Give Holder a chance at the top

Tony Becca

9 March 1998

CRICKET: Bridgetown: The West Indies' search for an opening batsman could be over - at least for the time being and if, also for the time being, their need is only for one.

Roland Holder is not an opening batsman, but there is a desperate need for at least one, there is no rule which says a middle order batsman shall not open the innings, he is one of the best batsmen in the region, and apart from scoring runs, he has been batting well - especially against England.

As a number four batsman, Holder, it can be argued, is not accustomed to negotiating the swing and bounce of a new ball at the start of his innings, to batting on a pitch when it is at its liveliest, and against fast bowlers who are just starting to sweat and giving it everything.

It can also be argued, as old time opening batsmen who believe that there is nothing as difficult as opening the innings tend to say, that opening batsmen, especially those in action in the opening innings of a match, are like pioneers, that they are born and not made, and that Holder, as a born and bred middle order batsman, does not and cannot possess the qualities of an opening batsman - qualities which include the ability to sniff, to know when to play and when not to, and tenacity.

The old timers may be right. The history of cricket however, including West Indies cricket, is not only filled with batsmen who were not born and bred openers who opened the innings, but also with some great performances by some of those pressed into action - either because of a need, or because, based on their skill and performance, they simply had to be in the team regardless of where they batted.

Gary Sobers, for example, opened the innings in 1955 against Australia in the fourth Test at Kensington Oval and ticked off the second highest score by a West Indian opening batsmen in the series - a dazzling first innings 43 against Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller, he opened the innings with Bruce Pairaudeau in 1956 in the final Test against New Zealand and shared in the highest partnership (72) of the series, and in 1958 when he scored 125 and 109 not out at Bourda in the fourth Test against Pakistan, he opened in the first innings.

Among those who opened in times of need were Rohan Kanhai, Frank Worrell, and Seymour Nurse.

In the third Test at Trent Bridge in 1957, Worrell went in first after England had scored 619 for six declared and was not out at the end of the West Indies innings on 191; and in the second Test at Sabina Park in 1968 after the West Indies were dismissed for 143 in reply to England's 376 and forced to follow on, Nurse went in first and smashed a glorious 73 off John Snow and company.

There were times when it was not because of need but because the best batsmen were middle order batsmen.

In 1974 against England, the best batsmen around were Roy Fredericks and Clive Lloyd, veterans Sobers and Kanhai, and rising stars Lawrence Rowe and Alvin Kallicharran. All had to play, one had to open with Fredericks, and Rowe was the one. In the best series of his career, Rowe scored 13 and 5, 120, 302 (at Kensington Oval), 28, 123 and 25.

And lest it is forgotten, Viv Richards was a disappointment in Australia in 1975-76 before he went up the order to number two, scored some runs, went one down to number three, and never looked back.

In the first four Test matches of that series, Richards scored 0 and 12, 12, 41 and 36, 44 and 19 batting at number two.

The 30 year old Holder is not a Sobers, a Kanhai, a Worrell, a Nurse, a Rowe, or a Richards, and on the evidence of some of his dismissals in one day internationals, certainly in India in 1994, he appeared afraid to take control while batting with the lower order.

He did reasonably well against India last year however, he is one of the better batsmen around, and he is scoring runs and batting well.

It is always good to look ahead, and although he has not been knocking on the door since his promising start a year ago, Leon Garrick, would be an investment for tomorrow, and with Sherwin Campbell and Stuart Williams failing to distinguish themselves, with the opportunity presenting itself, the right choice for today.

The West Indies however, despite all the talk, do not appear ready and willing to invest. They want an opening batsman, at least one, for next Thursday, and if that is so, there is no better man than Roland Holder. History certainly is on his side.

Source: The Jamaica Gleaner

Contributed by CricInfo Management, and reproduced with permission

Date-stamped : 09 Mar1998 - 20:00