Barbados: Of the 14 international captains younger than Jason Holder, none has had a tougher initiation than the towering West Indian.
WI skipper Jason Holder celebrates the wicket of Sri Lanka's Dimuth Karunaratne on Day One of the second Test in Colombo last week. Pic/AFP
First appointed, aged 23, last January to lead the ODI team for the series in South Africa and the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, he has had the Test captaincy added to his portfolio for the ongoing series in Sri Lanka.
There has been widespread support and encouragement all along for an individual clearly with the necessary intelligence and temperament for the task. It is mixed with genuine concern over the gamble of placing a player without the experience of leading even his Barbados team at the head of a young, unproven team at an especially fractious time.
The young ones
Of his youthful predecessors, only Graeme Smith, who captained South Africa in 109 of his 117 Tests, and Stephen Fleming, who presided over New Zealand in 80 of his 111 Tests, lasted the course. Sachin Tendulkar, overwhelmed by the double pressures of leadership and his iconic status, filled the position for only 25 of his 200 Tests for India.
Results indicate that the apprehension over Holder is not unfounded; it is moderated by his response to the problems. Even as his team was losing in South Africa and in the World Cup and his own bowling was being decimated by South Africa's AB deVilliers, he was not unnerved and manifestly remained in charge.
It was an attitude that impressed impartial observers. In South Africa, the West Indies were thrashed 4-1 in the ODIs. In the World Cup, they launched their campaign with a loss to Ireland. In the first Test in Sri Lanka, the home team, now without their two retired master batsmen, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardena, amassed 484 and proceeded to win by an innings inside four days.
Difficult times in South Africa and the World Cup were compounded by the uproar following the dismissal of Dwayne Bravo, the captain he replaced after the team's contentious abandonment of the tour of India last October over a contracts dispute with the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB).
These have been mirrored in Holder's advance to the Test captaincy by the equally divisive suspension of head coach Phil Simmons for his biting, public criticism of the continuing omission of Bravo and Keiron Pollard from the ODI squad.
After Simmons' suspension, Holder was bold enough to state: 'I just hope the situation is solved quickly because we would love to have him back. He has been a wonderful inspiration to us thus far.'
It reflected the close relationship the two had formed since Simmons arrived in March following eight successful years with Ireland. In the interim, the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) has installed Eldine Baptiste, the all-rounder of the 1980s and current selector, into Simmons' position.
Even as he himself and the majority of his young team struggle to come to terms with the demands of the game at the highest level, Holder is clear as to how he sees the future. "I have a vision in terms of where I think I could take West Indies cricket," he said on the eve of the Sri Lanka series.
"We're often told that this crop of West Indies cricketers doesn't look that together on the field. That's one of my main goals. For me, togetherness is the way forward." His challenge is to maintain his enthusiasm. It becomes increasingly difficult with every setback, whether on the field or off it. The three Tests in Australia at the end of the year provide another stern trial.
Graeme Smith's advice
For what it's worth, Graeme Smith has passed on advice to Holder that he claims is based on his personal experience. The assertion is wide of the mark for the left-handed opener immediately cemented his captaincy with two double-centuries in his second series at the helm, in England in 2003.
Apart from his match-saving, unbeaten 103 in the first Test against England last April and his swashbuckling unbeaten 83 off 63 balls against Australia in June, Holder is yet to confirm his all-rounder's credentials after 16 Tests. All the same, Holder can relate to Smith's main point which was that he would have to understand the unique complexities of West Indies cricket.
"I had to do that in South African cricket and it took me three or four years to come to terms with it," he said. "I only started finding it out then, when I understood my team, the type of players I had, myself as a leader and how I wanted to play."
The words echoed Holder's in explaining his concept of where he can take West Indies cricket. The problem is three or four years is a long time to wait for a notoriously impatient board and public.
Tony Cozier continues to be the voice of West Indies cricket