On May 1st we celebrate the 70th birthday of one of the greatest batsman of all time. It is also thirty years since this cricketing colossus retired from the game with a fitting finale. On his day Gordon Greenidge took batting domination to magnitude rarely surpassed and looked the ultimate epitome of perfection. Possibly no batsman in his day hit a ball harder as Gordon, who held a bat like a club. Few batsman ever executed more dazzling pull or hook shots, with Gordon posessing the ferocious power of a tiger.Greenidge was also technical correctness personified displaying exemplary balance, footwork and head positioning. At his best he would crucify bowling attacks like a tiger tearing flesh but still displayed the grammar of an English professor. and solidity of a boulder. Few opening batsman dissected opponents in such clinical fashion, or bissected the field with such impetuosity, or treated a cricket ball with such contempt. Often Greenidge reminded me of a combustion engine or an army performing a combing operation when he desecrated opposition. In full flow I have rarely seen a cricketer so majestic with the pugnacity of a lion. Gordon’s intensity resembled the smouldering of iron in a coal fire. .Gordon’s very arrival on the crease could ignite a spark or even convert it into a prairie fire like few batsman.
Greenidge’s life story is most touching when one reads about his school day since England, where he migrated at the age of fourteeen.Most acutely he was a victim to the wrath of racism prevailing and was time and again bullied. At first he was even excluded from the school cricket team. It was the very suffering that mustered the adrenalin in Gordon to come out of adversity bad soon he gave glimpses of his glittering potential in school cricket. It is ironic that Greenidge chose to play for West Indies, after his upbringing in England and integrating so much to the English way of life.His autobiography ‘The man in the middle’ is a must-read for all sports lovers.
In 1974 when playing for Hampshire against the touring Pakistan team Greenidge took batting virtuosity to regions of the sublime scoring an unbeaten 273. It was reminiscent of a sculptor carving a monument.
In his very debut in India at Bangalore in 1974-75 he proved his mettle scoring 93 and 107 on a turning track. However he was hardly impactful for the remainder of the series.
Greenidge sadly did not come to terms with the ferocity of the pace of Denis Lillee and Jeff Thomson in 1975-76 in Australia, and became a victim of sledging and psychological intimidation. In his autobiography Greenidge attributed the blame for West Indies 5-1 defeat to the bad umpiring.Neverthless the setback was blessing in disguise for Gordon as it lit the spark of vengeance within him and taught him important lessons. It is significant how in his autobigroaphy Gordon recounts how only from penetrating the depths of despair can glory be achieved.
In 1976 in England Greenidge was simply a revelation. I can’t remember an opening batsman with such a blistering strike rate till then playing in England in attest series. Even if eclipsed by Viv Richards who was a virtual incarnate of Bradman in that series,Greenidge revealed skill of an overseas opening batsman at a magnitude not seen for decades in England, with the exception of Barry Richards. His 134 out of 211 at Leeds would rank amongst the best ever innings on bad wicket by nay batsman let alone an opener. I doubt till then nay overseas batsman hit a cricket all harder than a Gordon,who reminded one of an executioner punishing a convict.Greenidge’s batting was the fulcrum on which Viv Richards capitalised and gave a platform for their offensive .He amassed 592 runs at an average of 65.77 with three centuries.The 3-0 triumph on that tour was one of West Indian cricket’s most defining moments.
In 1977 playing against Pakistan at home Greenidge topped the averages,being a model of consistency. His batting prayed an important role in shaping a West Indies 2-1 win in a hard fought series. Rarely has an batsman combated the fiery Imran Khan at his fastest on fast track as Gordon did at Kingston.I can’t forget Imran’s word stating how difficult it was to bowl to Geenidge.Gordon scored 536 runs at an average of 53.6.
In Packer cricket he underlined why he was ranked so highly when he scored a whirling 140 in 1977-78.In several junctures he gave flashes of the reserves of talent he endowed ,taking the likes of Dennis Lillee and Imran Khan to the sword. He averaged only around thirty five, but against pace that was most hostile.
He lost form from 1979-80 to 1983 in test cricket, even if scoring the occasional fifty.
In 1983 against India at home he made a blistering return to for, ressurecting his best days. He averaged over 78, scoring 393 runs with big hundreds at Barbados and Antigua. On the 1983-84 tour of India he scored match-winning 194 at Kanpur, but was inconsistent in the remaining tests.
In 1984 at home against Australia he was an epitome of consistency/ and gave the impetus to a triumphant West Indies team. Ironically his run aggregate and batting average was exactly what it was against India a season ago ,at home. .I wonder whether this has ever happened before in history of test cricket. Duplicate figures as against India of 393 runs at 78.60.
It was in England in 1984 that Greenidge took batting to dimensions of magnitude only geniuses did. In that period I personally rate Gordon as the best batsman in the world. In the 2nd test at Lords his unbeaten 214 in match winning chase in the fourth inning s had overtones of a hurricane or combing operation of an army. I have never witnessed a more clinical display of attacking strokeplay, resembling a computerized machine or a surgical operation..Greenidge simply went blistering barnacles. Every scoring stroke further tightened a noose on the opponents, like a neck being strangulated by a rope. Arguably the best innings ever by a West Indian batsman in England in a test match. At Old Trafford he scored 223, which was more sedate than the knock at Lords but still revealed batting prowess of the highest degree. He average 81.71 with an aggregate of 572 runs. In that series. Above all Greenidge was arguably the most defining character in West Indies triumphing 5-0 and now being ranked as the bets test team of all time.
Gordon was not at his best in Australia in 1984-85, apart from the odd big score.In 1986 in Pakistan Greenidge gave a revelation of his great skill on turning tracks with match-winning knock in the 2nd test at Lahore.
In 1987 in New Zealand Gordon scored a brilliant 211,which took batting mastery to region s of the sublime.
On the 1987-88 tour of India Greenidge scored a masterly 141 at Calcutta ,and displayed his great technical maturity on turning tracks.
Against Pakistan at home he only gave occasional flashes of his brilliance. In 1988 in England he looked past his best apart from a classical 103 at Lords.
He again failed in Australia in 1988-89 .He relatively failed in home series in 1989 against India and 1990 against England.
In the 1991 Frank Worrell trophy at home he ressurected himself in a Muhammad Ali style manner in the 4th test at Barbados ,scoring a match-winning 226.The manner he compiled that innings could be a separate chapter of a book. Spirit of vengeance was simply taken to a boiling point, like a phoenix rising from the Ashes. It was reminiscent of some alien spirit infused within him. Above all it won West Indies the test and the title of unofficial world test champions.Noone could have been a better example of cometh the hour,cometh the man.
In one day cricket Greenidge was amongst the three best batsman of his time .In 1979-80 he top scored in the finals Benson and Hedges triangular world series cricket tournament and earlier was the leading scorer in the 1979 prudential World cup. In many ways Gordon was the architect of the West Indies triumph sin triangular tournaments in Australia on five occasions in his time, as well as one day series in India .
Few batsman ever had a greater penchant for hitting sixes as Greenidge .In One day country tournaments in the late 1970’s he had the record scores for all of them.
Overall Greenidge scored 7558 run sat an average of 44.72 and 18 centuries. In 108 tests and 184 innings. However more than mere statistics it was his contribution towards the stature of West Indies cricket into the greatest cricketing superpower of all time. Gordon was an integral par of a combustion engine. With Desmond Haynes he constituted the best opening pair ever in test cricket. In ODI cricket Greenidge scored 5134 runs with 11 centuries at an average of 45.03
It is noteworthy that in winning causes in test matches Greenidge averaged above 54, which is more than Even Viv Richards in tests won.14 out of Gordon’s 18 test centuries were in winning causes and around 60 % of his run aggregate, In his day in terms of match winning percentage in tests in run aggregate and centuries Greenidge was the best West Indies and opening batsman of his time. In that respect he even overshadowed the great Viv Richards.
No opening batsman was closer to Barry Richards in blending technical skill with attacking agression.Greenidge possessed the power of a bomber plane fused with the skill of a surgeon. Former great batsman Ted Dexter ranks Greenidge as technically the best batsman he ever saw and so did the late Alec Bedser. Arguably if you assess technique ,Greenidge may have even been a more consummate batsman than Viv Richards or Brian Lara.
One pitfall in Gordon was his relative lack of success in Australia on five tours .It is also debatable whether Gordon would have been prolific facing his own team’s lethal pace attack. I doubt whether Greenidge chased records or did justice to his true potential. It is possible that playing for such a powerful team did not completely keep the adrelanin flowing. I have strong conviction that Gordon would have averaged around 50 if he did justice to his full potential.
To me between 1984-87 Greenidge earned the title of the best batsman in the world, eclipsing even Viv Richards, Gavaskar,Miandad or Border..I would select Greenidge as a opener in my World test eleven if the 1980’s as he won more games than the record -breaking Gavaskar and was more consistent than Graham Gooch..Fittingly in Richard Sydenham’s selection of 100 all-time test xi’s, 26 former cricketers have chosen Greenidge. He has overshadowed even the likes of Barry Richards or Jack Hobbs in capturing votes for selection.
I think most unjustly Greenidge has been excluded from the selection of 100 best cricketers of all time by adjudicators in books like Cristopher Martin Jenkins, John Woodcock and Geoff Armstrong.
Amongst opening batsman to me only Jack,Hobs,Len Hutton,Sunil Gavaskar ,Victor Trumper and Barry Richards rate ahead of Greenidge ,who I rate virtually on par with Graham Gooch.No opening batsman won more test matches for a side as Gordon. An all-time great batsman without question. Without doubt Greenidge was one of the architects in shaping West Indies into the best test side of all time.
Sadly after his retirement in 1991 West Indies cricket lost it’s mantle or citadel .It reminded one of the fall of a great empire which was unable to resurrect it’s glory. After retirement Greenidge served as a coach for teams like Bangladesh.
His moments of cricketing glory would carve a permanent niche in a cricket museum and memories flicker forever like an inextinguishable flame. Even for youngsters today watching his video tapes is like a lesson of a coaching manual. Characters like Gordon are an embodiment of the spirit of the Afro-American race which launched a moral crusade for dignity.
Harsh Thakor is a freelance journalist. Toured India, particularly Punjab .Written on Mass movements ,,Massline,Maoism on blogs like Democracy and Class Struggle and frontierweekly .An avid cricket lover too who has posted writings on blogs like Pakpassion Indian Cricket Fans and Sulekha.com. Email- firstname.lastname@example.org