The quiet assassin: Michael Holding
Photo: Getty Images
Wes Hall, Andy Roberts, Colin Croft, Joel Garner, Wayne Daniel, Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh … the list of frighteningly fast bowlers from the West Indies just keeps on going. Arguably, the most destructive of them all was the Rolls Royce of Caribbean quicks, Michael Holding.
Holding debuted in 1975 when Clive Lloyd's West Indies toured Australia and were hammered 5-1 in Tests, chiefly because of the efforts of the hosts' more experienced batsmen and lethal fast-bowling partnership of Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thompson. Though Holding didn't have a huge impact that series, even then as a raw 21 year-old he was timed at 97mph, or 156.1kph – quicker than Thomson – and would only get quicker.
This series was to be a turning point for West Indian, and world, cricket. Lloyd, who realised after the crushing loss that a similar fast-bowling attack was needed for success and to compliment talented young batsmen such as Gordon Greenidge, Vivian Richards and others, returned to the Caribbean on a mission to unearth young tearaways.
As a result, the West Indies were soon able to form a fearsome, relentless fast bowling attack around Holding, Roberts and co, then maintain it for years to come, giving batsmen the world over plenty of bruises, broken bones and sleepless nights. This attack, combined with an equally aggressive line-up of brilliant batsmen, helped establish a new cricketing dynasty. Apart from a 1-0 loss to India in 1978-79, the West Indies didn't lose another Test series for almost two decades.
In the lead up to the 1976 Test series in England, the hosts' captain and former South African Tony Greig brazenly questioned the West Indies' inner strength in an interview: "You must remember, that the West Indians, these guys, if they get on top they are magnificent cricketers. But if they're down, they grovel, and I intend, with the help of Closey [Brian Close] and a few others, to make them grovel." With apartheid in full swing in Greig's country of origin, the comments outraged the West Indians. The whole West Indies team, led by Holding in attack, were to vent their anger during a comprehensive 3-0 series win.
Holding summed up the atmosphere at the time: "It [that comment] did not go down well with us …"
"England batsmen said they did not like to bat with Greig because we bowled faster… "
Holding excelled in this series, his pace and accuracy coming to the fore on a slow batsman's wicket at the Oval where he broke the record for best bowling figures in a Test by a West Indies bowler with 14 wickets for 149 runs. The record still stands.
A former long jumper with the smoothest of athletic run-ups, Holding was soon dubbed 'Whispering death' by cricket umpires, who couldn't hear him approach until he was right beside them delivering the ball. The tall Jamaican also had a fiery fast bowler's temperament and no qualms about using his height and pace to generate nasty bounce.
Holding was named Wisden's cricketer of the year in 1977. Overall, he played 60 Tests and nine SuperTests in a career spanning 13 years, finishing with 284 wickets at an average of 23.61 and at a strike rate of 50 balls per wicket, figures superior to those of the man some say was the best fast bowler in history: Dennis Lillee. Granted, Lillee didn't always have another three fast bowlers softening the batsmen up at the other end or when he rested, but the Australian attacks of Lillee's era weren't too shabby either, with partners such as Thomson, Len Pascoe, Geoff Lawson, Rodney Hogg, and Carl Rackemann hurling them down.
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