Sportstar archives - Joel Garner: Get rid of the batsman at any cost

When on song, Joel Garner took his trade to great heights. He was at his vicious best in the ’84 series against Australia at home, when he prised out 31 batsmen.

In the mid ’80s, the West Indies won 11 Test matches in a row and Garner played his part in all of them.   -  THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

In a crowd he would tower head and shoulders above the rest. One had to ‘look up’ to him, for standing at 6’8”, he had an intimidating presence. But that was not the only reason he was given the sobriquet ‘Big Bird.’

When on song, Joel Gamer took his trade, bowling fast, to great heights. The Bajan would just glide to the wicket in a rhythmic, languid manner, before releasing the red cherry in one fluid motion. It all seemed so effortless. Like a bird in flight.

They say the vulture is a patient bird and Garner too was a scalphunter who waited long before moving into the centre stage. For years, he was a stock bowler, one who would do all the dirty work.

Finally in the mid ’80s, when he earned the honour, a matter of pride among the quicks, of bowling with the new ball, he did not let his skipper Clive Lloyd down.

The Big Bird swooped on his prey in a ruthless manner. Gamer was at his vicious best in the ’84 series against the Australians at home, when he prised out 31 batsmen. It goes without saying that the man from Barbados was someone very special.

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He just had to be very, very good to be a part of the West Indies attack during his time. Perhaps the cricket world would never again see an Andy Roberts, a Michael Holding, a Joel Garner and a Colin Croft toying with batsmen in a Test match. Even quality pacemen like Sylvester Clarke and Wayne Daniel often did not even get a look in when these speedsters ruled.

The amazing thing about the Big Bird is that for most part he was a stock bowler, yet he ended up with 259 wickets in 58 Tests. Something a spearhead would be proud of. But few could extract such lift from a length, his height being the key factor, and bowl yorkers with such deadly precision.

Indeed, the Indians would still remember how the Barbadian made the ball talk in the initial stages of the Prudential Cup final of ’83. The Bajan seemed unplayable, but luckily for India, he could bowl only 12 overs that day.

In the mid ’80s, the West Indies won 11 Test matches in a row and Garner played his part in all of them. He and fellow Barbadian Malcolm Marshall started taking wickets with such monotonous regularity that critics complained that excessive pace bowling was harming the game. But, as Garner reveals in this interview, the wickets were not easily earned, though it often looked so to the casual observer. There was a lot of planning involved.

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Apart from his exploits in Tests, Garner will be remembered for his remarkable spell in the ’79 World Cup final. His five for 39, four of his victims being done in by those trademark yorkers, virtually settled the issue.

They say habits die hard. Fortunately for the Big Bird, his habits were good ones. Garner might have been in his mid 40s with a streak of grey hair, but he bowled quite beautifully at the Masters, showing the virtues of a good line and length, never mind the inevitable loss of speed.

Garner was in Madras, as an invitee of the MRF Pace Foundation, when he spoke to The Sportstar.

Big Bird, it is said that a lot of West Indian pacemen came straight from the beaches. Can you tell us about beach cricket, an integral part of the game in the Caribbean.

(Smiles) Well, we played a lot of cricket on the beaches. Beach cricket is for fun. The guys who work from Monday to Friday get together on a Sunday morning for a game on the beach. We scruff one side of the tennis ball, leave fur on the other side. When the waves go down, we run in to bowl. The ball does one hell of a lot, takes off, swings a lot. There is a lot of competition, but we enjoy ourselves.

That, in a way, is the essence of Caribbean cricket. The West Indians have always enjoyed themselves whether at the beach or in the middle of a Test match.

It is very simple. If you do a job, you better enjoy it. You have to like what you are doing. We enjoyed our cricket whatever the condition, whatever the situation. If it is a strain, don’t play it. It should flow through naturally. Sometimes you have to adapt. It is hard, but you still enjoy it.

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Croft and yourself came out of virtually nowhere and formed a lethal pair in the 1977-78 series against Pakistan. Almost straight from the beaches.

A couple of regular guys got injured and Crofty and myself were the new fellas coming in. We had different style. Everything clicked. We grabbed our chances. My job was to keep things tight till the others were fresh enough to come back again.

The showdown with the West Indies Board over the Kerry Packer issue, just when your career seemed to be taking off, must have been a painful experience. You and several other stars were suddenly out of the team.

It wasn’t traumatic. The officials picked the team they wanted. We had come to a logical decision, not a decision taken on the spur of the moment. We had a lot of respect for Clive Lloyd. If they did not go along with what our captain said, we weren’t going to play. Anyway, we enjoyed ourselves in the World Series Cricket. We had a lot of good cricket. It was professionally run. All our training habits changed. We were up against the best players in the world. It was a real battle out there.

Joel, over the years, the West Indians have had some terrific battles against the Aussies. You were often a part of them.

Any series involving the Australians is always going to be a hard one. If you go back to 1975-76, that was the time we got beaten 5-1 by the Australians. We had to go home and make some adjustments. The composition of the side had to be looked into. It changed everything. We always look at Australia as the team to beat. The cricket both the teams play is hard, aggressive. It is always exciting. Some of my memorable moments have come against the Aussies. We see some quality fast bowling. When runs are going to be scored, and wickets are going to fall, the cricket is bound to be exciting. The Australians sledged, too, but it was never a problem. It is never a problem if you are mentally tough.

During your period, the West Indians won almost everything in sight. But there were two bitter defeats. The first one came in New Zealand in the Dunedin Test in 1980. The West Indians lost the series, too, but have not been defeated in one since. The second, of course, was in the 1983 World Cup final.

If you play Test cricket and you play against 13 people, the odds are always going to be against you. The umpiring was terrible. The kind of team we had in the ’80s, it would have been impossible for a team like New Zealand to beat us. Actually, when we left Australia, we were warned by the Aussies that it wasn’t going to be easy in New Zealand. If our team of the ’80s played to the best of its abilities, it could only win. And we played to the best of our abilities in New Zealand. Anyone with a bit of common sense would say, “Hey, something’s wrong here; they had help.” There was a guy who was run out by three yards, but it wasn’t given. Actually, bad umpiring can kill cricket. In one of the Shell Shield games between Barbados and Guyana, there was some controversy. I told the umpire in question, “You are actually doing West Indian cricket a great deal of harm by giving the batsman four or five chances. He might get picked and might struggle at a higher level. So who is the loser?”

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Now, the World Cup defeat. Were there frayed tempers in the West Indian dressing room after that fateful match?

Nobody expected us to lose. I think it was complacency on the part of the batsmen. It was the most painful defeat of my career. As we were coming back to the pavilion after bowling India out for 183, I remember telling my teammates, ‘Hey, when we guys chase a small target, we make a hash of it.” The others said, “Hey maan, you are always talking about a calamity.” Then I asked Marshall, “Do you think we guys will be needed to bat?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “We are in trouble.” We had the game in our hands. We had bowled well, fielded well, but our batsmen became overconfident. If we had had more than 200 to chase, we would have won with six or seven overs to spare. The Indians just stuck to a plan.

We were a bit disappointed with the batsmen. As bowlers, we had done everything that could have been done. The batsmen had only themselves to blame. We just let off a little steam in the dressing room after the match. Actually, the Indians had beaten us twice the same year at Berbice and Manchester. They were a useful team. The other wins we have over India cannot compensate for that defeat. Lord’s ’83 was different. It was a big match. I still remember it.

Fearful foursome: When (left to right) Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Colin Croft and Joel Garner were at their peak, the West Indies ruled the cricket world.   -  GETTY IMAGES

 

The World Cup final in ’79 must have been a happy experience for you. You took five wickets, four of them bowled.

We had so many great moments. The final in ’79 was one of them. I got my yorkers going. Personally, my great moments came when the team was winning. The team came above everything else.

The West Indies won almost everything in the ’80s apart from these two defeats. Didn’t the team ever get tired of winning. I mean, you played so many games.

We were motivated. If you look at it, we were the best team in the world but still we were the poorest paid. So the more Tests we played, the more money we earned. The best way to play more matches is to keep winning. That was our main motivation. We never ever got tired of winning.

You ended up with over 250 Test wickets from just 58 Tests. But don’t you feel you could have taken more wickets had you played for a lesser country. You had to bowl with three other great bowlers. You often cut into each other.

I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not. But I don’t look at it that way. The four of us lived together, played together, enjoyed each other’s company. So I don’t look back and say, “Hey, I should have, or could have.” Camaraderie was what kept us going, the friendship. We were never competing with each other. Being part of that quartet was good enough.

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The four of you – Roberts, Holding, Croft and yourself – were different. Then Marshall came along. He too was different.

Each one of us was different. Roberts was the thinker. He used to work out a batsman’s weakness very quickly. Had a mean bouncer. Holding was the quickest of the lot, real pace. Crofty used to come in wide, and when things got hot, he knew where to put the ball. I was the stock bowler, used to keep things tight till the other guys were fresh enough to have another go. When Marshall came, he was very quick, with just a little swing. But as he got older, he started swinging the ball a lot more, cut down his pace. All of us had our plus points.

Big Bird, even as a stock bowler, you had an amazingly high strike rate. But when you finally got the new ball in the mid-’8Os, you were a terror.

(Smiles) I guess I was running in that much quicker when I had the new ball. Anyway, that decision to open the bowling was taken during the ’83 World Cup. It was a tactical decision by the captain. Myself and Marshall were injured for the first few games. We watched the matches and knew there was something wrong. We spoke to each other and then spoke to the captain. Lloyd asked me, “Hey, do you mind opening the attack.” I said, “I don’t mind, Clive.” It was then I started using the new ball.

For long you had suffered as a stock bowler. When the Australians visited the Caribbean in ’84, you and Marshall became a lethal combination in Tests. The West Indies won 11 Tests in a row.

That was the time Malcolm Marshall really came into his own. I was charged up. Marshall and myself decided to set targets for ourselves. We decided, “Hey, this series we are going to have 25 wickets each. Nothing less would do.” So, if we got 29 or 30 wickets, it would be a bonus. We took it series by series. It worked okay, because we were looking forward to it. Most of the time Marshall and myself bowled together. It worked fine, because we were always looking at the numbers, the target.

With 31 wickets in the series against the Aussies at home, you certainly exceeded your target. Now tell us how the pace quartet worked on the batsmen. Some said the Caribbean bowlers just bowled fast and took wickets.

Planning. We planned everything. At that time, we didn’t take too much help from the videos. What we would do is, before each series, two of us would get together and watch a tour game, see some of the batsmen, and note down the weaknesses and the strong points. Next match the other two would watch. Then we used to come together and have a chat before the Test. We would then know whether a fellow is weak against short balls or is strong off his legs. Then during the Test we would work on the fellow’s weaknesses. It might have looked easy, but there was thinking involved. We used to bowl in spells, so that all of us were fresh at any given time. During the match we helped each other. We used to learn from a batsman’s body language whether he was mentally tough. If I didn’t bowl a proper length, one of the guys will come up and say, “Hey, you got to bowl differently.” Sometimes if we hadn’t seen a batsmen before, we would have to decide on the spur of the moment. Then, after a day’s play, we would once again discuss things.

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Joel, how did you adjust to bowling on different pitches, and to different batsmen?

How I bowled depended on the wicket, the situation and the batsman. You know if you bowl too short in England, it isn’t going to work. You have to probably bowl a fuller length. But then, you might come across a quicker wicket in England or a flat pitch in Australia. Basically, you bowl to the kind of pitches you are playing on. On a good pitch, you make the batsman play. If there is bounce, you should not get carried away. After a couple of overs, you tell yourself, “Hey, this wicket is quick or is slow,” and bowl accordingly. The thing is you should be able to judge the pitch quickly. Take it session by session. When the ball gets older, use your head.

In the mid ’80s, the West Indies won 11 Test matches in a row and Garner played his part in all of them. He and fellow Barbadian Malcolm Marshall started taking wickets with such monotonous regularity that critics complained that excessive pace bowling was harming the game.

 

If I was bowling well, I never used to get bothered if the batsman had hit me for a couple of boundaries. It’s just that the batsman is playing well. Keep your cool. Don’t get panicky. Keep pegging. If I am bowling badly and getting hit, then I have to change. You have to work that out on the spot. If the batsman had a high backlift, you try a yorker. But don’t suppose it would always work. Planning and plotting a batsman’s downfall always gave me maximum pleasure. Sometimes when I was really working on a batsman, I used to take it ball by ball. But the bottom line is you must be mentally strong to take the punishment and then get the better of the batsman. It is the key. My basic motto is ‘get rid of the batsman at any cost.’

You were known for your great yorker and the natural bounce you extracted from any pitch.

Before the age of 30, I used to bowl a lot of yorkers. Got a lot of wickets, too. The yorker is something you learn through sheer practice. It was handy in the One-Dayers. But I had this shoulder injury and then I used it sparingly. I realised when you use the yorker sparingly, you can bowl it much quicker and the surprise element is also there. I used to get bounce, but so many tall fast bowlers get bounce. The key is how well you direct it.

Big Bird, you just had one bad series in your career, against India in 1983.

I even got dropped for the fifth Test at Antigua. I paid the price for playing when I was not 100 percent fit. It reflected in my performance. It was a lesson I learnt. If you are not fully fit, you better not play. Otherwise you are going to put your teammates and yourself under a lot of pressure.

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Which Indian players that you bowled to in your time seemed to be the best players of fast bowling?

Sunil Gavaskar and Mohinder Amarnath.

Richard Hadlee came up with something interesting recently when he said, “Make ball tampering legal.”

People have been tampering with the ball for as long as I can remember. Why make a noise about it now? We always knew in England there were guys who used to tamper with the ball. But I would look at it differently. If you look at cricket in the last 20 years, all the rules have been made to assist the batsmen. If you want to play Test cricket, you should be able to play all kinds of bowling. I liked the way we played in the Shell Shield back home. We didn’t have any stupid rules to protect anybody. If you can’t play short-pitched bowling, go home. All these things result in the bowlers getting frustrated. I am not saying you should legalise something that is illegal. But bowlers have to get a better deal.

We never tampered with the ball. If a bowler has belief in his own ability, he doesn’t resort to picking the seam. We had the quality and the confidence and never resorted to such things.

Another burning issue today is bribery. Do you believe a player representing his country can actually take money to lose?

When we wore the West Indian shirt, the maroon cap, the question of money never arose. That kind of personal pride should be there. When I was representing my country, it was not just me but six million people who were rooting for me. Certain things cannot be bought.

West Indies fast bowling great Joel Garner showered praise on Sachin Tendulkar.

 

Some all-time greats like Greg Chappell, Viv Richards, Alvin Kallicharran and Sunil Gavaskar played in your era. But now, except for a couple of players, the standard of batting seems to have come down a notch or two.

Well, all I can say is that more people are getting hit on the head after the advent of helmets. It boils down to technique. Before, they kept their eye on the ball. Now, they take their eyes off, get squared up. But there are some fine players like Sachin Tendulkar and (Brian) Lara.

The West Indies doesn’t seem to be producing great fast bowlers anymore. Are we nearing the end of the assembly line?

It is always going to be hard to judge the next crop. The four of us set a standard. Before us, there were men like (Vanburn) Holder and (Keith) Boyce. And before them (Wesley) Hall and (Charlie) Griffith. The young fast bowlers always had something to look forward to. They could match the deeds of their idols or set even higher standards.

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But it is sad but true that cricket isn’t the No. 1 game in the Caribbean anymore. You have basketball and soccer eating into this. Sooner or later it is going to tell; you just don’t have as many people playing cricket. It is also hard on the youngsters who are always compared with us. It puts too much pressure on them. You can’t expect miracles from the young guys.

Of the new West Indian bowlers, Ottis Gibson is promising. These fellas need to be consistent. Maybe they also need to go to an academy for training like the Australian Cricket Academy. We have to look for the best of the lot and get them together.

Joel, you had a long career with Somerset. But the end was a bit bitter, wasn’t it, coming as it did in your benefit year?

My contract was not renewed. For years I had bowled my heart out. There was a bit of skulduggery going on. I decided to move on. They had the right to retain whoever they wanted to. I had asked for better pay.

You played under two captains, Clive Lloyd and Vivian Richards, both strong personalities in their own right. How would you compare the two?

Clive was a better manager. That was the big difference. He was able to deal with the players on a one-on-one basis. Richards was a great player and he felt all his teammates should match the high standards set by him. That was the difference.

You got to adjust with the players of lesser ability to get the best out of them. Clive knew how to do that. He would talk to his men, knew how to get them going.

Some said Lloyd had a very easy job. He had four great fast bowlers and he just had to rotate them.

No, no. If you have a million dollars, you can either double them or burn them. It is how you manage the resources you have got. It wasn’t all that easy. We were all different.

The Masters must have been a great experience for you. But there was that incident involving (Dilip) Vengsarkar in the final.

At the beginning of the tournament, we said we were going to enjoy ourselves and that’s what we did. We had fun out there and some of the moments were good.

Coming to that incident concerning Vengsarkar, I felt there is a certain amount of courtesy you have to extend to the people you play with. When we looked at the field, we said, “Hey, nobody informed us about him.”

In your long career, there must have been some lighter moments.

Sure, there were many. Once Michael Holding was bowling real quick and someone asked the umpire to stand back and said, “Mickey, why don’t you bowl off-spinners.” And Mickey looked stunned. This happened in the middle of a Test match with 20,000 people watching.

Who was your most respected adversary?

In the two years I played World Series Cricket, the batsman I enjoyed having a contest with was lan Chappell. He was very aggressive on the field, took everything we hurled at him in his stride, and at the end of the day as we walked out, he would be the first man to come and say, “Come, let’s have a beer.” Next morning he would invite us to the war again.

What do you remember most about your career?

We come from different countries but played as one team. We had a great time playing together, a great experience. We travelled together, came across different cultures, met different people. I had 10 good years in Test cricket with the West Indian team. The 10 best years of my life.

(The interview first appeared in the Sportstar issue dated April 8, 1995)

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