LONDON: If, after retiring from the commentary box, someone as respected as Michael Holding has been taken to say he won’t miss cricket, then the reasons demand careful consideration. After a successful career as a formidable fast bowler for the West Indies between 1975 and 1987, he began commenting on television in 1990 and recently spent some 20 years with Sky.
During his playing days, he was known as the “Whispering Death”, so named because the referees couldn’t hear him running into the bowl, his footsteps were so light and his action gentle. I remember well taking a group of cricketers from Newcastle-upon-Tyne to a test match in Nottingham between England and the West Indies in 1980. We sat on the top floor of a grandstand opposite the pavilion, at the end of which Holding was playing bowling. . It was the first time most of them had attended a test match. They watched in wonder as Holding rushed towards us, gaining momentum as he neared his delivery point. The ball threw and bounced and seemed to keep climbing, making it look like its resting place would be one of our heads. A collective “Oooooh!” what those around us let escape from this perspective.
Holding’s ability to surprise with a cricket ball was matched by the pizzazz of his comments and opinions in the comments box. He criticized T20 as not being good for the game, arguing that “it will be bad unless the people in charge handle it properly and I don’t think they can because they are blinded by the money” .
During the 2019 World Cup, he openly criticized the decisions of several referees, only to be informed that he should not pass “negative judgment”.
Holding’s retort was to say that as a former cricketer he was of the opinion that “cricket should be held to a higher standard”. He questioned whether this was a goal of “protecting referees even when they do a bad job”, adding that “commentators are increasingly compromised by controlling organizations to the point of censorship “.
More recently, he has strongly criticized the cancellation by the England and Wales Cricket Council of the men’s and women’s teams’ short tours in Pakistan over concerns over the ‘mental and physical well-being’ of the players, calling the decision “Western arrogance”. In June 2021, his book ‘Why We Kneel, How We Rise’ was published, in which his own testimony of racial abuse, along with that of other famous athletes, is dissected.
Other than those concerns, Holding believes the game is very different from what it was when it began its journey. In particular, he judges that those responsible for managing the game are not doing it correctly, choosing instead to manage the money that the game can bring in.
His views have been rebutted somewhat. There are those who think the way the game has evolved is to be commended. Others were quick to point out that in 1977, Holding joined the World Series Cricket breakaway hosted by Australian broadcaster Kerry Packer. This took place in business competition with established international cricket, implying that Holding did not hesitate to go against the status quo for financial improvement. In 1979-80, during a series of bad spirits between New Zealand and the West Indies, he kicked the stumps after having an appeal rejected, leading some to identify an anti- authoritarian in him.
There is also a feeling that his views on T20 cricket do not recognize the possibilities that the Indian Premier League has opened up for young people to choose cricket as a career or that T20 cricket has provided opportunities for the game to develop in countries where he previously had no hold. Whether he or others of his generation like it or not, the shorter game in the form of T20 and its variants is here to stay for the foreseeable future.
It is the rallying cry of the Holding concerning the governance of the game that deserves the most attention. No one can doubt that money has taken hold of the game and seems to be influencing those who make decisions about its future. In Pakistan, still disgusted by the cancellation of visits to New Zealand and England, Ramiz Raja, chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, expressed his deep concerns. Since the PCB is 50 percent funded by the International Cricket Council, which in turn is heavily funded by the Board of Control for Cricket in India, he feels he is at the mercy of India for his survival. Remarkably, Raja has revealed that an investor is willing to give him a blank check if Pakistan beat India in a World Cup group match on October 24. 24
Meanwhile, the governance actions of the England and Wales Cricket Council have left it open to criticism. In the wake of the decision to cancel tours to Pakistan, for which only a press release was provided for explanation, its president resigned on October 10. 7 after serving just 13 months of a five-year contract, citing pressures induced by the pandemic. After procrastination over the decision to give the green light to the Ashes tour, an announcement was made on October 24. 9 that it would continue “subject to several critical conditions”. They are believed to be linked to other ongoing negotiations with Cricket Australia. Surprisingly, there has been no public speaking from the CEO of the England and Wales Cricket Board since his involvement in the cancellation of the England-India test match in Manchester on September 10.
Holding’s questioning of the ability or readiness of off-field goalkeepers to preserve the soul, standards and integrity of the game requires careful monitoring. The current focus on strengthening P&L in India, Australia and England, partly driven by the pandemic, does not bode well for gambling unless the benefits are more widely distributed. It is only when the impacts of the pandemic wear off that the appetite for it will become apparent.