Vanburn Holder © Getty Images
Vanburn Holder © Getty Images

The Barbadian Vanburn Holder was born October 10, 1945. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the career of a West Indian fast-medium bowler that got lost amidst a horde of genuine quicks.

Vanburn Alonzo Holder was as much an oxymoron as a poor plotline from JK Rowling or an Orkut user in 2013. Sandwiched between the lethal duo of Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith and the next-generation speedsters like Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, and Wayne Daniel, Holder was a rather gentle medium-fast bowler.

Holder was tall and his bandy legs made him a favourite target of Fred Trueman. The usual sledge was “Does tha know if thy legs were straight tha’d be over seven feet tall?”

Unlike the tearaways from his country Holder did not rely on extreme pace or vicious bouncers: accuracy was his forte, as was his stamina. He did not bowl out oppositions very frequently: he wore them out instead; and, more often than not, Holder played an excellent supporting act to the genuine quicks of his era.

In and out of the side a lot, Holder played only 40 Tests in a career spanning almost a decade; he picked up 109 wickets at 33.27 with 3 five-fors. He also scored 682 runs at 14.20. His 12 ODIs fetched him 19 wickets at 23.89 and an economy rate of 4.

At First-Class level, however, he had much better numbers, especially during his stint with Worcestershire. The English conditions were tailor-made for his style of bowling: he picked up 28 wickets from 9 Tests at 28.25 on English soil. His overall First-Class numbers read 950 wickets at 24.52 from 313 matches with 38 five-fors and 3 ten-fors.

Early days

Born in Deans Village, St Michael, Holder made an ordinary First-Class debut against Trinidad and Tobago: he finished with a solitary wicket.

The major break came for Barbados Colts against a touring MCC in 1967-68; opening bowling with Hallam Moseley Holder clean bowled Geoff Boycott and Basil D’Oliveira in the first innings and also had Colin Milburn and John Edrich caught behind in the second, impressing the tourists.

The move was probably triggered by the wicket of the Worcestershire stalwart D’Oliveira: Holder was offered a contract with Worcestershire after playing just 2 First-Class matches.

Worcestershire

Holder’s first match for Worcestershire — against Oxford — was washed away; Holder got to bowl only 8 overs. He established himself the next match against Gloucestershire, bowling in tandem with Norman Gifford to bowl out the tourists for 139. Holder picked up 4 for 64.

The first 5-for came in a humdinger against Lancashire: the hosts were left to chase only 199, Holder removed Graham Atkinson for a duck, and his nagging accuracy and movement made them collapse from 99 for 1 to 150. His figures read 6 for 39.

He also picked up 5 for 21 against Derbyshire and 6 for 47 against Sussex (including the top five); he finished the season on a high, with 59 wickets at 22.01 from 20 matches. He became an instant hit with Worcestershire (though most of them were not quite impressed by his habit of smoking a pipe).

In the 4 Tests he played in the subsequent domestic season he picked up 19 wickets at 15.78. After a decent start to the 1969 he was picked for the first Test at Old Trafford by the touring West Indians.

Vanburn Holder (right) on his follow-through © Getty Images
Vanburn Holder (right) on his follow-through © Getty Images

Test debut

Opening bowling with Garry Sobers, Holder started his Test career by clean bowling Tom Graveney. It did not create an impact on the Test, for England went on to win by 10 wickets. In the second Test at Lord’s, Holder accounted for Edrich (in both innings) and Phil Sharpe, but the Test ended in a close draw as England finished with 295 for 7 chasing 332.

West Indies had to win the third (last) Test at Headingley to square the series; they got the perfect start from Holder, who reduced them to 64 for 3. He finished with 4 for 48 as England were bowled out for 223. With bat, too, he put up a lion-hearted effort, top-scoring with a 55-ball 35 with 3 fours but could eventually not prevent a 30-run victory.

Holder won his Worcestershire cap in 1970 and finished with 84 wickets at 21.10. His next Test came early next year at Sabina Park where he once again returned figures of 4 for 60, but Dilip Sardesai’s famous 212 not only lifted India to 387, but also ensured that India could make West Indies follow-on for the first time in history.

He played only 2 more Tests that series, picking up 2 more wickets, but was brought back for the second Test against New Zealand at Bourda. Once again he gave West Indies an excellent start, reducing the tourists to 99 for 6 before Bevan Congdon lifted them to 348. The Test was drawn.

He played the remaining Tests, and almost won the last Test at Queen’s Park Oval: with West Indies down at 123 for 8 Holder scored a quick 42 (his Test best); then, with New Zealand chasing 401, Holder picked up 4 for 41 to reduce the tourists to 188 for 7 before Ken Wadsworth and Bruce Taylor played out 106 minutes, pulling off a draw. He finished the series with 12 wickets at an impressive 23.75.

Holder played only 2 Tests in the England tour of 1973 — but played a crucial role in each; opening the attack with Sobers (ahead of Keith Boyce and Bernard Julien) Holder finished with 3 for 83 at Edgbaston, along with hitting Geoff Boycott on the arm, forcing him to retire. The figures do not look impressive but Holder bowled with uncharacteristic hostility.

With West Indies up 1-0 they virtually sealed the series by scoring 652 for 8 in the last Test at Lord’s with Rohan Kanhai, Sobers, and Julien all scoring hundreds. Holder then provided the early jolts, reducing England to 29 for 3 within half-an-hour’s play. England never recovered and lost by an innings. It was the first series West Indies won in 6-and-a-half years.

Middle years

In 1973-74 Holder scored his only First-Class hundred against Trinidad and Tobago. After the tourists put up 202 Barbados was reduced to 129 for 5, but Holder’s 122 helped them reach a formidable 411.

Worcestershire won their first Championship Title since 1965. Holder played 23 matches, picking up 94 wickets at 15.88. In the Championship itself he picked up 87 wickets at 15.60, finishing only next to Andy Roberts at 13.45. This included a run of 4 for 19 and 5 for 79 against Derbyshire, 1 for 49 and 7 for 40 against Glamorgan, and 6 for 36 and 4 for 63 — his first 10-for — against Lancashire.

Holder played a crucial role in West Indies winning the tight series in 1974-75 on Indian soil. He picked up 3 for 37 and 2 for 18 at Bangalore — all 5 top-order batsmen, and helped West Indies to an easy victory. Then, with the series levelled at 2-2, the teams moved at Bombay.

After Clive Lloyd’s timely declaration India either needed to score 404 for a victory or survive a just over a day and an hour to save the Test on a pitch that still held. Holder ran through Gundappa Viswanath’s defence on Day Five and India went to stumps at 53 for 3. They fought hard on Day Six, but Holder picked up 6 for 39 — his first 5-for — to win the series for West Indies.

Australia won the Frank Worrell Trophy at in 1975-76, but Holder hit back at Adelaide with 5 for 108 and 3 for 115. West Indies, however, lost the Test, and Australia took the series 5-1.

Holder played in the 1975 World Cup, and was involved in one of the most stunning heists: he came out to bat at 166 for 8 in the crucial match against Pakistan at Edgbaston. West Indies still required 101 to win. With Deryck Murray at the other end Holder held for, adding 37 for the ninth wicket before Murray and Roberts scripted a famous win.

In the semi-final against New Zealand at The Oval Holder picked up 3 for 30, and between them he and Julien bowled out the Kiwis for 158. West Indies ended up winning the match and the tournament.

The 1975-76 home series against India was where things started to go wrong for the first time. West Indies easily won at Kensington Oval but India squared the series at Queen’s Park Oval. In the third Test India chased down a world-record 403 (they scored 406 for 4).

Lloyd decided to do away with spin completely. He had enough resources for the new tactic, and for the purpose he used Holding, Daniel, and Julien, using Holder as a fourth bowler. During the disputed Test at Sabina Park Holding and Daniel, the main speedsters, bowled an excess of bouncers and beamers at the hapless Indians.

Holder played a little part too; he did not take wickets, but played the perfect foil to the other three tearaways. He also played an active role in the decimation: a Holder bouncer to Brijesh Patel hit the batsman’s mouth after having an edge, resulting in three stitches.

Later that year Holder picked up his only ODI 5-for — against England at Edgbaston. After West Indies scored a humongous 223 for 9 in a 32-over match England collapsed from 54 without loss to 173: Holder picked up 5 for 50. He also had decent outing in the famous ‘Grovel’ series: he never picked up more than 3 wickets in an innings but eventually finished with 15 wickets at 24.46, playing a role in almost all the Tests.

The decline

After the England tour Lloyd decided to fall back on an all-out pace attack. There were already the lethal Holding and the wily Roberts, but joining the bandwagon soon were the accurate Joel Garner and the hostile Colin Croft. Despite all his pedigree Holder was more left out than picked.

He made a comeback in the 1977-78 home series against Australia, playing 3 Tests when the big guns were away for World Series: it was here that he picked up best Test figures of 6 for 28 as he triggered an Australian collapse from 193 for 3 to 290. West Indies won the Test and the series convincingly.

On the India tour in 1978-79 Holder played all 6 Tests, picking up only 8 wickets. With the likes of Holding, Garner, and Croft all coming back Holder was out of contention for good.

Worcestershire gave him a benefit season in 1979; it got him £29,011. He picked up 32 wickets that season at 32.53, playing only 14 matches. In the next season — his last — he had 15 wickets at 29.26 from 6 matches.

He made a late comeback, playing 2 matches for Orange Free State in the Currie Cup of 1985-86. He picked up only 2 wickets in 2 matches, and never played again.

Post-retirement

Holder took to umpiring after his retirement, eventually becoming a First-Class umpire in England from 1988 to 2012. He has also been a third umpire in ODIs and the reserve (fourth) umpire in both Tests and ODIs.

(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)