Imagine West Indies cricket without the tall, right-arm pace bowler Jason Holder. Picture him swinging a golf club instead of either playing a stroke with a cricket bat or striding down the pitch, ball in hand, to deliver a thunderbolt at a hapless batsman. That just might have been the reality had the lanky all-rounder who became the youngest West Indian captain, discovered the club-and-ball sport a lot earlier in life.

“Golf is my favourite pastime and that’s what I spend most of my free time doing,” he tells MPB from India as the Caribbean side toured the South Asian country for a series of Test, One-Day International and T20 International matches. I absolutely love golf. Funny enough, if I’d probably played golf younger, I may not be the cricketer I am today, or not be a cricketer at all!”When I’m home and I have time off, I play golf practically every day. I would do my training in the morning, have lunch, then rush to the golf course in the afternoon. I p lay golf 24/7 when I have time.

“On tour it’s a lot more difficult, obviously, because after a long Test match or even a One-Day game it’s tough to go and stand on the golf course for a couple hours. You tend to want to conserve your energy and make sure that you’re fresh for the next game, so I tend to dial it down on tour a lot more,” Jason adds, as he gushes about his passion for golf—which he plans to focus more on when he retires from cricket—and how he balances that with the sport he has made his career. There’s no doubt that the only thing Jason loves more than either sport is his family. He says he misses his parents and three brothers immensely when is away on tour—which is the larger part of any given year. For him, it’s the hardest aspect of being an international athlete.

“Family is everything to me,” Jason says, crediting all of his success and everything he knows to his mother, dad and stepmother. “I represent them every time I step on to the field.” He is particularly close to his older brother but enjoys a special bond with the younger one—a budding cricketer with whom he spends quite a bit of time when he’s at home in Barbados, mentoring and helping him develop his cricketing skills. With Christmas fast approaching, Jason is eagerly looking forward to spending the holiday season at home for just the second time in five years. He treasures occasions like this and can’t wait to be a part of his clan’s traditional Christmas Day lunch where everyone gathers at one home to feast and enjoy each other’s company.

“I intend to have as much fun as possible with my family and friends; these moments are rare of late and I will make the most of them in my beautiful Barbados,” he says. With a warm smile, boyish good looks, and charming personality, Jason is easy to like, inspiring comments like: “He was raised right” and “Such a polite young man!” He is likely considered a good catch, so of course we just had to know whether he is taken. And yes, Jason Holder is single!

“I don’t have a girlfriend at present,” he says. “I was in quite a few long relationships. Actually, I just got out of a longish relationship… It’s difficult to have a relationship not being in [your partner’s] presence for pretty much most of the year. I travel so much and having a long-distance relationship is tough, but I do support love, I do support relationships.” Luckily for West Indies cricket, Jason continues to be committed to the game of glorious uncertainties. His love for the sport started early and he says knew he was destined to play it.

“It’s been an honour and a privilege to lead my local and regional senior teams. It says a lot about my character and what other people see in me. In hindsight, I didn’t think it would be so difficult, but I have certainly enjoyed the challenge.”

Jason competed at all levels of youth cricket: Under-13, Under-15 and Under-17. He excelled in the Under-15 tournament and was also named Most Valuable Player of the Under-17 West Indies competition. Lady Luck smiled on him in 2009 when he was given the opportunity to play against England at just 16 years old; he scored 50 runs and took two wickets. “It was at this point that I felt I had the confidence to become a professional cricketer,” recalls Jason, who turned 27 on November 5.

His rise to the top has been swift but sure. He is the youngest captain of an ICC Test team, a role he sees as a thumbs-up to his strength of character and ability to lead. The level-headed youngster is credited with motivating and holding the beleaguered West Indies men’s team together at a time when they’ve been experiencing mixed fortunes on the field of play. “It’s been an honour and a privilege to lead my local and regional senior teams. It says a lot about my character and what other people see in me. In hindsight, I didn’t think it would be so difficult, but I have certainly enjoyed the challenge,” Jason says, also crediting his role as captain for allowing him to develop and succeed personally.

He attributes that recent personal success more to his mental preparation than to any changes in his physical training regimen. He has schooled himself to be in the moment, staying in that mental space longer and connecting it to his physical fitness. “It’s a thinking man’s game. The difference between scoring a hundred or getting a five-wicket haul and getting out for 10 lies in your mental preparation,” the Windies skipper says. But the physical element is still very important to this stickler for fitness and preparation: “Pre-tour, I try to get as fit as possible, and when I’m actually on tour, I dial it down a lot more and focus on recovery.”

Holder has crafted a routine in which he works on himself first and motivates his team to do likewise. “Leadership is a lot easier when you lead by example and people can see you actually doing the things you speak of,” Jason says. “I pride myself on leading from the front with my preparation and performance.” Asked to describe himself as a captain, he chooses the term “cool customer”, one who is usually cheerful and expressive.“Why do something as a job and not enjoy it?”.

I always preach to the guys that it’s not only about losing but about…the manner in which you surrender to defeat.

As Jason huddles with his team or confers with a teammate, his parting words are almost always a caution to them to enjoy themselves and play with heart and head. He sees his strength as a captain as his ability to bring people together in a comfortable environment where they can then play their best cricket. But he readily admits to a weakness—trying to please everyone when at times a sterner disposition is required. The current West Indies side has not been particularly lucky on the field, racking up a depressing string of losses amidst a few glorious moments of triumph and individual outstanding performances by some players, most notably the captain himself. For Jason, though, it’s not so much losing as it is how they lose.

West Indies cricket legend Sir Curtly Ambrose is both a personal hero and role model for Jason who describes the legend as “a consistently accurate, stingy fast bowler.” He also cites English former international cricketer Andrew Flintoff as his favourite all-rounder—the player who could make a huge impact in a game, whether with bat, ball or even a crucial catch in the field. Brian Lara is his “batting genius” and he greatly admires his legendary ability to face and decimate all types of bowling, spin-bowling in particular. Jason says Lara’s hunger for big scores and success is a quality to which all sportsmen should aspire.

Photo: Cameron Spencer-IDI/IDI via Getty Images

Outside of cricket, he greatly admires American basketballer LeBron James’ work ethic and the manner in which he carefully controls his public image. As a new year approaches, Jason has a few wishes for 2019: to improve his personal fitness and for his team to improve in every world ranking, from T20 to Test cricket. “If we can move up the rankings in all formats of the game, that would be perfect,” he says. There is no doubt that he will do as he always does—set his goals, apply both mental and physical strength and make his dreams come true. That’s Jason Holder, ‘Mr Cool’.