No Holding Back

Published: 2010
Pages: 250
Author: Holding, Michael
Publisher: Weidenfeld and Nicolson
Rating: 4 stars

No Holding Back

Michael Holding needs little introduction. Thirty years ago he was, some would argue, the finest fast bowler on the planet. Today he is one of the sport’s most perceptive and best loved commentators. Against that background I was confident this book would be better than most of its type. In fact it is a masterpiece, sadly a slightly flawed one, but nonetheless essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the state of the game in the 21st century.

What makes Holding’s book so memorable is that it is the story of Michael Holding the man and not simply of Michael Holding the cricketer. It is not, at 234 pages of narrative, overly long and his cricket career is over less than half way through. It is confirmed at that point that he took 249 Test wickets but nowhere is his average or strike rate recorded. There are no detailed reports of any of the series in which he played or indeed of any individual Test. What Holding does deal with are the controversies in his career, most notably his famously kicking over the stumps during a Test in Dunedin and his tendency to bowl just a little too aggressively in his early years. He also deals with the wider issues facing professional cricketers in the Caribbean in the 1970’s and 1980’s. At the start of Holding’s career it was impossible for a West Indian to make a living solely from International cricket but, just two years after he made his Test debut, Kerry Packer and World Series Cricket came along and the landscape changed forever.

I would have liked to read more of Holding’s transition from player to businessman and finally commentator. That is not intended as a criticism as much as an expression of surprise that that part of the book is as fascinating as it is. The immediate aftermath of a cricketer’s playing career is not, generally, the most interesting aspect of his story. Holding did nothing spectacular or controversial – he bought a garage business in Kingston and gradually moved into media work. Not, on the face of matters a particularly exciting time, but the honesty with which he deals with the problems he encountered along the way makes for a compelling read.

Where Holding is at his best is undoubtedly the chapters that deal with his involvement in the game over the last decade. Most rewarding of all is his chapter on Sir Allen Stanford. Once the current legal proceedings involving Stanford have concluded there will no doubt be a plethora of books dealing with his rise and fall but, dealing with his cricketing activities in isolation, I cannot imagine that anything will improve on the account given here. The same can be said of other subjects close to Holding’s heart such as his views on the always emotive issue of illegal bowling, the debacle of the on/off forfeiture by Pakistan of the Oval Test in 2006 and the inexorable rise of T20 cricket. Holding also writes, inevitably, with great passion and insight into the decline of the West Indies in recent years.

I mentioned at the outset of this review that I felt the book was flawed. That may be a little unkind in some ways but I am afraid there was a sense of anticlimax when I reached the end. The book starts so well and gets better and better with each succeeding chapter and I was expecting a grandstand finish which simply did not happen. Such is Holding’s popularity that I anticipate this book will sell well and it is a shame that those who read it who never saw him in his pomp, and there will be many of them, will not learn just how good he was. Geoffrey Boycott dubbed Holding the “Rolls Royce of fast bowlers” and his long time soubriquet, “Whispering Death”, is one of the most evocative a cricketer has been given. Holding is not a man to brag, I understand that, but, in my humble opinion, the closing chapter of Holding’s book should have consisted of a collection of tributes from his contemporaries, a statistical summary, and a series of photographs showcasing that breathtaking action.

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