A half a minute video clip of Ben Stokes running in full tilt and then diving on the long-off boundary to save a run off his own bowling went viral on social media platforms. That Stokes had the energy to even try something of that magnitude after a seven-over spell full of around the wicket short stuff and scoring 254 runs by playing two contrasting innings of equal importance in the Test match, made it more special.
There are not many like Stokes in world cricket at the moment. Not many is the keyword here, it doesn't mean there aren't any. Even after scoring at an averaging of 45 in Test cricket and picking wickets at an average of 28 in the last two years, Stokes had to wait till July 21, 2020, to dethrone Jason Holder from the No.1 Test all-rounder's spot. Holder had been sitting with that tag for 18 months.
In their captain Holder, West Indies have a cricketer who can match England's 'Big Ben' stroke for stroke, spell for spell, and have a similar impact on the outcome of a Test match, provided the West Indies think tank and Holder himself thinks it that way.
"Jason Holder is a big player for us. He just needs people around him, once he finds partnership, and he gets going he can be as destructive as Stokes," said West Indies assistant coach Roddy Estwick before the series-decider at Southampton starting Friday.
Holder has batted at No.8 and 9 in this Test series, that considerably lower for a man who has a Test double ton to his name and has a career average of 32.03.
In the last three years, Holder has mostly batted at No.8 and 9. The six consecutive times he batted at No.7 – all in the home series against Sri Lanka in 2018 – he scored at an average of 40. Despite batting with the tail mostly throughout his career, Holder has maintained an average of 33.48 in last three years, indicating that with a promotion at least ahead of Shane Dowrich, who has been batting at No.7 in this series and registered a pair in the Manchester Test, could yield more results for West Indies.
"We obviously have to look at the players who are batting at No. 6 and seven. Blackwood has done really well for us. And Jason has done well at No. 8. He has scored a double hundred batting at No. 8. And you have to remember the kind of workload that Jason puts in as a bowler. Stokes obviously doesn't put in the same amount of effort. Ben bowls 13-14 overs a day but Jason would go on to bowl 20-25 overs, he is captain as well so mentally it is not easy as people think it is. He is one of our No.1 bowlers, we depend a lot on his bowling. Ben bowls a lot less so he can bat a lot higher than Jason. So we have to look into these things," said coach Estwick when asked to reason about Holder's reluctance to bat in the top six.
Estwick is partially correct. Holder plays a greater role for the West Indies with the ball. In the last three years, he has picked up 73 wickets in 36 innings at an average of 20.62.
But Estwick is not spot on with the workload comparison with Stokes. In the same period, Stokes has played 31 matches – 12 more than Holder – picking up 73 wickets at an average of 28.27.
On an average, Stokes bowls close to 13 overs per innings compared to Holder's 16. The England all-rounder has bowled more than 20 overs in an innings 10 times since August 2018 while Holder has done it nine times.
The reason why Stokes seemingly has a bigger impact as an all-rounder is his batting position. With all that bowling, Stokes has never batted below No.6 in the last three years. In fact, he has batted at No.5 on 23 occasions which Holder has never done.
If we go down to the nitty-gritty of Test match batting, there is no doubt that Stokes has an edge over Holder like the big West Indian has over Stokes the bowler but as an all-rounder, if West Indies believe Holder can inflict similar damage like Stokes, it might not be a bad idea to bat him in the top six.