Men of a Certain Age

A young man looking at my bookshelf asked: “Who is Michael Holding?” Sacrilege, I thought; for like the great Mikey, he also is Fortis. And every boy who attended Kingston College certainly should know about Whispering Death. But having attended KC he needed to be educated.

When men of a certain age hear the name Michael Anthony Holding we immediately recall his partner Andy Roberts, the godfather of modern West Indies fast bowling. And there are many of us who, having mentioned the name Mikey Holding, out of awe and reverence would prefer not to speak of any other fast bowler on that same day. Another day. Not even the legendary Malcolm Marshall.

Indeed, men of a certain age recall when Shell Shield Cricket was Shell Shield cricket. In those days we were assured of seeing some of the world’s greatest cricketers in our own backyard every year. And a 4-day match between Jamaica and Barbados was, in our minds elevated from first class to  mini-test match standard.

And speaking of Mikey my mind goes back to February 1981, Chedwin Park,  just south of Spanish Town. Jamaica vs. Barbados. Cuthbert Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Leo Haynes, the world’s greatest opening batsmen, who went on to amass 6482 runs while batting together, walked out to the middle in search of 263 runs. No big deal for a century opening partnership was their habit. Greenidge took guard from Umpire Johnny Gayle. Young wicketkeeper/batsman Jeffery Dujon was sanding back. Waaaaaay back. The 5 slips and 2 gullies were in a different postal code. The man at forward short leg moved slowly into a touching position while Junior Williams was doing calisthenics on the fine leg boundary.

Mikey took the cherry from Umpire Gayle but refused the marker and kept on walking. And walking. And walking. Wait a minute; where’s Mikey going? At the sight screen Mikey turned, and, using the boundary stone as marker, began the most graceful run up the cricketing world has ever seen. All 2,001 of us, including Sir Florizel Glasspole, then Governor General of Jamaica, gasped as Mikey greeted Greenidge with a blinding first ball; on a length, just outside the off stump. Facing the world’s best Mikey knew his mission. Time for a master class in fast bowling.

The game’s outcome? Jamaica eventually won. But who cared? Some of us left after Mikey’s first spell for by then the Rolls Royce of fast bowlers, or the Ferrari, if your prefer, in a fiery session had dismissed the world’s greatest opening batsman of his time for a mere 8 runs. Mission accomplished!

So, who is Michael Holding? TV footage can capture neither the grace of his run-up nor the fear he drove in most batsmen. Indeed a smile creases the face on men of a certain age as we recall the saying that: “the best way to face Michael Holding is from the non-striker’s end!” In doubt? Ask Geoff Boycott.


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