Fancy, funny and fantastic!
Celebrating the life and times of former Australia cricketer and 1986 Chennai Tied Test hero Greg Matthews, who turns 60 today
GRJ Matthews (Gregory Richard John) should have featured more often on Australia's Test and ODI scorecards than 33 and 59 times respectively. But as the Oxford Companion to Australian Cricket says, "Had his character been less idiosyncratic, he may have enjoyed a longer and more settled career."
The former all-rounder—a bowler (61 wickets in 33 Tests) who could bat (1849 runs at 41.08, four centuries) or a batsman who could bowl—whichever way you look at it, attracted the fancy of cricket fans with whatever he did. He was a cricket character in the true sense of the term. His attire and mannerisms caused frowns among purists.
When the late Tony Greig introduced Matthews to his father, Greig Sr, according to Greig Jr, "did a double sommersault." Tony ended up being a Matthews admirer later. He was a hit with the fans. Frank Tyson, the ex-England fast bowler, who migrated to Australia, appreciated Matthews as well. "How often this pelvis twirling punk reminds us that character is an essential ingredient of Test cricket," wrote Tyson while describing Matthews's century against India in the Melbourne Test of the 1985-86 series in Channel Nine Yearbook.
Greg Matthews during a net session in 1985
Sydney-based Matthews rose in estimation among Australia and India fans when he helped Australia win the 1985-86 triangular series in Australia and followed it up with a 10-wicket show in the 1986 Tied Test at Chennai where he famously trapped Maninder Singh leg before wicket to cause Test cricket's second tie.
Matthews has never been coy to speak about people who should have backed him better. In 2001, when he was in India to commentate on the fourth Border-Gavaskar Trophy, I asked him whether he was happy with the way his career shaped. "Definitely not," he remarked. "AB [Allan Border, his Test and ODI captain throughout his career except in 1983-84] thought I was okay with the ball. I did well in India, Sri Lanka, New Zealand because I was going to be part of the team. At home, I was always looking over my shoulder. Most of the time, I could not get what I wanted and that was a great disappointment."
Here are some Greg Matthews-related anecdotes.
Issue at the gate
Greg Matthews made his Test debut against Pakistan at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) in 1983. Twelve months later, he was also picked for the MCG Test against the West Indies. For some reason, Matthews did not arrive at the ground with his teammates and when he landed at the turnstiles, the security men wouldn't let him in. After he managed to get in, he turned to the gatekeeper [according to Tony Greig in his piece on Matthews for Channel Nine's 1985-86 Yearbook] and said: "Have a good look at this face. You're going to see a lot more of it in the future."
Australia's Greg Matthews bowls against India during the Benson & Hedges World Series Cup 2nd final at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in 1986
World Cup shocker
There was no official man of the match award for the 1986 Tied Test at Chennai, but Greg Matthews would have been a strong contender for it since he claimed 10 wickets in the Test. The World Cup was held in India and Pakistan the following year and Matthews did not get picked. One wonders if he would have made the squad had he not been involved in a case of indiscipline during the April 1986 Australasia Cup in Sharjah. One of versions of the incident spoke about Matthews punching the cook at a barbeque party because he gave his steak to another player.
"An incident at an expatriate club in Sharjah brought the newly-wed all-rounder a fine of $1000 shortly before the World Cup squad was announced," reported Australian Cricket magazine (October 1987). Matthews is quoted as saying in the same issue that he was innocent. "I was disappointed to receive the fine—I'll grow to my grave knowing I was an innocent man," he said, insisting that he was dropped for the World Cup on the basis of form.
"Every time Greg comes home there is something," his wife Jillian told Roland Fishman in the book, Calypso Cricket—The Inside Story of the 1991 Windies Tour. She was referring to the memorabilia he loved to collect. Matthews has the ball, which he used to bowl the last over of the 1986 Chennai Tied Test as well as a stump from the game, which bears signatures of the Australian and Indian teams.
Stolen wedding ring in Guyana
Matthews had his gold chain which also had his wedding ring, snatched by a thief while walking back to the team hotel in Guyana with Mike Whitney and writer Roland Fishman. Matthews didn't opt to chase the thief down in the fear of getting knifed. The following afternoon, while at the Palm Court Restaurant, Matthews apprised the hotel owner of the theft. The owner put him in touch with a local character called Big Daddy, who managed to get Matthews's wedding ornament back.
That Colombo thriller
Shane Warne was one of the many cricketers encouraged by Greg Matthews. Both of them were in Allan Border's playing XI in the Sinhalese Sports Club Test at Colombo in 1992. Warne conceded 107 runs without taking a wicket in Sri Lanka's first innings and had nothing to show for a good part of their second innings while chasing a victory target of 181.
Sensing his first innings "century" was causing Warne much grief to a point that he wondered whether he was good enough to don his country's colours, Matthews and the young leggie walked across to the Colombo Hilton for some pasta.
It was a meal that changed Warne's cricketing life. For, Matthews convinced Warne that the selectors wouldn't have picked him if he wasn't good enough. Not only that, he instructed him to give the ball a real rip. The next day, Border threw the ball to Warne in the hope of some second spell leg-spin success. Sri Lanka needed less than 30 runs to win with four wickets in hand. Matthews was nearby, chanting words of encouragement [according to Warne in his first autobiography]: "Come on, Suicide, spin 'em hard." Of the last four wickets to fall, Warne claimed three. Game over, Australia by 16 runs!
Backing the slow killer
If opposition batsmen and teammates marveled at Steve Waugh's slower ball, there was a Greg Matthews connection to it. Waugh revealed in Out of My Comfort Zone that he worked on the delivery in Australia before the World Cup. When he bowled the "slower back ball" to Matthews in the nets, his fellow New South Welshman exclaimed, "That's going to be a real wicket-taker for you." Waugh ended up claiming 11 wickets in eight games for the world champions.
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