The bottle of champagne was almost empty. There were, perhaps, a couple of inches left in it. It hung absentmindedly from one of Jason Holder’s enormous arms, the liquid legacy of a triumph that has shaken the world of cricket. But once the lap of honour had been completed, once the festivities had been dispensed with, it was down to business. The West Indies are plotting their way back to the top table of world cricket. And Holder, their captain, thinks he knows how they can get there.
Beating England with a game to spare, in less than seven days’ cricket, is a monumental achievement. It’s their first win in a series of three or more Tests since 2009. If they can complete an astonishing whitewash in St Lucia next week, it’ll be the first time they’ve won more than two Tests in a series since 1998. But it won’t move them any higher than No 8 in the world rankings. It will take more than one outstanding series to undo a generation of neglect.
The West Indies haven’t been ranked in the world’s top six since 2000, when Holder was eight years old, and possibly even under 6ft tall. Nonetheless, he refused to fetter the ambitions of his side. “All teams aspire to be No 1,” he insisted. “You don’t play Test cricket to be No 2 or No 3. I think we’ve got what it takes to be No 1. We’re still a long way off. But as the guys continue to mature and develop, we’ll definitely be a No 1 side in years to come.”
For a captain more given to the measured understatement than the grandiose declaration, this was some claim. And though you could be forgiven for wondering if it was the fizz talking, during this series we have already seen enough to harbour genuine optimism over a group of players who, after a number of early foibles, are finally beginning to come of age. “We’re building something quite nicely here,” Holder said.
This series triumph was built on the back of their four-man pace attack, and though Kemar Roach and Shannon Gabriel are both the wrong side of 30, the core of this side could be around for a good while yet. Kraigg Brathwaite is 26. John Campbell and Shai Hope are 25. Shimron Hetmyer and Alzarri Joseph are 22. Holder himself is 27, and after a turbulent three years as captain – a period that has seen numerous injuries, fluctuations in form, defections to Twenty20, political strife, failure to qualify for the Champions Trophy and a 2-0 defeat to Bangladesh – is beginning to mature into one of the great leaders of the modern game.
Beneath them, you have the exciting fast bowler Oshane Thomas, all-rounder Keemo Paul, left-arm spinner Khary Pierre, batsmen Keacy Carty and Shamarh Brooks. For many of the next generation, the main challenge will be not only getting them up to Test class but keeping them out of the clutches of T20. “The love for Test cricket is there among the young players,” Holder insisted. “We’ve got a lot of young players who are aspiring to play Test cricket. It is my favourite format of the game, and if you ask a few of the other guys in the dressing-room they would say the same thing.”
Big questions remain in the medium to long term. Can the West Indies win on different surfaces, in different conditions, playing different kinds of cricket? (Can anyone, come to that?) Can they maintain their trajectory and talent development without disintegrating into political in-fighting, boardroom mismanagement or financial instability as with many West Indies sides of the past? Can they raise their game to this level against teams who are not England (a series which, Holder admitted was “arguably our biggest”)?
These are the questions that will determine whether the West Indies can truly thrive in the longest format, and whether Holder’s aspiration to be No 1 in the world is anything more than a fanciful chimera. India visit next in July, followed by one-off Tests against Zimbabwe and Afghanistan. Win those three assignments, and we really will be talking about serious contenders.
But for now, there’s a victory to be toasted. After all, there’s no point in toiling in the name of triumph unless you can enjoy it properly. “Definitely the high point for me as captain of the West Indies,” said Holder, the pride oozing out of him. “Hopefully this is the start of new things.”
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