Highly regarded as one of the top cricket analysts today, Jamaican-born Michael Holding was an integral part of a quartet of West Indies fast bowlers who put fear in the hearts of many a batsmen from around the world. Duly nicknamed "Whispering Death" for his effortless ability to send down delivery after delivery with ferocious power, Holding's international career lasted almost twelve years and yielded two hundred and forty nine wickets in sixty Test matches. This included a haul of 14/149 against England in 1976, which remains the best match figures by a West Indian in a Test match.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Holding spoke about Pakistan's tour of England, Mohammad Amir's comeback and future in international cricket, innovations by batsmen in the modern day Limited-overs formats and expressed his views on the recently introduced use of the third-umpire for no-ball calls.
By Saj Sadiq (26th September, 2016)
PakPassion.net : Good to see a controversy-free and largely competitive series between England and Pakistan?
Michael Holding : Yes it was a good and very competitive series in which we saw some good cricket from both teams. Sometimes some of the fielding left a lot to be desired with a lot of catches dropped but in general it was good cricket and entertaining cricket.
PakPassion.net : Pakistan surprised a few people didn't they especially with their batting which held its own for most of the series?
Michael Holding : Yes they did surprise a lot of people as a lot of people expected Pakistan to come to England and be a pushover. England were clear favourites as they were the home team and playing in their own conditions. But I cannot say that I was surprised by Pakistan's performance as Pakistan still have some good cricketers and some young emerging cricketers who a lot of people will not have known or heard about, but the talent is there. In Misbah-ul-Haq, they have a captain who can hold them together and get them all pointing in the same direction. I am sure that they will be competitive against most teams.
PakPassion.net : The talent is always there in Pakistan cricket, I guess the key is to enhance that talent and to ensure it is groomed properly?
Michael Holding : For sure. Not too many people will doubt the talent in this team. Various players at different times stepped up and took on the challenge on behalf of the team. Sarfraz Ahmed in particular is a brave cricketer and I have a lot of respect for him and not just for his wicket-keeping but his batting also. I recently saw they were picking a current World XI for Test cricket and Sarfraz's name came up as the wicket-keeper/batsman but sadly, without having seen too much of him in the current series and not knowing what he is capable of, they wouldn't have thought too much about him and they would instead have been thinking of someone like AB de Villiers which would be a little unfair.
PakPassion.net : Some positive signs for Pakistan in the fifty over format but lots of work required to ensure they challenge the best?
Michael Holding : The fact is that a lot more One-Day cricket is played around the world, much more than Test cricket. However, it takes longer for a One-Day team to really gel and to become an outstanding unit. I think Pakistan are going through that period now.
PakPassion.net : The images of you visibly upset in 2010 are still etched in many minds, but how did it feel to be back seeing Mohammad Amir bowling in Test cricket once again?
Michael Holding : I was glad to see Amir back and it was good to see him coming back into Test cricket. He's a very talented cricketer and after a while the public in England warmed to him. When he walked onto the field for the first time people were a little bit hesitant as to whether they should applaud or not. I heard a few people booing but as time went on they warmed to him and they recognised his talent and I think people have forgiven him for what he did. People recognise the fact that he didn't do it off his own steam, he was forced and coerced into doing what he did and he regrets it terribly and it's time to move on.
PakPassion.net : How does the 2016 version of Mohammad Amir compare to that excellent bowler we saw in England in 2010?
Michael Holding : Well if they had taken the catches off his bowling we would have seen a better Mohammad Amir because it's difficult as a bowler to be running in and doing your job and seeing the fielders letting you down consistently throughout. But he kept his head up and kept on running in and trying his best. I know that Wasim Akram said something on television about the way he was holding the seam, but I noticed the next time he bowled he was able to do exactly what Wasim Akram had been suggesting, so that tells me that he learns quickly and can adjust his game quickly. A lot of people can hear what you are saying on television and advising but they cannot do what you are asking them to do. It seems to me that he learns very quickly and he also has such great control over his action and what he is doing and can make those adjustments that are needed which is good to see.
PakPassion.net : Given that this was Mohammad Amir's first Test series for six years, do you expect him to improve and mature as a bowler or do you think he will struggle due to those missing years?
Michael Holding : I don't see any reason why he will not get better as a cricketer in future. It seems to me that he learns quickly and he has control over whatever he is doing and is making adjustments to whatever he needs to amend. I have absolutely no reason to doubt as to why he will not keep improving and keep on getting better. He's still a young man, he's missed out on quite a few years of cricket which is sad but he's still a young man and he has quite a few years ahead of him. He looks fit and as we saw, he kept on running in ball after ball. He also looks strong so there is no reason why he shouldn't keep on getting better.
PakPassion.net : There's been a lot said and written about Misbah-ul-Haq lately, but what are your thoughts on him as a captain and leader?
Michael Holding : He's a cool character and a calming influence on the team and he doesn't seem to get too excited or lose his cool so easily. I think that's what the players need, someone who they can look up to, who they can respect and someone who will respect the players and treat them well. It seems as if he is that sort of a person.
I questioned a lot of tactics in the Test series particularly in the Edgbaston Test match which I think Pakistan should have won but if you have a lot of ticks in different boxes and you are not brilliant in all areas as a captain that should not mean that you have not done a very good job. I think he has done a very good job as Pakistan captain.
PakPassion.net : Wahab Riaz has been a mixture of brilliance and mediocrity throughout his career. What does he need to do to reach that next level and become a top performer?
Michael Holding : Wahab has all the credentials you need to have to be an outstanding fast bowler. But, it's all up to him and what he has in his head and what his thoughts are. It’s down to whether he can motivate himself to go out there and do the best he can every time he goes out on the field. Wahab doesn't need anything else as technically he has everything a good, fast-bowler needs. It's all up to him and his attitude.
PakPassion.net : What did you think of the young pace bowler Hasan Ali who was a relatively unknown commodity ahead of the Limited-overs series against England?
Michael Holding : He looks OK. I think Pakistan has some excellent fast bowlers who could form a good nucleus for the team going forward. He looks to be a pretty good bowler, not the quickest but then you don't need to be extremely quick. What you need is to have very good control like Hasan has. He's a bowler who Pakistan can rely on going forward and in the future.
PakPassion.net : Were you surprised at the lack of reverse-swing from the Pakistani bowlers throughout the tour of England?
Michael Holding : No not at all. People keep talking about reverse-swing as if it's very easy to do and anyone can just do it. It's not as simple as people make it out to be. It's similar to conventional swing, not everyone can do it and you have to have the skills to do it. It's not just about getting a ball that's rough on one side and letting the ball go and it does what you want it to do. If it was that simple, everyone would be masters of the art of reverse-swing. Give the same ball to other guys that Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis were bowling so beautifully with, they wouldn't be able to do what those guys did. It's a craft, it's not simple and if people cannot do it then I'm not surprised.
PakPassion.net : Mickey Arthur looked a frustrated figure at times in the series against England. Do you agree that coaching the Pakistan cricket team is one of the toughest gigs in sport?
Michael Holding : You need consistency from your team when you are a coach so you can see the progress or lack of progress which in turn allows you to make adjustments and try and make things better. If things are topsy-turvy, brilliant one day and terrible the next day then it's difficult to plan the way forward. At times you can understand the coach getting frustrated with teams that are inconsistent.
PakPassion.net : Mohammad Irfan came to England and left in the blink of an eye. Do you have some sympathy for him or is his international career over?
Michael Holding : He's nowhere near fit enough to be playing international cricket. He was rightly sent home as he just was not fit enough. He needs to understand what levels of fitness are required to play international cricket. Playing a few games of Twenty20 rubbish where you bowl four overs isn't going to get you to the standard of fitness that you need to play international cricket. He needs to understand clearly what is required of him.
PakPassion.net : In recent days we've seen the highest innings total records broken in One-Day internationals and IT20s. Is the modern game becoming too batsman-friendly?
Michael Holding : A lot of people in the cricketing world have come to this consensus and think that it's unbalanced. It's supposed to be a battle between bat and ball and there are too many factors at the moment that are pushing things towards a disproportionate advantage for batsmen. At some stage the authorities will have to look at it and make some adjustments. It's fine that we want to be entertained by batsmen and cricket has always been a batsman's game but at the same time when you have a team batting first and scoring over 440 the game is pretty much dead because you know very well that the other team is not going to get that. Only once in a blue moon will you see over 800 runs in a One-Day international. People want to be entertained but at the same time they don't want to have a one-sided game and see a game where it is over at the half way stage. People need to take a look at this and ensure that there is a more even contest between bat and ball and batsmen and bowlers are competing on an equal footing.
PakPassion.net : Ramp shots, sweeps to the fast bowlers and other innovations by the batsmen. I can't imagine too many batsmen trying those shots against you in your prime?
Michael Holding : Well the game has changed. I'm not going to say that some of the shots they are playing now they wouldn't have played in the 1980s because back then it did not occur to people to play those sorts of shots. You adjust to what you come up against. If you say that batsmen in the 1930s would not have been able to score as many runs as the batsmen of today, well that is just not true. If they played under today's circumstances under the same rules and regulations and the way the game is played today, they would have been able to do that just as well. So when you see people breaking records now it's not because they are better, it's just that the game has changed and people have moved on. Today if a bowler bowls his ten overs for fifty runs he will feel he has done a pretty good job, but years ago bowlers bowling their ten overs for fifty runs would be thinking 'oh no I have done badly'. The game has changed and we have to accept that.
PakPassion.net : What are your thoughts on the innovation of no-balls being called by the third umpire rather than by on-field umpires?
Michael Holding : The on-field umpires should be encouraged to keep looking for those no-balls. It's fine to have a third umpire who can correct something that is wrong on the field but to leave all the no-ball calls to the third umpire is the wrong way to go. We saw in one of the matches an incident which was totally out of order where the batsman was bowled but then the third umpire called a no-ball and the ball had ricocheted to the boundary and the batting team got four runs which was ridiculous. The ball should be called dead once it has hit the stumps. However, if a batsman gets bowled and leaves his ground on the assumption that he is out and the umpire signals a no-ball but he didn't hear or see the umpire's signal and starts heading to the pavilion and then the fielding team run him out, he would be declared not out because the ball is dead. Now if the batsman cannot be out, then why should he get four runs in a similar situation. This is something the ICC did not think about and have to do a re-think if the third umpire is going to be calling no-balls.
PakPassion.net : What are your thoughts on the issue of bowlers running onto the danger area and subsequently being warned or in some case removed from the attack by umpires?
Michael Holding : The bowlers simply have to learn to get off the pitch but I think sometimes the umpires can get a bit carried away as well and they think to themselves once that bowler steps into the no-go area we have to warn him. I think the umpires get into the official warnings too quickly because if you step into that danger area once or twice in a three or four over spell then that is not going to damage the pitch. However if the bowler consistently does it then you should get to the warning stage. I think the umpires are aware of the television coverage and the television commentators and it gets into the back of their heads and they are thinking this cannot go to the public and it look like I am not doing my job. The umpires are getting a bit too officious and they need to relax a little bit and let the game flow.