Michael Holding has never been afraid to express his views. So it is no surprise he has stuck to his opinion of Alastair Cook despite England’s crushing victory over India in the Third Test.
One of the game’s greatest fast bowlers tells me: “I did not think Alastair Cook was a very good leader. I still don’t think he’s the best leader in the world. But he got a break, he made some runs. That’s the luck of the draw.”
The luck the 60-year-old is referring to is the England captain being dropped on 15 by Ravindra Jadeja on the first morning of the Test. Cook went on to make 95.
“If Jadeja had taken that catch and if Cook had made 15, people would still be on his case. But that is how careers go.
“Sometimes an umpire can make a bad decision that can wreck someone’s career. Or he can make a bad decision against the bowler that allows a batsman to prolong his career.
“They keep on telling me there is no one to replace Cook. I don’t believe there is never anyone. I suggested Ian Bell. Then I heard people saying, ‘Oh well, he’s not leadership material.’ But then again the ECB say that when Cook leaves the field, Bell’s in charge. So I’m not too sure which side to believe.”
Despite all the questions over the captain, Holding is certain there is promise in this England side. “They’re a young team trying to find their feet. They have some young batsmen coming in who have produced the goods. Gary Ballance has made a lot of runs, Sam Robson made runs in one innings. Perhaps he will get better as time goes on. Joe Root has been a good player for some time. He’s now being a bit more consistent. And you’d hope that they’ll keep growing and keep getting better.”
He’s just as confident about Moeen Ali. Even before Ali spun England to victory in the second innings of the Third Test with figures of six for 67, Holding had great faith in the Worcester player,
“Moeen Ali is no ordinary spinner. He is not Lance Gibbs [the legendary West Indian off‑spinner] but you don’t get spinners like Lance Gibbs and Graeme Swann every day. But Moeen Ali can do a job.”
But is it not a surprise that Ali is doing so well against batsmen brought up on spin?
“The Indian batsmen don’t respect him,” says Holding, who points to the way Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma fell to Ali in the first innings in Southampton, trying to hit him over the top.
“Those were bad shots but that is what happens when you have no respect for a bowler. You think you can do anything and get away with it and that is what the Indians have been doing with Moeen Ali.
“Murali Vijay got out in a similar manner against him at Trent Bridge because he didn’t respect him. That is why Moeen Ali should bowl more because he’ll keep on taking wickets. He’s the second leading wicket-taker for England. Jimmy Anderson is one and he and Stuart Broad are tied for two.”
The Sky Sports commentator believes more use of Ali, who has 15 wickets for the series, would benefit Anderson and Broad.
Wicket taker: Team-mates congratulate Ali during Third Test triumph“They are two fantastic fast bowlers,” says Holding. “They’re still doing a very good job. The support staff [Chris Woakes and Chris Jordan] around the two haven’t been all that good so they have to bowl a lot more overs than they should. With better support, they would be more rested and be able to perform at the highest level for a longer period.”
However, for all his praise of Ali, Holding has no intention of giving up his membership of the fast bowlers’ union.
“Pace destroys people,” he says. “Pace separates the men from the boys. I have said that many times and I’ll keep on repeating it.”
For Holding, the evidence of that comes from last winter’s Ashes series. “Mitchell Johnson was the game changer. He was bowling fast, bowling accurately. He totally destroyed the England batting line-up, totally changed everything in Australia. Without Mitchell Johnson, last winter would have been a closer fight.
“Pace gives people sleepless nights because they can get hurt.”
However, with India lacking pace Holding says they must turn to spin.
Surprisingly, it is eight months since India last used their main off-spinner, Ravichandran Ashwin. Holding is certain India should play him in this week’s Fourth Test at Old Trafford as Ishant Sharma, the match winner at Lord’s with seven wickets in the second innings, is still injured.
“Without Ishant Sharma, India will not get 20 wickets on a regular basis. Not in five days anyway, maybe in 10 days! Yes, the Indians can win again if they play Ashwin.”
Another issue surrounding Indian cricket is their refusal to accept the Decision Review System. The Indian intransigence is said to be due to Sachin Tendulkar having doubts about the technology which Sky commentators jokingly refer to ‘Don’t Review Sachin’.
“Well, Sachin got reprieved by DRS in the World Cup,” says Holding. “The Indians have made a big mistake in not having it for this series. DRS is not perfect but it helps the human being standing in the middle improve matters. I am not happy with every aspect of the DRS but it helps. I am not happy with every aspect about my wife but we are still married!”
Then, sounding really upset for the first time, he says: “The Indians won’t listen to reason. They’ll just say, ‘We don’t want this,’ and everybody allows them to do as they like.”
Now that Cook’s team have squared the series with two to play, Holding can see England going on to win it.
But even if they do, there is one thing Holding is sure about: “England can’t win the World Cup [next year in Australia and New Zealand]. I haven’t seen England taking one-day cricket seriously. Whatever odds you have got on England winning, I will double it.”
Holding knows a thing or two about betting as horse racing is his relaxation. “Whenever I’m away from cricket, I’m in Newmarket, out on the heath every morning with Michael Stoute — he is a great trainer. That’s my fun and relaxation. I bet and this season I am well in front.”
The way he says that, it is clear you would not want to bet against Holding.
The BIG interview is for the Standard on a Tuesday: http://www.standard.co.uk/sport/cricket/england-v-india-michael-holding-questions-alastair-cooks-position-as-captain-9648675.html