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Windies’ Ageas Bowl heroics a tribute to Gabriel and Holder’s understated dynamism

Sports Cafe 2020-07-10 09:22:59

It was always going to be trial by pace. At one end, there was a tried and tested Windies bowling unit that had mastered bowling with a Dukes ball, while on the other, an untested English batting unit, where the entire top-seven, sans Ben Stokes, could be replaced without anyone batting an eyelid.

It was a crossfire of sorts on social media when England decided to drop Stuart Broad in a home Test for the first time since 2012 to accommodate the express pace of Mark Wood and Jofra Archer, and, after that, the question was always going to be the kind of wicket the home side would dish out. If the 70 overs of the game was any indication, it was anything but on the expected lines as the wicket remained slow and low right from the outset.

However, that mattered for little when Shannon Gabriel got into the business, followed by his skipper Jason Holder, as the duo put up an exhibition to make this an enthralling affair in the first proper day of Test cricket since March. But that was not what made this duality stand out. Rather, it was the contrasting qualities of two pace bowlers for the singular purpose of unsettling the English batting order. 

Despite not having a curve in the air and consistent jibe off the pitch, Gabriel can make up for that with his raw pace, bounce and the ability to deceive batsmen with impactful seam movement. The burly Trinidadian is among the fastest bowlers in the planet and it was evident in the entirety of his bowling on Day 2 when he got rid of the first three English wickets in the form of Dominic Sibley, Joe Denly, and Rory Burns. 

Holder, by contrast, is not a dream pace bowler by any means. He is a simple medium-fast bowler, who just runs in and delivers with an uncomplicated action. It would be hard to believe on the face value but the Barbadian, who has now seven five-wicket hauls as captain, found an average of 2.2 degrees lateral movement in this innings, with only four bowlers having had the same amount of movement in the last English summer. 

As the duo shared all the 10 wickets between them, the Twitter world found the goodwill to talk about them in a more real way. People, who often invest in comparing Hardik Pandya to Ben Stokes on Twitter, were rising up to celebrate Jason Holder’s phlegmatic ability as a bowler while some found a tinge of Mohammed Shami in the often-unheralded Gabriel’s hit the deck bowling. Bringing that to play, however, was the dynamism and the adequate amount of crossing that propelled the English batsmen to play one shot too many on more than one occasion. Southampton was more of an ode to their individual brilliances packaged in a solid manner.

"The plan initially for today was to bowl a little bit fuller, let the ball do a little bit more. The nature of the pitch is a little bit slow, so it's about being consistent on a fuller length and it worked for us fantastically today. We got a bit more movement after lunch. Gabriel bowled fantastically, with good pace as well. The rhythm was spot on today. Holder's ability to move the ball both ways on a consistent length and he's very tight with his figures as well, so he does a fantastic job for us,” Kemar Roach, the leader of the attack, said in Sky's Big Brother diary room during the badlight break.

Gabriel's efforts helped topple England © Getty

Given Gabriel was more reliant on bounce, most of the times, he pitched on short of a length area while letting the ball explode off the pitch. Both Sibley and Denly committed the crime of being rooted to the crease, failing to move either way when facing Gabriel who was raising scorching questions with his seam movement. A little bit of swing there would have given the batsmen the downtime to reposition themselves and play it through covers but the inward seam movement caught them in two minds. 

It might have been due to the skiddy pace or the ball not necessarily creeping through at ankle or shin heights, but it can conclusively be said that the Englishmen were not ready for that. The fact that Gabriel, bowling wide of the crease, managed to extract reverse-swing earlier than many can, even with the Dukes ball, he set himself in a rather comfortable position. With that, he also avoided being demolished by the recently-introduced no-saliva rule.

Holder, on the other hand, is a smart bowler, who knows his limitations more than anyone else. That self-awareness helped him a great deal while running through the English batting order with six wickets of his own. Although the general perception decodes that he is effective because of his swing - which is largely true - that ability has also been complimented by the conscious effort in that regard. The Ollie Pope dismissal was the perfect epitome of why Holder is one of the most exciting all-rounders at the moment.

Jason Holder too was not far behind © Getty

After landing two fuller deliveries to Pope, who has been hyped as the next big thing in the making, that had been duly dispatched through covers, Holder pulled back his length to keep an off-stump line. The set-up was complete with Pope falling in the belief system that the ball would move away and positioned himself for another drive. However, the angled seam position, which seemed more like a reverse swing at first glance, straightened after landing to give Shane Dowrich an easy chance to gobble a catch. Many bowlers in that position would have done the same but very few swing bowlers could have pulled the seam position the way Holder did in that dismissal, which, for me, was genuinely the best wicket of the day. James Anderson’s John Campbell LBW also comes close. 

As we slowly immerse ourselves with the live cricket and the rawness trips apart, it would be fantastic to have both Gabriel and Holder do these things time and time again, providing us with enough dynamism the way they did at the Ageas Bowl today. Watching them go about the things on a regular basis wouldn’t probably be a bad idea to beat the lockdown blues and savour each moment of the terrific art. Tell me, will you not?