Michael Holding simply took grace to poetic regions and aestheticism of pace bowling to depths never traversed.
His bowling action resembled a ballad dancer or a swan swimming. being simply the epitome of perfection.
His deliveries would whizz through like a bullet but his body embezzled with the smoothness of a Rolls Royce car.
Holding in his run-up literally floating on the ground was beauty personified; reminding one of a Rembrandt painting and when delivering the ball looked like a cobra coiling its head.
Rarely did a sportsman blend the ferocity of a tiger with the grace of a pianist in the manner of Holding. Perhaps no paceman at his best sent more shivers down the spine of opponents.
Arguably, He possessed more speed through the air than any pace bowler and in full flow he was a harder proposition to face than any fast bowler with his full length and ability to obtain steep bounce so near the bat.
Holding rarely delivered a no-ball. His natural action enabled him to swing the ball both ways.
Holding was much more built to be an athlete and did not possess the physique of a fast bowler Initially he started off as a champion athlete as a sprinter on the track before he chose Cricket as his career.
Test Cricket Career
In his debut series in Australia, he had great difficulty adjusting as part of the team that suffered a humiliating 5-1 defeat in Australia.
Although expensive he gave glimpses of his prowess when at times unsettling batsmen like the Chappell brothers.
In the subsequent home series against India, he bowled flat out to taunt the Indian batsmen, capturing 19 wickets. His all-out speed was often too daunting for the opponents. At Kingston on a wicket with uneven bounce, he simply looked like ripping the flesh of the Indian batsmen.
In 1976 on the tour of England, Holding was simply a revelation. In 4 tests he captured 28 wickets at an average of around 14.
With a spell of 5-17, he ripped the heart out of the English batting at Leeds, At the Oval, he took 8-92 and 6-57, which is still today considered the greatest pace bowling spell ever.
On a track as docile as a pancake Holding simply destroyed the spine of the English batting lineup like farming in a desert.
Despite tormenting his opponents in the manner of undertaking a combing operation, he revealed the touch of a surgeon and the grace of an Antelope.
Fast bowling skill and poetry that day simply touched sublime realms. His balls cartwheeling the stumps of Tony Greig, Balderstone, Dennis Amiss and Bob Woolmer and trapping Knott, and David Steele plumb in front could be preserved in a museum.
The pace and bounce Holding derived defied the laws of conventional biomechanics. Some of the yorkers fired reminded you of a missile being fired. 12 of his 14 victims were either bowled or leg before.
What was startling is that he achieved it with minimal movement. Possibly never has such knockout punch been delivered in the game exuding as much an element of aestheticism.
Holding missed the 1977 home series versus Pakistan but returned with a bang in Kerry Packer’s WSC Cricket.
Although somewhat inconsistent being beset by injury in Australia from 1977-78, at times at his best he was a more daunting proposition than even Dennis Lillee or Andy Roberts.
In the 1st Super-Test of 1977 against Australia, his 4 scalps set the pace for a West Indies win. Batsmen changed ends to face Roberts rather than face Holding. whose speed was as frightening as a tiger attacking someone.
Arguably never in Australia had an overseas paceman displayed such lightning speed since the War. In 1979 in West Indies he was the most successful bowler capturing 24 scalps in 5 games.
On return from WSC Holding played an instrumental part in the greatest pace bowling quartet ever, in tandem with Andy Roberts, Joel Garner, Colin Croft and later Malcolm Marshall.
His blistering spells played a major role in West Indies winning their first-ever test series on Australian soil in 1979-80. At Melbourne, his 4 scalps including Kim Hughes, Rodney Marsh, and Greg Chappell played an important part in his team’s triumph with the home side being bundled out for a mere 156.
In 1980 at his best he was most effective in England taking 20 wickets, with rain often robbing his team from achieving a win. His 6-67 at Lords and 4 wickets at the Oval was simply fast bowling at its fiercest.
In the latter game, his sensational burst sent England rattling at 92-9 at lunch on the last day, with only a 119 the last wicket stand between Peter Willey and Bob Willis pulling England out of the woods.
In a home series in 1981 against England, he was an epitome of consistency capturing 17 wickets at an average of around 19.
In the Kingston test, his opening over to Geoff Boycott is arguably the best ever bowled by a paceman. It simply blended every attribute of fast bowling perfection, be it speed, control, accuracy or movement as well as aggression at its fiercest.
It looked as though his first five deliveries were devised to build a thrilling climax, with the final delivery castling the gate of Boycott to send his stumps cartwheeling.
It was a sight to behold witnessing some of the previous deliveries of that over alarmingly rearing from a good length to Boycott’s neck, like a shark jumping out of the sea.
In 1981-82 in Australia Holding was arguably the best fast bowler in the world, capturing 24 wickets in 3 tests.
At times he even looked quicker than Jeff Thomson at his fastest.
At Melbourne in the 1st test although his team was defeated he took pace bowling skill to its superlative height, capturing 11 wickets.
His dismissals of Allan Border once through the gate and others caught behind, Bruce Laird, Graeme Wood, Rodney Marsh and Greg Chappell, and Kim Hughes castled were unforgettable.
In the 2nd innings remarkably, he captured most of his scalps of a shorter run-up. Rarely had pace, movement, correct length and control been blended as clinically down under.
In that series, Holding introduced the element of movement and variation to supplement his speed.
Arguably no overseas paceman bowled better than Holding in a series in Australia, till then.
In 1982-83 he had a relatively poor series against India but in a six test series in India in 1983-84 he was as good as anyone. capturing 22 scalps at an average of 22.10.
In many ways he resembled the Andy Roberts of 1974-75, mastering swing, change of pace and sideways movement.
In terms of pure bowling skill, he surpassed even Malcolm Marshall, on that tour.
Till the final test, it is notable that Holding was the highest wicket-taker of the series with 29 scalps, before being overtaken by Malcolm Marshall in the final test who had an overall haul of 33 wickets.
His bombardment of the top Indian Middle order at Kolkata like Amarnath, Gavaskar and Shastri has always been embedded in my memories as well as the pure skill he displayed on a docile surface at Mumbai to take 6 wickets and his brilliant exploitation of conditions on a broken track at Ahmedabad.
I have vivid memories of his outswingers and yorkers. Holding’s crashing through the gate of Mohinder Amarnath with a yorker from the 1983 world cup final was one of cricket’s spectacles.
In 1984-85 he was often sidelined by injuries at his best and was a major architect in shaping West Indies into arguably what was the best test team ever. His bursts of 3-17 at Edgbaston in 1984 and 6-21 at Perth in 1984-85 simply represented the epitome of pace bowling skill.
From 1986 a gradual decline began in his career coinciding with that in West Indian cricket as a whole and he retired after the 1987 tour of New Zealand.
In ODI cricket Holding was one of the most economical bowlers ever and at his best amongst the most lethal. In the WSC game in 1978 his 5 wicket haul was simply classical.
He was a vital factor in West Indies’ successive triumphs in the Benson and Hedges triangular tournament down under in 1979-80, 1981-82, 1983-84 and 1984-85 and the 1979 Prudential World cup.
At times Holding could come out with dashing cameos with the bat like in the 1st game against India in the 1983 world cup.
Evaluation of Holding as a Pace bowler and Cricketer
Statistically, he captured 249 quickest in 60 tests at an average of 23.68 and strike rate of 50.9 with 13 five-wicket hauls which are below the bracket of the very greatest.
In ODI’s he captured 142 scalps at an average of 21, 36, in 192 games with an economy rate of 2.79. In the test, matches won Holding averaged 18.36 and captured 152 scalps.
Holding also as part of the pace quartet played an instrumental role in shaping West Indies into the champion Test and ODI side of all time.
Quite a number of cricketing greats have chosen Holding in their all-time test XI for his all-around perfection like Mike Procter, Neil Harvey, Ray Illingworth, Asif Iqbal, Majid Khan, Syed Kirmani and Lawrence Rowe.
Imran Khan rates Holding as the most perfect fast bowler of his time and the most talented right-arm paceman ever.
Cristopher Martin Jenkins Holding has rated Holding at 85th place amongst 100 best cricketers of all time while John Woodcock places him at 65th place, ahead of any great West Indies paceman.
Ray Lindwall ranked Holding behind only Dennis Lillee in his era and amongst his 7 best fast bowlers ever.
Len Hutton rated Holding as the best and most lethal of the then West Indian pace quartet, who in his view took too long a run-up, which could have been reduced by around 10 yards.
When judged amongst the all-time greats at his best Holding is a strong candidate for the 5-6 most skilled pace bowlers ever.
Perhaps no paceman at his best sent more shivers down the spine of opponents and no right-arm genuine quickie possessed more natural ability than Holding.
However he never completely utilized his potential or bowling intelligence depending too much on speed for his entire career, and not blending movement, variations or slower deliveries like partner Andy Roberts.
In full gear in a single spell, Holding was possibly as lethal as the greatest fast bowlers ever.
If he had worked harder on his bowling like Imran or Lillee, Holding may have been the best of all right-arm genuinely fast bowlers.
Another notable aspect that acted against his prospects was that he was consistently beset by injuries.
I find it very hard to separate Michael Holding and Andy Roberts with not even a whisker separating the two giants.
Holding did not reverse swing or possess a slower ball like Marshall and Roberts or was as accurate as Ambrose or Garner, but in the total package on his day could be the most effective.
Taking all factors into consideration I would rank Holding amongst the Dozen finest pace bowlers of all time, a whisker ahead of Allan Donald.
I feel only Marshall, Wasim, Lillee, Mcgrath, Hadlee, Ambrose, Steyn, Imran, Lindwall, Trueman, and possibly Roberts rank ahead of him.
It is regrettable that on the cricket field his behaviour has often been rash or abusive, often bursting out in temper and abusing the officials, depriving cricket of being a gentleman‘s game.
It was amply displayed in the bloodbath at Kingston against India in 1976 and in New Zealand in 1980.
Still, I admire his apologetic or sympathetic attitude towards India in the Kingston bloodbath in 1976, where he admitted that his team overdid short-pitched stuff.
Holding after Retirement
After his retirement Holding became an astute commentator and judge. Somewhat controversially he judged both Muthiah Muralitharan and Shoaib Akhtar to be chuckers.
Sadly he has often not given the likes of Lara and Tendulkar their due, being critical of their handling of genuine pace. At times he could be over-subjective.
Holding ranks Viv Richards as the best batsman he ever saw, Malcolm Marshall, Glenn Mcgrath, Dennis Lillee and Dale Steyn as the best pace bowlers ever and Sunil Gavaskar, Ian Chappell and Ricky Ponting as the best batsmen against genuine pace bowling.
Holding also held Zaheer Abbas, Gundappa Vishwanath, Geoff Boycott, Allan Border, Javed Miandad and David Gower in great awe amongst batsmen and Imran Khan and Andy Roberts in great esteem amongst pacemen.
Holding felt Andy Roberts was the most underestimated of fast bowlers while Ian Chappell was the ultimate player to bat for your life.
He has no doubt that the West Indies team of his day under Clive Lloyd was the best team of all time.
Holding also was a great horse racing enthusiast, owning racehorses and even winning races in West Indies and England.
Holding has also been a most vocal spokesman against racism in recent times, being harshly critical of all racial discrimination on the cricket field. He left no stone unturned in defending ‘Black Lives Matter.’