Michael Anthony Holding (born 16 February 1954) is a former West Indian cricketer. One of the fastest bowlers to have ever played Test cricket, he was nicknamed "Whispering Death" due to his quiet approach to the bowling crease. His bowling was smooth and extremely fast, and he used his height (6 ft 3 1⁄2 in or 1.918 m) to generate large amounts of bounce and zip off the pitch. He was part of the fearsome West Indian pace battery, together with Joel Garner, Andy Roberts, Sylvester Clarke, Colin Croft, Wayne Daniel and the late Malcolm Marshall that devastated batting line-ups throughout the world in the seventies and early eighties. Early in his Test career, in 1976, Holding broke the record for best bowling figures in a Test match by a West Indies bowler, 14 wickets for 149 runs (14/149). The record still stands. During his first-class cricket career, Holding played for Jamaica, Canterbury, Derbyshire, Lancashire and Tasmania. In June 1988 Holding was celebrated on the $2 Jamaican stamp alongside the Barbados Cricket Buckle.
Michael Holding was born on 16 February 1954, the youngest of four children to Ralph and Enid Holding who lived in Kingston. The family was passionate about sport, and only a few years after Michael was born his father enrolled him as a member of Melbourne Cricket Club at Kingston. At the age of three he was diagnosed with asthma, but by his early teenage years he no longer needed an inhaler. He led an active life, playing sport in the scrubland and wooded areas near his home. Though his family would often watch the cricket at Sabina Park, Holding preferred to play Catchy Shubby Cricket than watch.
In late 1975 the West Indies team embarked on a six-Test tour of Australia. Earlier that year the West Indies had defeated Australia in the final of the inaugural World Cup, and the teams were considered to be the best of their day. Fast bowler Bernard Julien was out of form and his place in the team was given to debutant Michael Holding who opened the bowling with Andy Roberts. He picked up a groin strain in the second Test and bowled as fast as 97 miles per hour (156 km/h), quicker than Jeff Thomson, Australia's fastest bowler. According to Wisden in his debut series, Holding "had shown himself to be Roberts' natural opening partner and indeed was timed to be faster than Thomson, Lillee and Roberts", and considered that when West Indies captain Clive Lloyd chose to give Julien the new ball rather than Holding it was a mistake that cost the West Indies the match. Australia won the series 5–1, and though Holding's 10 wickets in 5 matches cost on average more than 60 runs each, Wisden believed that he had performed well enough to establish himself in the side and had the potential to bowl faster still.
India visited the West Indies in March for a four-Test series. The defeat by Australia had left Andy Roberts exhausted, so he was rested for the matches against India and Holding took over as leader of the West Indies bowling attack. He finished as his team's leading wicket taker (second in the series to Indian leg spinner B. S. Chandrasekhar) with 19 wickets at less than 20 runs each and helped his team to a 2–1 victory.
The West Indies toured England in 1976, and though Holding was unknown in the country the British press picked up on his performance in Australia and there was a sense of anticipation about his bowling. An early psychological blow was landed by the West Indies in a warm up match against the Marylebone Cricket Club when Holding struck Dennis Amiss on the head, leaving a wound that needed stitches. Amiss was a veteran player and likely to open for England in the forthcoming Tests and seeing him struggle against Holding's pace was a warning of things to come. In the lead up to the series England captain Tony Greig was confident of his team's chances, saying in an interview "I like to think people are building these West Indians up, because I'm not really sure they're as good as everyone thinks. You must remember, that the West Indians, these guys, if they get on top they are magnificent cricketers. But if they're down, they grovel, and I intend, with the help of Closey and a few others, to make them grovel." The comments outraged the West Indians, and to the team the use of the term "grovel" in particular "smacked of racism and apartheid".
The West Indies fast bowling attack consisted of Roberts, Holding, Wayne Daniel, and Vanburn Holder. The first three used the bouncer liberally (Wisden notes that Holding in particular bowled "exceptionally fast"), and England's John Edrich and Brian Close suffered in particular (Close was 45 when the series started in June, and Edrich turned 39 during the second Test). In the first innings of the fifth Test, played at the Oval, Holding took 8 wickets for 92 runs which remained the best bowling figures of his first-class career and were the best bowling figures by a West Indies bowler at the ground. He took a further 6 wickets in the match to finish with 14/149, which remain the best match figures by a West Indian in a Test match. The West Indies won the five match series 3–0.
According to an urban myth, during a Test match between the West Indies and England when Holding was to bowl to English player Peter Willey, the commentator at the time, Brian Johnston, described the action as "The bowler's Holding, the batsman's Willey" (a double entendre, as "willy" is British English slang for a penis). However Wisden states that there is no record of Johnston or anyone else actually saying this (although a colleague of Johnston's, Henry Blofeld, recalls the incident occurring during a Test match at The Oval in 1976.) In a limited-overs international between England and West Indies on 26 August 1976 at Scarborough, Michael Holding's return from long-leg deflected off the nearer wicket and scuttled along the pitch to break the far one with Graham Barlow and Alan Knott, on his only appearance as England's captain, stranded in mid-pitch. The dumbfounded umpires, David Constant and Arthur Jepson, rejected the run-out appeal for reasons that remain obscure. The West Indies played 26 first-class matches on the tour, winning 18 and losing just 2, making them the most successful side to tour England.