I have just heard the sad news of the death of a great cricketing hero of my youth. Don Wilson was a key member of the dominant Yorkshire side of the 1960s. He was a slow left arm spinner, part of a Yorkshire tradition stretching back to the 19th century & including two of the greatest cricketers to have played the game. Don was not of this quality but it his exploits & achievement which led me to his antecedents.
As a boy the cricket County Championship was not seen on TV but followed by the reports & scorecards from the daily papers. When Yorkshire needed to get a shift on in the second half of a 3 day game & the pitch was receptive to spin Wilson could ensure that the Yorkshire boys were on the early train back to Leeds with the points in their kit bag. He was part of a team which won 7 titles. He played 6 games for England, never in a home Test.
In the mid-80s I went to a brewery sponsored match at the Oval between Old England & Old Rest of the World. There were great, even legendary players from my youth & from before my time. It was 2 tall lithe spinners, their actions seemingly unchanged, who took my eyes away from Sobers, Trueman & Lindwall. I had been lucky enough to see Lance Gibbs play for West Indies & for Warwickshire. That his style abided was no surprise. Don Wilson worked with a similar high, accurate delivery action. It was a style I had seen in photos or had imagined more than I had actually ever seen. Being reminded of the times when I had done that imagining was a very pleasant experience. I enjoyed watching fine retired cricketers enjoying a fun Sunday game. More than that, it was the day i finally saw don Wilson bowl.
Today, 6th of August, marks the 50th anniversary the independence of Jamaica. This small island has made a disproportionate contribution to the sporting & cultural well-being of the world. I would like to celebrate the career of Michael Holding & make the case for him being the best fast bowler of the last 50 years of the 20th century.
Being Jamaican, Holding seemed more laid back than his fellow West Indian fast bowlers. Andy Roberts, a wonderful bowler, could appear more physical, more intense. The younger Malcolm Marshall could dominate batsmen by appearing to be irresistible. I have just found this wonderful clip of his sensational afternoon at the Oval in the long hot Summer of 1976. I had first seen him play earlier that year. He was intense enough & not on just that day. I listened to an unforgettable Test Match Special 5 years later when he turned Boycott every which way before bowling him.
Holding was taller than these two bowlers & it was his bowling action, from the start of the run up to the final delivery stride which set him apart from rivals to the accolade of being the finest of the fast bowlers. It really was a thing of economy, of controlled power & of grace. He was nicknamed “Whispering Death” because the batsman and , it was said, the umpire, could not hear his approaching footsteps. Pace & accuracy were not sacrificed to the seeming laconic ease of his approach.
Holding and West Indies cricket were world beaters at a time that Caribbean culture was becoming more visible in Britain & the rest of the world. Through sport, music, food, fashion, humour & attitude Jamaica has participated in affecting us. Michael Holding’s confidence, his ability, his goddamn all round coolness made him as potent a symbol of the ability of to succeed with passion but humility as his contemporary Bob Marley.Michael seemed to be almost a Rasta…and that’s no bad thing.