Michael Holding Biography
It was languid verse as he ran in and destructive pace as he let the ball go — a rhythmic lead-up to a wrecking finish.
Michael Holding turned around from far, far away, where the eyes had to squint to see. And then he ran in fluid, silent, long strides, with an action almost hypnotic in grace and athleticism. And as he waltzed into follow-through, the ball darted at rates seldom witnessed even in the heydays of pace bowling in the 1970s. His stealthy, extensive run up was soundless and serene. Umpires were seldom aware of his approach till the corner of their eyes caught him stretched in his delivery stride. Not for nothing was he was he called “Whispering Death“.
The plight of Brian Close and John Edrich at Old Trafford bears testimony to his hostility. Yet, Holding’s greatest feat was probably achieved two Test matches later at The Oval. On a parched, dry surface, docile and dead after a long summer of merciless drought, Holding reverted to the absolute fundamentals of fast bowling — full, straight and fast. Stumps flew, toes were crushed and batsman after batsman walked back. Nine times the woodwork rattled, three batsmen were trapped plumb — only two of his wickets involved a fielder. Holding finished the match with 14 wickets.
Holding was the instrument used to test the formula of speed that evolved in the formula of supreme pace. Along with Andy Roberts, Joel Garner and Colin Croft — and later, Malcolm Marshall — he formed an alliance of annihilation that the world had never witnessed outside the battlefield.
Land, soil and moisture had little to do with it. Holding and his mates blasted oppositions in Australia, England and India with the same relentless consistency as on the wickets of the Caribbean.
Well into the eighties the run-up remained long, and the pace scorching. The Australians, anticipating a repeat of the rout of 1976, were demolished at home in 1979. In 1981, Geoff Boycott faced what is largely believed to be the most hostile over ever bowled, fending and missing five express deliveries before losing his off-stump to the sixth.
And later, when his run up was shortened and the pace was cut down by a fraction, he toured India, bowled on the most placid of wickets, and finished with 30 wickets in six Tests at 22.10.
From 60 Tests, Holding ended up with 249 wickets at 23.68, boasting a strike rate of 50.9. A handy lower-order batsman with a penchant for huge sixes (24% of his Test runs came in sixes), he hit as many as six fifties in Test cricket.
For a fast bowler, he was often more than a useful fielder, capable of snapping up superb catches in the gully off his pace bowling mates. He never took ODIs too seriously, but managed to finish with 142 wickets at an average of 21.36 and a mind-boggling economy rate of 3.32.
He was the Rolls-Royce of fast bowlers.