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Friday, August 07, 2020

Jason Holder playbook: Killing it softly with seam, swing and bounce

From a bit-part bowler in his early days, Jason Holder has transformed into a multi-skilled operator picking up 60 wickets at an average of 14 in the last two years with six five-wicket hauls.

Written by Sandip G | Updated: July 15, 2020 10:54:24 pm
Jason Holder reached a career-best second place in the ICC Test Player Rankings on Monday. (Source: Reuters)

There’s a nuanced operator lurking beneath the unassuming disposition of Jason Holder. He classifies himself as an end-to-end stock bowler. But your garden variety stock bowlers can’t be wheeling away with 60 wickets at an average of 14 in the last two years, or striking every 34th delivery, or racking up six five-wicket hauls in this span, hiding the swagger in his smile, deception in his demeanour. From a bit-part bowler in his early days, he has transformed into a multi-skilled operator.

Vertical limits

It’s the six feet eight frame that first strikes most batsmen. The height—and a release from 2.31 metres—cajoles awkward bounce from the surface. In the incipience of his career, in the fine tradition of heyday Caribbean quicks, he was overzealous in bouncing out batsmen. But the lack of pace made him imminently hittable. So, he started hitting the back of length and good length areas more often. The end product: A more dreaded proposition to negotiate than he was in first-class days.

Ollie Pope, who nicked behind, would attest. A cocktail of angle, seam movement and bounce deceived him. But it was the bounce troubled him the most. Pitched slightly further up than the usual back-of-length space, he hardly expected the ball to bounce as high as it did. Neither did he expect the ball to nibble away, ever-so-fractionally, as it did. Alzarri Joseph too was plugging away at a similar length, but he wasn’t extracting as much bounce as Holder was. A Sky Sports stat showed he has been leveraging an average bounce of around of .99m from good length, whereas Gabriel was getting around .94m. The millimetres make a massive difference.

READ | Jason Holder moves up to second spot in ICC rankings 

Swinging menace

Tall fast bowlers of this generation are generally not masterful exponents of swing. They are hardwired into back-of-length destroyers. But Holder clearly is. A Cricviz statistic reveals that no other bowler has managed to swing the ball as consistently as Holder in the last two years. (1.68 degree). Not even Kemar Roach with the new ball managed to swing the ball as constantly as Holder, who managed a mean of 1.7 degree, the most among West Indies quicks.

Generally, he procures swing into right-handed batsmen. The first of his six wickets in Southampton, Zak Crawley, was thus manufactured. The Englishman was fed a string of back-of-length balls angling away before he slipped in a fuller in-swinger, which he hadn’t anticipated. He doesn’t bowl as full as James Anderson or Trent Boult, nonetheless gets considerable inward movement. A near-replica accounted for Jofra Archer. Like with all swing-merchants, he has a neat release. The wrist comes down nice and straight, which brings the bowling arm down over the top, and resultantly, the ball hardly wobbles and lands on the seam.

Seaming at the bursts

Jason Holder appeals successfully for the wicket of Jofra Archer during the Southampton Test. (Source: AP Photo)

If he swings the ball into the right-hander, he seams the ball away from them. He could do this, staggeringly, from a similar length, but wider off the crease to magnify the angle. A text-book case was Jos Buttler, who pre-empted that the ball was bending back into him, only to see it hold the line by not more than a whisker.
It’s his chief strategy against left-handed batsmen from around the stumps—a difficult art as best bowlers would confide. The ball, usually delivered from wide off the crease, would seem to slant in before it deviates by a minutest of metres. Ben Stokes’s wicket is an ideal case steady. The England skipper tried to work off his pads but it seamed back a trifle and clipped the edge of his bat.

Seam movement is his trusted ally in Asia where he averages a stellar 17.95 (14.60 in India, 23.66 in UAE and 22.33 in Sri Lanka). So clearly, he has transcended conditions too. As with swing, no one has seamed the ball (.72 degree) as prodigiously as Holder in the last two years.

READ | The paradox of being Jermaine Blackwood

Angle and crease

Manipulating the crease has been one of the vital assets behind his transformation. Five-six years ago, he would jog in straight, looking to get as close to the stumps as possible, as the classical bowling tenet goes. But of late, he keeps moving around. Even for regular deliveries, he maintains a safe distance from the stumps. To Crawley, he drifted a few inches wide. To Pope, he veered further away. Buttler read too much into the angle and expected more (non-existent) inward movement. “Using the crease is something I strive to do and using the angles at the point of delivery,” Holder himself had explained on Day Two in Southampton.

Length perfect

He’s adept at bowling any lengths, and as importantly knows which length to bowl on which pitch on which day. It’s an acquired sensibility, or as Holder would say, “When you’re not as quick as some people, you’ve got to be skilful.” It’s wise to put forth that combining smarts and skills, he has more than compensated for the lack of pace.

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