Obituary: J. K. Holt

Tony Cozier
Tuesday 08 July 1997 23:02 BST

The death of J. K. Holt ends nearly three-quarters of a century in which two generations of the Holt family had a considerable impact on cricket in Jamaica and the West Indies.

"J. K.'s" father, from whom he inherited his full and shortened names as well as his all-round sporting talent, was an outstanding batsman in the formative years of Jamaican cricket. He scored consistently in a first- class career that spanned 24 years, and toured England with the West Indies in 1923, first forging a friendship with and an admiration for Learie Constantine that gave rise to his son's third Christian name.

John Kenneth Constantine Holt had to overcome not only the comparisons that affect so many gifted offspring of famous parents but the additional expectations created by the legacy of George Headley, certainly Jamaica's and arguably the West Indies' greatest batsman, the end of whose legendary days coincided with the start of his own and alongside whom he first played at the Lucas Club with his father.

As an exciting stroke player with an effortless style reflecting his easy-going manner, Holt was especially strong on the cut and pull. He was a lynchpin in the Jamaica batting for as long as his father had been and, by general consensus, should have played more than his 17 Tests, in which he scored 1,066 runs at an average of 36.75. His knowledge and understanding manner with the young helped him dispel the general West Indian aversion to formal coaching when he was appointed national coach at the end of his career in the 1960s and he later became a respected selector for Jamaica and the West Indies.

His potential, both in cricket and in football, a sport at which he also represented Jamaica, was evident from his time at Kingston College. His first innings for Jamaica, 94 against Trinidad at Sabina Park in June 1946, was immediate confirmation of his quality and the following year he accumulated the highest of his nine first-class hundreds, 172 against British Guiana in Georgetown.

But for a certain selectorial logic and the fact that there was a trio of batsmen in Barbados whose surnames coincidently all began with W, Holt's entry into the Test team could not have been delayed as long as it was, until the home series against England in 1954. The high scoring presence of Frank Worrell, Everton Weekes and Clive Walcott had rendered the middle order a virtual closed shop but, by then, Holt's batting and all-round game had been honed, as so many West Indians have been, by his experience in the Lancashire league and on an extensive tour of India and Ceylon with a Commonwealth team in 1950-51.

His Test debut was unforgettable in more ways than one. Batting at number three, he made a classy 94 but was then ruled leg before wicket. It was a brave, if foolhardy, decision in front of his home crowd at Sabina and led to physical attacks on the family of the poor umpire, Perry Burke, a fellow Jamaican whose father had also been a Test umpire.

In the next Test at Kensington Oval, Barbados, Holt fashioned an innings that still brings a sparkle to the eyes of all who saw it. Converted for the first time into an opener in a desperate search for a reliable partner for Jeffrey Stollmeyer, he took apart a formidable attack comprising Brian Statham, Trevor Bailey, Jim Laker and Tony Lock, stroking 166, of which 112 were gathered in boundaries - a six and 16 fours. Not surprisingly he never touched such dizzy heights again and impatient selectors were quick to discard him the following year after an unsatisfactory home series against Australia.

Not only had he to endure declining returns but, during the fourth Test, the biting and ghoulish sense of humour of the same Kensington Oval crowd that only a year earlier had been enraptured by his dazzling display against England. After he dropped more catches than they were prepared to accept, spectactors turned up with a placard reading "Hang Holt, Save Hylton", a reference to a fellow Jamaican and a former West Indies fast bowler, Leslie Hylton, who was executed for the murder of his wife at the time of the match.

Holt was not recalled, through more strange reasoning, until the tour to India and Pakistan in 1958-59, when he was 35. When Worrell withdrew to concentrate on university studies the selectors replaced him with Holt, whom they appointed vice-captain, and a raw young fast bowler by the name of Wes Hall. Holt took the chance to make up for lost opportunities, averaging 49 in the Tests in India, including his second 100, 123 at Delhi. But it was to be his swansong at the highest level, although he continued to play for Jamaica until 1962, when he captained the team.

John Kenneth Constantine Holt, cricketer: born Kingston, Jamaica 12 August 1923; died Kingston 2 July 1997.

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