Roston Chase is from Christ Church, 17-odd miles to the north of Bridgetown. Jason Holder hails from Royal Westmoreland, exactly the same distance from the Barbados capital, but to the opposite direction. Chase went to the hallowed Combermere High School. Holder was enrolled in the lesser known St Michael’s.
Chase was shy and quiet. Holder was loud and chatty. Their paths converged when they were 12, when both turned up for a state under-13 selection camp. Both were picked in the state team— Chase as a batsman and Holder as a bowler. Soon, they became roommates. When two young teens are bunched in a room, either they will fight and develop a life-long animosity or they will become friends forever.
Chase and Holder became life-long friends. To judge them by what they are now, it’s impossible they’d picked up a fight at any point in their career. Both are affable and well-behaved, with not much inclined to mischief, and not giving their warden sleepless night.
They were stuck together in every mile of their cricketing journey. It must have been like even of they’d wanted to go separate ways, they couldn’t.
From the U-13 to U-17 cricket, they played almost every match together. At the Sagicor High Performance Academy in Barbados, both were asked to develop a secondary skill. Chase’s choice was off-spin.
Holder decided to devote more time on his batting. Holder, then, suddenly became famous. A ‘star’ rather. He was filmed for the opening shots of the documentary Fire in Babylon. Chase quietly went about his business of scoring runs.
Then suddenly, their world drifted apart. To repeat a much-abused cricketing cliche in the Indian context, Holder took an elevator and Chase climbed the stairs. Holder made his first-class debut in 2009. Chase had to wait for two more years. Holder was immediately looped into the U-19 World Cup, where he announced himself to the world. Chase failed in the audition, and was left cheering his friend from his home.
By the time they began to room together and dust up the old camaraderie again, Holder got the West Indies call up. He was added to the West Indies side that toured Australia in 2013. Chase, meanwhile, kept ploughing on in the domestic circuit, not missing his friend’s ODI debut on the television, hoping one day that he too would join.
For three years, he just waited. Chase’s career seemed a crawl, Holder’s a blurry sprint. While Chase was earmarked for future glory, his friend Holder had already conquered it, having made his Test debut, Test hundred and then appointed the West Indies skipper. You’d assume that a could of uber-competitive humans, all chasing the same prize, might generate a little friction. But not between them.
Then, there came a point where Chase could no longer be ignored, and not like what several skeptics believed, that there is an implicit Barbados-nexus running in the cricket board. It’s a mere coincidence that there are half a dozen Bajans in the side. They were Regional Four-day champions in 2013 and 2014, before defected by players on national duties and unseated by Guyana next year. Still they managed the second spot in the next two seasons.
Selectors, obviously, are bound to be swayed by performing players of winning teams, which was true in Chase’s case. The 24-year-old had amassed 710 runs at 59.16 in seven matches, besides plucking 23 wickets at a staggering 17.26. When you consider West Indies’s shortage of quality middle-order batsmen, Chase’s was a fully merited choice. So the friends again reassembled in Antigua, and together, almost a fortnight later in Kingston, scripted one of the finest escape acts in the history of Caribbean cricket.
They must have accomplished this several times in age-group cricket, but to replicate this in a Test match, on the fifth day, against top-ranked Test team in the world, who had pummelled them a few days ago, must have been something really special for the pair. It must have been something they’ve dreamt together while growing up, them together one day achieving something memorable for West Indies.
That deep warmth and intimation was evident in their unbeaten 103-run partnership. The communication was telepathic and they showed composure that can only be formed with time, a belief and trust in each other’s abilities. Chase conceded the feeling that he was not only playing for himself or his team, but to defend the pride of his friend, stoically and silently. Back to back defeats could imperil Holder’s captaincy.
Later, in the press conference, Holder couldn’t stop praising him.
“Roston is one of many things. He is a character. People don’t know Roston off the field but he is a fighter. I played all my cricket throughout with Roston — junior cricket, 13, 15, 17, 19, West Indies A and now West Indies senior team. I have honestly enjoyed playing with Roston because the character he is and the way he plays cricket. He is a very good fellow and he may come across lackadaisical and lazy and smooth but he is a wonderful individual.”
Until then their tale of friendship rolled forth in the familiar trope of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn in Mark Twain’s coming-of-age sage Adventures of Tom Sawyer. On Wednesday, it steamed along on the more lines of Frodo and Sam of JR Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings, where Sam saves Frodo from danger several times. On Thursday, it was Chase who reprised Sam’s role, helping his friend and skipper Holder from the blushes with a rare poise of someone playing only his second Test match.
Brief Scores: West Indies 196 (Blackwood 62, Ashwin 5-52) and 388 for 6 (Chase 137*, Dowrich 74, Holder 64*, Blackwood 63) drew with India 500 for 9 decl. (Rahul 158, Rahane 108*, Chase 5-121).