The personification  of cricketing grace at its supreme height –David Gower versus Michael Holding

holding gower

No sport arguably took grace and artistry to depths of regions the game of cricket did. Bowling and batting or even fielding at its best was reminiscent of poetry or a musical composition. Fast bowling was not all about agression and speed but about poetic beauty. Batting was not all bout power and technical skill but about touch art and creativity which looked like a manifestation of the divine. Sadly in many ways today the glorious game has lost it’s artistic touch or charm even if athleticism is superior.

Statistical achievements may have reached their highest magnitude ever today in every form with accomplishments of Tendulkar, Glen Mcgrath,Shane Warne.Jacques Kallis,Steve Smith and Virat Kohli.However even if geniuses or masters they did not equal the artistry of greats like Denis Compton,Ranjitsinghji, ,Frank Worrel Bishen Bedi,Subhash Gupte, ,Ray Lindwall,,Rohan Kanhai Zaheer Abbas ,Gundappa Vishwanath.Mohammad Azharrudin ,David Gower,Martin Crowe Abdul Qadir or Michael Holding. In the modern times to me only Brian Lara.Mark Waugh,Mahela Jayewardene ,Yuvraj Singh and Damien Martyn join the bracket of the most elegant or artistic cricketers.

If I had to choose my ultimate spectacle of a batsman versus a bowler resembling poetry in motion. the contenders that would conjure up to my mind first are David Gower and Michael Holding. There were better batsmen and bowlers in that era, but no one surpassed them for sheer elegance or few bestowed more sheer talent. This year we mark the 40th anniversary of Michael Holding bowling what was arguably the best over ever in the history of test cricket at Barbados and David Gower scoring an unbeaten 154 against the best pace attack ever in the West Indies. There were batsmen more technically sound than Gower and bowlers more accurate than Holding but none took cricketing poetry to such heights. There could hardly be more of majestic sight than witnessing the duo take on each other. It would be like seeing a painting of Rembrandt, or work of Michelangelo.

In 1981 West Inside possessed the best pace attack ever with the likes of Colin Croft and Joel Garner accompanying Andy Roberts and Michael Holding. At Kingston David Gower ressurected England from dire straits scoring an unbeaten 154 with counter attacking agression.Facing a huge first innings deficit Gower blended great composure and determination. Even good balls were flayed away.  Whether driving, pulling. hooking cutting or flicking Gower played in the manner of conducting a musical symphony. Although not at his quickest in that series at times Holding drew speed comparable with the fastest ever.40 years ago it must have been cricket’s ultimate spectacle witnessing the duel between David Gower and Michael Holding. Holding would beat Gower or trouble him with steep bounce obtained close to the batsman while in turn Gower would even send the good balls scuttling to the fence. The scene would be reminiscent of one acrobat passing a baton to the other Rare to witness tow lotus’s blossoming simultaneously.

No paceman in the history of cricket made the impact of thunder and lightning with the grace of a seagull flying in the manner of Holding. One virtually got the sensation of an antelope in full stride. In his final bowling strides he resembled a cobra coiling or a ballad dancer performing. The pace he extracted after the ball left his hand was unbelievable, with the ball whizzing through the air defying bio-mechanics. Holding did not swing the ball so much or have an effective slower ball but his deadly yorker and bounce obtained so close to the bat made him a batsman’s nightmare. In a total package he came close to the complete or perfect fast bowler. It was very rare in sport for such an electrifying effect to be created with sheer effortlesness.The best of batsmen were rattled and deceived by Holding which made him known as the ‘Whispering Death.’ Holding did not posses the craft of Andy Roberts or Malcolm Marshall or the accuracy of Curtly Ambrose or Joel Garner but at his best his sheer speed though the air could have been a more lethal proposition than any of them.

To me Holding’s 14 wickets for 149 at the Oval in 1976 is the greatest exhibition ever of sustained fast bowling in the history of cricket. It was reminiscent of thunder and lightning intervening from no man’s land on the hottest of summer days. On a wicket as dead as a pancake. Every victim of Holding’s was either bowled or leg before. I doubt any paceman ever in a test so consistently beat the bat with sheer pace or speed through the air.. Pace bowling art or bio-mechanics was taken to metaphysical regions. I doubt if any paceman was such an epitome of fast bowling perfection, in terms of control, speed and bowling action. No paceman ever better demonstrated the sheer weapon of sheer pace.

At his fastest in World Series Packer cricket he bowled quicker than anyone. Batsman went to the extent of avoiding him to play even Lillee or Andy Roberts. He topped the bowling aggregate in WSC supertests in West Indies in 1979 taking 24 scalps. I can never his scintillating spell when shaving of the top of the Australian batting in the 1st supertest in Australia in 1977-78.In 1975-76 Holding struck sheer terror against India at Barbados and Kingston ,taking 19 wickets in the series as a whole.

Batsman went to the extent of avoiding him to play even Lillee or Andy Roberts. He topped the bowling aggregate in WSC supertests in West Indies in 1979 taking 24 scalps.I can never his scintillating spell when shaving of the top of the Australian batting in the 1st supertest in Australia in 1977-78.In 1975-76 Holding struck sheer terror against India at Barbados and Kingston ,taking 19 wickets in the series as a whole.

In 1981 he dismissed Geoff Boycott sending his stump cart wheeling after a succession of five unplayable, deliveries. lifting disconcertingly. This over had every element that constituted perfection personified by a pace bowler, be it speed, bounce, control and accuracy. One got the sensation of a boulder being cracked into two. No paceman ever achieved such perfection in bowling action or posessed such consistent speed through the air. Later in his career from early 1980’s he learnt to move the ball both ways

In Australia in 1981-82, capturing 24 wickets at a mere average of around 13 runs, he bowled arguably better than any overseas bowler ever on an Australian tour. At marginally lesser pace he superbly blended cut and sideways movement with disconcerting bounce and a superb Yorker. Australian batting superstar became a virtual bunny of Holding in that series. At Melbourne with an eleven wicket haul in the 1st test of that series, he revealed pace bowling skill in regions of the sublime when ripping through the flesh of the Australian batting. Rarely has sheer speed been blended in such perfect proportion with bounce and lateral movement.The likes of Alan Border,Greg Chappell and Kim Hughes were literally caught hopping.

In India in 1983-84 he captured 30 wickets, looking like an incarnation of Andy Roberts, when displaying mastery of control and movement and surpassing even the great Malcolm Marshall in sheer skill.

In 1984-85 at Perth his 6-21 tore the ribcage of the Australian batting, taking fast bowling prowess to its supreme height. At his fastest in World Series Packer cricket he bowled quicker than anyone. Batsman went to the extent of avoiding him to play even Lillee or Andy Roberts. He topped the bowling aggregate in WSC supertests in West Indies in 1979 taking 24 scalps. I can never his scintillating spell when shaving of the top of the Australian batting in the 1st supertest in Australia in 1977-78.In 1975-76 Holding struck sheer terror against India at Barbados and Kingston ,taking 19 wickets in the series as a whole.

Some all time greats or ex-cricketers have selected Holding in their all-time test XL like Neil Harvey,Syed Kirmani,Ray Illingworth,,Majid Khan,Asif Iqbal and Mike Procter.Many experts rate Andy Roberts the more lethal or complete bowlers but none deny that none had a more perfect or graceful bowling action. Holding took 249 scalps in 60 tests at an average of 23.68,in addition to his 35 scalps in Packer cricket. Sadly often his career was beset by injury. Without doubt Holding was one of the architects in West Indies emerging as the greatest cricketing superpower ever paying major role in series win sin India, England and Australia.Imran Khan ranked Holding as the bets fast bowler he ever saw in his era. Cricket writer John Woodcock rated Holding as the best of the great Carribean fast bowlers.

David Gower ironically struck his first ball he ever faced in test cricket for a boundary ,against Pakistan in 1978.He simply looked destined to join the greats but later had frequent bouts of loss of form. His footwork was lazy and would more than often contribute to his own dismissal. However in terms of sheer natural ability few batsmen ever surpassed Gower.I cant forget his sheer effortlesness when dispatching balls to the fence with his mere touches. It was reminiscent of a shepherd tending his flock. A ball travelling at speed and lightning would be punished by the most deftest of  touches, even when hooking or pulling. Memories always spring up of the ease with which Gower executed good deliveries of Dennis Lillee or Geoff Lawson in 1982-83 in Australia. For sheer aesthecism Gower did not have an equal amongst left-handers,with his strokes resembling the touches of a a painter’s brush or sculptor’s tools. Rarely did a batsman play the ball so late

.In his test career Gower averaged 44.25 , amassing 8231 runs and 18 centuries. It is remarkable that Gower was at home in all conditions being equally at home on the turning tracks in the sub-continent and the fast pitches in West Indies and Australia, to the seaming home English tracks. In 1985 Gower amassed 732 runs in a home Ashes series, demolishing the like s of Craig Mcdermott and Geoff Lawson. Statistically it was batting in the magnitude of greats like Viv Richards or Gavaskar.He was also a revelation in Pakistan in 1984 scoring two big centuries with a173 and 152, confronting the mesmerising turn of Abdul Qadir.Gower made an important contribution in England regaining the Ashes in 1986-87 while in his farewell overseas series in Australia in 1990-91 he ressurected the touch of his old days, with some great batting. Sadly Gower was never at his best in India like in 1981-82 and 1983-84 and also was failure in the 1981 and 1989 home Ashes series. Gower played some notable knocks facing Imran at his fastest in 1982 with two 70+ scores at Edgbaston and Leeds. It is also of no strange coincidence that Gower scored more run sin the West Indies against their best team ever in the 1980’s,than anyone. It is sad that we hardly saw enough of Gower taking on the Pakistani left-arm wizard Wasim Akram.I would select David Gower in my world test XI of the 1980’s against a team with great pace bowling. Bowling legend Dennis Lillee ranked Gower amongst the top 3 batsmen he ever bowled to.In my view Gower negotiated express pace better than his great contemporary,Javed Miandad. Even Brian Lara did not spank the short ball as soundly or with as consummate ease as Gower. In terms of raw ability I place Gower almost the equal of Brian Lara .

I did not instate Zaheer Abbas as even if he was as graceful as Gower he was never successful against the great West Indies attack.Majid Khan was just a touch below in terms of style.

In the final analysis Holding would possibly join the club of all -time greats but not David Gower.Gower hardly did true justice to the talent endowed to him.Unlike Gower,Holding took technical correctness to its zenith and had greater powers of determination.

In terms of epitomizing cricket’s poetry the other notable contests would have been between Ray Lindwall and Denis Compton, Subash Gupte to Rohan Kanhai ,Alan Davidson to Ted Dexter ,Bishen Bedi to Alvin Kalicharan and Wasim Akram to Martin Crowe. Imagine witnessing the sheer genius of Rohan Kanhai resembling a musical composer taking on arguably the best master of leg -spin ever, Subash Gupte. Denis Compton’s artistry confronting Lindwall could have been the piece for a museum. Few sights could be more delightful than the epitome of elegance against Wizardry in divine proportions in a Wasim -Crowe duel.

Gower and Holding  later became successful commentators.

Both have displayed effective skill on the mike though Holding has a tendency of becoming over subjective or harshly critical. Gower has written a very well analysed book of ’50 greatest cricketers ever’. Here he has shown no discrimination to past greats like Jack Hobbs or WG Grace Grace but displayed an inherent bias of modern greats and batting legends rather than bowling equivalents in rankings. I praise Holding speaking out against racism in ‘Black lives matter’ and about the trend in general. However he is very brash in some criticisms of modern giants and on Indian cricket. He went to the extent of classing Pakistani former paceman Shoaib Akhtar as a chucker and does not have very kind word sor Tendulkar or Lara.Neverthless his book ‘Holding back’ gives great insight into the cricket of his time. Holding owes a lot to his partner Andy Roberts who he gives credit to for shaping him and holds Viv Richards as the best cricketer he ever saw.

Harsh Thakor is a freelance journalist. Toured India,particularly Punjab .Written on Mass movements ,,Massline,Maoism on blogs like Democracy and Class Struggle and frontier weekly .An avid cricket lover too who has posted writings on blogs like Pakpassion Indian Cricket Fans and [email protected]



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