The Greatest Over Ever ?

Boycott bounced, bruised and bowled

“Even on the black and white/we could tell the ball/was a wicked duppy / it moved furniture/ spat and reared at the batsman’s /throat shot past his chest/like a comet.” To Mimic Magic, by Roger Bonair-Agard

The first thing to know about the fastest, fiercest, finest over ever bowled is that almost everyone agrees it was delivered by Michael Holding to Geoffrey Boycott at Bridgetown, on Saturday 14 March 1981. The second thing is that Holding isn’t one of them. He doesn’t even think it was the fastest, fiercest, or finest he bowled in his career, or perhaps even in that Test match. It was plenty sharp. The first ball came on like a drop of hot fat, and scalded Boycott’s hand as it flew through to second slip. The second, third, fourth, and fifth peppered his wicket, thigh guard, chest and throat. And then the sixth ripped his off stump out of the ground and sent it spinning away end-over-end. But still, “the greatest over? Mercy,” Holding once wrote, “The fastest? No. I had bowled quicker.”

In his book No Holding Back, Holding says “it’s difficult to categorise overs in terms of quality over such a long career”. But he has hazy recollections of bowling faster than that in a match at the Waca, a Test against Australia on the 84–85 tour, when he did for Rick Darling and Greg Chappell in a single over. Only, don’t look for the scorecard, because it doesn’t exist. Darling played his last Test in 1979, Chappell his at the beginning of 84, 10 months before the start of the tour Holding is thinking of. But he did dismiss them both in a one-day game in Perth in December ’81. And he was quick that day. So fast he bowled Darling behind his legs, hopping across the line to off-stump, and had Chappell flapping, posthumously late on a hook, caught at backward square leg.

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