal with things differently. I do understand the whole situation around mental health and how it impacts sportsmen and not only particularly cricketers, but all sportsmen. We go through a lot. People don’t obviously see what we go through off the field, they just see us on the field and see us as professional athletes. But there’s a lot that goes into it. You make so many sacrifices, you spend months on the road, you spend so much time away from your family and friends. For me, that takes a toll. For instance, if you leave home knowing that things aren’t great at home, yet you gotta go on tour, to shift your mindset and shift your focus into your job, but you’ve still got personal issues off the field, at home. It’s very difficult, and then to add insult to injury, you spend every two-three months on the road and then you gotta go back home to deal with the situation. It’s not ideal, but a lot of people don’t understand that and we cop a lot of unnecessary criticism. People don’t understand that we are still human beings. We aren’t robots; we don’t just put on a poker face every day, although we sometimes we have to. But I consider myself a mentally tough person. Its all about having a strong support system around you. You definitely cannot do it on your own. You need to have strong people around you whom you can rely on and trust. Once you’ve got that backing behind you, it becomes easier and it doesn’t solve everything, but it makes life a lot easier. I sympathise with any cricketer or any sportsmen who goes through mental health issues, and I do know that there lots of other cricketers and sportsmen who do go through with it similarly or harbour similar problems. It is what it is and we’ve gotta deal with it as professional athletes.