MANCHESTER, England – West Indies captain Jason Holder has praised Shannon Gabriel’s “massive heart” and said the speedster’s excellent showing in his first Test back following injury had not come as a surprise.
Gabriel bowled with pace and aggression to rock England during the opening Test at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton, finishing with match figures of nine for 137 to help propel West Indies to a four-wicket victory and a crucial 1-0 lead in the three-Test series.
The Trinidadian missed the Test against Afghanistan in India last November, undergoing ankle surgery the following month. He subsequently underwent rehabilitation but was unable to play a competitive game in the Caribbean after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the final two rounds of the first class championship.
“What Shannon has done in this game is nothing surprising,” Holder told reporters following Sunday’s win in Southampton.
“Shannon is one of those guys who just keeps doing it because he has a big heart. He has a massive, massive heart and he’s been through a lot and wants success so badly.
“His body hasn’t held up I guess the way he would’ve liked in the past but to see him out there fit and running in and bowling fast for West Indies is always a pleasing sight, and he deserves every bit of success he’s had so far in this game.”
He continued: “For us, it’s just more or less to keep managing Shannon in the best way we can. He is a rhythm bowler as well so he needs to get some miles on his legs and some rhythm in his legs too.
“I’m really, really happy for Shannon, I know what he’s been through. We kept in contact while he was doing rehab. At some stages he was very frustrated with how things were going but he stuck it through.
“He had a good team behind him in Trinidad; he’s done a lot of work with Ronald Rogers (West Indies strength and conditioning coach) as well, prior to coming over here and he’s reaped the success that all of us presumed he would’ve gotten, just based on the calibre bowler he is.
“We all know that once Shannon is fit and healthy, he’s a handful and he proved difficult in this game.”
In England’s first innings, Gabriel snatched four for 62 as the hosts crumbled for 204 after being 154 for four at one stage. Holder spearheaded the attack with a career-best six for 42.
With England gaining a stranglehold at 249 for three in their second innings on the fourth day, Man-of-the-Match Gabriel snared five for 75 to engineer a collapse that saw the last six wickets tumble for 64 runs.
Holder conceded England’s batting had been made weaker by the absence of captain Joe Root, allowing the Windies bowlers to target untried players.
“I think England missing Root was obviously a big miss [because] he’s a high-quality player. We saw that as an opportunity I guess to get into their inexperienced batting line-up,” he pointed out.
“I think there was a lot of pressure on (Ben) Stokes to score and to come big … and the top order relies so much on Rory Burns as well because he’s pretty solid, soaks up a lot of balls and he makes bowlers fight really hard for his wicket.
“I think to start the series well is a really pleasing feeling but again, there are 10 tough days of cricket left in the series.”
While Gabriel earned match honours, batsman Jermaine Blackwood proved the star of the final day, stroking a superb 95 as West Indies chased down 200 for victory.
He entered with the innings in ruins on 27 for three before lunch and anchored half-century stands with Roston Chase (37) and Shane Dowrich (20) to put West Indies in a winning position.
Holder, who was at the crease to help see his side over the line, admitted the day had been a nerve-wracking one.
“Actually [Sunday] morning I woke up and I just wanted to fast-forward to the end of the day with us winning,” Holder said.
“At the start there were a few nerves going through the dressing room but Roston and Jermaine really settled the nerves down and really got us in a position to lay a foundation. We knew once we got a partnership the English bowlers would go flat.
“Credit to England, they threw a lot at us – Stokes, (Jimmy) Anderson, Jofra (Archer), Mark (Wood) – they all put in a hell of an effort and were all challenging.
“We knew it wouldn’t have been easy and we weren’t quite sure how the wicket would’ve held up but the heavy roller quite worked for us.”
West Indies face England in the second Test starting at Old Trafford on Thursday.