HAIL HOLFORD: The former Spartan, Barbados and West Indies player, celebrates his 75th birthday tomorrow. (FP)
DAVID ANTHONY JEROME HOLFORD, considered by many to the best captain the West Indies never had, is celebrating another milestone this week.
Holford, who has kept a low profile in recent years because of failing health, turns 75 tomorrow.
He was a stalwart and president at Spartan, arguably the best captain Barbados have ever had and even if he did not consistently measure up at Test level, had his moments such as a Test hundred at Lords in 1966, 80 at Adelaide in 1969 and a five-wicket haul against India at Kensington Oval in 1976.
Shrewd and knowledgeable, Holford was the driving force and inspiration behind this country’s Shell Shield triumphs in 1972, 1974, 1976, 1977, 1978 and 1979, the last of them taking over midway in the tournament from Lawrence Maxwell.
His international berth came on the 1966 tour of England, at age 26, when he successfully made the elevation from Harrison College to Spartan, then to the Barbados team and onto the Test match stage.
"I left the Caribbean on April 16, 1966 - my 26th birthday," recalled Holford, who also represented Trinidad and Tobago at regional level. "It was a life-long dream and the achievement filled me with great pride."
It was a consistent 1966 Shell Shield for Barbados when he took 18 wickets in four matches which earned him his "stripes". It was his first season back from Canada since 1961 where he was studying.
He first played for Barbados Colts under Everton Weekes in 1959 but chose to pursue his education before returning to the game.
In 1966, he was one of nine Barbadians on the tour. He was not an automatic choice for the starting XI but a spanking century against Lancashire leading up to the first Test at Old Trafford earned him a spot at No. 7 as second spinner behind Lance Gibbs.
Holford showed his mettle from early when he made a disciplined 32 in a sixth-wicket stand of 127 with his cousin Garfield Sobers.
"Garry made a superb 161 and we won by an innings. I can remember him hitting bouncers from fast bowler David Brown through the covers," said Holford.
West Indies went on to win the five-match series 3-1, with Sobers making 722 runs in eight innings including three centuries.
His greatest moment came in the next match at Lord's when he added an unbroken 274 for the sixth wicket with Sobers. He made an unbeaten 105.
With the West Indies facing a first innings deficit of 86 and tottering on 95 for five, the pair came together to perform one of the greatest feats in West Indies cricket history.
It was an impressive effort from the young Holford. England had removed Conrad Hunte, Michael “Joey” Carew, Rohan Kanhai, Basil Butcher and Seymour Nurse, and Holford was playing in his second Test match with just the ’keeper David Allan and the bowlers, Charlie Griffith, Wes Hall and Lance Gibbs to come.
Holford said he was doubly determined after his dismissal in the first innings - bowled by fast bowler David Brown.
"The ball before I got out I was struck a painful blow on the knee by a ball which penetrated the pad," he said. "I did not take enough time to recover and the next ball was played into the ground and rolled on. I was very disappointed and wanted to make amends."
Holford’s deeds for Spartan are the stuff legends are made of. Scores of local batsmen in the 1960s and 70s have been mesmerised by his leg-breaks and googlies. He formed a deadly combination with off-spinner Tony Howard both for the Parkites and Barbados.
Few in the Caribbean had an answer to Holford and Howard and it was not till 1973 that the two were mastered when the world-class Chappell brothers Ian and Greg, hammered hundreds when Australia played Barbados.
Holford was a former first vice-president of the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) and chairman of selectors of the West Indies team.
He played 24 Tests between 1966-1977 with his first-class career spanning 99 matches.