Jason Holder feels the energy as year-long Test absence ends

West Indies

Jason Holder says that his experience of looking on from afar as West Indies sealed their thrilling eight-run victory over Australia at the Gabba in January has given him “renewed energy” to pick up where he left off, as he prepares to face England at Lord’s in his first Test for almost a year.

Holder, 32, was one of the notable omissions when West Indies chose to send a weakened squad to Australia earlier this year, having turned down a central contract in order to fulfil his lucrative deal with Dubai Capitals in the ILT20. In his absence, Kraigg Brathwaite’s team bounced back from a ten-wicket defeat in Adelaide to square the series in extraordinary style in Brisbane, a venue where Australia had lost just one Test since 1988.

“It gave me a renewed energy to come back to the group, and try to be a part of something special again,” Holder said. “I missed Test cricket. This is my first Test match in a long time, so I’m looking forward to it. I’m just happy that I’ve been able to still get the body up and going and being up for the challenge here.”

On the lure of franchise cricket, Holder insisted “it’s not my job to find a solution”, but pointed out that South African and New Zealand players have similarly opted out of central contracts in recent months to maximise their earning potential in T20 tournaments.

“It is what it is,” he added. “This is where the game is moving, each and every person has their own personal decision to make. I was just so happy for the boys when they when they did what it did in Australia.”

West Indies have arrived in London, where they will go into the Lord’s Test as underdogs given that 1988 was also the last time they won a Test series in England. But, as holders of the Richards-Botham Trophy after a hard-fought 1-0 win in the Caribbean in 2021-22, and with memorable victories at Headingley and Southampton in each of their last two away series in 2017 and 2020, Holder is confident that his team has the wherewithal to go one better this time out.

“The guys took a lot from that Test victory in Australia,” he said after West Indies’ training on Monday. “We’ve been doing some really positive things over the last couple of months. And I think as a young side, the main thing is just to keep learning. What we have in the dressing room is some special talent, no doubt about it. It’s just a matter for us just to play some solid cricket and they’ll have just to believe. It’s time for someone to break the shackles, and there’s no better time for us to come here and beat England.”

The circumstances of West Indies’ current visit could not be much further removed from their last tour in 2020, which took place at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, behind closed doors and in bio-secure environments at Southampton and Old Trafford. Holder himself was captain back then, and though his team earned huge respect for helping to keep international cricket alive in uncertain times, it was not an experience he looked back on with any great fondness.

“Firstly, it’s just good to be out in the open again,” he said. “I remember being locked in Manchester for three weeks before the Test series, which was tough because you stayed at the ground. And then we went down to Southampton for a week, which felt like a week out of prison. And then we went right back into prison after Southampton.”

The fact that the show went on, however, offered a degree of normality to a world that was otherwise in lockdown, and Holder hoped that something of the same could apply to the people of the Caribbean, a region that was last week hit hard by the devastation of Hurricane Beryl.

“It was tough man, but reflecting on it, you just count your blessings right now,” he said. “Obviously, there were a lot of lives lost during Covid. And again, it’s a similar situation with the hurricane that just passed. The only impetus that people had was cricket. They finally got a chance to see some cricket which put a smile on people’s faces in the Caribbean.

“So coming back here in England four years later, we’re just looking to take it one step further. We won one Test match last time out of three. Yeah, two will be a lot better on this trip.”

Holder’s preparations for his Test return included two first-class matches for Barbados in March, followed by a five-match stint for Worcestershire in the County Championship, for whom he made an unbeaten century against Kent in his final appearance.

“It was one hell of an experience,” he said of his time with the club. “It gave me new energy because the love that the boys showed me was second to none.”

Although much of the buzz around the first Test will centre on James Anderson and his impending retirement, Holder was reluctant to be drawn into the conversation at this stage. However, he acknowledged the hole that Anderson will leave in England’s dressing room could be similar to that left in West Indies’ after the departure of Shivnarine Chanderpaul after his own 21-year career.

“It was a bittersweet feeling in a sense,” he said, “where someone who’s done so much for West Indies cricket Is being pinched to wake up that he’s actually finishing.

“You’re losing such a powerful figure in the dressing-room, I guess it’ll be the same thing for England. But, as with everything else, we’ve got to move on many times. You unfortunately can’t play professional sport forever. At some point, we’ve got to close the curtains.

“Some people get to do it on their own terms, some people don’t . But the experience of me playing with Shiv, it was great to be in the dressing room with him and just learn so much from him.”

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket

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