14 July 2020

Michael Holding always comes to the party

Cricket fans interested in history would know that Michael Holding was part of the fearsome West Indian pace battery which included Andy Roberts, Joel Garner, Colin Croft, Wayne Daniel, Sylvester Clarke and Malcolm Marshall. They would know that he was referred to as ‘Whispering Death’ for his quiet run-up, and that his 14 for 149 against England at the Oval in 1976 on what has been described as ‘a wasteland, parched beyond recognition, with slow flat heartbreaking wickets' is still the best match figures by a West Indian. The stats can be pulled up of course: in 60 tests between 1975 and 1987 he took 249 wickets at an average of 23.68, economy rate of 2.79 an a strike rate of 50.9.

Obviously, though, most people today would associate Michael Holding more with a microphone than with the red cherry. He doesn’t whisper. He never has. He’s probably not the first to use the phrase but I associate ‘coming to the party’ with Michael Holding. ‘Someone has to come to the party,’ to be precise.

I don’t know much about cricket, but I know enough about the game and about communication to say that his observations are highly insightful. In other words, whether with the ball or the microphone, Michael Holding is a party man.

The other day, during a rain-break in the West Indies – England test, Michael Holding surpassed himself. The interview where he held forth on institutionalized racism has since gone viral on YouTube. He drew equally from an everyday incident of a white woman, Amy Cooper, threatening to call the police when a black man in Central Park asked her to put her dog on a lead, the unconscious bias of school teachers, the representation of Jesus Christ as a white man and the deliberate and pernicious erasure of black people in the great achievements of the human race.

He bowled me over with the comment on Thomas Edison. How is it that almost every Sri Lankan has heard of Edison but no one, including myself, has heard of Lewis Howard Latimer? Why are certain versions of history treated as ‘goes without saying’ and why don’t we acknowledge that there’s ‘come without saying’ in the process?

Why indeed must it take for the killing of a black man (one of hundreds murdered by racist white policemen in the USA) and widespread protests for Sky to ask Holding the questions that made for his historic and absolutely eloquent undressing of the ideological and political façade that gives the impression things are ok and ‘every little thing’s gonna be alright’?

Why? A quick, one-word answer would be ‘complicity.’ Former England captain Nasser Hussein, commenting on the Holding interview put it well, as reported by Andy Bulla in a blog picked up by ‘The Guardian’ (Michael Holding’s eloquence leads Sky’s unflinching masterpiece on race’).

‘People will be tuning in and saying: “Not this again.” All I’ll say to those people who say “not again” is that a few weeks ago I watched a black man being killed in front of my eyes on Channel 4 news, and my natural reaction was to look away. Next time that footage came on, I forced myself to watch because I felt something inside of myself say: “You’ve been looking away too long.”’

It’s not about white-black issues alone. It’s a phenomenon that can be found in all spheres of human activity, match-fixing and spot-fixing included. It’s about pointing fingers that we are reluctant to point at ourselves. It’s about wishing away that which is uncomfortable or even disconcerting or downright appalling. It's about race, class, gender, sexuality and so many other things. 

The Sky program featuring Holding opened with a James Baldwin quote, ‘’Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.’ A batsman has to face up to a Jofra Archer, a Muttiah Muralitharan or a Michael Holding. A bowler has to contend with a Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting or Brian Lara. But there is whispering death that comes without a name. Indeed, it’s not that it arrives or could arrive, it is already here and has been here for quite a while. Present tense. Holding has seen it. Many have seen it. Some have, but have looked away while others are convinced or have allowed themselves to be convinced that it is ‘an unfounded rumor.’

Holding makes the world ask a simple question, ‘for how much longer are you going to look away?’ The answer will define the world we leave for those who are yet to arrive. We either come to the party or the party comes to us and the latter is not a prospect that is appealing, Michael Holding would surely say. 


This article was published in 'The Morning' [July 14, 2020]

Other articles in the series titled 'The Interception' [published in 'The Morning']

Do you have a plan? Strengths and weaknesses It's all about partnerships