Wild, Wild West Indies: The Young Guns of the Caribbean

holdercentury

Jason Holder celebrates his maiden century in Antigua.

The West Indies are finished, don’t you know? They’re in irrevocable decline. Cricket in the Caribbean is dead.

Fortunately, no one seems to have told Jason Holder and Jermaine Blackwood.

In the first of three Test matches against England, the supposedly moribund West Indies won a hard fought draw thanks to the heroics of two of their youngest players: Holder and Blackwood. While one swallow does not a summer make—especially one that takes the form of a nervy draw—for the first time in quite a while, the future of cricket in the West Indies looks a little less bleak.

That’s not to say the days ahead look rosy, mind you. The West Indies may yet have to toil in darkness for some time before dawn finally arrives. But amid contract disputes, the lure of IPL riches, and sheer administrative incompetence, West Indian supporters witnessed a performance that, for at least five days, they could enjoy.

Born just two weeks apart, the Jamaican batsman Blackwood and the Barbadian all-rounder Holder each posted a maiden Test century a mere 48 hours from one another. It was these two hundreds that saved the match for the West Indies, almost assuredly rescuing them from what would have been an embarrassing defeat. With the bats of established performers such as the mercurial Darren Bravo and the ancient Shiv Chanderpaul blunted by the English bowling attack, it was the young Holder and Blackwood that stood tall in the crease.

As the wickets cheaply fell in the West Indies’ first innings—seven batsmen were dismissed for 16 runs or less—Blackwood was intractable, scoring his maiden century off 220 balls over the course of nearly six hours. The 21-year-old left-hander muddled patience with T20 pizzazz, scoring his very first runs from a well stroked six to long off while also managing to be the lone surviving West Indian batsman after England claimed their ten first-innings scalps. By tea on the third day—his side all out after the fall of Sulieman Benn to Jimmy Anderson—Blackwood’s performance accounted for 112 of the West Indies’ 292 runs.

In the West Indies’ second innings, Blackwood was less prolific, scoring only 31 runs before being dismissed by Chris Jordan. However, in Blackwood’s stead—with the West Indies again gifting wickets to England—Holder lashed 103 runs off just 149 balls. In the waning overs of the fifth day, sitting on 99 runs, Holder brought up his hundred with a firm, looping drive to long off and stoically raised his fist to the crowd in celebration. Holder had more than a just maiden century to revel in—he had also guided his team to a draw that at times looked unlikely.

Again, this was but a single Test—and one against a struggling side at that. If you had to put money on the on second and third Tests of the series, you’d be hard pressed not to pick England in both. But, in a side that’s seen a dire 25-year run of results, there is now the faintest flicker of hope for the West Indies. For the health of the game on the islands and the world at large, let’s hope it’s not extinguished.

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