Rex in Q and A with Michael Holding …. Whispering Death

Rex Clementine

The countries that possess weapons of mass destruction are feared by all and sundry. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is the most dreaded man in the world at the moment as he is believed to be armed to the teeth with nuclear, chemical, biological and radiological weapons. So was Clive Lloyd. He ruled the cricketing world with an iron fist capable of striking at anytime. His weapons being – Michael Holding, Andy Roberts, Joel Garner and Malcolm Marshall.  “How the **** could you get back into form when you were playing Roberts, Holding, Garner day after day,” Ian Chappell once lamented during World Series Cricket.

Holding was said to be the fastest. He was nicknamed ‘the Rolls Royce of fast bowlers’ for his smooth run-up and delivery. The batsmen who were troubled by him, however, had other names. Geoff Boycott called him, ‘whispering death’.  He bowled at lightning speed but his run up, you couldn’t hear him coming. Normally a fast bowler comes up with lot of aggression, power and lot of effort, but Michael you just didn’t realize he was coming. That’s the whispering part. Death, boy, he could hurt you,” Boycott once said.

Sunday Island caught up with Holding for an interview and here he details how he struggled on his first tour to Australia bowling those eight ball overs. How Clive Lloyd turned things around for West Indies. How different Lloyd and his successor Viv Richards as captains. Holding, now a commentator also talks on Sri Lanka’s historic series win in South Africa and lots more. Here are the excerpts.

Your first cricket tour with the West Indies was to Australia in 1975 and these were eight ball overs. How did the fast bowlers adapt?

Eight ball overs are long overs. You bowl a couple of no balls and that’s it. Very bad it was. I remember going for a tea break in Adelaide and it just lasted five minutes. Keith Boyce was bowling the last over for us before tea. Those days tea was at 20 to four. These days tea time starts when you leave the field. But in our days, irrespective of the time that you leave the field, you had to come back when you are supposed to return. So we have had a long over before tea because Keith Boyce was bowling all those no balls and within five minutes of going in, the bell was ringing for us to go back out. You don’t need that.

That series West Indies struggled a bit.

A bit? More than a bit. We had got thrashed 5-1. After the first two Tests it was 1-1. We thought we were in with a chance because we had a decent side. But it was inexperienced side. Lot of the guys were new to Test cricket. There was Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge and myself. We also thought that we had enough fire power in our attack for us to win that series. But unfortunately we were not playing against 11 players in that series. There were a few umpiring decisions that were atrocious. The best thing the International Cricket Council has ever done is to have an independent panel of umpires.

What exactly did Clive Lloyd do after that series to turn things around? West Indian dominance in cricket started after that series.

We were a young, inexperienced team. As we gained experience, we were able to deal with bad decisions more maturely. We played against India in the Caribbean and England in England soon after that and we were growing in confidence.  What actually helped us a lot was World Series Cricket organized by Kerry Packer.  We were pretty much banned from playing for the West Indies when we went for World Series Cricket. But we came back proper unit under the Packer banner. We had an Australian trainer called Dennis Waight and he helped us to raise our fitness standards remarkably.  We became physically very strong and fit. We hardly had any major injuries and whatever the injuries we had it didn’t take much time for us to get fit again. We became a solid unit. We had two years of World Series Cricket sticking together and training and we were winning in Australia. We were getting used to Australian conditions. So when we went back right after World Series Cricket, we pretty much started battering every opposition. Every time we went to Australia, we kept on winning. Pretty tough early days, but in 1979 and 1980 when we beat the Aussies in their backyard, it was the first time ever a West Indies team had beaten Australia in Australia. We just kept on beating them after that.

Is that a case of adversaries bringing the team together?

Definitely. The fact that we were banned from playing for West Indies – most of the guys were professional cricketers – I wasn’t a professional cricketer at that stage. I had a job. Because most of the guys were professional cricketers, we knew that this was pretty much we had now. We wanted to get lot better as a team. West Indies have struggled at various times to have a bonded team. Under Clive Lloyd we became one. We didn’t have fractions from Barbados and fractions from Jamaica and fractions from Trinidad. We became one team which was very important.

From whom did you learn that smooth run up and action?  

It was natural. It wasn’t something that I tried and developed. It just happened that I had the ball in hand and I felt good when I ran in and bowled. It’s not something that anyone coached into me. As a matter of fact in my early days, some were trying to coach me differently. Some were trying to get my left arm straighten up. I said no. I ain’t doing that. It didn’t feel comfortable for me. I felt uneasy as it wasn’t natural for me. So I started to do what I was comfortable doing.

Tell us about the transition from Clive Lloyd to Viv Richards?

They were two different people altogether. Viv was lot more emotional than Clive Lloyd and he showed his emotions. He wore his heart on his sleeve. Lloyd was bit more calm and bit more relaxed. Not that he didn’t get emotional at times. He wouldn’t outwardly express that. They were two different people, who went onto be very very successful.

Is Viv the best batsman you have seen?

Most definitely. He played home or away, fast bowlers spin bowlers and medium pacers, it didn’t matter for him. He made runs against them all and that I think is the hallmark of a great player.

You missed out on the grand triple when you lost the 1983 World Cup final to India. Your next tour after the World Cup was to India where you thrashed them 3-0 in Tests (all by an innings and more) and completed a 5-0 clean sweep in ODIs. The defeat in the final did that fire you up?

It’s not a matter of things firing us up, we were just extremely disappointed. We should have not lost that final. Whether we had won that final in 1983 or not, our attitude wouldn’t have changed when we went to India. We knew that we were a better team. Every time we played anybody we wanted to show them that we were better than them. I don’t think there was a spur to go to India and demolish them. We would have demolished them anyway. The 1983 loss in the final is my biggest disappointment playing cricket.

Your commentaries, Michael Atherton sometime back introduced you as someone who bowled at 90 miles per hour. In response you said that you still do 90 miles per hour, but the cops in England didn’t like that. Is it that you always like to be involved with speed?

Not anymore unfortunately. I love to go 90 miles per hour when I am behind the wheel. I have got a few tickets from the cops. So I don’t drive 90 miles per hour anymore.

Recently you also spoke about how when you go to buy groceries people asking whether you need a plastic bag making you angry. Are you an environmentalist?

Most Definitely. Plastic is bad for the world. People are getting to the point where they are realizing it. The quicker we get rid of our plastic products the better. What I am talking about is non reusable plastic. Some plastic products can be recycled. You can keep using them. But even so if we can get rid of plastic products we will have a better world. There’s too much going on in the ocean. The fish and other creatures in the sea, they digest plastic and that’s not good for these creatures and neither is it good for the humans who eventually consume these fish. We need to get rid of plastics. Bottle water is another thing that I hate. It’s something that you don’t need. In certain countries, yes you may need bottled water. But most of the world you find perfectly healthy water. People still buy bottled water in countries they don’t need them. Plastic bottles are not helping the world at all. If they can find glass bottles –every water company – I will deal with them better. But plastic ain’t good.

Your thoughts on Sri Lanka’s historic series win in South Africa?

To be honest, I didn’t think Sri Lanka were going to win the series. They came here without Angelo Mathews and so many injuries and I thought they would struggle. That innings that Kusal Perera played in Durban, I think gave them some spirit and belief. After winning that Test match, the second game wasn’t much of a surprise although I didn’t expect them to win the second Test that easily. But after the success in the first Test, I expected them to do well. You know when you go to a foreign country and when you are not expected to do well, when you win the first game of the tour that lifts your spirits. That helps a great deal. The confidence also goes up. The Sri Lankans were on top of the world after winning that Test match.

Your thoughts on the 78 run last wicket stand between Kusal Perera and Vishwa Fernando.

Very very exciting partnership. Again I don’t think South Africa planned well when that partnership was going and the guys just batted sensibly. It was a great knock by Perera, one of the best I have seen. I have seen you know people like Viv Richards play some unbelievable knocks and since I retired, I have witnessed some great feats by Brian Lara. I have seen some other players play some outstanding knocks. This was a knock that no one expected.  People knew he was capable but no one expected to do that that in those conditions. I think Francois Du Plessis was little bit complacent. Not throughout the Test, but towards the last stages when they needed 78 runs with the last pair in. I think he just thought to himself at some point somebody is going to get out. I don’t think there was a specific plan in place. The only plan I saw was stopping Perera from getting a boundary by putting everyone in the boundary and try and bowl at the so called non-batsman. That didn’t work and then they panicked when only 30 runs were left. That was too late.

Were you surprised that Vishwa Fernando and Kasun Rajitha outshined Dale Steyn and Kagiso Rabada?

Well, Fernando is moving the ball around. You ask any batsmen batting against a left-arm seamer who moves the ball in two directions, that’s not going to be easy. He pushes the ball across the body. When the ball is moving in both directions, you don’t have to be clocking 100 miles per hour. You can bowl at a nice, reasonable pace and be effective. That is what he was able to do. I think the pitches suited Sri Lanka more than South Africa. When you play in South Africa, you expect the ball to fly around. The pitches in Durban and Port Elizabeth were lot slower than Wanderers, Centurion or Cape Town. That would have helped Sri Lanka. But yet, let me tell you, Sri Lanka played outstanding cricket.

A word on Suranga Lakmal.

I was very pleased that he got some wickets in the second Test. He was the man who was bowling so well in both Test matches but he was unlucky not to get any wickets. He didn’t get his rewards in Durban. He was very economical. He was on the money but no luck. In the second Test, he got some wickets and he deserved them.

On day three in Port Elizabeth, Sri Lanka needed 137 runs with eight wickets in hand. Your thoughts on the efforts of the two youngsters– Kusal Mendis and Oshada Fernando.

South Africa would have fancied their chances. The way the pitch was playing on day two would have made South Africa to believe that they could pull it off. I thought it was a very good pitch and I didn’t expect people to get out for 138 runs on that wicket. But because of the amount of wickets that fell on day two, I thought day three Sri Lanka might struggle to get these runs. But the guys batted well. They went out there feeling confident. I think it had all to do with that belief that they got from the first Test. I am sure those two were thinking that they were going to score all those runs and finish it off. Kusal Mendis looks a good player to me. There are quite a few young players who have impressed me on this Sri Lankan batting unit. They put their heads down and bat properly. My only worry about these youngsters is that they play so much short form cricket and they get to the habit of scoring runs quickly when they play Test matches. That’s not necessary. You can spend lot of time in the middle, leave lot of balls and learn your game and go onto become good players. I hope they stick with these players and back them. You need to have the couple of older guys come back into the side because you need the experience.  Hopefully they will become a strong force again.

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Filed under Angelo Mathews, child of empire, cricket and life, cricketing icons, memorable moments, performance, Rex Clementine, Sri Lanka Cricket, unusual people, West Indian Cricket

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