'Fast bowling is a hard job'

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

FOR forty years now, he has regretted that incident. He has had to narrate the happening countless times, but his eyes reflect his painful feelings as he recalls those dreadful moments when Nari Contractor battled for life after being hit by a bouncer. He feels remorse for that unfortunate incident which almost killed a batsman on the pitch. Charlie Griffith, author of that devastating delivery, would never like to bowl that ball if he was to bowl ever again.

On the 1961-62 tour to the West Indies, the Indian camp was rattled by this fast bowler. He was a feared bowler in his time and the Indians were given advance information of his ability to bowl nasty bouncers even on flat tracks. A remarkable reputation for someone who began as a spinner before deciding to bowl fast.

-V.V.KRISHNAN

At six feet two inches, Griffith, a strongly built fast bowler, could extract disconcerting bounce from the pitch. His chest on action was often viewed with suspicion but Griffith was a great character that the game was privileged to have. His action often terrorised batsmen who were too happy to cross over to the other end at the first opportunity. Griffith was a bowler who really put fear in the minds of even accomplished batsmen.

In the match at Barbados, where he felled Contractor, Griffith was called for 'throwing.' He was called again four years later in a first-class match in England. Griffith earned a bad reputation for his aggression against the batsmen and lost his pace and rhythm when his action repeatedly became a point of discussion.

In this interview to The Sportstar, Griffith, who took 94 wickets in 28 Tests, spoke briefly of that incident involving Contractor, but gave his views on other aspects of fast bowling. Excerpts:

Question: How do you view the overall standard of cricket? How would cricketers of your generation compare with the present one?

Answer: Some people think and say that things don't change. But as you move on in life you know that you move from crawling to walking to running. Therefore we go through this phase. If you ask me every generation you'll have changes. And cricket is just like that. We've seen changes in every department of the game and it's very difficult to compare this generation with the previous generation. It's difficult. But when you look at this situation in any context you'll realise that things have changed. But the fact still remains that it's difficult for us to compare. But I would say that the standard of cricket is really high and good. No doubt about that. And I must say that today we get to see some very good cricketers.

Would you say the bowler's job has become difficult in today's cricket? Has it become more difficult to get wickets now?

I wouldn't agree with that. It's not becoming difficult for the bowlers but I would say that the bowlers should work harder. And especially the fast bowlers. I've noticed that the young cricketers don't like to train hard nowadays as the ones before. If you practise you tend to become better, tend to improve a lot.

What is your concept of fast bowling?

Fast bowling is a hard job, very hard job. Whether you get wickets or not you have to bowl. And the fact is that to succeed you have to work very hard, practise very hard, train very hard. And I've found that the fast bowlers today are not really bending their back. Not putting enough into it at the point of delivery. And this is where you get your rhythm. At the point of delivery, you must give your best. And I find that these fast bowlers are not putting as much as they should in fast bowling. To become a great fast bowler you need to eat well and train well. Slow bowlers don't need hard training but the fast bowlers have to watch out for their endurance and strength.

Has the psyche of fast bowlers changed over the years?

Somewhat the psyche may have changed. Somewhat. It appears to me that they don't think enough. They don't seem to work hard enough. They need to put together things like dedication and sincerity. Or they may end up just one of those bowlers.

Do you believe that there is room for fast bowlers despite the fact that pitches around the world favour batsmen?

Oh yes, there's always room for fast bowlers. I know the fast bowlers don't get enough praise because this game is a batsman's game. And as far as I know I can't remember any fast bowler being knighted. Anyhow you should remember that you can't win matches without the fast bowlers. And fast bowlers are there to win matches on their own. That's how the fast bowlers stand out. You can see any good team from its inception that it'll succeed if it has fast bowlers. They are the ones who set up the stage for the spinners to come and do the work after. The fact is that we need fast bowlers. And cricket can't operate without fast bowlers.

Who would you pick as the best fast bowler in the world today?

To come to any conclusion I would need to see all of them but I haven't really been seeing all of them. Personally for me to draw any conclusion to that won't be fair.

Did you ever get to know how fast you bowled?

I don't know how fast I used to bowl or any other bowler. It's difficult really to say how fast I was bowling or what was the situation. We didn't have speed meters. But I know Wes (Hall) was very fast. But the fastest bowler I saw was a man called Roy Gilchrist. He was quick. He was quicker than all of us.

Do you remember that match in 1962 when you felled an Indian batsman?

I remember that match clearly. How can anyone forget that. It was unfortunate that it had to happen. But it was one of those things that happened. That was a sad day for all of us.

Why did it happen?

I think it came from a perceived idea of what they (Indian batsmen) had been told about me. Probably that particular ball appeared to hint that it would be short but it was not that short. It was unfortunate that he (Contractor) ducked. And he ducked into the ball.

How much does it help to have a slightly favourable pitch?

Fast bowlers always enjoy helpful pitches. But the fact is that when fast bowlers get helpful pitches you have the batsmen complaining. All these pitches are prepared for batsmen. Therefore when a fast bowler gets a helpful pitch he obviously is pleased.

Who would you describe a complete fast bowler?

You got to be quick through the air and off the pitch too. You test the speed of the fast bowler by judging how fast they bowl when they come through the air and off the pitch.