Known as ‘Whispering Death’ for his silent approach to the crease, Michael Holding was one of West Indies’ greatest ever players in their greatest ever era. His run up was long, but nonchalant; his delivery stride smooth, yet explosive; his release languid, but deadly.
Holding was one quarter of West Indies’ ‘Awesome Foursome’, the battery of quick bowlers who came together in the late 1970s after Clive Lloyd’s side saw the impact fast bowling could have thanks to Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson during their 1975-76 tour to Australia. Holding debuted in that series, though his start was an inauspicious one as he finished with match figures of 0-127 in the first Test at Brisbane. He would have more joy in the next Test at the WACA Ground in Perth where he took 4-88 in the first innings as West Indies marched to an innings win.
It would not be the last time that Holding would blow away an elite batting lineup. Bowling averages of 23.75 at home and 23.65 away from home point to a remarkable consistency in all conditions. However, it was his battles against England that linger longest in the memories of those who saw him bowl. He took career best figures of 14-149 – 12 of which were either LBW or bowled, including all eight of his first innings wickets – on a flat Oval pitch in the hot summer of 1976 to propel West Indies to a 231-run victory. His first over to Geoffrey Boycott in Barbados in 1981 has passed into legend for its speed, hostility and the discomfort he inflicted on one of England’s most obdurate openers before his off stump went flying.
Besides his debut series in Australia, the only other tour Holding would taste defeat on would be West Indies’ 1979-80 trip to New Zealand. The series was so controversial that Holding himself refuses to accept the series as a loss thanks to a succession of poor umpiring decisions that denied West Indies victory. The major flashpoint occurred during the first Test in Dunedin when Holding was convinced that Kiwi batsman John Parker had edged one behind, only to be given not out by umpire Fred Goodall. Such was Holding’s frustration at the decision that he kicked the stumps down at the non-striker’s end.
Upon retirement in 1987, Holding began a long and successful career behind the microphone and is a familiar presence in commentary boxes across the world, most notably as a regular with Sky Sports in England. His laconic, opinionated style alongside his unmistakable Jamaican lilt has made him one of the most popular broadcasters in the game.