An open letter to Michael Holding

Updated: Jul 16, 2020, 10:49 IST | Clayton Murzello | Mumbai

We thought we wouldn't see the WI great struggle to hold back his tears after he spoke about Mohd Amir in the spot-fixing drama of 2010, but he did so again at Southampton with his anti-racism outburst.

Michael Holding during day one of the third Ashes Test match at Headingley, Leeds. Pic/Getty Images
Michael Holding during day one of the third Ashes Test match at Headingley, Leeds. Pic/Getty Images

Clayton MurzelloDear Mikey,
You didn't have to play at Rose Bowl, which hosted last week's opening England v West Indies Test for the Wisden Trophy, to walk away with Man of the Match honours. The reward Shannon Gabriel received was called the Player of the Match. So, you're the man!

The manner in which you called out racism was powerful, profound and hopefully productive. If an American was watching and listening, a like-minded person would have been reminded of Martin Luther King.

If Stevie Wonder is sent a recording of your chat with Nasser Hussain and Ian Ward, he may be inspired to do an encore of Visions Part 2 for his next audience. Before that piece of musical brilliance executed by guitarists Kyle Bolden and Errol Cooney during his 2009 Live at Last concert in London, Wonder remarked: "Yes, we are of different colours and ethnicities. Oh yeah, I understand all that. I call it just the making of God's rainbow of all of us. But the key is…we can't let these things — differences in our skin or ethnicities make us a part of killing the earth, destroying the planet by putting energies of hate out there. If we don't pull it together, soon we will see our planet die before our eyes."

I'm sure you feel the same, Mikey. And you hurt like that supreme performer.

Your admirers and fellow commentators may have thought they would not see you battling to hold back tears again after they watched you express anguish over someone influencing young Mohammad Amir to indulge in spot fixing and bowling that huge, conspired no-ball in the Lord's Test of 2010. But they did last week when a studio host spoke to you on why you chose to speak out the day before.

You said you thought about your parents and what they endured because your mother married a man who was "too dark." Mikey, you caused lumps in many throats if not tears, many miles away as well. When you broke down I thought about what my late mother told me many years ago. In the first few weeks of work, two fellow employees passed her, with one saying to the other, "What dark girls Glaxo is employing nowadays." My mother was surprised and stung. She didn't think too much about it and it was only casually mentioned at home. She served the British firm for 40 years.

The examples you threw up about the kind of racism you faced in Australia, England and South Africa moved us all. I felt I was with you waiting for a cab at Leicester Square, in the lift in Australia and at that South African hotel reception waiting to be checked in. And I wanted to come over and shake your hand.

In the midst of all this I couldn't help thinking about the good, straight man you have been, without making a fuss about it all.

I've observed you a bit. When I told you that I needed an inscription on your book, No Holding Back at Lord's in 2011, you indicated it would be done with pleasure. When it slipped my mind to get the book along to the press box, you reminded me that I wanted it signed.

Thirteen years earlier, at the Dhaka airport lounge, you granted an interview to a young journalist only on his second international tour despite having arrived on an early morning flight from Karachi as we both waited to leave the airport in the midst of a strike.

On my 2007 tour of England, on a cold, rainy day of the Lord's Test, fellow journalist Siddhartha Vaidyanathan and I met two gentlemen enjoying their beer at the Nursery End. Andrew Turner and Glenn Griffiths had furnished your UK home and you gave them tickets for the Lord's Test with a warning that it could be a rainy day. They were also promised tickets for the next Test at Nottingham in lieu of the poor London weather during the Test.

Turner told us how you had left a voice message about a screwdriver forgotten in one of your rooms.

I remember what David Gower once said, "Michael Holding could be the nicest man on earth and is very close to being so." Thankfully being nice doesn't stop you from being forthright. In Whispering Death, you stated that captain Clive Lloyd and manager Edmond Kentish were "far too soft" on players who challenged their authority on the disastrous 1975-76 tour of Australia. In the same book you felt Lloyd could have handled your mate Andy Roberts better. Andy, as you said, asked to be left out of the opening Test at Kanpur in 1983 and when he was fit for the second Test, he was considered only for the fifth and sixth Tests. "I do not believe players should be petted and pampered. But too many times have I seen our top players hurt and degraded as they hear they have been omitted. My friend, Andy Roberts, was one," you wrote.

Mikey, it would take more than just words to end racism but it could be curbed in some spheres after what you said in Southampton. Your disposition should never be underestimated. A former colleague — Ajay Jha — told me the other day how you accepted his offer of a late evening bike ride to a taxi stand in Delhi to enable you to get a cab that would take you to your hotel after you were stranded at the National Stadium in 1994. You were ever grateful for the lift. Likewise, we are grateful and honoured to sit behind you while you lead the way with your stinging condemnation of racism.

Yours truly,
Clayton.

mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello

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