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T20 World Cup 2022 – ‘Just lead the attack and get us onto right track’

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There’s a familial feel to this West Indies camp at the moment. On other occasions, a limp defeat against an Associate nation to start off a World Cup campaign might have been all the spark required for any internal harmony to implode. When head coach Phil Simmons seethed at the “unprofessionalism” in the way his side batted, it may have been little surprise to see murmurs of discontent begin to find their way out of that camp. When Zimbabwe looked like putting them to the sword, it wouldn’t have taken much for the campaign to go bust before it had taken off, recriminations and disillusionment circling each other in vicious cycles.

But when Alzarri Joseph took the first Zimbabwe wicket, his team-mates huddled around him. Jason Holder enveloped him in a warm embrace, a tender, parental hand on the young bowler’s head. Despite most wickets falling to individual bowling brilliance, no bowler set off on self-congratulatory laps around the Bellerive Oval, the young side huddling together instead, pumping their fists, roaring in celebration and firing each other up on a frigid Tasmanian night. Following the game, Joseph referred to Holder as a “fatherly figure to all in the camp”.

A few hours after that Holder, who went past 50 T20I wickets on Wednesday, found himself facing up to a press conference of his own. It was past 11 pm the previous night before the West Indies players broke free from media duties, but at half past nine in the morning, Holder had been roused to do another round. He might have wondered why the press conference was necessary at all, but, as ever, struck the right, thoughtful notes with his usual poise and eloquence. At the first mention of Joseph’s performance the previous night, his eyes lit up.

“Alzarri should be proud of his progression,” Holder said, adopting the sort of solemn tone a father might while talking up his son’s achievements. “I see him as a leader. He’s leading the attack at a young age and showing great attributes as a leader. His performances don’t surprise me because of the work he’s put in. His discipline, dedication towards the cause and his business-like attitude is really great to see for a young player. My simple words to him are: ‘Just lead the attack. Get us onto the right track’.

“That’s what he did yesterday, got us that first breakthrough and that really set the tone. I see him as an impact player. He’s got pace and skill too, and when he has the ball in hand, I expect big things from him. He’s now really matured as an all-format bowler, one of our only at the moment. It’s great to see that progression and I hope he can fulfill his dreams.”

“Alzarri should be proud of his progression. I see him as a leader. He’s leading the attack at a young age and showing great attributes as a leader.”

Holder on Joseph

Holder’s face never seems to give much away, but even when delivered in the most inscrutable monotone, the pride behind those words is impossible not to spot. For all the plaudits that have come Joseph’s way following Wednesday’s win where he picked up a four wicket-haul, it is easy to forget Holder’s own sensational bowling performance and the part he played in freezing Zimbabwe out of that contest. He was full value for his figures of 3.2-0-12-3, even if two of those wickets were numbers nine and ten. There’s a reason it’s easy to forget: because Holder himself would be the last man to bring them up while talking up a younger team-mate.

“We were all pumped up for the game,” Holder said. “We knew what was at stake and the importance of the match. For us, this is just a way of really driving ourself to the right direction. We spoke a lot about attitude and it was important we brought the correct attitude to the game. It was just us showing our love and passion that we’ve honed through years playing this sport and it was important we brought the right energy to the game yesterday.”

Aware that the side will often be held to the near-impossible standards of the ones that went all the way in 2012 and 2016, Holder has the empathic intelligence to extend his protective embrace to the under-fire batting group.

“The teams that won in 2012 and 2016 were dominant,” he said. “They had some very big T20 players. This current team, we’ve still got some young batting stars who’ve really established themselves on these circuits. It’s for us now to be a lot more senior and spend a bit more time on the international circuit. When you look around the dressing room, we’ve got a fairly young team. Most of the guys are around mid-to-late 20s. It’s a great sign for West Indies cricket. My point was basically us rejigging our T20 mantra to try and establish ourselves as a new-look T20I side.”

This is the same side that, remember, just days before the start of the tournament, lost one of its brightest batting stars in Shimron Hetmyer to a disciplinary issue. A stray question hinting at that is picked up and brushed aside by the media manager, unwilling to sully the mood of a happy family that’s more famous for its bickering. This West Indies side has been through the whole gamut of emotions over the first two games, and continue to have each other’s backs. And with men like Holder and Joseph at their core, why wouldn’t they?

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