The first Test between England and the West Indies in Manchester will generate plenty of attention, not least in regards to the eagerly anticipated return of international cricket.
Among the many subplots that will unfold at Old Trafford on July 8 is the fact that the two sides will be led by the premier Test all-rounders of this era. With Joe Root giving the opening Test a miss to attend the birth of his second child, it will be Ben Stokes who will captain England for the first time in his career.
This turn of events means it will be the No1 and No2 ranked Test all-rounders who will greet each other at the toss in Manchester. While Stokes has been the flavour of the past year after his heroic World Cup and Ashes displays, it is West Indies skipper Jason Holder who is the top-ranked all-rounder currently and deservedly so at that.
Separated by just 153 days in age, Stokes and Holder are two players of talismanic abilities and contrasting personalities. Stokes is a global superstar, an IPL millionaire and man constantly in the spotlight for both good and bad reasons. Holder, on the other hand, barely hogs the limelight due to the minuscule media attention bestowed on West Indies cricket.
That they are the best in their respective roles in the game is not in doubt. But how do these two stalwarts compare against each other? We examine that below by taking into account their performances with both bat and ball.
The statistics suggest that Stokes is the better batsman, but the gap isn’t that wide. One thing that has to be considered is the Englishman regularly bats at the No5 or 6 spot for his side, while the majority of Holder’s career has been spent at No8.
For all his prowess with the ball, Stokes would arguably make it in to the England XI as a specialist batsman. The New Zealand-born player has been getting more consistent with the bat and has averaged more than 40 in four of the last five years. Stokes’ best has come against Australia and South Africa, with three centuries apiece against the two sides.
While his Headingley heroics last year is a contender for the best innings of all time, the left-hander has made several notable batting contributions over the years for England. Chief among them are his superb 258 against the Proteas in 2016 and fine ton against Australia at the WACA in 2013.
The England star has a decent track record in every country for a batsman who bats in the lower middle-order, save for the UAE. In three Tests against Pakistan in the Emirates, Stokes has scored just 88 runs at a paltry average of 14.66. That remains the only aberration in an otherwise impressive resume for a batsman who thrives when the chips are down for his nation.
Meanwhile, Holder revels in playing against England and two of his three Test tons so far have come against them. It includes a monumental 202 at Bridgetown last year, which secured a famous win for the Caribbean side.
Compared to Stokes, Holder has not really performed as well across varied conditions. While he averages a stellar 42.20 with the bat in the West Indies, it drops down drastically to 22.57 overseas.
However, the fact that he bats so low down the order mitigates this downturn and his numbers for a No8 bat are still pretty commendable.
The numbers with the ball suggest it is Holder who is in front and it is no surprise considering that he is a bowling all-rounder. He does not really possess the pace of Stokes, but his tall frame helps him extract some steep bounce to unsettle batsmen.
Holder is definitely more accurate and consistent with his lengths compared to Stoke who can be a bit wayward at times. Though Holder might concede fewer runs for his wickets, both the all-rounders have a similar strike-rate.
Just like his batting credentials, Holder’s bowling chops are significantly enhanced when playing at home. In the West Indies, the 28-year-old averages a stellar 22.46 with 67 of his 106 wickets coming in the Caribbean. Away from home, the all-rounder’s average drops to a still respectable 33.10.
In contrast, Stokes’ numbers get better overseas. When abroad, the 29-year-old averages 30.88 with the ball while it drops down to 34.89 when playing in the home comforts of England.
Interestingly, both players have countries where they have struggled with the ball. Stokes’ bowling averages in New Zealand, India and the UAE read a dismal 93.50, 44.62 and 39.60 respectively. Similarly, Holder averages 102, 93 and 49.66 in New Zealand, Australia and South Africa respectively.
Holder has hit the higher peak as a bowler, with his match-haul of 11 wickets against Bangladesh in Kingston (2018). Meanwhile, Stokes’ most memorable bowling display came in the 2014 Ashes in Adelaide, where he picked up an eight-wicket match haul.
Like in the batting department, the two all-rounders look very evenly matched for the most part with the ball. What gives Holder the edge in this aspect is the levels he can hit while bowling on the home pitches in the West Indies. In those conditions, the lanky pacer is as solid as the best fast bowlers in the business.
Also, his bowling performances in the last two years put him on a different pedestal to Stokes. Since the turn of 2018, no bowler who has claimed at least 50 Test wickets in the period has averaged better than Holder. In 11 Tests during this timeframe, the Windies man has grabbed 53 wickets at a sensational average of just 14.22. In comparison, the No1 ranked bowler Pat Cummins averages 20 in the same duration.
In the same period, Stokes has played as many as 24 Tests and claimed 52 wickets at an average of over 30.
Both players are elite and would probably walk into any Test side in the world at the moment. They both have a knack of digging their respective teams out of trouble and have been rightly termed as talismans. While Stokes is a flashier star with a big following, Holder is a fierce competitor who always puts in his best in the Windies whites.
In terms of ability and displays, there isn’t much to choose between the two all-rounders. Stokes does have the bragging rights with the bat, especially in the last few years. Holder, however, has outdone him in the bowling department of late to make it a battle of equals. No other all-rounder save for Bangladesh’s Shakib Al Hasan comes close to matching the standards being set by Stokes and Holder.
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