CAPE TOWN: Does speed still excite Michael Holding?
They say fast bowling is an inborn facet that once you find it, it is hard to let go. The setting is Newlands in Cape Town, where a gripping Test match is underway. The first few days of the India – South Africa series have already made heads turn. Even folks from Down Under, who have been treated to another one-sided Ashes series, have been paying attention. Their verdict is spot on. “Not even the Ashes has seen as riveting a session like what is going on in Cape Town.”
Since the 2016 Dharamsala Test, the world hasn’t seen a Test as exciting as this, where each session was an event in itself. On a pitch where there was something for everyone, fast bowlers were injecting new life into Test cricket. Holding, one of the faces of Windies’ fearsome foursome, is enjoying the setting. What Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel, Dale Steyn and Kagiso Rabada are doing in the second morning of the Test is transporting the yesteryear great back to when he was king.
“It is a rarity these days… to see such high-level fast bowling. I enjoyed it thoroughly. For a change there was a balance between bat and ball. And I was telling it to Sunil (Gavaskar). I don’t know how many of them would enjoy facing a spell like that, but that man (Gavaskar), all of five-foot five, did it against us. And without helmets. Now, that is character. You need them and you need matches like this to keep Test cricket healthy,” Holding says.
At 63, the Jamaican has seen cricket go through lot of changes. After enjoying a glittering career, he has still managed to stay close to the game and has a voice that would make people drool. On the Newlands’ grassbanks, one of the fans has a placard that reads: ‘Holding’s voice for Siri.’ This brings a bit of a smile and a quizzical expression on legend’s face. “I don’t know what is that (Siri). I’m an old man now… don’t really care about it,” he says while sipping his coffee on a cold morning.
During the conversation, even though you struggle to keep it going forward, often consumed by his personality and aura, Holding takes care of it. He switches topics just the way the red cherry used to change hands from his left to right at some point in time during his run-up, which led to him being nicknamed Whispering Death.
“Nothing excites me any more, you know. Not even Test cricket.. I’m getting old, it is as good as ova,” he stresses in his strong Jamaican accent.
“Seriously? Not even fast bowling?”
“No. Not at all. Who cares about Test cricket now... You? Me? Fans? But what is the point? Those who got to be showing interest, don’t care. It is all down to dollars my friend. Dollars. That is what matters to them. It is more of (a) business. For the first time, the England Cricket Board has decided that their team won’t play Test cricket between June-September because they want to sell T20 to the fans. It is the best time to play Tests in England and you are telling me, ‘it won’t happen this time’. I’ve given up… There is no point at all. It is the same everywhere… That is why I don’t get involved about the situation in (the) Caribbean anymore,” Holding says in a dry way.
It is not a dejected voice of a man, who is speaking from outside. Having been part of the ICC cricket committee, he resigned in protest as they changed the status of Pakistan’s forfeited Test against England as a drawn match. Though it happened a decade back, Holding still seems to have a thing or two. “I never like to be in a place where there is no respect. If there is no space for my voice, then I don’t want to be part of it. My own daughter had issues with me on a personal front So I told her, ‘it’s my house and I do what I want. You can do all of the rubbish at your place’. If I can tell that to my daughter, then who are they?”
Has anything changed at all. “No. It won’t .The cricket committee has to be empowered. Cricketers ought to take cricket-related decisions, not administrators who are only interested in money. When I told the ICC that the cricket committee doesn’t agree with its decision of changing the result of the match, Mr Srinivasan tells, ‘oh, they are just cricketers. We will handle the administration,’ That, for me, is not done, my friend.”
You try to take him back to his favourite topic – horse breeding and racing. But, it seems, he has given up on that too. “I don’t have any more horses man. There is no point keeping them if you cannot be around them. I go wherever there is sun. I was in England till September, and now I’m here. (I) will be back home after that.. can’t hold cold weather a lot these days.”
Then you take him back to cricket, and ask what he makes of current batsmen, who seem to score runs at will. “Well, don’t compare,” he implores. “Jesse Owens was called a legend then. They used to say he was untouchable. And you wondered, ‘can anyone run faster than him’ but what has happened now? Usain Bolt came along. He is a legend now, but does any of that diminish Owens records? He was the best of his time and Bolt is best now. It’s the same with cricketers. Sunil, Greg (Chappell), Ian (Chappell)... they were the greats of my era. Virat, (Steve) Smith are now.. tomorrow someone else.”
As you prepare to leave, he asks: “Do you think I would have refused if somebody had come to me and said, ‘I will pay you millions if you bowl four overs a day?’ No. I don’t fault the players for getting big pay cheques. The fault is with those who have made cricket a business. There is T10 now, and trust me there will be T5 in three years. Test cricket won’t die, it will exist. But it won’t matter. It is like me (old man) just around you young blokes.” The copy, as a whole, answers the first question.