Apr 30, 2020
Interview by Nagraj Gollapudi
We spoke to former West Indies fast bowler-turned-commentator Michael Holding, for our Downtime Diaries series, in which cricketers tell us how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected their lives and routines.
How’s life where you are?
Life has changed totally. I am in the Cayman Islands presently, where the restrictions are very harsh. Harsh in the sense of making sure people don’t mingle in crowds. The restaurants are closed, the bars are closed. The essential services, like the supermarkets, the gas stations, pharmacies and the banks are open six days a week, but you can’t just go as and when you wish. You are permitted to use these services based on the letter your surname begins with: if it is between A to K, you are allowed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays; if it begins between L to Z, you can go on Tuesdays, Thursday and Saturdays. Sunday, everything is closed. The beaches and parks are closed at all times, so there is no gathering of people there either.
There is a night curfew between 7pm and 5am unless you have prior permission, like for delivery service people. The exception to being on the road when it is not your letter is to go and exercise for 90 minutes daily, except Sundays, but you cannot be driving to go to exercise. You do it in your own vicinity.
If you are caught on the road when you shouldn’t be out, you pay a fine immediately. It ranges from 250-750 Cayman dollars [US$ 300-900 approx]. You can challenge it, but if you lose in the court, you pay $1000 [US$1200 approx] and there is a possible six-month jail term. There are lots of restrictions, but I think it is working – we have four people in total in the hospital [due to coronavirus].
Out of a population of?
We have about 62,000.
What do you do then?
I am constantly on WhatsApp for seven to eight hours daily with my friends all over the world. What else is there to do? I am not going to watch TV all day. I don’t watch the news – that’s too depressing.
“I enjoy horse racing more than I enjoy watching cricket. Some people gamble for a living, so it is not a sport to them, but it is a sport to me”
What do you miss?
The only thing I miss is going out and having lunch with friends I have made here in Cayman. But missing out on having lunch with friends is not something that is vital in my life [right now]. If I was looking at it as something that I’ll be never ever be able to do again, it will be sad. But you know that in the future things will get back to what you would hope they will be. Right now, you put up with the inconvenience.
When it first started, probably a month ago, when people were saying, “Oh man, this thing is taxing”, a friend from South Africa sent me a message. He said: “Mikey, this is nothing. Just remember, Mandela did this for 27 years. And he was an innocent man.” We have it a whole lot easier than he did, so you can put up with this [social-distancing].
What can cricket learn from this enforced break?
Just use the pause to look within the game, to look at what has been happening with the administrators, with the players, and think: Are we heading in the right direction? Is everything okay with our game? Personally, I don’t think so. Everybody has just been head-over-heels charging down the hill, looking for every dollar available. But can we just pause a bit, hit a plateau for a bit and sit down and look and see if everything is fine? There is too much cricket being played, for one.
Should cricket be played behind closed doors?
A lot of administrations figure that they have to play some form of the game to satisfy their broadcasters. Because if the broadcasters don’t get what they pay for, they are going to demand their money back. So they have to try and play cricket behind closed doors, or whatever form they can get to play. I can’t fault them for trying to do that.
Have you watched any sport in this period?
The only thing I’ve watched is a little bit of horse racing, which is going on in New Zealand, Japan, Australia and the USA. I’ve perhaps watched about a dozen races total since the lockdown. So not a lot really, but that is the only live sport available.
Why horse racing?
That is what I love. That I what I miss most, more than anything else right now.
What do you do watching horse racing?
What do you do watching cricket? I enjoy it more than I enjoy watching cricket. Some people gamble for a living, so it is not a sport to them, but it is a sport to me. I enjoy watching it. Many years ago when I used to go to Dubai and Sharjah to work, they used to have racing at a maidan. You couldn’t bet. I still used to go and watch it.
When I’m in England, I get up every morning, except Sundays, and go to the heath in Newmarket to watch the horses. I enjoy being around horses. I used to own horses. That was fun for me.
Do you have a favourite horse?
That is difficult. I saw a lot of great horses before I really knew a lot about horses. I have seen a lot of good horses in Newmarket. I used to see Frankel on a regular basis when he was exercising in Newmarket.
A great horse?
Yeah, definitely. Never lost a race. He was owned by Khalid Abdullah [a Saudi prince], who named him after a trainer in the US that used to train for him there, Bob Frankel, who sadly died early.