Cricket World Cup history: Michael Holding delivered his chilling tale with finesse
Not for nothing was Michael Holding known as the Rolls-Royce of fast bowlers. Beginning as a tearaway speedster, he later cut down his speed and bowled with immense control. All the while he had such a smooth and silent run-up to the wicket that, as the story goes, umpires could not hear him approaching from behind them. He was thus christened ‘Whispering death’ by Dickie Bird.
Certainly, the batsman could hear the ball bowled by Holding whisper a nasty foreboding every time it whizzed past his ears. Holding was indeed one of the greatest fast bowlers of all time.
In the 1979 World Cup, Holding was one of the four wheels of the awesome Caribbean speed machine, the others being Andy Roberts, Joel Garner and Colin Croft. This foursome - in which Croft was replaced later by Malcolm Marshall - was, perhaps unarguably, the greatest in history. It swept all before it, and the second Prudential Cup was no exception. Holding’s own contribution in it was outstanding.
This was apparent from the very start as he and Roberts reduced India to 29 for three in the opening encounter at Edgbaston. Holding had Dilip Vengsarkar and Anshuman Gaekwad caught by Alvin Kallicharran and Collis King respectively. Despite Gundappa Viswanath’s brilliance, India never really recovered from that disastrous beginning. Holding clean bowled Viswanath too and eventually finished with four for 33 off his 12 overs.
Sir Garfield Sobers summed up Holding’s bowling style thus: "Michael Holding is slimly built, and has to rely on his wonderful rhythm and co-ordination as a compensation for his lack of brute force."
With the match against Sri Lanka washed out, the West Indies faced New Zealand at Trent Bridge. Chasing a target of 245, New Zealand lost wickets regularly to the pacers. Holding was as economical as ever, giving away just 29 runs in his 12 overs for the wicket of Lance Cairns.
In the semi-final against Pakistan, Holding was once again right on the spot. After having opener Sadiq Mohammad caught behind by Deryck Murray for 2, he kept the batsmen on a leash despite a superb partnership between Majid Khan and Zaheer Abbas. Holding conceded just 28 runs in 9 overs as the West Indies entered their second successive final.
As Vivian Richards and Collis King placed the West Indies in a commanding position after a bad start, the English innings followed the opposite course. Their openers skipper Mike Brearley and Geoff Boycott laboured over 129 runs. Then Holding’s craft came into play as he had both caught.
He continued to be miserly and this time gave away no more than 16 runs in 8 overs as Garner and Croft wiped out the rest of the English batting.
It was a great World Cup for Holding as he topped the averages at 13.25 for each of his 8 wickets in 4 matches. What's more, he conceded just 2.58 runs per over, giving away a mere 106 runs in his 41 overs. If any more evidence was needed that Holding was a thoroughbred, none was required after this tournament.
The 1983 edition was not so easy for the West Indies but Holding continued to bowl splendidly. As the side suffered its first defeat in the tournament by a determined Indian team, Holding was yet again on target, three of his 12 overs being maidens.
He picked up the wickets of opener Krishnamachari Srikkanth and top-scorer Yash Pal Sharma while giving away just 32 runs. His efforts however did not bear fruit as the Caribbean batsmen, for once, failed to rise to the occasion.
Holding’s amazing accuracy was on view again during the rout of Australia at Headingley. While Winston Davis ran through the line-up to become the first bowler to capture 7 wickets in a World Cup match, a mere 23 runs were scored off Holding’s 8 overs. He dismissed Rodney Marsh as the Windies won by 101 runs.
The Zimbabweans posed few problems at New Road in Worcester, and Holding continued to concede less than three runs per over. He took two for 33 in his 12 overs.
With the West Indies looking for revenge in the return match against India at The Oval, for the first time more than four runs an over were scored off Holding. But he captured three invaluable wickets.
He sent back Mohinder Amarnath, top-scorer with 80, and then the dangerous Kapil Dev and all-rounder Roger Binny in a terrific burst. The West Indies won comfortably and Holding finished with three for 40 off 9.1 overs.
Holding was below par against Australia and did not play in the Zimbabwe game. He was, however, back at his best in the semi-final against Pakistan.
Once again he conceded just above 2 runs per over. He finished with one for 25 in 12 overs. In fact, the entire quartet of speedsters - Roberts, Garner, Marshall and Holding - bowled fast and straight, giving away 109 runs in the 48 overs that they bowled between them, taking 7 wickets.
It was fast bowling at its best in a one-day match. There was no escape for Pakistan.
And so the game was set up at Lord’s against surprise finalists India. Again, the peerless pace combination was devastating. By a remarkable coincidence their performance in the final was uncannily similar to that in the penultimate round.
Pakistan had finished on 184; here India were bowled out for 183. The four pacemen conceded 106 runs in their 42.4 overs while capturing 8 wickets. Holding took two for 29 in 9.4 overs.
The target seemed easy meat for the West Indies. That their batsmen faltered is another story.
The image of a forlorn Holding standing sideways at the wicket after being adjudged leg-before, and the Indians running joyously to the pavilion, will remain etched forever in the minds of all those who watched that stunning upset.
That was the last scene of Holding’s participation in the World Cup. But that is not how this great bowler will be remembered. He was among the finest, and did full justice to his abilities in the tournament.
Never getting carried away, he bowled with exemplary control. Hardly ever was he collared, and not in a single match in which he bowled did he go wicketless. In 11 matches he took 20 wickets at an average of 17.05, conceding just 2.94 runs per over.
His career was an object lesson in the art of ODI fast bowling. Rolls-Royce would doubtlessly be proud of lending their name to Michael Holding, one of the finest fast bowlers in history.
Michael Holding’s World Cup bowling and fielding record:
Matches 11, Wickets 20, Average 17.05, Best 4/33, Economy 2.94, Catches 5
Also see - IND vs PAK head to head stats