The Fastest Over Ever
Introduction - By Michael - Video - Miscellany

(Short extract from Michael Holding's own auto-biography "Whispering Death", now long since out of print:)

"They were everywhere, crammed into the limited stands, precariously perched on galvanised roofs, spilling on to the boundary's edge. The 15,000 or so people squeezed into the limited facilities of Bridgetown's Kensington Oval buzzed in excited expectation. They had seen their West Indies team bowled out by England for 265 early that March day in 1981, the second day of the third Test, and were confidently waiting for their four fast bowlers to strike back.

As we went through our final preparation in the confines of the dressing-room in the Pickwick pavilion, our captain, Clive Lloyd, tapped me on the shoulder and asked: 'So which end do you want to come from, Mikey?' It was the first time I'd ever been offered the choice and I wasn't prepared for it. Andy Roberts had always bowled the opening over. 'Whichever end Andy doesn't want,' I replied. To me, there was no question that Andy should bowl the first over, as he always did, but by the time Clive tossed me the ball to start the second over from the northern end, with the George Challenor Stand at my back, I was chafing at the bit.

As usual, Dennis Waight, our trainer, had had us all stretching and loosening up before start of play. I'd been out in the middle for a brief spell with the bat and felt confident. I was fired up by the crowd, by the challenge our modest total had set us, and by the captain's instructions, 'I want you to bowl flat out from the start,' he said. 'Don't worry, I'm only giving you three or four overs, so let's have all you've got.'

Kensington, with its pacy and bouncy pitch and its knowledgeable spectators who had been raised on the deeds of the succession of great Barbadian fast bowlers, was one of my favourite grounds. If I needed any more encouragement, it was staring me right in the face, for the pitch was like none I'd seen before. Hard, as usual, but covered with a layer of grass, it was bound to be fast as lightning. Usually, my first task would be to locate a proper line and length, around off stump, keeping the batsmen on the defensive, before increasing pace and experimenting. Now the intention was primarily speed as I ran in to deliver to Geoff Boycott, a perfectionist whose technique and temperament made him one of the finest opening batsmen of his time.

I first played against Boycott on our tour of England the previous summer and quickly found out where not to bowl to him. An exceptionally good judge of line, he would simply leave alone any ball wide of the stumps. It meant pitching as close to the off stump as possible, forcing a stroke and hoping for an outswinger to find the edge. I'd got him nibbling that way at Trent Bridge, and at the Queen's Park Oval in the first Test a few weeks earlier, only for the catches to be dropped. So I was settled in my mind just where to aim. I knew I had another advantage. It was psychological. Prior to each Test, I liked to chat to the ground curator to find out how the pitch might play. In Barbados, Tommy Peirce was in charge of the preparation and he told me a story which indicated that Boycott wasn't in the right frame of mind.

He had scored double-centuries at Kensington in the island matches on England's two previous tours in 1968 and 1974, when the pitch was bare of grass and a batsman's paradise. He obviously came expecting a repeat only to find something completely different. Looking at this one on the eve of the Test, he accosted Tommy and asked: 'What's this then? Where's all this green come from?' 'I just told him that grass in the Caribbean is green', Tommy said. 'He didn't look amused.' No wonder. He knew it spelt trouble.

So the cards were stacked in my favour as I ran in to bowl my first ball. It landed more or less perfectly, perhaps a couple of inches wide of the off stump, and drew from Boycott a hurried, uncertain prod. Immediately I became even more confident. Everything was right, my rhythm, my delivery stride, my action. It's rare to feel that way from the very start of a spell and each ball of the over did almost exactly what I planned.

Twice, as Boycott played, the ball flashed through to wicketkeeper David Murray. Once he was taken on his thigh pad. The fifth ball I dug in a little shorter than the others and it climbed steeply towards his Adam's apple. Somehow, he got the bat up in self-preservation and the ball dropped a couple of feet or so in front of Joel Garner in the gully. Immersed in the game, I was usually oblivious to the crowd when bowling, but this time I could hear the hubbub growing louder and louder as I walked back with each ball. It may have been what they came to see but I'd bowled Boycott five of the best balls I could and he was still there. Could I keep it up? Had he ridden out the storm?

The roar after the fifth ball was deafening and, as I walked back for the last, I tried to imagine what Boycott would be thinking. I reckoned he'd be expecting another short one on the grounds that I'd been stirred up by the crowd. So I aimed instead for a full length on off stump. Sure enough, he didn't move into line, the ball moved away a little and passed outside his bat by a couple of inches.

Dumb struckThe next thing I knew, bedlam had erupted all around the ground. For a split second, I was dazed. Boycott was not a batsman who was bowled very often and I certainly didn't expect I could hit his off stump like that. My view was blocked by his pads so I didn't see the stump cartwheeling out of the ground and only fully realised what had happened when Desmond Haynes rushed over from his position at short-leg to embrace me in congratulations and the slip fielders followed. I didn't even see Geoff making his way past me back to the pavilion.

As I made my way back to my fielding position on the fine-leg boundary in front of the Three Ws Stand, people were standing and cheering. Some came on to the field to shake my hand, even a few of the hundreds of sun-pink English fans down for the Test on package holidays.

Slowly, it dawned on me that I had bowled a quite special over but there wasn't the normal elation I felt at clean bowling a top batsman. More than anything, I was trying to work out how I'd managed to pass Geoff Boycott's usually broad bat on the outside and still hit the off stump. Apparently Geoff was equally baffled. As he later admitted, he was so devastated to be out in that way that he spent several hours reviewing the TV replays to see where he went wrong. It was one of those days when everything was in my favour and everything clicked. Later in the day, when Clive brought me back for a second spell from the same end, I got right back into the groove from the first ball and dismissed Ian Botham and David Bairstow in my opening over.

Michael Holding and Tony Cozier, from "Whispering Death"