"...but the ICC rankings say that I'm the No. 1 ranked allrounder and maybe don't get as much credit as probably I deserve, who knows?" Jason Holder had opined on the eve of the opener in Southampton. And most certainly, and not "maybe", he is right. The world can't get enough of Ben Stokes when trying to epitomise the all-rounder concept, when it comes to pace bowling, the world keeps bragging about Jasprit Bumrah and Pat Cummins. Yet when you look up the ICC rankings for both the departments, Holder is the No.1 all-rounder in Test cricket, ahead of Stokes, and the third-ranked bowler after Cummins and New Zealand's Neil Wagner. And day 2 of the England series opener was among the very many reasons why.
Holder isn't among the quickest bowler you will see around, well behind the contemporaries of this generation. But what makes him effective as a bowler, no matter the condition or venues across the globe, is his control and discipline. And that makes it difficult for batsmen to score against him.
Since 2017, in countries where the duke ball is used - England and West Indies - Holder has the third-best average (at least 10 innings) - 17.97 after James Anderson (17.10) and Jasprit Bumrah (17.88) and the second-best economy rate of 2.49 after the English veteran (2.43). In the rest of the world, where the SG and the Kookaburra bare used, Holder averages a decent 25.92 from the only five Tests he has played during the period, with an economy rate of 2.44 which is the fourth-best. Overall, since 2017, Holder has the best average among bowlers (with minimum 50 Test wickets) - 19.34
On Thursday morning, West Indies pacers were thoroughly impressive, reducing the overwhelming favourites England to five down around lunch. But post the first break, the captain-deputy pair of Stokes and Jos Buttler launched a counter-attacking approach against Kemar Roach and Shannon Gabriel, thus looking spirited in their bid to take the hosts to a competitive total. Stokes, and even Buttler at times, negated the swing and countered the fuller length from the Windies pair by shimming down the track to drive the ball through mid-off and cover or down the track. Moreover, Stokes was handed two lifelines after Roach dropped him at deep square leg and then after the break, Shamarh Brooks dropped him at cover off Roach.
Holder, watching Gabriel succumb to the counter-attacking approach, took over and kept targetting the off stump line while looking for the good length. Over the first session, Holder kept his length around full and he found success in trapping Zak Crawley with the ball that nipped back in to strike his pads in line with the off. But over the course of the day, Holder pulled back his length from full to short of good length and then to good length and the eventual plan helped him get the two most important wickets of the day - Stokes and Buttler.
Stokes's wicket seemed evitable. The England captain was looking to play around Holder's length by stepping out and playing it across. But the wicket delivery back from an angle that nipped away as Stokes was completely undone by the movement of the ball that found the edge of the bat and the rest was done by the wicketkeeper. An over later, he drew Buttler out of the crease with good-length delivery but pushed more towards the off as the ball found the outside edge and Dowrich completed the formalities with a diving catch. Holder finished off with 6 for 42.
For Holder, it is the lateral movement that has made him so effective. According to CricViz, no other pacer, since 2018, has been able to generate as much swing as Holder (1.68 degrees) or seam the ball as much as him (0.72 degree). And now combine these two factors with the incredible height of release (2.31 metres).
But Holder credited Anderson for his recent bowling success. Recalling the 2017 series in England, Holder revealed that he was inspired by Anderson's level of patience.
"Last time we were here and Jimmy was on 499, he was bowling to (Devendra) Bishoo and taking everything away from him. I was just waiting for the inswinger, waiting for the inswinger and he never showed it," Holder told Sky Sports.
"Then I started to watch a few things from Glenn McGrath as well because I think our styles are similar - we're maybe not as quick as a Jofra Archer or a Shannon Gabriel.
"Patience was one of the things I was probably lacking, trying to bowl maybe three outswingers and then an inswinger in the same over. It's more or less knowing you have the weapons and knowing when to try and deliver them."
Holder is not how Windies fast bowlers have always been seen in world cricket. He is less aggressive, and more calm-headed with his approach, but he is among the best the nation has produced in modern-day cricket.