Apt honour for Charlie at Kensington

17 June,2024 06:48 AM IST |  Mumbai  |  Clayton Murzello

A recently-erected statue of Sir Charles Griffith in Barbados is an apt honour for the great fast bowler despite talk of his action

A statue of Sir Charles Griffith (also inset) at the Kensington Oval, Barbados. PIC/WI cricket

On Thursday, Rohit Sharma's Indians play their first game of the T20 World Cup at Bridgetown, Barbados. From the games that have been played at the famous West Indian venue in this competition and before, I have noticed that they have honoured several great players all over the stadium.

Philip Spooner, the ICC Men's T20 World Cup 2024's Media Operations & The Media Hub manager, sent me a complete list of stands, statues and gates at the ground. Stands: Garfield Sobers Pavilion, 3Ws (Sir Frank Worrell, Sir Clyde Walcott and Sir Everton Weekes), Hall & Griffith, the Greenidge & Haynes, Hewitt & Inniss, Tony Cozier, Coppin, Peter Short Media Centre. The Ends include Joel Garner (North), Malcolm Marshall (South) while the gates are named after Herman Griffith and Seymour Nurse. Among the statures are Sir Garfield Sobers, Sir Wes Hall and Sir Charles Griffith.

Griffith, now that's a name which rings a bell among us Indians because it was his bouncer that put Nari Contractor, the then India captain out of Test cricket in a Barbados v Indians game at the Kensington Oval in Barbados. Griffith was not spoken in glowing terms especially by the ones who he tormented with ball in hand. He was dangerous, could cause terrible harm to the body and he did. Bob Simpson, the former Australia captain who led the Australians on two tours (1964-65 and 1977-78) to the Caribbean said that Tony Cozier, that celebrated West Indies commentator who hailed from Barbados, always reckoned Griffith was the most dangerous fast bowler produced by the West Indies. There was no reason for Simpson to disbelieve Cozier, who had an encyclopaedic knowledge of Caribbean cricket but Simpson faced Griffith himself and knew how quick and lethal he could be.

Those who have spoken to Contractor will remember him being told by Worrell before the 1961-62 game against Barbados that his young fast bowler had hit a young batsman on the head a few weeks before that game. Griffith, although relentless in his pursuit to impress people with his speed, was a nervous wreck as Contractor fought for his life. He wrote in Chucked Around, that he visited the hospital each night and hoped and prayed for Contractor's recovery. Contractor saw Griffith in action when the West Indies came visiting India in 1966-67, but found him a completely different bowler, who lacked pace to a large extent.

On the England tour of 1963, Griffith bowled like the wind and the Englishmen had doubts over his action. Fred Trueman, the English pace great said in Ball of Fire that Griffith was "the most curious quick man" he'd seen. In the book, he revealed something that he hadn't spoken about before. He was having a shower at Lord's during the Test match and overheard some English officials discussing Griffth. Here's what Truemen wrote in 1976: "The place was otherwise deserted. Then I heard voices in the corridor outside. And I found myself listening to RVW Robins, chairman of the England selectors at the time, apparently talking to the two umpires about the suspect action of Griffith and the complaints which had been coming in from the various counties. I heard him say that the umpires [Syd Buller and Eddie Phillipson] should under no circumstances call Griffith for throwing. When they objected he explained that there was a lot of worry about racial tension in London and he feared a riot might be sparked off if Griffith was no-balled at Lord's. When I came out of the bathroom Mr Robins was waiting for me. He had heard me moving about. He asked me if I had overheard the conversation so I had to admit that indeed I had. Then he solemnly asked me to give my word never to disclose it. I promised I would keep silent for a time but told him that I thought it should be made public eventually if only to point out the handicap England had been playing under. I must say I was amazed that the chairman of selectors could give such guidance to umpires.

"As a matter of fact I was torn between loyalty to my newspaper, the Sunday People, and the England team. It was the best story I ever dropped on. But I also knew that if I broke it I would certainly never play for England again and I wanted those 300 wickets more than anything. Two years later when Mr Robins, who is regrettably dead now, came to have a talk with me he referred to the incident and called it the best-kept secret in cricket. I repeated my intention to let it out one day.

"So there we were - Griffith apparently chucking the ball and no one able to stop him. There wasn't even a word of complaint in the press, not even when they slowed the game down, and it occurs to me that editors might have been warned off too, because the South African controversy was at its height. It certainly went against the Trueman grain. I wanted no part of this silly English tradition of being able to lose graciously."

Yes, Griffith in the opinion of many opponents threw, but at the same time, he was a great fast bowler for the West Indies and Barbados - 332 first-class wickets in 96 games including 94 Test scalps in 28 games. And all the same, it's good to see West Indies honouring their greats. Other countries should follow them.

mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello

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