Whispering Death: Michael Holding
The best of West Indies fast bowling quadruple, also known as the 'Whispering Death'. Geoffrey Boycott called him the Rolls-Royce of fast bowlers and umpire Dicky Bird described him as Whispering Death. His bowling was smooth and extremely fast, and he used his height (1.918 m) to generate huge bouncers and zip off the pitch. He made his debut against Australia in 1975 and in his second test, bowled at 97 mph, quicker than Jeff Thompson who was till then the fastest bowler of the world.
Born in Jamaica, Holding was always interested in being a fast bowler. Cricinfo describes his bowling quite poetically "It began intimidatingly far away. He turned, and began the most elegant long-striding run of them all, feet kissing the turf silently, his head turning gently and ever so slightly from side to side, rhythmically, like that of a cobra hypnotising its prey". If Marshall evoked a feeling of fear, then Holding evoked a feeling of hypnotism in batsman's mind.
Although Holding bowled a lot of magnificent bowling spells in his career, but his over to Geoff Boycott in Kensington Oval in 1981 has gone down in history as the fastest, most ferocious bowling performance of all time. The first five balls increased in pace, causing Boycott to have to react very rapidly to avoid being hit. The last ball saw Boycott clean bowled, to the great delight of the crowd. Another killer performance which comes to my mind is his over bowled to Ian Botham at Bridgetown in 1980. Botham threw his bat in frustration, got hit on his helmet and ultimately got caught in the slips.
He had one of the longest run-up, almost running from the boundary line. He would swing and cut the ball on either side with scathing pace which made it impossible for batsmen to play their shots. Imran Khan recounts one of his matches against Holding, when he was playing world series cricket "I walked into bat and as soon as I crossed the boundary line, I saw the wicket-keeper standing there. I felt amused and asked him why is he standing at the boundary line? The wicket-keeper retorted saying that you will see when you face Michael and started laughing"
World's Fastest Bowler Competition was held in 1979. Thompson, Lillee, Imran, Holding, Hadlee, Roberts and other greats competed to win the title of 'world's fastest bowler'. Holding stood second in the competition. Jeff Thompson came first and won the competiti.I have read interviews of all leading batsmen and bowlers since 1980 and all of them place Holding on top of their 'admiration list'. There have been host of legendary fast bowlers in cricketing world but Holding stands tall among them. He took 249 wickets in 60 test matches at an average of 23.68. In 102 one-day internationals, he claimed 142 wickets for a miserly average of 21.36, yielding no more than 3.32 runs per over overall. In two World Cups, he took 20 wickets for 342 runs with an amazing economy rate of 2.96!.
Wasim Akram places Holding on top when asked about his teenage bowling idols. Geoff Boycott says "With Michael Holding you always felt he could be quicker than he already was. And that was a scary thought". Bob Woolmer narrates a story about Holding at Oval in 1976 "The pitch had nothing in terms of movement, swing or extra bounce for the bowler, but Holding didn't need any assistance: six of his victims were bowled and two leg-before. He just kept coming back and bowling quicker and quicker, and stumps flew all over the place"