Ire in Babylon
First there was fire, when West Indian pacemen torched the world's best batsmen, breaking bones and turning stiff spines to jelly. Those fearsome fast bowlers didn't talk much--they didn't need to--pace, swing, bounce, and a wickedly intimidating line and length sufficed. There was no talk, only walk. Michael Holding was the prince amongst those athletes, Whispering Death they called him, in homage to the effortless grace of his sprinter's run and deathly lightning bolts.
Where was once there was fire, now there is ire. West Indian fast bowlers are making a healthy business out of whispering into television and radio microphones; Holding, Ian Bishop, and Colin Croft the most prominent voices, and good luck to them, it's a reward they richly deserve. But there is something quite disheartening about hearing Mr Whispering Death whispering bitterly.
When ICC changed the bowling law to allow for the scientifically proven variation in flexibility of human joints, it was a sensible end-product of detailed biomechanical analysis of a wide variety of bowling actions in nets and in match conditions. All bowlers were flexing their elbows. High performance cameras were picking up joint movement that was previously undetectable by the naked eye, and fifteen degrees was established as the level at which the naked eye could detect a throw. Of course, a simple cut off wasn't enough because the shoulder and elbow joints move through various planes during a delivery and what seems like a throw with the naked eye isn't always one after biomechanical analysis.
Holding, who was part of the ICC bowling review committee that set the fifteen degree rule, remains confused about the change in the law. You might argue that a complex law is bad for the game, and it should be easily interpretable by all cricketers. But that would be missing the point. The change in the law was an attempt at fairness and a cut-off did make it simpler. By creating well defined criteria for ruling on the legality of bowling actions, even though technical expertise is required to pontificate definitively, the ICC lessened any suspicion that certain umpires were making prejudiced calls against particular countries. Agreement on consistent and replicable criteria also ensured that bowlers would not be deprived of their livelihood by arbitrary decision making.
These are points lost in the mists of time. They are certainly lost on Holding, whose assault on Saeed Ajmal was an act unbecoming of a man of his repute. When Holding urged his commentary colleagues to judge Ajmal's action from a front-on angle, with the use of a clumsy protractor graphic, he belittled a fellow professional whose action was cleared by ICC in 2009, but he did a grander job of belittling himself and the status of ex-cricketers as commentators.
No bowler is 'cleared' forever, and any suspicion of Ajmal's current action is the umpires' responsibility to report. It certainly isn't the business of Holding to launch an attack live on air. When Holding implied that Ajmal's long sleeve shirt served to obscure his bent arm, he was casting suspicion on the character of a fellow professional. In that moment, there was shame for Holding and the television producers who allowed such zealous attacks throughout the series.
The real story at the end of the second Test should have been the dismal failure of Holding's countrymen to play any kind of spin bowling, crumbling to a sorry defeat. West Indies were once a great side, the best I have ever seen. A team I loved like my own. Their results and performances spoke for themselves. Defeat was rare and quickly avenged with a fiery comeback. But, as Whispering Death whispered his ill-judged words to a global audience, this ire in Babylon was a sorry whimper that spoke volumes about the collapse of a mighty cricketing power and diminished the image of a bowler that the world had loved in his pomp.
Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here