Last winter, by chance, I found myself travelling to Australia with Viv Richards, who was on his way to do some "King and I"-type gigs with Rodney Hogg, the former Australian fast bowler. We've known each other a long time, Viv and I, but I'd never got round to asking him one particular question. So I did.
"If you had to choose four fast bowlers of your time with West Indies, which would they be?" He replied: "Well, I would have Malcolm. And I would have Andy. And I would have Mikey." He pondered a little longer. "And I would have Curtly." So there you have it, Viv Richards' dream attack: Malcolm Marshall, the slithering genius; Andy Roberts, cerebral, calculating, the Godfather of the modern West Indian pacemen; Michael Holding, Ferrari or Rolls Royce, and possibly the most beautiful athlete to grace a cricket field; and Curtly Ambrose, surging relentlessly in. Look at the paucity around the world today, and understand what daunting really means.
The four never played together, of course, but consider those who failed to make Viv's list. Take, for example, that photograph, snapped in 1981 in Port of Spain, of arguably the most chilling pace quartet of them all, standing, arms folded and unsmiling, in echelon, in height order: first Roberts to the fore; then Holding; next Colin Croft, the smiling assassin who, he once said, would bounce the crap out of his grandmother if it meant a wicket; and the Big Bird, Joel Garner, gentle and jovial in reality, who could pepper your rib cage or bust your foot with equal felicity. Neither Croft nor Garner got on to Viv's list. Nor did Patrick Patterson, the only man to make Graham Gooch genuinely fear for his well-being; nor the faithful, indefatigable Courtney Walsh who took more wickets than any of them. Sylvester Clarke, considered the nastiest of the lot, scarcely got a game for West Indies and neither did Middlesex's Diamond, Wayne Daniel. Both would walk into any other international team of the past three decades. Such times of plenty and never to be seen again.
Sign up to the Spin – our weekly cricket round-up Read more Holding, Roberts and Garner were among those who attended Monday's premiere of Fire In Babylon, the sociodocumentary that tells the story of West Indies' rise to dominance in the second part of the 1970s, and through the decade that followed, and what it meant to the region. I did an interview for the movie while in Antigua, but like others who witnessed it at first hand but are not from West Indies, it did not make the final cut. Instead, the director chose to tell the story through West Indian eyes, which is understandable, but a pity as well because there are those who could place into perspective what it was like to face these bowlers for a living ("Dying ain't much of a living," as the Outlaw Josey Wales said), and what was in the mind, not least in those days before helmets offered some protection from the most serious of injuries.
So, to redress the balance, I can try to convey how a tail-end batsman, without the requisite skills or indeed reactions, of the more celebrated willow-wielders, coped, or more often than not, failed to cope. I can say, without fear of contradiction, that never in my life had I played in a match with a bowler as swift as Holding. From the Old Trafford dressing room, side on to play, it was almost impossible to follow the flight of the ball from hand to the gloves of Deryck Murray. And it was this that I walked out to face. Holding was bowling from the Warwick Road End, and as I took guard was standing at the start of his run, in a different postcode. As was keeper and ring of slip fielders. I imagine there was a short-leg (for the life of me I cannot remember) but that apart it was a lonely place, the non-striker the nearest point of human contact.
It was not until other occasions that I realised the trick was not to focus on Holding until he was actually approaching the crease. For now, in the distance, I saw him duck his head in that way a thoroughbred might on the Newmarket gallops that he inhabits now whenever he can, and begin his majestic run. It was mesmerising, for as he strode, Holding's head, held high, swivelled slightly from side to side. The cobra, I am told, hypnotises prey in a similar swaying manner.
He reached the crease, and the ball flew from his hand. A split second later, the ball exploded from the middle of my bat and ricocheted (there is no other word for it) back past the bowler, and we scampered two runs. It even drew some applause. The thing was, here was a bowler of such purity that you never lost sight of the ball, yet who could propel it at such velocity that although in vision all the time, it was too fast for the reaction of someone of my capabilities. And that is the most chilling part of all.
Since you’re here… … we have a small favour to ask. More people are reading the Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism than ever but advertising revenues across the media are falling fast. And unlike many news organisations, we haven’t put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as open as we can. So you can see why we need to ask for your help.
The Guardian is editorially independent, meaning we set our own agenda. Our journalism is free from commercial bias and not influenced by billionaire owners, politicians or shareholders. No one edits our Editor. No one steers our opinion. This is important because it enables us to give a voice to the voiceless, challenge the powerful and hold them to account. It’s what makes us different to so many others in the media, at a time when factual, honest reporting is critical. The Guardian’s investigative journalism uncovers unethical behaviour and social injustice, and has brought vital stories to public attention; from Cambridge Analytica, to the Windrush scandal to the Paradise Papers.
Michael Holding shakes hands with the West Indies captain Jason Holder before the World Cup match against Australia. Photograph: Gareth Copley-IDI/IDI via Getty Images
Michael Holding has hit back at “censorship” by the ICC following a request to tone down his views on umpiring while commentating on the World Cup.
The former West Indies fast bowler, who remains among the most popular and respected voices in cricket, described the officiating in last week’s match between his former team and Australia as “atrocious” on air following a string of on-field errors.
These included Chris Gayle receiving two reprieves while being given out three times in the space of nine balls – the last of which followed a huge front foot no-ball by the Mitchell Starc the previous delivery that was missed by the umpire Chris Gaffney – and Jason Holder being adjudged lbw to a ball that pitched outside leg stump, albeit saved on review.
Australia beat Pakistan by 41 runs: Cricket World Cup 2019 – as it happened Read more According to the Times of India, Holding’s withering assessment prompted an email from Huw Bevan, the production head at the International Cricket Council rights partner, Sunset & Vine. Bevan reminded the 65-year-old and some production colleagues of “the importance of maintaining the highest standards and uphold the game’s best values and spirit while covering the tournament”.
It continued: “Inherently in live television, there are occasions when on-field decisions cause reason for discussion or debate but as ICC TV host broadcasters, our [Sunset & Vine] duty is not to judge or highlight mistakes”.
In a terse reply Holding questioned why he was the only commentator included on the email chain and added: “If those umpires yesterday were Fifa officials, they would have been told to pack their bags and head home. They would not have been given another World Cup game to officiate. As a former cricketer, I think cricket should be held to a higher standard. Is the objective to protect the umpires even when they do a bad job?”
Holding added that such requests are why “commentators are being more and more compromised by controlling organisations to the point of censorship”.
Holding and the ICC have stated the matter has been resolved, with Holding continuing to broadcast from the tournament.
Since you’re here… … we have a small favour to ask. More people are reading and supporting our independent, investigative reporting than ever before. And unlike many news organisations, we have chosen an approach that allows us to keep our journalism accessible to all, regardless of where they live or what they can afford.
The Guardian is editorially independent, meaning we set our own agenda. Our journalism is free from commercial bias and not influenced by billionaire owners, politicians or shareholders. No one edits our editor. No one steers our opinion. This is important as it enables us to give a voice to those less heard, challenge the powerful and hold them to account. It’s what makes us different to so many others in the media, at a time when factual, honest reporting is critical.
Every contribution we receive from readers like you, big or small, goes directly into funding our journalism. This support enables us to keep working as we do – but we must maintain and build on it for every year to come. Support The Guardian from as little as $1 – and it only takes a minute. Thank you.
The ECB has said it remains committed to driving "critical change" for all those who believe that cricket is not currently a "game for them", following criticism from Michael Holding for the decision not to take a knee during the Pakistan and Australia series.
Players, officials and support staff on both sides performed the gesture of kneeling ahead of all three Tests against West Indies - during which Holding and his fellow Sky Sports commentator Ebony Rainford-Brent gave powerful testimony about their experience of racism in sport - as well as the three ODIs against Ireland.
However, they did not do so during the Tests and T20Is against Pakistan, nor for the ongoing visit of Australia, and Holding - the former West Indies fast bowler and vocal advocate of the Black Lives Matter movement - dismissed as "lame" the reasons given by both England and Australia.
"All over the world it was no longer a black versus white thing, it was a matter of humanity coming together and deciding 'listen, we need everyone to be treated equally'," Holding told Sky.
"So for Pakistan and England not to then take that signal … the ECB came out with a lame statement as far as I'm concerned, and I didn't hear anything at all about Pakistan, neither the players, nor the board."
Speaking about the movement ahead of Australia's tour, Aaron Finch, the captain, said that "education around it is more important than the protest".
"We are really proud to play a game where it is celebrated all around the world and anyone can play it," Finch said. "It doesn't matter what race, what religion, what nationality you are from. Cricket is a game for everyone and I am really proud about that."
Holding, however, was unimpressed. "Now Australia come here and I see another lame statement from the Australia captain who is saying that he and the England captain have spoken and they decided not to take a knee.
"I would hope that anyone who gets involved in something like this [does it] because they want to get involved," he added. "So I would hope that people who are joining in, and are still willing to accept that things need to change and need to send a signal, will voluntarily do what they think is right."
In response to the criticism, the ECB reaffirmed its "huge respect" for Holding's views, added that it was committed to a philosophy of "long-term and sustainable change" in response to the Black Lives Matter movement.
That process that has been driven by the chief executive, Tom Harrison, who admitted in an interview in July that the board had been forced to face up to some "uncomfortable truths" in announcing a range of measures to diversify the sport.
"Our response to the Black Lives Matter debate, has been to view the issue alongside the whole inclusion and diversity space," said the ECB in statement, "to ensure that long-term and sustainable change happens for all communities who are not treated equally. We remain committed to this philosophy.
"Our refreshed inclusion and diversity strategy, published at the start of the West Indies series, commits to several comprehensive initiatives that focus on eliminating discrimination from all areas of cricket.
"England's men's and women's players all remain committed to using their reach and influence to keep promoting inclusion and diversity in perpetuity, for the betterment of cricket and sport. We understand the importance of symbolism, and its power to keep an issue high on the agenda, our goal is to ensure we deliver both reach and change.
"The ECB's work is ongoing in this space, alongside all of our partners across the game. We will continue to update, share our progress and be accountable for driving critical change for all those who do not currently feel as if cricket is a game for them."
Australia did not mean any disrespect by not taking the knee: Justin Langer on Michael Holding’s criticism
Australia coach Justin Langer said that his side could have had more discussions around the issue of taking the knee, before the start of the first match of the England tour
India Today Web Desk New Delhi September 15, 2020UPDATED: September 15, 2020 22:32 IST
Australia coach Justin Langer Australia coach Justin Langer. (Reuters Photo) HIGHLIGHTS
Michael Holding had accused England and Australia for making ‘lame’ statements over not taking the knee England pacer Jofra Archer had said that it was ‘pretty harsh of Mikey’ to criticise the ECB However, Justin Langer admitted that his side could have given the issue ‘some more thought’ Australia coach Justin Langer has admitted that his team could have given more thought to taking the knee at the beginning of their tour to England following criticism from West Indies great Michael Holding.
Former West Indies bowler Michael Holding had accused England and Australian cricket boards for making "lame" statements over not taking the knee.
Prior to that, England and West Indies adopted the gesture at the start of each of their three Tests in July to show their support for the campaign against racial injustice.
But the practice was not followed in the subsequent series against Pakistan and Australia. Even the Black Lives Matter logo that was part of the West Indies-England series has disappeared from England cricket team's shirts.
The Australia skipper Aaron Finch had even defended his team’s decision to not take a knee in England saying that 'education is more important than the protest'. The skipper had said he is proud about cricket being a 'game for everyone'.
We could have given it more thought, says Langer
But coach Justin Langer on Tuesday, admitted that his side had not given it adequate thought.
"In terms of the taking a knee, to be completely honest we could've talked more about it perhaps leading up to that first game; there was so much going on leading up to us getting here, maybe we should've thought and talked a bit more about it.
"What we do talk about in the team is we want to have a response that is sustained and powerful and it can go, not just in one action, but sustained periods, not just throughout this series, throughout our summer, but throughout time," Langer said.
ADVERTISEMENT Langer, however said that by not taking the knee, his side did not mean any disrespect to anyone.
"It's [Black Lives Matter] incredibly important, and I just hope and certainly from Mikey's point of view I hope if it looked like there was a lack of respect there, that certainly wasn't the intention of our team.
"We're very aware of it, and when Mikey says what he says, then it's certainly worth listening to and we'll be doing that,” Langer added.
Earlier, England pacer Jofra Archer had said that it was ‘pretty harsh of Mikey’ to criticise the ECB without knowing what is going on ‘behind the scenes’.
Michael Holding 'doesn't know anything that's going on' - Jofra Archer on England's racism stance
Jofra Archer has claimed Michael Holding "doesn't know anything that is going on behind the scenes" after he criticised England and Australia for failing to take a knee during their limited-overs series.
Holding, the former West Indies fast bowler, has been a vocal advocate of the Black Lives Matter movement in recent months. As well as providing impassioned testimony of his experiences on Sky and with ESPNcricinfo, he welcomed the decision of the England, West Indies and Ireland teams to register their respect for the movement by taking a knee ahead of their Test and ODI fixtures earlier this season.
But he described the failure of Pakistan, Australia and England to do so ahead of their recent matches as "lame" and suggested individual players could unilaterally make the gesture if they wanted to "send a signal" to show they "accept things need to change".
But Archer, England's Barbados-born fast bowler, has insisted nobody involved within the England set-up has "forgotten" about the movement and claimed progress is being made "in the background".
"I'm pretty sure Michael Holding doesn't know anything that is going on behind the scenes," Archer said. "I don't think he has spoken to [ECB chief executive] Tom Harrison.
"I've spoken to Tom and we have stuff running in the background. We've not forgotten. No-one here has forgotten about Black Lives Matter.
Jofra Archer, back in the light blue of England's ODI team Getty Images "I think that is a bit harsh for him to say that. I think it is a bit harsh for Mikey to not do some research before criticising."
The "background" measures referred to by Archer include the ECB setting up an Inclusion and Diversity taskforce, a commitment to increasing the representation of non-white individuals in leadership roles, a game-wide anti-discrimination charter and a bursary scheme for young black coaches, with a focus on "leadership, education and opportunity". There will also be a further drive to reintroduce cricket in primary schools, with a focus on ethnically diverse areas.
But Holding, responding to Archer's comments, told ESPNcricinfo there should be no conflict between taking action in the background and continuing to make a gesture in public.
"Taking a knee does not prevent other action from taking place," Holding said. "Those who take a knee are not substituting the gesture for other positive action.
ALSO READ: Holding on Black Lives Matter - England excuses are 'lame'
"Nobody should have a problem with it. It is a worldwide recognition of calling attention to racial prejudice and injustice."
Meanwhile, Archer welcomed the crackdown by social media companies upon those making racial abuse online. But he did suggest legislation "might have to go a bit further" given that he continues to receive abuse on a regular basis.
"I think a lot of stuff is being put into place now," he said. "People can be prosecuted a bit easier, but I think it might have to go a bit further because some people still aren't worried about what can happen to them.
"I had one the other day; the guy blamed it on being drunk. My mum would always say 'you can't think for people'. As long as there is social media and the person doesn't have to confront you it will still go on.
"I feel the love from fans, too. But there's still a small percentage, you know? I may be doing well but I saw one lady comment on my [gold] chains. Chains have nothing to do with cricket. If she knew me she would know I've worn chains from the time I was 14 or 15 years old. You can't make everyone happy, but the majority of people in England are happy and that makes me happy.
"All we can do is try to act accordingly, report it and do what's best. At the end of the day I think I'm strong enough to deal with it, but what happens when they start targeting someone who isn't as mentally strong and it starts affecting them? We've got to try and stamp it out as much as possible now."