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Michael Holding - Death became him

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Last updated on 16 Feb 2024 | 06:15 AM
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Michael Holding - Death became him

Holdings sprinter’s training enabled him to accelerate with a smooth run-up and his towering height allowed him to generate enough zip from the flattest of tracks

Former West Indies pacer Michael Holding was elegance personified, not only in his bowling action, which earned him the name “Whispering Death”, but also in his commentary which was loved by all.

Born on February 16, 1954, in Kingston, the 6ft 4 inch Holding was a sprinter before his cricketing career. And he used both to become one of the greatest fast bowlers in cricket ever. Pairing with Andy Roberts, as the other bowlers kept shuffling, Holding was a significant part of West Indies’ four-pronged pace attack that terrorized batters in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

While most West Indian fast bowlers were famous for their insane pace and bounce that retired most batters in matches, Holding was addictive for his bowling action, all the while retaining a deadlier pace and bounce.

Holding possessed the most graceful and elongated running style, with his feet delicately brushing the turf, his head swaying gently and subtly from side to side. The rhythm of his approach resembled that of a cobra, hypnotizing its prey. Skilled betters often averted their gaze before meeting his delivery. Umpires regarded him as a manifestation of malevolent stealth, coining the moniker "Whispering Death."

Having played only 60 Tests and 102 ODIs, where Holding has 249 and 142 wickets respectively, he still managed to bowl “the best over in cricket history” as is widely believed by critics and fans alike.

England’s Geoffrey Boycott, during England’s five-match Test tour of West Indies in 1981, was at the unfortunate end of a peak Holding spell that left him flummoxed, beaten, and eventually bowled. The final ball of the over, where Holding’s length ball escaped Boycott’s defense to send the off-stump cartwheeling, is still one of the fondest memories for many West Indies fans.

Holdings sprinter’s training enabled him to accelerate with a smooth run-up and his towering height allowed him to generate enough zip from the flattest of tracks. Holding’s best bowling figures of 14/149 came in 1976 when the drought-ridden summer had The Oval turf lifeless. But Holding’s no-nonsense straight and brutally fast missiles couldn’t be stopped by that pitch either.

The lethality of Holding’s bowling was faced by a visiting Indian team in 1976 where as many as five batters quit the game midway owing to injury. However, India wasn’t Holding’s favourite opponent; that was England against whom the bowler took a whopping 96 wickets in just 21 matches.

Debuting in the Tests in 1975, Holding best year came in 1976 when he took 53 wickets in 11 matches. Holding ended his bowling career with an average of 23.68 with 13 five-wicket hauls and two ten-wicket hauls. Despite not being a batter, Holding has an unusual record of tallying the maximum sixes (36) for any batter who hasn’t even tallied 1000 runs.

Such was his conviction that when he came on to bat as the last batsman in the 1983 World Cup, he still believed that he could pull off the 40-odd runs.

The 1977 Wisden Cricketer of the Year was forced to leave his 12-year-old cricket stint in ‘87 owing to repetitive hamstring and back injuries. Holding became a popular TV commentator thereafter and was among the few inductees to be named to the ICC Hall of Fame in 2009.

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