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Jason Holder resents the term ‘unbelievable’ while describing the prospect of West Indies winning a Test series in England for the first time in three decades. He has maintained that his side has been as competitive a Test side as any despite the numbers not stacking up in his favour. Holder quite unabashedly believes his team could make history once the second Test starts in Manchester from today.
Yet, Holder doesn’t mask the anxiety over a stuttering batting line-up. Joe Root, back as England captain after missing the first Test due to the birth of his second child, too got stuck into his batsmen. The phrase ‘need to convert starts’ dominated their media briefings on Wednesday.

These are unusual circumstances. No batsman can claim to be in form as cricket resumed after a break of four months. All the focus has been on how bowlers would cope with the no-saliva rule. It was perceived the odds will be tilted further in favour of the batsmen.
As it stands, though, it’s not easier for the batsmen either. “I don’t want to be an armchair critic, sitting at home and commenting on how the batsmen went in the first Test. But we need to convert starts and go on to make big runs,” Root said. Holder too echoed his thoughts. “We need to get hundreds. There were quite a few starts. We need to go on and make big runs. You don’t want to be playing catch-up.”
The general practice around world has been to give some extra to a batsman coming back from a long lay-off. But here entire batting line-ups are dealing with rust. Root doesn’t discount the challenges. “There were obvious challenges last week. It’s hard to replicate match environment in the nets,” told TOI in a media interaction arranged by the English and Wales Cricket Board.

Building an innings is an art that comes with years of grind. At the same time, it’s international cricket and there’s a series on the line. Both captains were in no mood to be lenient on their batsmen. “Mindset of batting for long time doesn’t go away. I believe it should be back this week. West Indies I managed it better than us in the crucial parts last week,” Root claimed.
Holder was curt in his response about the time he could allow his batsmen to hit their strides. Instead he harped on the art of building an innings. “You can’t set a time frame to get back in form. It’s about how well you adapt to scenarios. You got to switch on to match mode,” he said.
Root seconded that thought: “More than anything it’s about trying to understand the situation of the game you find yourself in. If you get in there and get through the difficult period you have to make it as big as possible.”

Both Holder and Root have an underlying anxiety about the indifferent form of their X-factors (Shai Hope and Jos Buttler). At the outset, they have backed the two batsmen but they have given enough hints that there’s not much time for them to hit their strides.
If the first Test was more about how the bowlers went and ball behaved with no saliva in play, this second Test dares the batsmen to hit their strides after a long lay-off!

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