‘Captaincy could make Virat Kohli an even better cricketer’
Designed by Srushti Takale

Part of the fearsome quartet of West Indies fast bowlers who terrorised batsmen all over the globe, Michael Holding was known for his effortless ability to send down delivery after delivery with ferocious power. Holding’s international career lasted almost 12 years and yielded 249 wickets in 60 Test matches, including a haul of 14 for 149 against England in 1976, which remains the best match figures by a West Indian in a Test match.

In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Holding spoke on a variety of topics including the return of international cricket to Pakistan, Mohammad Amir’s expected re-entry into international cricket, WahabRiaz’s development into an effective fast bowling option for Pakistan, Misbah-ul-Haq’s captaincy and offered his views on the treatment of players by the WICB.

Excerpts from an interview:

PakPassion (PP): Your thoughts about international cricket being again played in Pakistan? 
Michael Holding (MH): It’s good to see that someone has taken the initiative and said that they will tour and see how things will work out. It’s pretty difficult for people to make that move because on the last tour of Pakistan by Sri Lanka you obviously had a few problems and everyone is going to say I don’t want to be the guinea pig. It’s really good and heartening to see that the first steps have been taken for the return of international cricket to Pakistan and I hope that everything will go well in future.

PP: Realistically though do you envisage other international teams following Zimbabwe and touring Pakistan?
MH: I think there will be problems simply because the International Cricket Council did not send any of their umpires or officials. They said that if countries want to tour Pakistan that’s fine, but the information they had was that Pakistan is still too dangerous to travel to and they couldn’t commit their employees. The issue is that other Boards will look at the ICC’s stance and say if the ICC won’t send its officials then we have to be wary as well. One would hope though that teams will go to Pakistan at some point and every time a team goes to Pakistan, people will get more and more confident about touring there. Pakistan needs international cricket to return to its shores. I can only imagine what it must be like to not have any international cricket at home. It must be really difficult for the fans to rely on watching the matches on television. If you’ve had international cricket before in your country then that makes it even more difficult to accept the fact that there is no international cricket at home.

PP: As well as the fans, it cannot be easy for the Pakistani players to never get the chance to play international cricket at home?
MH: It definitely cannot be easy. You are constantly away from home. People talk so much about playing a lot of cricket and constantly touring and being away from family and friends, but those teams have home series to fall back on. Pakistan have absolutely no series at home, so they certainly aren’t in a very nice position. All you can do is hope as things like this don’t get solved very easily and quickly. It takes time, especially for the confidence of people to return.

PP: The ICC has recently tightened-up their policy on illegal bowling actions. Do you think this is the right call?

MH: I don’t think it’s a change of policy, I think it’s more a case of people now becoming braver and are doing the right thing. I have no problems at all with the clampdown. I have been very critical in the past of some bowling actions and once you can see some of these bowling actions live, you can clearly see that some actions are above the level of tolerance. I have sat there watching bowlers and it immediately seems to me that their action does not look right. If I can sit there watching it live and observe that, well then something has to be wrong with those actions as I’m not twenty or thirty years old with perfect eye-sight. There has to be something wrong with those actions and it has to be remedied and I’m glad that it’s being dealt with.

PP: What about the counter-argument that these ‘mystery-spinners’ bring something different to cricket and there should be some leeway given to them?
MH: No, absolutely no leeway should be given. In the world of athletics it would be great to watch someone run 100metres in 8.5 seconds, but if you find out they were doping then you cannot say that it was great to watch that. No, it has to be done legally and as far as sports is concerned it should stick to that mantra. We see a lot of rubbish going on; look at what’s going on with FIFA at the moment. We want to see sportsmen and sportswomen competing fairly and within the laws of their relevant sports.

PP: I guess the onus is now on these mystery spinners to ‘re-invent’ themselves and to prove that they can bowl well within the laws of the game?
MH: Well, that’s up to them. It’s up to them to find a way to be effective. I don’t see how breaking the law is being effective or is good for the game, or is good for that individual. We have seen Kane Williamson come back with a legal action and he helped New Zealand win the second Test, so if he can do it, then why can’t others?

PP: Turning the clock back to 2010. What was going through your mind when you were on commentary and Mohammad Amir delivered that infamous no-ball?
MH: Nothing at all was going through my mind. At that moment I did not believe that there was anything untoward going on. I saw the no-ball and said on commentary, that’s a big one. But in my mind there was nothing to say that the no-ball was pre-planned and that he did it on purpose. It never entered my mind at the time. When I heard about it afterwards, I thought he made sure it was a no-ball.But that showed me that it was something that he had not done on a regular basis or was an expert at it. When you want to do something like that and you are an expert at it, then you don’t bowl such a big no-ball and make it look so obvious. Each bowler knows within a few inches where his foot is landing and a bowler knows how to bowl a no-ball without making it look extraordinarily bad, if they wanted to do that. It’s obvious Mohammad Amir wasn’t an expert at it and that’s why he bowled a huge no-ball rather than being marginally over the crease.

PP: There is still divided opinion on whether Mohammad Amir should be allowed to play for Pakistan again. Do you think it’s right that he has been allowed to return to domestic cricket before his five year ban ends?
Ml: I can totally understand people not wanting him back, especially those people in Pakistan who will be saying that he has embarrassed the country. And, yes, you don’t want someone who has embarrassed your country to get off lightly, but I make reference to life in general. I have seen people who do things who have cost others their lives, like reckless driving, drunken-driving, reckless accidents with machinery, yet they are given another opportunity in life to come back and make good. Whatever sentence they are given, whatever term they are given, after that they are given another chance to re-start their life and make good. Mohammad Amir has not taken the life of anybody. Why can’t Amir’s life be repaired and given another chance? He’s done something that was bad for the game and illegal and something that should not have happened, but he’s not taken a man’s life. And what he did can and should be repaired. I believe Mohammad Amir deserves a second chance and I hope he grabs this second opportunity firmly with both hands.

PP: Mohammad Amir burst onto the scene very impressively. Do you think he can regain those skill levels and become a successful cricketer once again and what advice would you offer him?
MH: The truth is we don’t know what the future holds for him. Having said that, though a lot will depend on how people will accept him when he comes back; his team, his fans and people around the world. It depends on how they treat him and whether they accept him. It’s going to be difficult for him if people are cynical and make comments about him and jeer him, as that will undoubtedly affect him mentally. As far as my advice goes, Amir doesn’t need my advice. When I saw him in 2009-2010 he already had everything a fast bowler required. I remember sitting in the third man chair where we analyse technical aspects on television and I did some analysis on him. I was so impressed with what he was doing especially his control, his pace, his slower deliveries and his cricketing intelligence. I think he had it all, he had a lot going for him as a bowler. All he has to do now is to stay fit and do not be tempted again to do anything that is wrong. He looks physically stronger now and I’m sure he’ll be back to his best soon.

PP: In Pakistan, Misbah-ul-Haq is either loved or hated, there seems to be no middle ground. What are your thoughts on Misbah?
MH: I think he’s a fantastic cricketer. He’s a good man with a steady head on his shoulders. Back in 2010, he stabilised the Pakistan team when it was needed most. He’s a good and sensible man who has done a lot for Pakistan cricket and he has made the Pakistan team a lot more consistent especially in Test cricket. During the World Cup I became a little frustrated with him at times due to his batting when he was being a little too careful, but I suppose that was because he didn’t have a great deal of faith in the other batsmen around him.

PP: One pace bowler from Pakistan who is emerging as a much improved talent is WahabRiaz. What are your thoughts on Wahab’s bowling?
MH: He looks a pretty good fast bowler who has a lot of pace. I think I will remember that spell against Shane Watson at the World Cup for a very long time. The problem for him and a lot of fast bowlers is the amount of cricket that is being played. It’s difficult to maintain that sort of pace and effort if you are being asked to play the amount of cricket these guys are being asked to play these days. I can only hope that he can maintain his fitness and last quite a few years. If he can give Pakistan the sort of spells he did against Shane Watson every now and then, Pakistan can live with that as you cannot ask these guys to bowl those sort of spells of extreme pace every time they go onto the field. I want to see Wahab bowl more spells like he did against Shane Watson, as that’s what fast bowling is about. The way to go would be to handle Wahab carefully and not to play him all of the time in all three formats, particularly the twenty over format.

PP: Do you think the combination of all three formats in international cricket is working well?
MH: I don’t think there should be any 20-over international cricket. That would give international cricket and players a bit more breathing space. I think there should only be fifty over matches and Test matches at the international level and twenty20 should just be played as domestic tournaments. However I don’t see that happening right now as administrators and cricket boards only look at the bottom line rather than the cricketers they have on their payroll. If the administrators won’t make the changes then the selectors need to make a change to their policy of selecting players and to rest them in twenty over matches and therefore give them a chance to last longer as far as their careers are concerned.

PP: There’s a concern that whilst some professional sporting bodies are expanding their respective sports, cricket is shrinking. Is that a concern for you?
MH: I wasn’t in agreement when three countries wanted to hijack cricket and I’ve said this on several occasions. I don’t think it’s good for the game that Australia, England and India are pretty much running cricket. Sadly that’s the way it is and everyone has to come to terms with it. When this was happening, I didn’t hear too many journalists or cricket-writers hitting out against it, apart from Michael Atherton and one or two others, but the majority just sat quietly.

PP: ViratKohli has some big boots to fill as India’s captain. Do you think he has the temperament to become a successful captain?
MH: Captaincy could help calm him down. Now he must recognise how important the job is and that could settle him down. These little blips that he has had in the past during his career, regarding his temperament and his behavior now need to be cut out. If he doesn’t cut them out I would suspect that he will be removed as captain. He’s a proud young man who wants to do well for his country and captaincy could make him an even better cricketer. I like the way he captains, he’s got an aggressive style as captain and that could work well for him.

PP: There are a number of players missing from the current West Indian starting line-up against Australia and consequently they have struggled. That cannot be healthy for West Indian cricket?
MH: It’s sad to see but the West Indies Cricket Board needs to change its culture and recognise that they have to be in partnership with their players. If they have the attitude that they are the boss and the players are the employees, you will find that these situations will continue. We need administrators in the West Indies Cricket Board who can accept that the culture has to change and then perhaps we will see the players a lot happier to represent their country.

What we are seeing now is that a lot of youngsters are happy to be selected for West Indies but what you find is that as soon as they make a name for themselves and get called up for twenty over tournaments around the world and they realise they can make some money, then they disappear from international cricket. You’d hope that the players would stick around and play for their country, but if the players don’t believe they are being treated well, then they won’t stick around.

(SajSadiq is Senior Editor at PakPassion.net, from where the above article has been reproduced. He can be followed on Twitter at @Saj_PakPassion. The above article first appeared in PakPassion)

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