West Indies cricket fans in the UK, buoyed by the recent performances of the region’s team against England are optimistically looking forward to the upcoming Cricket World Cup.
Barbados TODAY sought the views of Michael Holding, one of the immortals of the game and now internationally revered as one of the finest commentators and analysts of the game.
I found the Jamaican-born icon at his home in the Cayman Islands and first enquired about his prolonged absence from the commentary box in the Caribbean, a period that has lasted for almost ten years. I told him viewers have, for some time, wondered why he was not seen when West Indies were playing in the Caribbean.
Holding said it was not his plan to leave the Caribbean scene, but he was forced to do so. Pressed for an explanation, he said: “I finished commentating in the Caribbean because I was banned from doing so. The West Indies Cricket Board, as it then was, told the Television Cricket Production Company not to employ me because I was too critical of the Board. Yet, I never had a conversation with the Board or its members.”
Holding was seen not only as the voice of West Indies cricket but also of world cricket. His impartial and incisive comments brought a sense of fair play to the commentary box. Surely, a voice of such renown could not be silenced, and he was invited to work in South Africa and Australia and to continue in England where he had commentated for many years. He said he was happy with the move as it enabled him to broaden his horizons and experience other and new cultures. He now considers the episode in the Caribbean as closed and said philosophically: “When one door closes another one opens.”
Having put the personal matter aside, I was anxious to hear his views on the recent shake-up of cricket management in the region. The former veteran of 60 test matches was quite outspoken and said that the dismissal of Mr David Cameron as President of West Indies cricket was a good thing for the advancement of West Indies cricket. His delivery on Cameron was said with such passion that I wondered whether or not there was a clash of personalities. Holding said his views were expressed because the outgoing president did not serve West Indies cricket well. “Purely and simply, I have never had a conversation with Cameron.”
Holding said he welcomed the new Board of Management and in so doing he wished them every success in turning around the game in the region. He noted that they appear to have made a good start, and he cited the move towards better governance and understanding as evidenced by the fact that former Coach Phil Simmonds has dropped a case of litigation surrounding his dismissal. Holding said this was a sign that there has been some dialogue between the two parties.
He also praised the Board for promising to institute term limits for the presidency and he hoped this move will be followed by openness in all operations.
Turning to the recent clear out of the coaching and ancillary staff Holding said he has no problems with change as long as it is done after a thorough look at what preceded it.
He said: “You do not easily do a clean sweep. Did they talk to the players in arriving at their decisions?” and he added: “It just seems odd coming as it does so close to the World Cup.”
Moving to the region’s teams prospects for the competition I asked how he thought they would perform. Did they have a realistic chance of winning? How far might they go in what appears to be an open contest? True to form, he was direct and honest in his assessment and response. He said he could not comment as he did not have an in depth knowledge of the team. However, he said: “The victory against England is not a good indicator as to the chances of the team. England have not performed very well in the region for many years or indeed abroad and I am reluctant to use the last series as a guide to our chances.”
Holding would not be pressed on who should play or coach and he reiterated his stand that he is not in a position to pass judgement as he does not know what is happening in our cricket. Tellingly, he noted that he would not be able to identify 75 per cent of the players who now represent the region. I found this a sad and profound statement coming from one of the truly great players of the region and world cricket. I felt the need for further comment. He said: “I was beating my head against the wall. For many years I was ignored and victimised and became frustrated. I thought it was then time to move on. Consequently, I have become emotionally detached. I still occasionally check the results but I am not involved.”
And so I countered: Was he saying that his heart is closed to West Indies cricket, is he likely ever again to have an extra beat of the heart when the team takes to the field? Have his experiences with the previous Board so dulled his senses?
The softly spoken giant would only say: “I am not interested in holding a post in the region. I would love to support the new Board but I must be satisfied that they are acting with openness and honesty and without prejudice.”
Finally, he added: “I am waiting to see the promised changes regarding governance and transparency. I have said it before and I will say it again, changing the president is not the ‘be all and end all’ of our problems. We need structural changes along with more cordial relations with the various stakeholders of our game, especially from our cricketers.”
One can scarcely argue or add to these sentiments held by a man of great integrity.
Vincent “Boo” Nurse is a Barbadian living in London who is a retired land Revenue Manager, Pensions and Investment Adviser. He is passionate about the development of his island home and Disapora.