Jason Holder, it appears, can do little wrong at the moment. The West Indies all-rounder captained with real aplomb as well as performing wonderfully with bat and ball as he and his charges thrashed England in both Barbados and Antigua to win the current three-match Test series in a mere seven days’ playing time. Any cricket lover with the interests of the game at heart will have rejoiced at West Indies’ success.
More than that, Holder has received plenty of sympathy from the cricketing world at large after being banned from playing in the forthcoming third Test in St Lucia for allowing, in his role as captain, an unacceptably slow over-rate by his team in the Antigua Test.
“The public want to see the best players when they watch a Test match”, “the Test finished in only three days, so it’s ludicrous to ban him for a slow over-rate”, “he was employing a four-man pace attack and no spinner, so it’s hardly surprising the over-rate was slow” and so forth went the lines of defence.
Holder should be heartily congratulated on his team’s success and he seems like a decent guy, but he deserves a one-match ban. Slow over-rates have long been the scourge of Test cricket and it’s time the paying public were shown more respect.
It’s perfectly reasonable to expect a Test side to bowl an average of 15 overs per hour, yet that is very much the exception nowadays. Of course, wretched incursions by support staff and squad players bringing drinks/fresh gloves/whatever don’t help the over-rate and nor does a rapid succession of falling wickets, although such factors are taken into account by the officials when it comes to the reckoning.
But to bowl only 24 overs in a two-hour session, as West Indies did on the first morning in Antigua, is appalling. How many times do spectators have to tolerate delays when the bowling side have a mid-over conference to discuss changes in the field? Or the ball is still being polished way yonder when the bowler is at the end of his run, ready to bowl? Or the captain runs from slip to have a word with the bowler while he walks back to his mark? Whichever way, at the end of a day’s play, a frequent consequence of such hold-ups is that the fielding side are well short of having bowled the requisite 90 overs – and all that after an additional 30 minutes, to boot!
To punish slow-over rates by applying run penalties, as some observers have suggested, would be fraught with potential danger. Imagine, for instance, the result of a close Test being reversed (after the umpires have confirmed their over-rate decision) because of, say, a 10-run penalty – it doesn’t bear thinking about.
The existing deterrent is absolutely appropriate and Holder’s ban will hopefully serve as a warning to others. Would Joe Root, for example, really want to risk missing an Ashes Test because of a completely avoidable slow over-rate?