In a conversation, Michael Holding, a member of the West Indies’ famous “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” pace-bowling quartet (that included Andy Roberts, Colin Croft and Joel Garner) of the 1970s and 1980s, talks about the heydays of bowling and how the game has transformed. Edited excerpts:
A batsman’s game
Cricket has always been a batsman’s game. The batsmen have always gotten the glory. But that doesn’t mean that you have to keep on changing the rules to suit batsmen. Batsmen have developed a great deal. The bats they use have improved. Why do you need to keep changing rules to suit them when the equipment they’re using is constantly improving? They have also learnt new skills. Bowlers can’t learn too many new ones. Spin bowlers have tried to by changing their actions, and those have become very dicey. As far as I’m concerned, unlawful, with doosras and the like.
Batsmen get away with it all the time though. The “switch hit” is a good example. You should not be able to change your hands on the bat. You cannot change from being a left-hand batsman to a right-hander while the ball is being bowled. If Chris Gayle, who everyone knows is a left-hand batsman, goes out to take guard in a Test match as a right-hander, where are you going to place the slip fielders? If you set them on the off side for the right-hander, what happens to those slip fielders if he turns around when the bowler runs in? They’re out of the game. You don’t want three leg slips and a leg gully. The umpire isn’t going to call no-ball because he would have taken stance as a right-hand batsman. But is that the field you want? Those who administer the game don’t think of things like that.
I have seen a lot of pitches around the world that have just been too flat. There are few Test grounds around the world where you can go and say: This looks like a good cricket pitch. If you win the toss, you might want to bat first. But if you do, you will have to bat well in the first session or session and a half. Then it becomes easier for batting. But by days 3 and 4, it starts to deteriorate and the spin bowlers will have an effect. These days, what you find is that the fourth innings sometimes produces more runs than the first or second because the pitches are just too flat.
The influence of TV on playing conditions
I can’t see any television company going to any administration and telling them: This is what we want. I think the administrators do that on their own steam, either because they want matches to last a long time or, in the shorter forms, they want a lot of excitement, as they call it—balls flying all over the park. Why do they bring in the boundaries? I don’t think TV companies are asking them to do that. I don’t think TV companies influenced them to have two new balls in the shorter forms of the game, or to keep on changing the rules.
Ex-players and their influence on rule changes
When I was on the International Cricket Council’s cricket committee, we would make a few recommendations, but they weren’t always accepted. It then had to go before the executive committee of the ICC, and as Mr N. Srinivasan once said, we were “only the cricket committee”. It doesn’t have a great deal of power. They can only recommend.
People have been talking about the bats used these days. Once upon a time, we used to talk of bats having a sweet spot. Now, it’s the entire bat that is sweet. People are hitting the ball a lot further now because of the bats they’re using. These bats are legal as far as width is concerned, but look at the depth of the bats. These bats no longer have edges—they have a front, back and two sides. That’s something the ICC needs to look at.
On the ropes
Why not keep the boundaries where they normally were? With the bats being used, batsmen are making mistakes and still getting sixes and fours. Years ago, if you mistimed a stroke, you were out or the ball would trickle to the fielder. These days, they get tons of runs from miscues. That’s encouraging mediocrity.
Day-night Test cricket will be played under very different conditions in different parts of the world. In Adelaide, I understand that they had to leave more grass on the pitch because otherwise the ball would have got scuffed up and lost its colour. The batsmen struggled. You might get tons of runs in India, but less in Australia or some other part of the world.
I’ll see a pink-ball Test this November in Australia. But in general, I’m not a fan of day-night cricket. I think Test cricket was meant to be played in the day. That’s why people wore white clothing and had a red ball. Day-night (One Day) cricket was coloured clothing with a white ball. I’m not a fan of day-night cricket, but then again, I’m an old fogey who will soon be out of the game.