By Charles Randall
21 May 2013
Cricket provided a major attraction at the annual East London University sports awards when Michael Holding was presented with a life-time achievement award and honorary doctorate.
Holding, the former Jamaica and West Indies fast bowler, became a tireless champion of cricket when he moved into media and broadcasting after finishing his playing career. He told a packed audience at an Emirates Stadium function room in Islington that enjoyment had always been his main motivation in several sports from his time as a university student in Kingston, Jamaica.
This included cricket, which he eventually concentrated on for a professional career during a very successful era for the West Indies. "When I look back on my career I don't focus too much on the field of play," he said. "Being a fast bowler who bowled the 'occasional' bouncer it would have been easy to create a host of enemies, but I know for sure I have made a lot of lifetime friends, and for that I am eternally grateful."
He cited Anshuman Gaekwad as an example. The India batsman was struck a nasty blow on the ear by a Holding bouncer while making 81 in a Test in Jamaica before batting helmets were widely used, and he needed an operation on a perforated eardrum. The cynical West Indies bouncer barrage of 1975/76 caused an outcry, but all that passed into history. These days, Holding told his audience, he and Gaekwad have long been good friends and he even receives a Christmas card each year.
Essex County Cricket Club featured among the university awards as School of Health, Sport & Bio-science 'partner of the year' for their link-up with the student cricket club, captained by Alistair Wood, of Royal Wootton Bassett CC. Wood himself received an award for services to sport.
For several years UEL have been making a concerted effort to upgrade the profile of sport, including cricket, and have achieved major advances through sports scholarships and facilities investment. Cricket has benefited from the appointment in 2012 of Arfan Akram, captain of Wanstead & Snaresbrook CC, as their cricket co-ordinator. They share the new Newham CC ground for matches and outdoor training, and UEL won the London area British Universities and Colleges Sport indoor championship last winter.
The standard of UEL cricket has been improving. They no longer have the services of their best player and fast bowler, Tymal Mills, now in the Essex championship side, but with the assistance of the Club Cricket Conference, good student players have been appearing. For example the Colchester & East Essex CC batsman Sam Foster, son of former England fast bowler Neil, is doing a physiotherapy degree at UEL. This forms part of a new initiative on the part of the Conference to provide the opportunity of a player pathway for students into the professional game.
During his speech Holding touched on the importance of gaining a degree. "When I was a kid, my mother always told me ‘make sure you get a piece of paper behind your name', and now I’m a doctor. It’s a great feeling to know that the University of East London wants to give me this award." The event was attended by the High Commissioner of Jamaica, Her Excellency Aloun Ndombet-Assamba.
The UEL director of sport David Cosford congratulated the students on successful British Universities and Colleges Sport campaigns, which in some sports such as netball meant beating teams many tiers higher up the leagues. UEL have continued to advance since 2011 when they were recognised by BUCS as the most improved university for sport. The Olympics sprint semi-finalists and and UEL sport sciences student Adam Gemili received an International Excellence award.