Michael Holding: Fast bowlers need to be aggressive, not angry

“... Anger can take the focus away from the job at hand,” says legendary West Indian fast bowler Michael Holding.

Michael Holding runs off the pitch at the end of the fifth Test at the Oval on August 17, 1976. Holding's 14 for 149 runs is still the best return in Tests for the West Indies.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

West Indies cricket in the 1970s and ’80s was synonymous with the swagger of Vivian Richards, the astute leadership of Clive Lloyd, the athleticism of wicketkeeper Jeffrey Dujon — and the tearaway pace of Michael Holding.

Holding — nicknamed “Whispering Death” for the speed he generated from his deceptive approach to the stumps — would brutally expose the English batsmen at the Oval in 1976 with bouncers at express pace that hurt their bodies and bruised their pride.

But the West Indies great insists a pacer does not need to get angry when bowling. “Aggressive, yes. But anger can take the focus away from the job at hand,” he said.

“I have been angry on numerous occasions and lost my cool once, which was not the right way to go. Controlled aggression is what is needed. I can only speak for myself, but if I knew a batsman was genuinely afraid, I knew I had already won the battle,” said Holding, who took 249 wickets in 61 Tests at 23.68 and was part of a fearsome quartet of pacers — with Andy Roberts, Colin Croft and Joel Garner — that made batsmen shiver in their shoes.

Holding’s rhythmic run-up was in contrast to that of another bowling great, Pakistan’s Wasim Akram, who, bowling off a short run, troubled batsmen with toe-crushing yorkers and prodigious swing.

The 66-year-old West Indian though emphasised that every individual has to do what suits them as far as a run-up is concerned. “No one size fits all. The problem with having a very short run-up is you then put a lot of pressure on the body to bowl fast. You can strengthen the body in the gym, but it’s not a machine and the massive wear and tear doing such an explosive endeavour takes its toll,” said Holding, the Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1977.

Holding, meanwhile, echoes the view of Akram’s long-term bowling partner, Waqar Younis, who once said in an interview that bowlers today start to learn too many things too early.

Michael Holding was part of a fearsome quartet of pacers with Andy Roberts, Colin Croft and Joel Garner that made batsmen shiver in their shoes.   -  Getty Images

 

“I believe the problem Waqar might have been referring to is the necessity for young fast bowlers to develop a great deal of variation for playing in the shortest form of the game. I agree that that scenario certainly doesn’t help with the proper development of the basics of bowling fast,” said Holding.

Holding also weighed in on the importance of playing county cricket in the UK. “I believe county cricket is more beneficial to batsmen than fast bowlers. When I played the game, there was too much being asked of the fast bowlers, so many of them bowled well below the pace they were capable of to preserve their bodies for long careers. I played close to the end of my career and only played half of the allotted county games per season,” he said.