Transcript: Couch Talk with Michael Holding

Couch Talk 163 (Play)

Guest: Michael Holding, Former WI bowler, Commentator

Host: Subash Jayaraman

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Subash Jayaraman (SJ)– Hello and welcome to Couch Talk. The guest today is the former West Indian fast bowler, Michael Holding. He talks about the great fast bowlers and batsmen of his era, some of the controversial on-field incidents during his career, and also his thoughts on Mohammad Amir’s return to cricket, among other things.

Welcome to the show, Mikey!

Michael Holding (MH)– Thank you!

SJ– I tis absolutely my pleasure having you on.

You played 50 Tests, 102 ODIs and hundreds of first class and List-A matches. When you made the turn at the top of the bowling mark with the ball in hand, before you began your smooth glide to the crease, what usually ran through your mind?

MH– What is going through my mind depends on what happened the previous ball, Subash. It is of the matter of who the batsman is, and what the plan is. You can say there is a specific thought going through your mind every time you turn around, it depends on what is going on in the game.

SJ– Was that approach the same thing that you did in the ODIs too, or did you pay more attention to Test matches depending on what was happening and had separate plans to execute in ODIs?

MH– No, it does not depend on if it is an ODI or a Test match. You have a plan to a particular batsman, whether it is a Test match or an ODI. You form a nature of plans and you try and execute those plans depending on the conditions under which you are playing and exactly what you require at that time.

SJ– Regarding the plans, these day you see a whole flank of analysts and analytics playing such a huge role on what needs to be done (by) looking at the past, looking at the tendencies of the batsmen and the bowlers, etc. In your days, how was it – did you plan your own plan or was it in consolation with other bowlers, captain, wicketkeeper? How did it work?

MH– We always had team meetings, and the team meeting is where you formulate your plan. You are formulation as a batsman in the batting team or as a bowler in a bowling scenario. At the same time, when you get on the field, you still have to adjust according to what is taking place at that time. There is no hard and fast rule as far as the plans are concerned. Yes, you have your specific plans, but they can’t be rigid. You have to be able to adjust depending on what is taking place at that time, the conditions will dictate how your plans work. If your plans aren’t working the way you thought in the team meetings, you have got to be able to adjust.

SJ– Can you off-hand remember situations where you can remember the plans that you made worked perfectly, and also times where the plans didn’t work and you had to come up with B and C and D?

MH– Subash, they have now been almost 30 years. I won’t be able to sit down and mention specific games about what worked and what didn’t work. I don’t think about those things so long after retirement.

SJ– OK, fair enough!

You had mentioned in your interview that a young players need to attach themselves to the experienced player in the side to learn the craft – bowling or batting. Who were the ones that you attached yourself to, and what were the things that you learnt from them?

MH– When I started playing with the West Indies in 1975, I roomed with Lawrence Rowe. Then, I roomed with Andy Roberts a lot after that and I certainly learnt a lot form Andy. Andy used to talk a lot about cricket. He wasn’t someone that you would look at and think that he was very outgoing and he was someone that looked a little bit shy, and even unfriendly at times. If you got to know him, you would understand that he knows a lot about the game. So, rooming with him certainly helped me quite a lot. He wasn’t afraid to come up with suggestions on the field, as a matter of fact once he was off the field and sent out as a 12th man suggesting I did something in a particular game. i learnt a lot from him.

SJ– You mentioned Lawrence Rowe, you were roomies with him. There is a question from a listener, Ajay. Before his career was unfortunately cut short because of the allergy and the eyesight, was he a better batsman than, say, (Sir) Viv Richards?

MH– I wouldn’t say he was a better batsman, but he was certainly a lot more classical. He was technically a very sound batsman. A better batsman would mean, he could produce more runs than Vivian Richards. I wouldn’t say he could produce more than Vivian Richards because I think Viv Richards was a very sound player and a very strong player mentally. But I would certainly think that Lawrence was technically a more sound batsman than Viv Richards.

SJ– About Viv Richards, on cricinfo he was announced the best ODI player ever. I don’t think many people would question that judgment. He had mentioned that you didn’t bowl that much in the nets. You bowled 5 overs to (Gordon) Greenidge and (Desmond) Haynes and you went off and you saved yourself for the matches. How would someone go about bowling to him? What plans would they have in a game?

MH– Different people come with different plans against Viv Richards, and not many of them worked all that well. There is no specific plan that you can have to someone as good as that, in my opinion. When you think of people like Viv Richards, and AB de Villiers, and Virat Kohli and (Sachin) Tendulkar and (Brian) Lara those guys have got specific areas that you think is their weakness. It is a matter of just being as consistent with your line and length, don’t give anything away, and hope that you produce a delivery that can get you a wicket. All batsmen when they get to the crease, that is when they are more going to make a mistake. So, you try and eke those mistakes out of them as early as you can, because when they get settled in, it gets a little bit harder. There is no specific area that I would say, that if you look at say, Viv Richards, you would say “OK, this is where I want to bowl and I have every chance of getting him out if I do this.”

SJ– I am assuming you bowled a fair bit to him in the nets also. What were your experiences bowling to him? Did you have any victories against him?

MH– I didn’t bowl to Viv Richards very much in the nets. When you are bowling in the nets, in the time I played in, not many bowlers ran in and bowled very seriously because a lot of the batsmen didn’t have a particular like when batting in the nets. Viv Richards in particular was very claustrophobic. He did not like batting in an enclosure. If you were having a practice in the middle of the ground, you could bowl as fast as you want, you can bowl as many bouncers as you wanted. But in the nets, if you bowl him one bouncer, he would walk out. He wasn’t interested in batting anymore. So, nets weren’t taken that seriously bowling to those batmen. If you wanted to bowl fast as you want to, you would have to make sure there are no batsmen in the nets and your surrounding; and bowl and get somebody to through the balls back at you. As far as the nets are concerned, forget the seriousness in the nets in the era in which I played anyway. But, I did bowl to him in the matches. Jamaica played Leeward Islands, I bowled at him. Lancashire vs Somerset, I bowled against him, also Derbyshire against Somerset. He has had success and I have had my success. It is a shared situation.

SJ– I had spoken to one of your situation from that team – Colin Croft – as well. He had mentioned that he preferred bowling to batsmen who were trying to play more shots, because more the shots they play, more the chance of them getting out. He found it harder to bowl to defensive batsmen. How was it for you? Did you have preference for one or the other? Were there batsmen in either of those moulds that you found at times harder to dislodge?

MH– No, I did not have a specific preference. What Colin Croft is saying here is totally correct. If there is a batsmen playing quite a lot of shots, he is giving you opportunities for him to get out. It is more likely for him to make a mistake when he is playing a lot of shots. But you have batsmen that play a lot of shots, and they can embarrass you. So, half a dozen of one and six of the other. At the same time, if you have a defensive batsman, it means that you have to produce a very good delivery to get him out because he is not taking too many risks. At the same time, he might not be that good to get runs anyway. He might have a reason for his defense, with not too many attacking shots. There is no hard and fast rule where things like that are a concern. We have a lot of different individuals who bat differently. It is just a matter of what you think would get them out and what you think you need to do to make sure that they don’t hit you when they attack.

SJ– Were there any batsmen you had any trouble dislodging?

MH– Lots of them! I bowled at a lot of great batsmen throughout my career. There is no way I could say that they were easy to dislodge these batsmen. You get them out, yes. But then you say, “OK I have done a pretty good job.” There are a lot of them. We are talking about opening batsmen like Sunil Gavaskar, and Graham Gooch. Early in my career I bowled against the Chappells, and there were some Pakistani batsmen – guys I played Test matches against. There were also the ones I played ODIs against, like Zaheer Abbas and Majid Khan and Javed Miandad, David Gower and other English batsmen. Martin Crowe from New Zealand. So many batsmen that I played against and I thought, “OK, if I get these batsmen out, that means I have achieved something.”

SJ– (Geoffrey) Boycott had said in one interview that some of the spells that he faced from you, including in 1981, were some of the fastest that he has faced form a bowler. He still felt that you were bowling within yourself. He thought that was quite scary. Were there instances, particular opposition that made you lift the game up, bring your A-game all the time?

MH– As I said just now, there were lots. In my time playing Test matches in the ‘70s and ‘80s, you look at those teams, there are lots of names in those teams that are household names for a very long time. There were a lot of big names around, batsmen and bowlers. Every time I turn up at a Test match against Australia or Pakistan, the think to yourself, I have to bring my A-game here and make sure i am at the top of the world and I bowl well. England had some great players, but they didn’t have particularly great teams in those days because in my 12 years I played Test match cricket I never lost a Test match to England. We lost Test matches to Australia, and lost Test matches to Pakistan, but we never lost a Test match to England. So, I have to say that Pakistan and Australia were two tough teams, that every time we turned up against them we had to play well.

SJ– You had, at any given time, 8-10 great fast bowlers that Clive Lloyd could pick and play a Test match. But there are only 20 wickets to be shared. So, was there a healthy rivalry in the team about who is going to get those 5-fers and 6-fers?

MH– I don’t think so, not in my mind anyway. They are there to make sure that you get all the 20 wickets. Obviously each individual has his own pride in his performance and wants to take as many wickets as he possibly can. But, I don’t think there was any serious rivalry that any bowler would hope that the other one didn’t bowl well so that he could get more. That was never the case, at least not in my mind anyway; and I have no evidence that that was the case in the team that I played in. we all went out there trying to win Test matches and trying to get as many wickets and beat the opposition.

SJ– There is a question from a listener, Aashish – who did you consider in your playing time as the best fast bowler outside of the West Indies?

MH– Perhaps Dennis Lillee. He has to go down as the best fast bowler outside the West Indies that I played against. There were a few others – Richard Hadlee – I wouldn’t say he was fast, but he was fast enough. Imran Khan had a great deal of pace. But, Dennis Lillee was the best.

SJ– There is another listener question, from Paddy. We are talking different eras – form the ‘70s to where we are now, 2015. Who would be a quick from that era that would easily switch into this era with the bigger bats and flatter wickets and the batsmen more protected, and also someone from this era who is worthy of joining the fast bowlers of that era?

MH– Let me tackle the second part first. I don’t think fast bowlers of previous eras worried about who has protection or who has a bigger bat. If you are good enough, you are good enough to get them out whatever the bat is. One Day cricketers and Test match cricketers compete in different situations. A One Day game is different from a Test match. But, of the current era, in the last 10 years or so, perhaps 15 years, there are quite a few fast bowlers that I have enjoyed watching, and I rate them. Shane Bond form New Zealand in particular. I was very impressed with him. Dale Steyn right now from South Africa. Shoaib Akhtar, when I first saw him when Pakistan came to Australia – that was some time ago. It might have been 1999, when Ricky Ponting made that double century. I was very impressed with him then, and then he went a little bit wrong with his action. Brett Lee, I liked him.

SJ– Allan Donald, perhaps?

MH– Yes, Allan Donald for sure.

SJ– Is there anyone that you see as a complete fast bowler from the names that you have mentioned that you would say, “Yes, I would have him as my teammate”?

MH– All of them. I think those guys were top class fast bowlers.

SJ– I want to talk about a couple of contentious issues form your playing career.

The changes to the laws of cricket that were brought about as a result of discomfort in the growing dominance of West Indies team and the methods that they used with the fast bowlers. On the other hand, the people talking about cricket, especially from the ‘70s, talking about it now, perhaps they might ahve some nostalgia might look at it through rose tinted glasses. My first question is – do you think there is any kind of looking nostalgically through rose tinted glasses when evaluating the performances of the West Indies?

MH– I don’t know what glasses people are looking at. I just look at the records. It is about the records, and if you look at them you will see that the West Indies did OK.

SJ– But when you look at it, there is one side saying that the laws had to be changed and perhaps there was discomfort in how the West Indies accomplished the results. And when you look at the West Indies now, looking at it from the benefit of hindsight, how do you see things?

MH– I don’t think the laws were changed that much. They had some rules that were brought in about short pitch bowling, about two bouncers in an over. The West Indies continued to win even after the law was brought in about two bouncers in an over. The law was about balls going over a batsman’s shoulder and his head. Why would you want to bowl balls going that high? That wouldn’t have affected the West Indies team, it did not affect the team and we continued to win even after the ‘80s era. We continued to win up till 1995, and that law was brought in during that time and we were still winning. As far as fast bowling aspect is concerned, we had heard plenty of people saying “Always playing 4 or 5 fast bowlers, and that is outside the spirit of the game.” England played 4 fast bowlers in 2005 against Australia when they won the Ashes. I remember Steve Harmison hitting Ricky Ponting on his face at Lord’s. It might have been the first Test match, I don’t remember. All the people in the stands were cheering. It was great when they had 4-5 fast bowlers and they were winning, but other teams having 4-5 fast bowlers and winning was a problem. So, as I said, sour grapes – when you don’t have it you complain about it and when you have it you are happy to use it. so, I don’t worry about things like that.

SJ– Hypocrisy and cricket have gone hand in hand for a very long time.

MH– Very long time.

SJ– Do you still see that kind of aspects continuing in cricket, in how the administration in cricket, and how different boards treat their players – theirs and people from outside – do you see that kind of things continuing?

MH– To a degree I don’t think it is as much now as it was. A lot of people are now accepting that a lot of people did not like in the years gone by. I don’t see as much hypocrisy. I see quite a bit of inconsistency. I don’t see as much hypocrisy though as much as in the years gone by.

SJ– I want to talk about another on-field incident, about when you bowled to Brian Close and he was getting battered all over the body.

MH– Exactly, all over the body. The new rule that was brought in – the law about 2 bouncers – would not have been applicable in that case any way.

SJ– You were obviously operating in the peak of his powers, and he was who he was – Brian Close at the time in his career. Do you ever look back and say that was an unfair contest, or you felt it was your job as a fast bowler to get him out and if he didn’t want to be there he shouldn’t have been there?

MH– I didn’t pick him, Subash. I didn’t pick someone who was over 40 years old. He was representing his country, I was representing mine. If they pick a two year old baby to come out and bat, does that mean you are going to bowl all full tosses that he can hit away? You pick your cricketers, we pick our cricketers. It is a contest – your country vs my country. I can’t adjust depending on who you pick and the type of person you pick.

SJ– Would you say that if you didn’t give your very best no matter who the batsman was or which country you are playing against, would that be not doing justice to your own game and being disrespectful to the opposition as well?

MH– That would be injustice to you, your team and your country. It is as simple as that.

SJ– Fair enough!

I want to talk about the contentious 1980 New Zealand tour as well. there is a question from one of our listeners form New Zealand. He didn’t mean it in a nasty sense or anything. He says that his love comes from watching the West Indies, particularly from that series. What really went on? That sort of behaviour, where Colin Croft runs into the umpires, you kicked the stumps… Of course, there were some decisions that didn’t go in your favour, but when you look back on it, any sense of regret at all?

MH– First of all, if he got his interest in cricket from watching the West Indies in that series, that is a sad way to start watching because we didn’t play cricket in that series. That series was a farce. I would hope that he got his interest in cricket from watching West Indies or watching some other cricket. Secondly, yes obviously, when things like that happen, you say to yourself, “That was sad, that was not something you want to see repeated on a cricket field and certainly not something that you would encourage people to do.” it is just something that happened, and it was a reaction to something that was taking place during that series. We are all human beings, people will react adversely to adverse events. But, as I keep on saying to people – we go through life, people make mistakes. The important thing to do is to learn from your mistakes and don’t repeat those mistakes. People who are habitual offenders keep on repeating mistakes, they have a problem. They don’t learn. People who learn from their mistakes end up better people.

SJ– On that….I want to talk about a contemporary topic, which is the case of Mohammad Amir. He is now playing domestic cricket, his ban from international cricket is coming to an end soon. If he were to be selected, he could play for Pakistan soon. This is from listener Siva and Bharathram. When the spot fixing thing happened, it was one of the sadder sights watching you on television, emotionally getting choked up and David Gower had to go to a break. How have you viewed that event since then, and what is your take on his comeback into cricket; since you just talked about people making mistakes in life and learning from them?

MH– Again, that is an example of what I am talking about. He was 18 years old when he went and made that mistake. It was unfortunate that it took place. It should never have taken place. You don’t want to see that happening in a cricket or on a cricket field. We have had a lot of instances of things happening. But, when you are 18 years old, and you make a mistake, I don’t think that mistake should cost you your career for the rest of your life. You should be given an opportunity to correct that mistake. Give him another opportunity to resume your career, and then if you fail again, that should be it. As I said, people make mistakes in life. I don’t think one mistake should cost people that dearly.

I have seen in normal life, in normal day to day living, people have made series mistakes in life – they have drunk driven, killed people when they are drunk driving – and have been given other opportunities to continue their life. They serve their terms and they do whatever the court says that they have to do and they are given another opportunity to continue their lives. Why should a cricketer be any different? Why shouldn’t he be given another opportunity if he had just made one mistake to show the world that he has learnt from that mistake and he won’t repeat that mistake and he will come out a better person? Why shouldn’t he be given that opportunity?

That is what I am thinking about as far as Mohammad Amir is concerned. He was a young man when he made that mistake. As far as I can see, he was not the man who planned it, and it seemed to me that he wasn’t all that keen about what was asked but he went through it because of apparently they agreed to do it. Why shouldn’t he be given another opportunity?

SJ– Fair enough.

Lastly, Mikey, a fast bowler that you admired – whether from or outside the West Indies; and a batsman, as difficult as it may be, that you admired?

MH– Again, you are asking about a lot of different names here.

SJ– When you ask people about your favourite fast bowler, a lot of them would say Malcolm Marshall was the most complete fast bowler.

MH– He was a great fast bowler, definitely. If I am thinking about West Indian fast bowlers, Malcolm Marshall and Andy Roberts would be my top-2. It would be difficult for me to split them. A lot of people forget Andy Roberts and he has gone out of people’s mind because he didn’t continue in cricket after retiring. I have lingered in people’s mind because I am on television. If Andy Roberts was a television broadcaster people would still think a lot about him and rate him higher because he would still be in people’s minds. As far as I am concerned, Malcolm Marshall were the two best bowlers I have seen on the West Indies. Outside of the West Indies, I just mentioned a lot of the fast bowlers in the recent times that I admire or had admired when they first started. When we played, there were Imran Khan and Dennis Lillee who I thought were great fast bowlers.

SJ– As you just mentioned that you have been on television after your playing career was over for quite a bit now. As a close observer of the game, what is your take on the health of the sport, not just in the Test playing nations but all around? What is your take on how things are progressing? Are you happy with how things are going?

MH– Not at all. I have said it for many years now, not just the last 5 years, but for the last decade that too much cricket is being played. They are playing more and more cricket. There is some form of cricket going on somewhere in some part of the world. Fast bowlers, in particular, cannot survive under these circumstances. The work load is too much. Even batsmen are having to miss series and Test matches because of the work load. I don’t see how that can be healthy for the game. you want your best players to be playing at their top as much as they can. At the amount of cricket being played, it is impossible to have your best players playing at a regular basis, whether they are batsmen or bowlers – bowlers in particular.

Secondly, it is too much lip service being given to the sanctity of Test match cricket and nothing is being done to protect Test match cricket. All the boards and all the administrators are in the world are looking at the bottom-line. When I hear, for instance, that “the last World Cup was the best World Cup ever”, I shudder, because obviously the people saying that are the administrators who are looking at the money that the World Cup has brought them. Certainly they have not looked at the cricket. There were 49 games and there were not more than 4 or 5 interesting games from those 49 games. Perhaps some interesting moments from those games, there were some fantastic batting performances in some period, and some fantastic bowling performances. But as far as the games were concerned, we had some boring games. I can’t understand how anyone can say that this was the best World Cup. As I said, that came from the administrators and all they were doing was looking at the bottom-line.

SJ– On that note, Mikey, thank you so much for spending this morning. It was an absolute pleasure talking to you.

MH– My pleasure, Subash! Bye!

SJ– Bye!


Episode Transcribed by Bharathram Pattabiraman