Northamptonshire endured a torrid 2018 so a big-name signing was a much-needed shot in the arm for the county – and they do not come much bigger than Jason Holder.
The 6ft 7in Windies captain, who is gearing up for the World Cup in England this summer, was keen to taste the English domestic game – and having played two Division Two matches in the Specsavers County Championship, he will now take part in the Royal One-Day London Cup, which begins on Wednesday.
Kent vs Hants
April 17, 2019, 12:30pm
Holder started 2019 in style with an unbeaten double ton in his native Bridgetown to kick off a 2-1 Test series victory over England before his side drew the subsequent ODI series against the world’s No 1 side. But for the next month or so, he will be the towering star of Wantage Road.
With Ben Duckett (Nottinghamshire) and Richard Gleeson (Lancashire) leaving Northants, there was talk of AB de Villiers joining before the South African opted for Lord’s and Middlesex – but that sort of move was not for Holder.
“I did have a couple of other counties,” Holder explains to Sky Sports at a quiet Wantage Road the day after his debut against Middlesex, where he finished with two wickets, four catches and 40 runs.
“But when I weighed up all the options, this just felt like the right fit for me. Northampton is not too crowded, more relaxed, a little bit out of the public’s eye.
“It’s a quiet town, not so busy, which fits into my lifestyle. I’d rather be over here in a more secluded place than in London where it’s busy and you’re always centre of attention and under scrutiny.”
Scrutiny is not something that will be lacking in the summer when his Windies side bid for World Cup glory but for now he is concentrating on acclimatising to English conditions and integrating into the Northants squad.
“A few of the boys offered to take me out for a round of golf,” says Holder, who plays off 12. “I’ve been out once and if the weather stays OK, I’d like to go again.”
The 27-year-old Bajan is a Spurs fan and is looking to visit the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium having seen them beat Inter Milan at Wembley in November.
However, these opportunities to socialise and see his favourite football team play do not make up for the difficulties of being a professional cricketer constantly on the move.
Holder has played in the IPL before but went unsold this year, which left him with a rare gap in his calendar. “I didn’t just want to be sat at home not doing anything for two months,” he says.
“It was a good opportunity to spend time here. It is something I have always wanted to do, but because of time constraints and international cricket, it has been difficult to come over here to play.”
These endless opportunities, however, have their downsides.
Professionally, modern cricket offers a player of Holder’s credentials the chance to earn well and play all year round. But on a personal level, it can be difficult to manage the work-life balance.
“It’s tough being away when your family are all together,” he says. “Especially at Christmas and birthdays when you are not there.
“But it is my livelihood and the way it is. It’s the decision I have made. They understand and are very supportive and behind me. That’s a massive thing for me.
“There is no point doing something 100 per cent if your loved ones are not behind you. They have always encouraged me to go out there and reach my limit.”
Relaxed and confident in his new, if temporary, surroundings, Holder speaks with a calm authority. At just 23, he was named Windies captain, and although county cricket may not be at the same level as the international game, Holder treats it and its fans with the same respect.
“I see myself as a professional and I want to keep my standards up,” he says.
“It was interesting being in the field [during the draw with Middlesex]. I spoke with a few people down at the boundary and asked one fan: ‘How is it you guys sit in this weather and watch all day long?’ Their comment to me was that it’s fresh, it’s not cold! So I do not want to see cold!”
Quintessentially English discussions about the weather aside, Holder is focused on giving back to Northants while he also gains from those around him. His professionalism would allow nothing less.
“This may be a level below international, so you are expected to stand out. I just try to make sure I lead in terms of my performances and that’s how I approach my cricket. Then people show you respect.”
Northants captain Alex Wakely and coach David Ripley – a member of the 1992 NatWest Trophy-winning Northants side that featured Curtly Ambrose – were delighted to land Holder, who is determined to use his experience on the international stage to repay the club’s faith in him.
“Even if I wasn’t a captain, I have always seen myself as a leader. So if I see something, or have an opinion, I will share it to get the best for the team.
“I messaged Alex [Wakely] after the [Middlesex] game saying it would be good to sit down to give him my view of how things went. I find it helpful for me to bounce ideas of him and he comes to me and shares things with me.
“Things like that will help these guys, but also help me, too. Sometimes being on the outside and not being the captain, you see things differently.
“When I decided to come here, I wanted to help this club. Anything I can share or any knowledge, I am very open to it. But it is also a learning curve for me. I can learn from playing with these guys in these conditions. That was the motive in coming here.”
Northants are looking to bounce back from a poor 2018 and be competitive in the Royal London One-Day Cup. With Holder determined to reach and surpass his own limits, the Steelbacks will hope some of that experience and drive will work to their advantage.
Watch the Royal London One-Day Cup live on Sky Sports Cricket from April 17 to May 25, with Holder’s Northamptonshire Steelbacks hosting Yorkshire Vikings live on Wednesday, May 1 from 12.55pm.