West Indies’ fast bowling great Michael Holding’s presence at the Wankhede Stadium on Saturday came as a surprise to many. After all, he is not part of the Pepsi Indian Premier League commentary roster. Secondly, he has been too sharp a critic of Twenty20 cricket to be seen on the eve of a match (Mumbai Indians vs Chennai).
The Rolls Royce of fast bowlers, who tormented batsmen in his Test career spanning 11 years, figured in the 1983 Test at Wankhede for Clive Lloyd’s all-conquering West Indians. He claimed a five-wicket haul in the first innings of that Test while opening the bowling with the late Malcolm Marshall.
The Test was drawn, but the Caribbeans went on to win the series 3-0 which was hailed as a revenge for their World Cup final loss earlier in the year.
Fifty nine-year-old Holding bonded with curator Sudhir Naik and met up with old adversary John Wright, who is chief coach at Mumbai Indians.
Holding spared some time to chat with the media on Saturday.
What brings you to Mumbai?
My wife (Laurie-Ann) is working on the IPL production feed. I am here to spend a week with her because then I go to England for the entire summer and won’t be able to see her. I intend to stay married! (laughs).
You played at the Wankhede almost 30 years ago in 1983… The stadium is so unrecognisable now. The wicket too is very different. That Test match strip hardly had any grass. This one has a good grass covering and it’s nice to see the carry that the quicks get.
West Indians are doing very well in the IPL…
Yes. It’s nice to see them do well and it’s nice to also see them make good money. If I were their age and somebody said to me, ‘here are 600000 dollars, come and play for six weeks’, I’d be there before anybody else. At the same time, I think it’s going a little too far. It’s damaging the real cricket, but I’d do the same. Such is life.
Sir Viv Richards is here as mentor of Delhi Daredevils. Have you got any offers to coach anyone in the IPL?
No. I think everyone knows I’m not interested (laughs). So, they wouldn’t be asking. I think that is public knowledge.
The Caribbean T20 league is coming up as well... That’s just another one. We have Sri Lanka, we have Bangladesh, you have the Big Bash and the IPL. But nowhere there is money like this. This is champagne and that is soft drink (laughs).
Your favourite team for the Champions Trophy?
One-day international cricket is difficult to predict. But, South Africa is the best team in the world right now. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to win. India’s batting is so strong. They can get a lot of runs. Even though their bowling is not so strong, but if you get a lot of runs, you win games. You can have an unbalanced team and still win.
But India don’t have Yuvraj Singh, Gautam Gambhir, Sachin Tendulkar (retired) and Virender Sehwag…
How does it matter? They still have a lot of batting. You don’t think these youngsters can bat? (laughs). In England, if the sun shines, they are not going to leave too much grass on the pitches. The wickets are not going to be like Test match pitches.
What are your views on India’s bowling?
It’s ordinary. That’s all I can say. I’ve seen a few fast bowlers, who come in and bowl quick when they start off, but they don’t last, which is unfortunate. Something is going wrong. I don’t know if it’s the training or whatever. Look at Ishant Sharma. When he came in, he was quick. Now, he’s no longer quick. He’s not the only one. I’ve seen it happen to quite a few others too. They are still good bowlers, but the pace is not there and they don’t create as much havoc as they should.
Dale Steyn should make you smile though?
Yeah, he’s best fast bowler around; a fantastic fast bowler. But, he’s playing so much cricket. How much is he going to last. I don’t see a lot of fast bowlers in the world anymore. In the 70s, 80s and even 90s every team had one or two genuine fast bowlers. When I say fast bowler, I don’t mean someone who is running in from the fence. I mean someone really fast (laughs).
Do you think there is too much science that goes into fast bowling these days?
I was chatting with Sudhir Naik (former India Test cricketer and Wankhede curator) about all the theory that’s going into fast bowling and stuff like bio-mechanics and everything. They are still breaking down. There is too much theory. Going into the gym is great, but some of them overdo the gym. They need to do more running and less gym. Gym is good. I went to the gym too, but you could never tell because I never spent hours and hours there. I used to run though. And if you are a fast bowler, you have to run to get your legs in the right condition. There is too much emphasis on gym now. What happens is they get big and powerful and don’t stretch enough and the slightest bit of stretching causes them to tear a muscle. Remember one thing, if you don’t have muscle, you can’t tear it.
Has too much of T20 cricket affected ODI cricket’s popularity?
It has affected every other form of cricket. If you get to watch something for three hours and so much excitement - dancing girls, fours and sixes, they get hooked on that. Not too many people will want to sit through a five-day game. When it gets a bit slow, they tend to fall asleep. That’s life. You still have a few guys growing up wanting to play Test cricket. But most youngsters… if you ask them what they want to do, they’ll say T20, especially with the money around. You have a short career and you want to maximise how much you can earn in that.