Gordon Greenidge pulls Norman Cowans

Gordon variety: in four Test series in England, between 1976 and 1988, Greenidge made 1570 runs at 56.07 with six hundreds and four fifties

© PA Photos/Getty Images

Feature

The best of Gordon Greenidge is the best of batting

No one was safe while he was at the crease: not the ball, the bowlers, the fielders, the windows, or the records

Mark Nicholas  |  

For 30 years now, at exactly this time of year, international cricketers and business folk have gathered at a private ground set deep in the Oxfordshire countryside. The teams are mixed and matched by the landlord, Sir Victor Blank, who rejoices in financiers, industrialists, communication wizards and commercial winners doing their bit for charity while fending off Wasim Akram, Jeff Thomson or Richard Hadlee. The beneficiary of this splendid, informal occasion is Wellbeing of Women, the charity dedicated to improving the health of women and their babies. For a time until his passing, broadcaster and journalist Sir David Frost was at Victor's side in this venture and he would pull on the gauntlets to keep wicket with boyish enthusiasm to Dennis Lillee and Imran Khan in the early days; Courtney Walsh and Darren Gough more recently.

A couple of years ago, Sachin Tendulkar played for the first time. To see him lock horns again with Brian Lara, Shane Warne, Muttiah Muralitharan and Kevin Pietersen, among others almost as grand, was rather special. Sachin brought along his son, Arjun, a good cricketer with a competitive streak and a charming smile. It's in the blood.

The game raises north of £250,000 each year, and though tickets are not sold to the public, 400 invited guests enjoy Sir Victor's hospitality and dig deep for doctors, nursing and research into the issues confronted by women either side of giving birth.

Most years a powerfully built West Indian walks first to the wicket to take guard and bat as if it was the purpose for which he was put on earth. That bat appears as an extension of his arms, and the speed with which it whips through the line of the ball still dazzles. Forward and back he goes, less nimble now but no less determined - Gordon Greenidge drives, cuts and pulls in sepia-toned images of the man who once filled grounds and emptied bars. The best of Greenidge is the best of batting.

Alec Bedser told me that the only modern cricketer to play anything like Sir Donald Bradman was Greenidge. "He moves his feet the same way and pulls balls so full that you 'ave to bowl them fuller and then he drives you down the ground. Bloody good he is." Ted Dexter reckons Greenidge the best right-hander, technically, that he has seen. And he saw Len Hutton, Geoff Boycott, Barry Richards, Greg Chappell, Martin Crowe, Rahul Dravid and Tendulkar.

Close-in fielders beware!

Close-in fielders beware! © PA Photos/Getty Images

Hampshire had the great fortune of seeing Greenidge up close and personal from 1970 to 1987. To have batted at the other end was mainly a thing of miracle and wonder. Of course, he had his insecurities, which served to remind the rest of us that even the great players are man not machine, but in general, Gordon's batting gave the viewer power and beauty in perfect harmony. The great Greenidge innings were symphonic, performances of movement and character that reached almighty crescendos.

Here is an example or two.

Northampton 1986, late August. The first day of the Championship match was washed out; on the second day Northants won the toss and chose to bowl first on a wet pitch. Paul Terry played out of his boots for 50, and when he raised his bat, we stood on the balcony as one to applaud the courage and skill. At the scoreboard's tick of Terry's 50, Greenidge was 202 not out; repeat, Gordon Greenidge was 202 not out!

Initially the new ball spat from the pitch, forcing back the two Hampshire openers. Terry was comfortable on the back foot, a default position that at once cost him many an lbw decision while also earning those two England caps against West Indies. From there he defended, occasionally picking off loose balls with his lovely gift of timing. Greenidge stayed mainly back too, before pouncing on anything short with the certainty of a lion completing its kill.

He did some terrible damage to the ball, finding concrete pretty much everywhere, and shy fielders returned the increasingly shredded leather to forlorn bowlers. After a while, there was no shining this rag of a thing, only damage limitation in the face of the most frightening adversary. As Sir Alec noted, having learned the lesson of what came of dropping short, the bowlers pitched up and were then smashed into the sightscreen. This was mesmerising to watch. I truly believe the Northants players came to enjoy the brilliance, shaking their heads, shrugging their shoulders, and smiling the nervous smile of beaten men relieved to have the matter beyond their control. Greenidge made 222, Terry 55; we declared at 338 for 2 before another day was lost to rain and both sides forfeited their second innings. Northants were then bowled out on this "difficult" pitch for 169. Malcolm Marshall took four wickets and left-arm spiner Rajesh Maru the same. Gordon scored 53 more than all 11 of Northamptonshire put together.

The story goes on.

Air Gordon: Greenidge plays an upper cut during the 1984-85 Sydney Test

Air Gordon: Greenidge plays an upper cut during the 1984-85 Sydney Test Anthony Lewis / © Fairfax Media/Getty Images

We went to Derby, where he made 103 in the first innings and 180 not out in the second. Requiring 256 to win, it was all over in 52 overs and we were just one wicket down. I say "we"…

In between those two hundreds was a quickfire John Player Sunday League 51 on the little ground in Heanor. I remember this best for the six that smashed the tiniest single-paned pavilion window - the only one unprotected exactly because of its size - as if he was aiming for it.

Next up, Hove on September 10, just a couple of days after we won the Sunday League at The Oval in a thrilling match.

"GG" played well again on that hard and bouncy Hove pitch with its lightning outfield, late summer breeze, sea fret and deckchaired crowd. Fast as those Sussex bowlers ran in, faster still did the ball they delivered disappear. We loved winning at Hove, the feeling was one of vengeance after the Imran-led days of persecution.

There were loads of hooks and pulls, breathtaking in their power, but most memorable was the idiosyncratic raising of the left knee as he swivelled to send the ball soaring into the hot-dog stands. There were cuts of such savagery that big Garth Le Roux said he'd have to resort to half-volleys if only to protect the guys at gully and point; and there were murderous other sixes - leg-side pick-ups, blasts down the ground, and one a thing of utter magnificence over extra cover. Oh, how this man could bat.

Maximum carnage: leather balls were not fans of Gordon Greenidge

Maximum carnage: leather balls were not fans of Gordon Greenidge Paul Matthews / © Fairfax Media/Getty Images

Between August 28 and September 10, 1986 - with a major one-day title also thrown into that period of harnessed, near-perfect performance - Gordon made four hundreds in consecutive Championship innings. No Hampshire batsman had ever done such a thing. Still hasn't. Might never.

Truth be told, we weren't that surprised. Previously, against Lancashire, he made three over a long weekend. Wind the clock back to July 1983 and what us Hampshire lads came to recall as the "Lancashire Triple". On the first day of the Championship match at Aigburth, Liverpool, he put on 191 for the first wicket with Chris Smith. They both made hundreds - GG with a bunt over the sightscreen, "Kippy" with a nudge to midwicket. As was the routine back then, we broke the game that evening for a Sunday League 40-over match back at Old Trafford the next day, in which he made 162 not out - the highlight of which, and there were a few, was the hook for six that took him to his second hundred. It finished on the railway line. Now that was a brutal innings.

He finished Monday's play in the Championship 21 not out and went to an unbeaten hundred the next morning with an enormous six over wide long-on. Three hundreds in four days, all completed with a six - the Lancashire Triple. I was the other not-out batsman when the declaration came, and as we walked from the field, I asked if he had ever "felt" better at the crease because, for sure, in Test matches, there will have been times when innings meant more. He answered "No." A man of few words but mighty deeds. Sport is a wonderful thing when you don't want it to end (and rather less wonderful when you do).

He was back at Aigburth the following summer, playing a one-day match for West Indies against Lancashire and, get this, he made 186 not out! Four hundreds in consecutive innings against the Red Rose, an achievement matched only by one KS Ranjitsinhji.

A familiar sight across county grounds in the '80s: Greenidge hooking and pulling with his left knee raised

A familiar sight across county grounds in the '80s: Greenidge hooking and pulling with his left knee raised © PA Photos/Getty Images

I loved to watch him in the nets, a time he never wasted. Often enough he would crank up Marshall and, on lively surfaces, their head-to-heads were worth admission money. Rarely did Gordon attack, rarely would Malcolm allow him to. There was no quarter given and a true sense of how the West Indian team had progressed from an unpredictable talent to the highly professional and ruthless group that held sway in world cricket for 15 years emerged as clear and present. It was the same in the dressing room, where their gear was neat, clean and always tidy; where their kit was forensically tinkered with to improve performance; where their civvies and grooming had creases and style.

The day before a Championship match at The Oval in 1982, Greenidge specifically asked Marshall to bounce him long and hard in the nets, a request with which I disagreed and said so. The net pitches were uneven that day and an injury to Greenidge was no way for Hampshire to turn up on Sylvester Clarke's doorstep. Marshall was uneasy but Gordon, a man not for turning, insisted. It was something to watch, gladiatorial and quite terrifying in its way. None of the rest of us could have coped, not close.

Clarke bowled very fast on a bad pitch, rather as Robin Jackman bowled very well on the same pitch. These were tough matches against Surrey, made all the more so by Clarke's sharing of the stage with Marshall. A quick game was a good game on those surfaces. In the second innings, unbeaten at lunch on the second day, Gordon left the dressing room in a sun hat rather than his helmet: "To sharpen myself up for the fun to come." His remarkable display of technical skill, lightning reflexes and astonishing strokes in both defence and attack got us to 170, a lead of 104. We bowled them out for 101, Marshall sorting his little battle against Clarke with 7 for 38; Greenidge having done much the same with 84.

Compact, technically sound and perfectly built; fast of eye, steady of hand and fleet of foot, Gordon Greenidge was a great batsman. A substantial body of work illustrates as much. The double against England on a wicked Old Trafford pitch in 1976 - 134 in the first innings (Collis King was the only other to go past 10) and 101 in the second - might rank highest, though the unbeaten 214 in the Lord's chase of 1984 pushes it close.

Greenidge passes on batting tips to New South Wales cricketers in 1989

Greenidge passes on batting tips to New South Wales cricketers in 1989 Palani Mohan / © Fairfax Media/Getty Images

It is said that Gordon felt undermined by the aura and glorification of Viv Richards around him; maybe he suffered, too, from an identity not fully formed in either Barbados or Hampshire. But only he has seen it that way. The rest of us saw him exhibit a headlong mastery over all comers and delighted in watching it take root. At Hampshire, he was one of the family.

He is, though, Bajan to the core, a man who at every opportunity continues to provide for children, schools and those in need on that small cricket-bound island. When Malcolm was beaten by cancer - a bag of bones, they said - Gordon was there to bathe him. Desmond Haynes, GG's partner at the coalface for so long, was by that bed too, and between them the dying of the Marshall light was made just that tiny bit brighter.

And finally, to Swansea, where Sir Garry hit all those sixes. I was at the non-striker's end when Ravi Shastri bravely gave some air to one of his left-arm spinners. "No!" he exclaimed as he saw Greenidge advance towards him, and "Noahhh!" he exclaimed once more as the sweetest strike sent the ball over our heads and into orbit. It was never found, or perhaps it was, washed up on the beach somewhere down Mumbles way.

Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, is a TV and radio presenter and commentator

 

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