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Michael Holding was born on February 16, 1954. Abhishek Mukherjee explains why he went on to become a fan of ‘Whispering Death’ over the years.
1. The man who scared heroes
When I was a kid I had heard vaguely of the name of Michael Holding. I do not remember Holding or his bowling action that vividly (though countless YouTube visits have changed all that). All I remember was that he bowled fast enough to be scary and intimidating to the batsmen. Well, all but Sunil Gavaskar, but then, Kolkata was quite anti-Gavaskar in the early and mid-1980s. Anyone who could intimidate my heroes had to be someone special.
2. Terrorising Boycott
His over to Geoffrey Boycott at Kensington Oval, 1980-81 has gone down in cricket history, and is widely acknowledged as the best over ever bowled. The first one hit Boycott on the glove; the second beat him outside off-stump; the third rapped him on his right thigh; he somehow avoided getting bowled in the fourth and fifth balls; but the last one, too quick for him, rattled his stumps.
3. Flat wickets? What flat wickets?
On a dry flat track at The Oval in 1976 (during the ‘Grovel’ series) Holding returned figures of eight for 92 and six for 57 to bowl out England twice. The pitch was bone dry, the seamers had no assistance, but Holding ran through the English line-up with sheer pace in his armour.
4. Johnners’ blooper
Holding was responsible (well, half-responsible) for possibly the most famous line ever uttered by a cricket commentator. As he was bowling to Peter Willey in the above-mentioned Test at The Oval, Brian Johnston famously uttered the phrase “The bowler’s Holding, the batsman’s Willey” that has become a part of cricket folklore.
5. Running out two batsmen in one ball?
Holding once threw so hard from long-leg in an ODI at Scarborough that the ball hit the stumps at the batsman’s end so hard that it went on to hit the wicket on the other end (and dislodge the bails) to find Alan Knott short of the crease by a distance; the umpires (David Constant and Arthur Jepson) got so confused that Knott was not given out.
6. The penchant for sixes
An absurd 216 of Holding’s 910 Test runs have come in sixes — a number that amounts to 24%. The corresponding numbers for other big-hitters read as follows: Shahid Afridi 18%, Chris Cairns 16%, Adam Gilchrist 11%, Virender Sehwag 6%, and Adam Gilchrist 5%. Those shoulders were brutal.
7. Why bowl slow, indeed?
Commentator: Mikey, did you guys bowl slower deliveries in your era?
Holding: Why bowl slow when you caaan bowl faaast?
8. What on earth is an ice-bath?
During the ongoing Test between Australia and South Africa at Centurion a commentator suggested that Shaun Marsh may require an ice-bath after his marathon on Day One. All was going well till the poor man asked Holding what the Jamaican thought of ice-baths.
“I’d raaather haaav them in my drink,” came the curt reply.
9. The impassive baritone
To top everything, once, during a Sanath Jayasuriya sixfest, Tony Greig had been going berserk over the Sri Lankan’s lusty hits. As the steely forearms unleashed yet another punch over the ropes, Greig, tired by now, left it to ‘Mikey’.
With the crowd roaring, everyone shouting, yells and shrieks all around, everyone glued to the television waited for Holding’s voice to respond to the occasion. He did, serenely, in that reassuring baritone: Onaather six.
That was all; all; a perfect victory of apparently expressionless silence over hyperactive shrieks.
(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)
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