Fondly remembered as “Whispering Death” for his smooth gallop and gather, before a fury of leather was unleashed, the former West Indian fast man is in life’s cruise lane now, and that suits him just fine.
“I love coming over to South Africa. It is a wonderful place for so many reasons. The people, the animals that you go to see in the bush and, of course, the cricket,” the legend said as he exited the 2017/18 season at The Wanderers. “When I go to the bush for a few days, I tell the guys in the production team that if they don’t see me soon, they must know that a lion found himself a very good meal,” he joked.
Ultimately, it has always been about the cricket for Holding, himself a predator on the field. When he talks, there is a collective hush and ears press closer, because few are more nuanced in the art of fast bowling.
Happily, for South Africa, he has built up an affinity with Kagiso Rabada.
“He’s a good kid. ‘KG’ is a really good kid, and he is learning all the time. He tried to call me Mr Holding but I told him that Mr Holding was my father, and he has passed on. Call me Mikey,” Holding says with a twinkle in his eye.
“He has got natural pace, and then he is also a very smart kid. He asks a lot of questions about the game, and he can take as many wickets as he wants in the game. As long as he stays fit, he can be a force for South Africa for a very long time.”
Holding explained that he and Rabada speak about things that go beyond the game, a sure sign of a balance in the 22-year-old’s life. His love of music is well known, and such distractions are often encouraged in order to re-energise young players.
There was a hiccup in the Holding/Rabada alliance in Port Elizabeth after the latter had his episode with Steve Smith, the former Australian captain. Holding, a firm believer of the game being played without the added needle that characterised the recent series on South African soil, made his point to Rabada the next day.
“We have got to know each other quite well, away from the game. But when I saw him the next morning after that incident with Smith, I walked straight past him. He turned around, and said ‘what’s wrong, Mikey?’ I told him that he knew what was wrong, and that I wasn’t happy with the way he had behaved. We had a chat about it, and a lot of other people have been talking to him about those things,” Holding said of Rabada’s exuberance.
“We spoke a bit after the India game when he had an issue in that series. The game has no place for that, all that talk. You’ve got a ball, and that does plenty of talk, mon,” Holding said with the knowing look of a man who made the ball say plenty.
Holding got very heated on commentary during the Australian series, as the talk once again went to matters that went beyond bat and ball. Even before the Australian ball-tampering scandal, the cricket had been overshadowed by bad blood between the teams. Rabada, the man of the series, was at the heart of it and Holding reminded him that he was not always a good boy.
“I think he now knows that he needs to be better. Yes he is young, but it is not fun missing games because of silly behaviour."
It is not just Rabada who has caught the eye of Holding. He has always had a soft spot for the wizardry of Dale Steyn, a man missing from the international stage for too long. Even when he made a return against India, he was struck down by a heel injury.
“I love watching Steyn bowl. He’s got the full set. He is fast, he’s got great shape with the out-swinger, and he can also reverse it with the best of them. It’s a pity that he has been missing for so long, because he always makes things happen.”
Steyn and Rabada were a pairing many wanted to see in full cry, but injuries have denied the game that tantalising prospect. It is a terrific shame. Perhaps, as Holding smiles, that will happen next summer. The opposition will not be nearly as fierce as what this season’s vintage was, but there is a timeless grace in seeing a fast bowler gliding in to deliver sincere savagery from 22 yards away.
And, if the lions on his safaris don’t get him, we will have the hallowed Holding describing the riveting scene for us.