Legendary West Indies pacer and a well-known commentator for three decades, Michael Holding, has lashed out at the International Cricket Council (ICC) for asking him to avoid pointing out the errors of umpires on air during the ongoing World Cup, calling it “censorship”. Holding has told the ICC that the latter’s stand – on asking commentators to restrain themselves from speaking about umpires on air – is precisely the reason why today’s “commentators are being more and more compromised by controlling organizations to the point of censorship”.
“I do not intend to go down that road,” Holding wrote to the ICC in reply to a detailed letter from the game’s governing body that he received soon after the match between West Indies and Australia on June 6, a game that the Aussies won by 15 runs. Both letters – the one written by the ICC to Holding and the latter’s reply – are with TOI.
A certain Huw Bevan, the production head for ICC’s rights partner Sunset & Vine Asia, wrote an email to Holding on Friday, June 7, with CCs marked to his colleagues in the production company, reminding them “the importance of maintaining the highest standards and uphold the game’s best values and spirit while covering the tournament”.
Bevan’s email then goes on to add that ICC TV’s duty is to reflect the values (above) and “not to cast doubt or negative judgement on anything associated with the tournament in our coverage”. The email says: “Inherently in live television, there are occasions when on field decisions cause reason for discussion or debate, but as ICC TV host broadcasters, our (Sunset & Vine) duty is not to judge or highlight mistakes”.
This came after Holding called the umpiring in the match between West Indies and Australia “atrocious”. He added that field umpires in that game, Ruchira Palliyaguruge and Chris Gaffaney, had caved in to the pressure created by prolonged and repeated appeals from the Aussies.
Gayle got out to what should have technically been a free hit after Mitchell Starc landed almost a foot outside the crease while bowling the previously delivery. Holder was given out leg-before off Adam Zampa whereas replays showed the ball had been pitched outside the leg-stump. Holding was nothing short of scathing on air.
“We had an incident in the (WI vs Aus) match where we highlighted on air during an analysis segment (which Holding denies) that a no-ball should have been called,” Bevan wrote to Holding, further adding, “this is exactly the kind of thing we need to avoid putting on air”.
Bevan further says “Before the event, we went to great pains to explain to you all as senior production and commentary personnel of the need to avoid this kind of thing. It’s critical for us that we should never amplify umpires’ mistakes by giving airtime to those incidents nor show the umpires in bad light. We should also be very careful not to look to create controversy around an event or match at any time”.
In doing so, he wrote that it was a strong reminder to everybody involved to “uphold the strongest of standards in our coverage”.
Holding, famous for his plain speak, has certainly not taken this well. “If those umpires yesterday were FIFA officials, they would have been told to pack their bags and head home. They would not have been given another World Cup game to officiate. As a former cricketer, I think cricket should be held to a higher standard. Is the objective to protect the umpires even when they do a bad job?” Holding wrote back.
He added: “I am sorry, but I am not going to be part of that. Please let me know if I should be heading back to my home in Newmarket instead of heading to Cardiff because I don’t agree with what is being suggested here and happy not being part of it.”
It was indeed a scathing reply from Holding. For a legendary player-turned-commentator who refused to associate or identify with T20 cricket for its rampant commercialization, Holding has been similarly scathing of the Indian board in the past.
“As I look through the list of recipients of this email, it would seem that I am the only commentator that has received the same,” begins Holding’s reply to Bevan, clearly indicating that his communication is only directed at Holding alone. “I was certainly very critical of umpiring which was pathetic to say the least,” Holding adds.
TOI got in touch with Holding and the ICC to understand their version of these developments separately. Holding said: “It’s true that there was a mass email sent out after the West Indies/Australia game and I did see fit to respond. But as far as I am concerned, the matter has been resolved and I have and hopefully everyone has put it behind them. I don’t really want to distract from the World Cup that is already suffering from some uncooperative weather”.
ICC sources told TOI “the matter is considered closed”. It remains to be seen whether Holding will continue to be as outspoken.