ANALYSIS | How Michael Holding sparked the Fire in SA cricket’s Babylon

Michael Holding speaks to Sky Sports colleague Michael Atherton prior to Day 1 of the second Test between England and the West Indies at Old Trafford in Manchester on 16 July 2020.
Michael Holding speaks to Sky Sports colleague Michael Atherton prior to Day 1 of the second Test between England and the West Indies at Old Trafford in Manchester on 16 July 2020.
Gareth Copley/Getty Images for ECB)
  • Michael Holding once again endeared himself to cricket followers the world over with his emotional plea to end racism in society.
  • The former West Indian fast bowler inspired a band of ex-Proteas to throw their weight behind Lungi Ngidi and the Black Lives Matter movement.
  • At his peak, Holding shunned a big money offer to play in a Rebels tour in apartheid South Africa, which played no small part in dismantling the racist regime.

Michael Holding has the kindest eyes and a voice so rich he's the guy Morgan Freeman would ask to narrate his biopic.

He's the game's guardian angel, and an unflinchingly principled man who has never bowed to the new money riches of T20 cricket, much less The Hundred. That he is loved all over the world is life's biggest truism.

But Holding's impact in South African cricket over the past week has been, once again, profound.

Who knew that a three-word phrase - Black Lives Matter - would bring a 66-year-old man of world renown to break down on television in front of millions of viewers?

He showed a vulnerability that belied his nickname, 'Whispering Death', which he earned during his days as a feared West Indies fast bowler.

On Day 1 of England's first Test against the West Indies, as the start of play was delayed by rain, he stood as tall as ever, emboldened by Ebony Rainford-Brent's impassioned revelations of being referred to as "your lot" in her dressing room, and delivered a plea to educate people in order to end all forms of racism.

"I remember my school days; I was never taught anything good about black people," Holding said on Sky Sports.

"And you cannot have a society that is brought up like that, both white and black, which only teaches what's convenient to the teacher. History is written by the conqueror; not by those that are conquered."

The clip (there were multiple) was shared across all social media platforms a week ago. Holding again broke down when remembering the racism meted out to his parents. He couldn't bring himself to finish his sentences, it brought back so much heartache.

Holding's cries were heard and felt in South Africa, where choked up voices have suddenly found the courage to speak up against systematic racism in the game.

It isn't the first time Holding's actions have had a profound impact in South Africa.

As a member of the fiercest and most dominant team of any team sport in history – the Windies team that never lost a Test series anywhere in the world between 1980 and 1995 – he and greats such as Sir Viv Richards rejected a lucrative offer to be part of a Rebel tour to apartheid South Africa.

There was a worldwide boycott of South African sport at the time, one that in no small part helped break apartheid's shackles.

Seventeen of Holding's countrymen, including revered paceman Colin Croft, accepted the money, which came with a bizarre clause that they would be "honorary whites" upon their arrival in apartheid South Africa.

"What is wrong with the colour of my skin? What is wrong with my ethnicity?" Holding quizzed in the 2010 documentary Fire In Babylon.

"Why should somebody tell me I should be an honorary anything apart from what I am? These guys have sold out. Having accepted enough money to be called 'honorary whites', they will even accept chains on their ankles. I was disgusted."

The late great Nelson Mandela even thanked Richards and company for their principled stand. Holding's principles have stood as firm almost 40 years after that Rebels tour.

In African culture, rain symbolises blessings from the heavens. Indeed, there was symbolism during the rain delay in Southampton that sparked Holding's moving monologue.

Holding pouring his heart out reverberated here in South Africa, which inspired black cricketers with their own stories of marginalisation and racism in the game to speak out.

"It did impact me and it impacted a lot of people," said Alviro Petersen, one of 30 former Proteas who threw their weight behind Lungi Ngidi and Black Lives Matter this week.

"It effectively said: 'Guys, there's an issue'. And because people were just holding it and keeping it inside, they needed someone or something to spark it. It was like a seed was planted and it got watered and now it's growing. It's exactly what we needed."

The cricketers have been joined by former Springboks and coaches who put up their hands in support of the same cause.

It might have taken centuries with the trickle of rain in Southampton and Holding's tears, but real change could at last be at the door. And Holding would, again, have played a significant role.

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