Jason Holder – Test career is ‘by no means’ over after Australia tour opt-out

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Jason Holder says that his decision to make himself unavailable for West Indies’ Test series in Australia next month was prompted by his desire to focus on T20 cricket ahead of a World Cup on home soil in June 2024.

Holder, who captained in 37 Tests between 2015 and 2020, does not feature in the 15-man squad named by Cricket West Indies (CWI) on Wednesday, which includes seven uncapped players, and for which Alzarri Joseph has been named as Kraigg Brathwaite’s deputy.

Instead, Holder will be playing in the ILT20 in the UAE during January’s Test series, but has spoken extensively with the board in recent months and has made clear his desire to play Test cricket again after the World Cup.

“By no means is this me turning my back on Test cricket,” Holder told ESPNcricinfo. “It’s not curtains for me in Test cricket by any means. It’s my first time going through something like this and I felt that it was necessary to be as honest and as open with CWI as I possibly can. It was a very difficult decision: I just feel as though this is the right cricketing decision for me at this time.

“It was a difficult one. But as much as I love Test cricket, I want to give myself the best chance of playing in that World Cup. I felt it was probably best to prioritise and focus on playing as much T20 cricket leading up to that as possible. I will probably sleep a little bit better knowing that I’ve given myself the best opportunity to do that.”

CWI told players that, in order to be considered for World Cup selection, they needed to make themselves available for both the ongoing series against England and February’s T20Is in Australia. In doing so, Holder compromised his availability for the Big Bash League and will miss the end of the ILT20; playing the Test series in Australia on top of that would have ruled him out of the entire competition.

Holder was an 18-year-old fan the last time that the Caribbean hosted a men’s ICC event, the 2010 World T20: “To see it unfold, particularly in Barbados, was a major spectacle for me,” he said. It is the prospect of featuring in the same tournament 14 years later which he identifies as the reason underpinning his decision to turn down January’s Test series.

“I’ve never played a World Cup at home: I really, really want to be a part of it because I love playing in front of the fans in the Caribbean,” he added. “I think we’ve really got a good chance of lifting the trophy… the cricket that we’ve been playing in the last couple of months gives us real encouragement that we can go there and do something special. Why wouldn’t I want to give myself the best chance to be a part of it?

“I’ve been an all-format player for probably the last eight or nine years. If you look at the current scope of the sport in general, it’s now a more common trend based on the dynamics of world cricket: everything is constantly evolving. There are leagues popping up here, there and everywhere and there are quite a number of options for players.

“It all depends on what a player wants in terms of his career. It’s a profession, and there’s a massive window in terms of franchise cricket early in the year. The main part of my decision is to prioritise playing as much T20 cricket as I can leading up to the T20 World Cup – and of course, in doing so, there is also the opportunity to maximise your earnings.”

The launch of the ILT20 and South Africa’s SA20 – which Holder featured in earlier this year – has contributed to January becoming saturated with T20 leagues, along with the BBL and the Bangladesh Premier League. Johnny Grave, CWI’s chief executive, believes that it represents a fundamental shift in the global game.

“That month has gone from being a southern hemisphere international window to now a very key month, with leagues fighting to get the best players,” Grave told ESPNcricinfo. “When you look at what’s on offer for five weeks’ work, it’s become a really compelling option for players at a certain stage of their careers.”

CWI and Holder have been in open discussions about his availability in recent months, and the board announced last week that, along with Kyle Mayers and Nicholas Pooran, he had turned down a central contract for 2023-24. “I was disappointed that we couldn’t reach a common ground in me signing a central contract, but I understood why that wasn’t an option in the end,” he said.

Holder’s decision gives other players the chance to perform in the Test series in Australia. Grave cited the example of West Indies’ tour to Bangladesh in early 2021, when a number of players opted out: Mayers – who, like Holder, will miss the Australia Tests – made his international breakthrough as a result. “Nobody is guaranteed a spot, and we want that competition for places,” Grave said.

“We accept that players have to make choices and we hope that players understand that we also have to make choices. We’re not going to change the philosophy that we can’t guarantee any players selection for any international series. We’re certainly not moving on from Jason Holder, but him not being in Australia will create an opportunity for someone else to perform.”

But Holder still hopes to be part of their three-Test tour of England in July and the two-match home series against South Africa that follows: “I will do everything possible to make myself eligible for those Test series and have spoken to the coach and selectors to reiterate that,” he said. That will include playing first-class cricket in the West Indies Championship – and, after going unsold in Tuesday’s IPL auction, potentially in England’s County Championship.

Both Holder and Grave stressed that their conversations had been transparent, and CWI’s administration are conscious of the sport’s evolution “We’re not going to deny NOCs [No Objection Certificates] or get into public spats with players,” Grave said. “If they choose not to play for West Indies, we’re not going to try and punish them. We’ve moved on from those days.”

West Indies squad for Australia Tests: Kraigg Brathwaite (capt), Alzarri Joseph, Tagenarine Chanderpaul, Kirk McKenzie, Alick Athanaze, Kavem Hodge, Justin Greaves, Joshua Da Silva, Akeem Jordan, Gudakesh Motie, Kemar Roach, Kevin Sinclair, Tevin Imlach, Shamar Joseph, Zachary McCaskie

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98

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