Holder struggles again - Windies skipper yet to get going in pre-Test matches

By Sports Desk June 30, 2020

West Indies captain Jason Holder continues to struggle to shake off a bit of rust, or allay injury concerns, after being dismissed cheaply in the second and final intra-squad match at Emirates Old Trafford, on Tuesday.

This time around, the West Indies skipper made it to five, with his innings lasting just 13 deliveries.  The disappointment at the crease followed on the all-rounder’s golden duck in the first internal match that ended in a draw last week.

In addition to time away from the pitch, Holder has recently been bothered by what is thought to be a mild ankle injury.  Despite claims that he has not been hampered by it, Holder has looked less than comfortable at the crease.  In fact, he could have departed a lot sooner had Preston McSween held on to a relatively straightforward chance when the Windies skipper nudged the second ball of his innings to midwicket.  Holder had yet to score at the time.

Earlier, intermittent showers had wiped out the first four sessions of the four-day fixture but eased in time to allow play to start at 2:20 pm under lights.  Holder and Jermaine Blackwood were, unfortunately, part of a top-order collapse that saw Holder's side go from 79-1 to 108-5 against a Kraigg Brathwaite-led XI, before ending the day 120-5 when bad light stopped play.

 

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  • 'Windies must pounce quickly against England' - insists legend Lara 'Windies must pounce quickly against England' - insists legend Lara

    Brian Lara has urged West Indies to "pounce immediately" and rattle England early on in their three-Test series.

    The Windies great, formerly the all-time record run-scorer in Tests, believes his countrymen will struggle if matches go the full five-day distance.

    But he sees West Indies as having the players who can impose themselves on their hosts, with the behind-closed-doors series starting in Southampton on Wednesday.

    "They have to hit the road running and stamp their authority on England," Lara said in quotes published by the BBC.

    "I don't think they can last five days, so they have to take these games in four days. They have to establish a lead and keep it."

    Lara still holds the highest individual score in Tests - the 400 not out he scored against England in Antigua in 2004.

    He knows what it takes to pick apart an England bowling attack, and West Indies' 2-1 series victory over the same opponents last year suggests the current breed can also more than hold their own.

    Whether West Indies can be as competitive in English conditions as they were in the Caribbean remains to be seen.

    "They have to be able to pounce immediately," said Lara. "England are not beaten very easily at home and are overwhelming favourites."

    According to the 51-year-old Trinidadian, the tone for the series could be set on day one.

    Lara said: "If they play good cricket on the first day of the Test series, show they have the mettle to perform against England, that's the key."

  • Stokes will lead by example against West Indies – Sibley Stokes will lead by example against West Indies – Sibley

    Ben Stokes will lead by example when he captains England against West Indies, says Dom Sibley.

    With Joe Root absent from England's squad for the first Test in Southampton due to the birth of his second child, Stokes is to take charge for the opening game of the three-match series.

    Sibley looks set to open the batting alongside Rory Burns as England return to action after a lengthy coronavirus-enforced absence.

    "The boys are all raring to go. We've had the three-day warm-up which was good practice, we're all looking forward to getting out in the middle," said Sibley.

    "[Stokes] is just going to do what he does, lead from the front, lead by example.

    "His quality and energy on the pitch is a unique skill and presence. He'll just use that.

    "He's someone the young guys look up to and will continue to do that regardless of whether he's captain or not."

    Sibley scored his maiden Test 100 against South Africa in Cape Town in January and impressed on the tour, though he did not get chance to build on those displays prior to lockdown.

    However, the 24-year-old – who revealed he has lost 12 kilograms over the course of the break – acknowledged the rest has been helpful.

    "At the time I was raring to go and it's new for me to be playing for England, so I was buzzing to play every game," he added.

    "But you've got to try and take it as a positive and to have a break after such a long winter was nice. To sit back and work out what I needed to improve on to keep doing well at this level, further my game.

    "I'm trying to build on what I did in South Africa and hopefully contribute to a few wins. A few of us did quite well in South Africa, it feels like a lifetime ago but it's a case of trying to build on that and trying to score a few big scores in the series.

    "I've been working hard during lockdown, it was probably needed to be fair. Over the winter I was carrying too much weight. I'm glad I'm feeling a bit fitter."

    All of the upcoming matches will be played behind closed doors, though Sibley does not feel his game will be affected too drastically.

    "If I could have had a choice, it's always a dream to play a Test at Lord's or at your home ground in front of a packed house," he said.

    "Circumstances haven't allowed that to happen. I'd always choose to have a crowd in but maybe it might work to my advantage. It's not going to change how I play, I'm just going to do my thing."

  • Stokes to captain England: Is the all-rounder a long-term option for the job? Stokes to captain England: Is the all-rounder a long-term option for the job?

    International cricket returns when England and West Indies begin their three-Test series on Wednesday, albeit in unprecedented circumstances.  

    Bio-secure venues minus spectators, home umpires, potential coronavirus substitutes and no saliva on the ball are just some of the consequences of attempting to play during a global health pandemic. It will be Test cricket, just not quite as we have come to know it.  

    There will also be a noticeable change to England’s team, too. With Joe Root out due to the birth of his second child, Ben Stokes will captain the team for the first time.  

    The opportunity to lead in a Test perhaps completes the circle for the all-rounder. An incident outside a Bristol nightclub in 2017 cost him the vice-captaincy, but he has rehabilitated his reputation through his actions, both on and off the field, to reclaim the position as Root's deputy. 

    Now, at 29, Stokes is preparing to become the 81st Test captain for England. It is a one-off on this occasion, yet also a potential dress rehearsal for the future. Root is the same age as his team-mate but has been in charge since February 2017; the grind eventually takes a toll on all who fill the role – and the numbers suggest performances suffer with the added burden.  

    Sitting fourth in the official Test rankings, England will be wary of asking their talismanic all-rounder to do too much. For now, though, this is an opportunity for Stokes to step in and demonstrate his capabilities as a captain (a role he has not filled in first-class cricket previously). 

    He has been second in command, now it is time to take on the top job, albeit temporarily. 

    A (RECENT) HISTORY LESSON

    Stokes will be the 11th different player to lead England in the 21st century. The last three to take on the job – Root, Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen – all started out with victories. 

    Indeed, Michael Vaughan was the last skipper to suffer disappointment on his captaincy debut in the format, losing to South Africa at Lord's in July 2003. He was not aided by Nasser Hussain, the man who had stepped down prior to the match, dropping Graeme Smith when he had eight to his name. The left-hander went on to make 259 as the Proteas triumphed by an innings.

    Mark Butcher stood in for a solitary game in August 1999, taking over with Hussain sidelined during the home series against New Zealand at Old Trafford. 

    England drew that game but Butcher contributed just 14 runs in his two knocks during a weather-hit contest. He was dropped for the next game as England lost at The Oval to go down 2-1 in the series.

    Cook was captain for 59 Tests – a record for England – while Michael Atherton (54), Vaughan (51) and Andrew Strauss (50) also made the half-century mark. Root's tally is at 39 and with a hectic itinerary mapped out over the next 18 months or so, dependent on any further complications caused by COVID-19, he will not have to wait too long to reach the milestone.

    STOKES BY THE STATS 

    To say Stokes is a key contributor for England is an understatement. His match-winning abilities with both bat and ball are hugely important as they bring balance to the XI. His presence means the attack can include five frontline bowlers without having to weaken the middle order. 

    His overall statistics for Test cricket do not do justice to his talent. Stokes averages 36.5 with the bat in 63 Test appearances, yet he's recorded a mark of just over 47 across his 26 knocks since the start of 2019. 

    Included is that unforgettable innings against Australia at Headingley last year, as he kept his side alive in the Ashes with an unbeaten 135. England chased down 359 on a fourth day that will live long in the memory for those who watched it, Stokes adding 73 with last-man Jack Leach – who contributed only a single to the cause – for company. 

    The left-hander had already made a century in the previous Test of that series at Lord's, while earlier this year he hit 120 against South Africa in Port Elizabeth. 

    Stokes passed 4,000 Test runs for his career during the series with the Proteas but now stands on the brink of another notable personal landmark.

    He is just three shy of bringing up 150 wickets in the format. He posted career-best figures of 6-22 against West Indies in 2017, with his overall average against the men from the Caribbean a touch better than his career mark (31.09 compared to 32.68). 

    THE NUMBERS GAME

    So, is captaincy a hindrance or a help? Considering his importance to the team, England will be loathed to overburden Stokes, a factor that would be considered when deciding if he is the right candidate to replace Root for more than just the odd Test. 

    Ian Botham - another great all-rounder - did not prosper during his stint as captain. His 12-Test reign saw him average a meagre 13.14 with the bat (his career number finished at 33.54) and ended with a pair during the 1981 Ashes. Freed of the responsibility as Mike Brearley took over, Botham produced a series of blistering performances to make sure England retained the urn, including an innings at Headingley comparable to Stokes' knock.

    Kevin Pietersen, meanwhile, also found it a difficult role during his three matches in charge. The best player is not necessarily the ideal candidate. 

    "The entertainers and the guys that have to carry that mantle in the team sometimes aren't the best captains, and sometimes struggle with the extra added pressure," Pietersen told talkSPORT.

    "You get looked at completely differently. Responsibilities change, communication changes, the way in which you carry yourself in the dressing room changes. It's a difficult place to be. I struggled with it: I absolutely hated it, and I was rubbish."

    Root has seen his batting output slip considerably since taking on the added responsibility. Having averaged 52.8 in his first 53 Tests, the right-hander has since made 3,005 runs at 42.9 in his games as captain. Good, but not great.

    Vaughan too suffered a drop, averaging 36 in his 51 Tests in charge, compared to 51 for the rest of his career. Cook, however, improved during his tenure, going up from 44.6 to 46.6, as did fellow opener Atherton (35.3 to 40.6).

    England will have to work out if the risk is worth the reward in terms of Stokes becoming captain, considering what he means to the side. At least the series opener against West Indies will offer a potential glimpse into the future. 

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