Whispering Death

..and while I’m on the subject of cricket, here’s some examples of one of the all-time greats in action. This is Michael Holding destroying England at the Oval in 1976, when he was only 22. I remember that summer very well, in fact, as  there was a very long and intense heatwave, punctuated by regular visions of England’s cricketers being thrashed by the West Indies;  just look at the parched state of the outfield at the Oval if you don’t believe English summers can be like that!

Holding acquired the nickname “Whispering Death” because his run-up was so smooth and perfectly balanced that you could hardly hear him approaching the wicket, in contrast to some fast bowlers who charged in like a herd of elephants. No arguments, then, with Richie Benaud’s comments on the replay from about 58s onwards. It’s almost as if the phrase “poetry in motion” was invented to describe Michael Holding’s bowling action. I’ll allow anyone – even Brian Cox – to call this awesome.

Note also that this is from an era in which batsmen didn’t wear head protection. Even with a helmet I would have been terrified. Cricket’s not a game for faint hearts…

…  Brian Close had been brought into open the England batting earlier in the series in an attempt to stiffen their resistance to the West Indian attack. He wasn’t the greatest player in the world nor the cricketing world’s most agreeable character, and as you can tell he wasn’t in the first flush of youth in 1976 either, but there is no denying his courage and determination. Here he is enduring a vicious battering at the hands of Michael Holding. One short-pitched delivery in this sequence came within a whisker of hitting him on the head; had it done so the consequences would have been horrendous. As it was, he “only” had to take  a succession of blows to his body. He scored 20 runs at Old Trafford, off 108 balls in 162 minutes, and was dropped for the next Test as was his opening partner John Edrich,  although both had stood their ground and defended their wickets (and themselves) manfully.

Has there ever been another bowler with an action as beautiful as Michael Holding? I don’t think so, but you’re welcome to disagree through the comments box!


5 Responses to “Whispering Death”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    Another Cox – Peter Cox, in his fine book Sixty Summers (published in 2006 about English postwar cricket) – described Holding as “gliding in as if on castors”. It was specifically umpires who commented that they could not hear him coming; unlike everybody else the umpire at the bowler’s end could not see him coming, and uniquely could not hear Holding coming either. I don’t know who coined “Whispering Death”, but the West Indian bowling attack were known as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

  2. Dave Carter Says:

    The summer of 1976 was hot and dry, I was a research student at the time, but spent a lot of that summer playing cricket. The West Indies toured, and we thought England should beat them. We had seen Andy Roberts and Wayne Daniel in county cricket, and we knew they were quick, nevertheless pitches were dry that summer and in particular the Oval was a fast bowler’s graveyard. Holding was a yard quicker again than Roberts and Daniel, and his spell at the Oval was a magnificent demonstration of fast, full, bowling. I would like to think that the spell at the Oval was the real Holding, not the assault on Edrich and Close at Old Trafford.

    Neither Close nor Edrich ever played for England again after Manchester, and I was more upset over Edrich who had been something of a hero of mine when I was growing up.

    I saw one more spell like that from Holding (I only saw both of these spells on the TV unfortunately). In 1984 I was in Australia, and the West Indies came over. By this time by most people’s reckoning Holding was past his first youth. Malcolm Marshall was now the superstar, Holding, still a fine bowler, bowled first change off a much shorter run. The first test was in Perth, then as now a very quick wicket. Someone annoyed Holding, it was probably Graeme Yallop, he annoyed most people. So it was the old Wes Hall routine, bowling mark flung into the far distance, and he steamed in off his old run, took 6-21, and the course of the series was set. Holding was not the same bowler for the rest of the series, injuries had taken their toll, Marshall dominated the remaining tests, but for that period, 1976-1983 I regard Holding as the greatest fast bowler I ever saw, just above Lillee and Marshall.

    • telescoper Says:

      There’s definitely a contrast between the two clips. In the first he bowls a pretty full length, but at Close it’s all short-pitched stuff. I’m told Brian Close had made some remarks that annoyed him – something Close was wont to do in any case – which perhaps provoked the barrage which many felt was excessive. No quarter was asked in that series, and none was given.

      However, I would say that it’s a legitimate tactic to bowl short at higher-order batsmen in order to test their mettle and try to force them onto the back foot, in which position they would be in poor shape to defend an accurate good length delivery like those seen in the first clip.

      What I remember best about the innings at the Oval in 1976 – from the TV – was the gutsy batting of Alan Knott who, despite his diminutive stature, managed to fend off the onslaught for a gallant 57 in the 2nd innings, to add to his 50 in the first.

      It’s worth mentioning the other memorable stats from the Oval test: Viv Richards’ magnificent 291 in the Windies mammoth first-innings 687; and Dennis Amiss 203 in the England first innings reply of 435.

  3. Anton Garrett Says:

    I was at the 1976 Old Trafford Test, and my main memories of it, rather than Holding’s asssault on Close, was debutant bowler Mike Selvey (in the absence of Snow and Old, unfit) unexpectedly skittling the West Indies top order on the first morning. The first two tests had been drawn and this was England’s high point in the series; we went on to lose that test, Gordon Greenidge making a century in each innings, and the next two. As I recall, Viv Richards had a little trouble getting out of the 200s in that series.

    It was a hot summer alright – my father and I actually came home from Old Trafford in mid-afternoon during one county match because of the heat; the players didn’t seem to be trying very hard either.


  4. Anton Garrett Says:

    The West Indies of that era were by far the slowest test team in getting through their overs, and conspiracy theorists suggest that this was not merely because they had four long-run-up quicks, but that it was the fastest they could manage to allow the two ‘resting’ bowlers enough time to return fresh, ie they did not need a fifth bowler and could bring another batsman into the team. I’d love to know if this is true.

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