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Watch: ‘Doubt if Boycott saw a single ball’ – When Michael Holding bowled ‘the greatest over ever’

Michael Holding bowled the greatest over ever to Geoff Boycott in 1981
by Wisden Staff 2 minute read

Watch: In 1981 an unstoppable force met an immovable object, resulting in what is widely regarded as the greatest over ever bowled. In a riveting yet brief battle against Geoff Boycott, it was Michael Holding who came out trumps.

The setting was the Bridgetown Test, the third of the five-match series, which the hosts eventually won 2-0. The second Test had been cancelled after Robin Jackman’s visa was revoked by the Guyanese government for his coaching involvement with South Africa, which was at that time under the Apartheid regime.

It took six balls from Holding to Boycott to make the Test a memorable one.


Batting first, West Indies posted 265, led by an exact 100 from skipper Clive Lloyd. Ian Botham took a four-wicket haul – his year would only get better from that point. In response, Boycott and Graham Gooch came out to bat first. Unusually though, Lloyd handed the fresh red ball to Holding instead of Andy Roberts.

That’s when the legendary episode began against the backdrop of a full-house crowd.

At that time, Boycott had over 7,000 Test runs and was eyeing Garry Sobers’ all-time tally. Holding, thirteen years younger, had become an integral part of West Indies pace battery. What followed was an exhibition of searing pace.

In a sequence of six unforgettable balls, Boycott was hit on the hand, chest, thigh, missed a couple, and was undone by the final ball. Holding’s sixth ripped Boycott’s off stump out of the pitch. “I doubt if Boycott saw a single ball,” the great photographer Patrick Eagar later wrote. Boycott walked back for a six-ball duck. The whole ground erupted and danced.”I never laid bat on ball,” Boycott later said.

The two have often spoken about the over, both together and separately. Years later in a conversation, they joked how it was the spell that made Holding famous.

“I’m a very rich man. Geoffrey Boycott certainly made me very famous in that over,” said the legendary fast-bowler.

Boycott’s reflection on events was similar: “Until then, the old thing thought he was only good, I made him great!”

In 2021, on the 40th anniversary, Holding said: “There’s no way I could say that was exactly what I had planned on doing. It just happened. I felt smooth, it was rhythmical”. He also mentioned though, that it wasn’t really his fastest over, as he felt he had bowled quicker.

It is said that Boycott went back and analysed available video footage and worked on his technique to counter Holding – he did hit 38 & 104 in the very next Test. Less than a year later, he retired as the leading run-getter in Tests. Holding went on to become an all-time great himself.

Watch the iconic over here:


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