Too fast on the past
Few figures in the past three or four decades of cricket have been less suited for the two-dimensional medium of the printed word than Michael Holding, one of the great West Indies fast bowlers. No description could do justice to the effortless beauty of his 40-yard glide to the wicket and the fluidity of his progress through the crease. The thick treacle of his Jamaican accent as a commentator has subsequently become one of the defining sounds of the English summer.
Considerable credit is therefore due to Holding and his collaborator Edward Hawkins for producing a book that at times achieves full-bodied vibrancy in recounting a career that produced 249 Test wickets, and which transmits the character and tone of one of the game's most popular and relevant observers.
His early life offers some nice snippets. The accuracy that earned him eight first-innings wickets at The Oval in 1976 without the aid of a fielder was born of his mother's early warning that he bowled too fast to rely on adolescent team-mates being able to catch any edges. He is entertaining, too, on Jamaican colleagues such as the quick-witted Renford Pinnock.
It is when Holding, who never harboured any great cricketing ambition, was selected for the 1975-76 tour of Australia that the pace picks up. He describes the "poisonous atmosphere" during a 1-5 defeat, lays much of the blame on Clive Lloyd's detached captaincy, and recalls how he sat and wept after an unsuccessful appeal against Ian Chappell. "I felt as though I had gone back in time to my childhood," he writes, "with kids refusing to hand over the bat when it was clear they were out."
Ironically, though, it is speed that is the book's one flaw, with barely 100 pages covering his 12 years in international cricket. Many storylines could have been mined for even greater insight and discussion: the transformation in Lloyd's leadership, the evolution of the four-man pace attack, controversial assaults on Indian and English batsmen at Sabina Park and Old Trafford, World Cup triumphs and upsets.
When Holding digs deep, his memories are rewarding. World Series Cricket benefits from greater detail, beginning with his relief when he checked his savings account and found a comma in the balance, confirming that Kerry Packer was for real. His stump-kicking in New Zealand, followed by a threatened West Indian boycott in protest at the umpiring, was, he believes, a reaction to cricket's increasing discomfort over the extent and manner of the growing dominance of Lloyd's men. He argues that such prejudice persists when it comes to discussion of the sport's greatest teams.
Too quickly, though, he became disillusioned with the teething troubles of Viv Richards' captaincy and retired. That takes us into the second half of the book, which is given over to commentary-box anecdotes and thoughts on the game's new era. Unsurprisingly he tackles his subjects with the ferocity with which he bowled at Geoff Boycott and Tony Greig. His thoughts on Allen Stanford are revealing and unflattering, his verdict on West Indian cricket's administrators and players damning. He voices frustration at the politics of the ICC, which he demonstrated by resigning from its cricket committee, and debates the threat of Twenty20 and the merits of two divisions at international level. The global esteem in which he is held adds weight to such opinions, yet the feeling persists that you can get many of them by listening to his TV commentaries.
Perhaps Holding felt pressure not to retrace too many steps from his 1988 book Whispering Death. Or maybe it is his innate modesty that denies the reader the extra pages his on-field achievements deserve. Holding admits he does not like to look back and it is with reluctance that he devotes a chapter to his famous Barbados over to Boycott in 1981. He is charming and provocative, funny and forthright, but - unlike the batsmen who stood quaking as he approached - some readers will wish there had been even more of the great bowler coming in off his long run.
No Holding Back: The Autobiography
by Michael Holding
Weidenfeld & Nicolson
David Tossell is the author of Following On: A Year with English Cricket's Golden Boys. This review was first published in the July 2010 edition of the Wisden Cricketer. Subscribe here