LONDON (Reuters) - Former pace great Michael Holding hopes West Indies’ stunning victory over England at Headingley does not turn out to be just “a blip” in their steady decline as a Test force.
Jason Holder’s young team rebounded from a humiliating defeat at Edgbaston, where they lost 19 wickets in a single day, to claim a five-wicket victory that squared the series going in to the third Test which starts at Lord’s on Thursday.
It was their first Test win in England for 17 years and should they prevail over the next five days it would clinch a first series victory here since the 4-0 rout in 1988.
That West Indies team were one of the greatest ever assembled with a blistering attack of Courtney Walsh, Curtley Ambrose and Malcolm Marshall allied to the batting of Viv Richards, Gordan Greenidge and Desmond Haynes.
They featured in a film 'Fire in Babylon' screened at the London Cinema Museum on Tuesday where Holding was part of a Prostate Cancer UK cricket event (gerknowingmore.org) raising awareness of a increased risk of the disease among black men.
The days of West Indian domination “will not return in my lifetime” Holding told Reuters in an interview, but he said what happened at Headingley, where Shai Hope scored a century in each innings, had at least given hope to those who had “lost faith”.
“I’m dying to see what happens. It should be interesting and I’m hoping that what happened in the last match was not a blip,” said Holding, nicknamed “Whispering Death” during a 12-year Test career in which he bagged 249 wickets.
“The hope is it’s something the West Indies could build on but who knows? People say they’ve turned a corner but they’ve turned 40 corners. It’s not the first time we have seen a performance that we didn’t expect but it hasn’t progressed.
“I had no inkling that they were going to turn it around. I was getting ready for some more embarrassment.”
Hope’s superb contribution of 147 and an unbeaten 118 proved key but Holding warned against building up the 23-year-old.
“Hope surprised me. I knew very little about him and before that match he was averaging 16. But I was pleasantly surprised, not just the way he batted but the way he looked at the crease. He could be a good player.
“But it’s too early to talk about building a side around him. Let’s not get carried away.
“It would be a huge deal for the Windies to win the series. Not many gave them a chance to win a match, let alone a series. Even if they do lose there mustn’t be any repeat of Edgbaston otherwise Headingley will be forgotten.”
Holding says England will want to put the record straight at Lord’s having let West Indies off the hook, not by declaring their second innings but by not putting the visitors into bat.
“I couldn’t believe England batted first at Headingley after taking 19 wickets in a day in the first Test,” he said.
“Joe Root won the toss and had the chance to send them in and remind them of that nightmare, but he decided to bat. It wasn’t complacency, just these days stick to a formula.
“But it helped the Windies regroup. If you are fighting a war you are better off fighting as a group rather than individuals and when it’s just two of you out in the middle batting it can be lonely.”
While Holding says victory was welcomed in the Caribbean he remains sceptical about the West Indies administrators’ ability to harness new talent — saying the experience of some former greats is going to waste.
“The problem is that these days everything is about what qualifications you have, what certificate you have,” he said.
“Curtley Ambrose, a great fast bowler, nobody can tell me he doesn’t know about fast bowling but yet he was removed as the West Indies fast bowling coach because he didn’t have the certificate. To be a coach you have to do it by the manual.
“Even if Sir Garfield Sobers turned up today he wouldn’t get the job without the right certificates.
“A lot of us former cricketers try to help on their own islands but they are not going to be employed by the West Indies Cricket Board because they don’t ticks the boxes.”
Editing by Clare Fallon