Michael Anthony Holding (born 16 February 1954) is a former West Indian cricketer. One of the fastest bowlers ever to play Test cricket, he was nicknamed “Whispering Death” by umpires due to his quiet approach to the bowling crease. His bowling was smooth and very fast, and he used his height (6 ft 3 1⁄2 in/1.918 m) to generate large amounts of bounce and zip off the pitch. He was part of the fearsome West Indian pace battery, together with Joel Garner, Andy Roberts, Sylvester Clarke, Colin Croft, Wayne Daniel and the late Malcolm Marshall that devastated batting line-ups throughout the world in the seventies and early eighties. Early in his Test career, in 1976, Holding broke the record for best bowling figures in a Test match by a West Indies bowler, 14 wickets for 149 runs (14/149). The record still stands. During his first-class cricketcareer, Holding played for Jamaica, Canterbury, Derbyshire, Lancashire and Tasmania. In June 1988 Holding was celebrated on the $2 Jamaican stamp alongside the Barbados Cricket Buckle.
Michael Holding was born on 16 February 1954, the youngest of four children to Ralph and Enid Holding who lived in Kingston, Jamaica. The family was passionate about sport, and only a few days after Michael was born his father enrolled him as a member of Melbourne Cricket Clubat Kingston. At the age of three he was diagnosed with asthma, but by his early teenage years he no longer needed an inhaler. He led an active life, playing sport in the scrubland and wooded areas near his home. Though his family would often watch the cricket at Sabina Park, Holding preferred to play Catchy Shubby Cricket than watch.
In late 1975 the West Indies team embarked on a six-Test tour of Australia. Earlier that year the West Indies had defeated Australia in the final of the inaugural the World Cup, and the teams were considered to be the best of their day. Fast bowler Bernard Julien was out of form and his place in the team was given to debutant Michael Holding who opened the bowling with Andy Roberts. He picked up a groin strain in the second Test and bowled as fast as 97 mph, quicker than Jeff Thomson, Australia’s fastest bowler. According to Wisden in his debut series, Holding “had shown himself to be Roberts’ natural opening partner and indeed was timed to be faster than [Jeff] Thomson, [Dennis] Lillee and Roberts”, and considered that when West Indies captain Clive Lloyd chose to give Julien the new ball rather than Holding it was a mistake that cost the West Indies the match. Australia won the series 5-1, and though Holding’s 10 wickets in 5 matches cost on average more than 60 runs each, Wisden believed that he had performed well enough to establish himself in the side and had the potential to bowl faster still.
India visited the West Indies in March for a four-Test series. The defeat to Australia had left Andy Roberts exhausted, so he was rested for the matches against India and Holding took over as leader of the West Indies bowling attack. He finished as his team’s leading wicket taker (second in the series to Indian leg spinner B. S. Chandrasekhar) with 19 wickets at less than 20 runs each and helped his team to a 2-1 victory.
The West Indies toured England in 1976, and though Holding was unknown in the country the British press picked up on his performance in Australia and there was a sense of anticipation about his bowling. An early psychological blow was landed by the West Indies in a warm up match against the Marylebone Cricket Club when Holding stuck Dennis Amiss on the head, leaving a wound that needed stitches. Amiss was a veteran player and likely to open for England in the forthcoming Tests and seeing him struggle against Holding’s pace was a warning of things to come. In the lead up to the series England captain Tony Greig was confident of his team’s chances, saying in an interview “I like to think people are building these West Indians up, because I’m not really sure they’re as good as everyone thinks. You must remember, that the West Indians, these guys, if they get on top they are magnificent cricketers. But if they’re down, they grovel, and I intend, with the help of Closey [Brian Close] and a few others, to make them grovel.” The comments outraged the West Indians, and to the team the use of the term “grovel” in particular “smacked of racism and apartheid”.
Holding has written two autobiographies the first of which, Whispering Death, was published in 1988 before he retired and the second, No Holding Back, over 20 years later in 2010. After retiring from cricket Holding ran a petrol station in Kingston called “Michael Holding’s Service Centre”, employing several people who were members of Melbourne Cricket Club of which he was a member. The business was initially successful, though Holding found it stressful. Broadcasting began to take up more of his time, and while he was away the petrol station suffered so in 1995 he decided to sell. The former fast bowler also considered taking up umpiring, though not as a profession, and considered pursuing qualifications to umpire in domestic matches in Jamaica but his time was taken up with managing the petrol station and broadcasting.
Broadcaster and ICC official
Holding’s career evolved after his retirement from active play. He had never aspired to becoming a commentator but was friends with a producer at Radio Jamaica who invited him to commentate on cricket. This led to him working around the Caribbean, but at this stage work was not regular enough to be his main source of income. Holding made his transition from radio commentator to television in 1990 when cricket in the Caribbean was broadcast on television around the world for the first time. Two local commentators were chosen and Holding was picked alongside Tony Cozier at the latter’s recommendation. He became a broadcaster as a member of the Sky Sports cricket commentary team.
The ICC created the Bowling Action Review Committee (BARC) in 1999, and on the recommendation of the WICB, Holding was one of the founding members of the committee. The role of the committee was to monitor players suspected of throwing using various video replays. The process of assessing a bowler’s action has since become more scientific with more technology used and though the committee disbanded in 2005 it was influential in the ICC establishing the 15 degree maximum for bowlers straightening their arms in delivery. Even when working for the BARC, Holding was a strident critic of the ICC so in 2007 when he was approached to join the newly formed ICC cricket committee he thought a friend was playing a joke on him. Holding joined the committee and though he was initially optimistic quit in July 2008 in protest against the ICC’s decision to overturn the result of the Oval Test between Pakistan and England, which was changed from a forfeit by Pakistan (who chose not to take the field in protest against being accused of ball tampering) to a draw. The forfeiture was later reinstated, and Holding resolved not to rejoin the committee.
Holding has stated “I don’t think [twenty20] is good for the game… It has its place but it will be bad unless those in charge manage it properly and I do not think they can because they are blinded by money. I can see Test cricket dying because of this.” Despite this he was initially supportive of the Stanford 20/20. He believed the tournament funded by billionaire Allen Stanford could revitalise Caribbean cricket (the fortunes of the West Indies team declined from the 1990s onwards). However, with the conception of the Stanford Super Series involving the England Cricket Boardin 2008 he became critical of the venture as he felt that funds which had previously been invested in domestic teams was no longer of interest to Stanford.