Transcript: Couch Talk with Gordon Greenidge

Couch Talk 130 (Play)

Guests: Gordon Greenidge

Host: Subash Jayaraman

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Subash Jayaraman (SJ)– Hello and welcome to Couch Talk. Today’s former West Indian opening batsman Gordon Greenidge. He talks about the mental and technical aspects of opening the batting in Tests, his partnership with Desmond Haynes, and the great innings he played against England at Lord’s in 1984 to script an improbable West Indies win, impact of playing county cricket on his career amongst other things.

Hello Mr. Greenidge, how are you?

Gordon Greenidge (GG)– Hello!

SJ -What is essential for an opening batsmen, in Test matches especially? Could you elaborate on the technical and the mental aspect of it?

GG– Obviously you have to have a serious portion of self confidence to get the job done. A very strong belief in yourself. You have to be technically able to withstand the pressure and all that happens at play, and be able to absorb that pressure and also when necessary know when to apply pressure. It is a combination of things. You have to develop the skills of the game in order to get the job done. It is not a position that a lot of people would put their hands up and say “Yes, I will do.” so yes, it is a unique position because you need to set the tone for the day, set a foundation and platform for the team to build on. So, it is not always a happy time and happy moment for everyone. But, it takes a particular person to do that job.

SJ– You said a serious amount of confidence. The odds of failure is much higher when you are opening the batting and the ball is swinging all over the place when new. How does one go about gaining that confidence? You have to do it over a period of time before you know that you can do it. how was it for you?

GG– I think, first of all you must want to do it. it is not something that you get thrust into that position and get told “Go in, go and do that.” That person must want to do it, because you know what it entails. It takes that individual, that special individual, that special type of person to want to do that type of job. It is not a situation that is always welcomed and embraced by a lot of people. But there are people who have taken on their own to make sure that that is their position. It is one of those things. it is a pressure situation that you go into. You know that you have to be very focused technically, well groomed to get the job done and to be able to absorb a lot of tension and pressure that goes into the job.

SJ– You said about putting the pressure back on the opposition. I am assuming you can do it in two ways. One, by attacking the bowlers and scoring a lot of runs. And also, using defensive technique, where you defend all day, perhaps, and not give the wicket as well. That puts pressure on the opposition as well?

GG– Well, yes. I don’t think defence all day, but some days or games where you have to bat very hard because you need to stay there and keep the opposition out there and develop some score because the pitch and the conditions may not be suitable to the way you want to play or how you like to play. So, it means that you have to curb your normal way of play and be very stubborn and focused to get the job done. That technical side of you is what is going to carry you through, because you know that they are coming at you with more size and throw everything at you. You need to be able to deal with that competently.

SJ– We have seen batsmen of all kinds opening the batting. Someone very aggressive, some very defensive and just looking to take the shine off the ball and stay there as long as possible. There is someone like (Virender) Sehwag or yourself who go very aggressive at the bowling as well. How do you define that balance?

GG– I perhaps like to feel that I am going to take the fight to the bowlers. There are times where you have to be very careful of what you do. You have to be at all times, but I believe personally that when I take the fight to you, I make you change your game plan, you have to in order to cope with what is happening. So, I perhaps look to be more of the aggressor than being one who can be subdued and sit there and wait for the moment to come. If I take the fight to you, and think I have more of the upper hand, you know. It didn’t always work, of course, but I thought this was the best game plan for me, be the attacker.

SJ– When would you say that a batsman is ready to open in Tests, in terms of age, experience, the amount of fist class runs, etc?

GG– When the person is ready?  I suppose you can look at guys and make suggestions as to what position he should occupy. But a lot of individuals do choose where they prefer to play, and once they get settle in that position, they play a couple of tours in that position, they can move. That is not the case with no.1 and no.2 and also no.3, because those are the positions for particular people who are groomed, who groom themselves. Persons at no.4 , 5 and so on could alternate because they are very similar positions. 1, 2 and 3 are mostly specialist positions where an individual plays who prefers to be there and is moulded for the position by himself.

It also becomes a personal likeness for the decision. I will say that maybe teams or captains won’t ask people to occupy positions because if necessary at the times and certain elements need to be adopted or played to the game in order to get the job done. Most of the time, opening batters are people who want to do that job who have trained themselves into that position themselves and practice it continuously in order to become good at the job they are doing or want to do or prefer to do. Personally, I only batted down the order a couple of times when playing international cricket. I am not certain that I would be suited to go in any lower than 1 or 2 because I didn’t like sitting there and waiting to go in. I might have been quite nervous to do so seeing what was happening out there. i am not certain that it would have worked out for me. so, put me in there. i want to go in there right into the thick of things, into the fire, where I battle better. I hated having to wait to go in to bat.

SJ– But, even when you choose to get over the nervous energy and rather face the opposition in the field than sitting in the dressing room thinking about it, you still need the results to back your intuition. Was there a point in time where you thought “You know what? I am made to be an opening batsman”?

GG– Not made to be, I want to do it. You have to embrace that position whole heartedly. It is not an acquired position that someone will want to do saying “Let me go in and open the batting today.” It is a position that you embrace to be your own. That is my position. I don’t know how the others will think or see it. This is my position and I will hold on to my position regardless of what happens day in and day out. I couldn’t honestly feel that I could have been anything else other than an opening batsman, regardless of whether someone thought of my technique to be good or not as good as it should be or whatever. But, I enjoyed being in that position and I tried to make that position my own. If anyone wanted to come into the team, it had to be a case where someone was seriously ill or had an injury or something like that, because there is no way I would give my position to someone else.

SJ– You mentioned technique. In your case, what was the role of county cricket in sharpening your role as an opening batsman?

GG– I suppose what perhaps helped is that the regular custom games that you had to play was in varying types of wickets, pitches, that you played on. They were season of county cricket where there were uncovered pitches, and we deal with that. They started the season with pitches which were very green and some of them played very true. Some of them played low, some seamed a lot. So, from season to season, you had to make some adjustments to the game. some, very minor, but some quite large part of adjustments that you had to make in order to deal with the varying types of the pitches that you had to play on. I suppose that is what helped make my game a little more compact, to help deal with situations when given.

SJ– What was the role of beach cricket in your youth? Did that have any effect on how you were as a batsman, especially opening the batting?

GG– I didn’t play a lot of beach cricket. One of the favourite things of beach cricket is that some guys perhaps stood back more on the back foot and waited on ball to come off because the bowler was waiting for the water to come on to the hard part of the sand, bowled and the ball just skidded. They would bowl very short of the length and the batsmen just sat back on the back foot and just pulled or cut. I wasn’t a great puller or cutter. I tried it, did, some successfully and some not. I was more of a front foot player than a back foot player. I did play a lot of beach cricket, it was fun. Mostly it was just playing for fun among yourselves. Beach cricket, or cricket at the school in the evening, they used to last for weeks. Guys used to bat for weeks. If you couldn’t get them out, the next day when you started, you can’t get the bat back. It was great.

Also, you had to learn to bring your A-game and bowl as well in those days because if you couldn’t bowl and get the person out, you are never going to bat. It is only the person who bowls who gets a chance to bat. If you are fielding for the whole while, you are not going to bat.

SJ– In Test matches, you are focusing so intensely ball to ball. You have to have the ability to switch on and switch off and switch on and off. Some walk to square leg, some mark their crease. How was it for you to switch on and off between deliveries.

GG– You focus on various things around you. Every individual has a particular way of regrouping after each ball, or after each over. The hardest one is after each session because after you got in, you sat for a while and then you have to come back and say for yourself “This is the beginning of the innings.” You cannot and shouldn’t be saying “I am continuing from where I left off.” Because, you feel like it is just like you are starting all over again, after that pause in your innings you feel that you are having to start from the beginning, that is what you have to say to yourself – “So far I haven’t scored yet. I have to start scoring.” That is the way you have to think; rather than “I am going to continue my innings” yes, you know runs are on the board, that is fine. If I start again, the whole cycle has to start – your feelings, your footwork, the co-ordination, also the timing on the ball. It is a process that has to start right from the beginning like how you first started when you opened the innings.

SJ– Opening batsmen generally tend to be really good at facing pacers and seamers and not so well perhaps against spinners. In your time you had to face some of the best spinners in the game, especially against India. What did you do to prepare against the spinners considering that you had your background playing against England playing fast bowlers on tough pitches?

GG– Technique comes in to play again. You have to develop that skill. I have to say that I am happy to have gotten the opportunity to play against the great spinners in that period of time that I played. India had 4 excellent spinners, and that was my first tour. You would experience fear of what is going to happen here when you have major quick bowlers. There is a sense of fear when you face the spinners because you know the calibre of the player that you are facing. You know what they can do and what they have done; what you try to do and not to do is to lay a focus on what they have done in the past. Now, I always think about what I was doing and what I did last night. If you look at that and remember those things that happened. that is not something that you can do when you play this great game. you have to play what is happening on that day. Today, you have to play what is there in front of you. You can’t go that far back anymore. You are just playing the experience of the player and the calibre of the person in the past. There is no telling that the person is going to do the same thing today. Today may be your day, today may be the day that the person is not spinning so much, his length is not good. What you do on that day is what counts. Oh yes, they are very experienced and gifted with that art, being able to build the pressure. I would say I wasn’t a big reader of spin, I did use my feet when I thought it was necessary and be very watchful of the ball. I read more off the pitch than in the air. I was able to cope with it reasonably well. in that first tour, it did me a lot of good to deal with the 4 great spinners that India had. I was able to survive and score runs as well.

SJ– Were there subtle changes in your technique series to series depending on whether you are playing in England or Australia or India, in terms of movement in the crease and the grip on the bat – loosening and tightening them?

GG– Not too much movement in the crease, as you have to stay still and not move around much. Once you start doing that you effect a lot of things. Your head needs to stay still when you are watching the ball to get a better view of what is happening. To move around the crease, you may bat leg stump, sometimes middle and leg, sometimes center stump, or your head goes a little further to the off stump than where you are looking at. I don’t want to play too many balls out of my line of head especially if the ball is shaping away. Even so you need to be watchful because some balls go straight and some will come back. I am certain that bowlers delivered deliveries to shape away from the batters but it may hit the wrong side of the seam and cut back at you. That is something that would or does happen. You have to watch very carefully. There is no one way or one dimensional area of cricket, batting or bowling. On that day, you have to get the job done. You have to get it done the best way you possibly can. You need to be careful and you need to understand the game, you should be able to read the game and be able to understand when to apply the pressure and when absorb the pressure. It is a combination of things on the day of play. If you are fortunate enough to assess all these things and put together all things that you have learned and practiced, you will survive.

SJ– There is always talk, when you listen to commentary, on shot selection. There are certain shots that batsmen will try to keep the scoreboard turning over and certain things that they want to avoid. You said you are a front-foot batsmen, and there are shots that you like to play and shots that you avoided to play.

GG– It depends on the delivery that you receive. I don’t think really used to be predictive or looking to perhaps play in your mind if you haven’t seen the delivery yet. Don’t premeditate before you have seen the delivery. When you have seen the delivery, your experience and practice will tell you that this is the shot that you are playing to it. it is a matter of understanding the game. Practice makes, it is said, perfect. That perfection comes if you are able to execute whatever it is that you have trained yourself in practice to do, in the nets, prior the day of getting to the field of play. That is the way the practice becomes necessary and essential because it helps you develop the skills and understanding and knowing what to do and when to do it. i suppose a lot of people don’t like a lot of practice that they do in the nets. It feels very confined within the nets situation. I suspect that is a feeling that a lot of people would get from time to time, that you want to feel the open space around you, that you don’t want to be intimidated in any way in your practice. But the nets or the middle pitch where you get to practice, you have to work at the areas of your game and put them into a nice and neat package so that when you get in the middle at an actual game situation you know what you should be doing and what you shouldn’t.

SJ– Did you ever compare yourself to other opening batsmen of your time, like Sunil Gavaskar?

GG– I don’t make comparisons for that matter. You look at those players and appreciate what they have done, how they went about to get their job done. Some of them perhaps looked very subdued, some very quiet in their approach to the game and some were explosive. You develop your skills the best way you can and deal with it. But, you look at those guys and see how they play, and they are “very well done, excellent job, well done.” You learn from that as well too, looking at guys who have played and opened the batting, like I said it is not an area that everyone loves to do on his own. It takes a particular person who wants to do it, and would want to do it and make it his own. It was Gavaskar or anybody else.

A lot of people didn’t want to be (Geoffery) Boycott too much. I thought he was technically excellent. Boycott could also play a lot of attacking shots as well, when he gets in the mood. Normally a lot look at his game and assess it as very uncharacteristic as compared to other guys who played the game, as not very polished, attacking or exciting. But I think, looking back at a lot of games he played for England, I think they would be very happy that he was in that position because if he was not in that position they would have been bowled out for a much lower score. He was slow, but that was the play he played.

SJ– Could you talk a bit about your partnership with Desmond Haynes? What kind of relationship did you have on and off the field? How did you guys complement and supplement each other?

GG– That grew over a period of time. Other than normal discussion in the team meetings and cricket talks, you go away afterwards. Desmond would go his direction and I would go mine. We didn’t see a lot of each other outside of cricket, although we didn’t live far apart. But, the team, the dressing room, the camaraderie, the relationship, the partnership was good. A great understanding had developed over a number of years. There were times where we felt that we didn’t call enough. We looked up and mostly knew it was a yes and we could have run it. It is rather straight. It is not something that you want to practice or have the youngsters practice. It was just a relationship and understanding that had developed over a number of years. it just blossomed from there. He would sometimes be the aggressor, or I would. We always had a battle on, he wanted to face the first ball and I would say “No, you haven’t matured yet.” We will have a little personal conversation about who should be facing the first ball. I wouldn’t just let him.

SJ– There might have been spells or times when one of you says “You are not in the zone, you are not seeing the ball as clearly as you like” etc. So, you let the other batsman take the strike as much as possible. Has that ever happened between you guys?

GG– That has happened on quite a few occasions where we weren’t playing the ball too well and the other person might have and you would make sure that you change ends and make sure that the person made the most of the ball whenever possible. That is understanding and working for each other and I think that happened quite well between the two of us. we were able to rotate or change /alternate to make sure that the person who was playing better on the day received more of the bowlers who were more troublesome in that particular case.

The captain didn’t restrict the players from playing the way they wanted to play. Of course, there were rules but not serious rules. We would talk in discussion about what has to be played, “You need to do this that time, do what you did that time” and things like that. It was brilliant for us to have that kind of player that you played with, and having that confidence in playing the way you wanted to play. Between the two of us, we discussed what was happening. If we thought the things were not going right for you on the day, the other person would say “I would take charge.” and you discuss between the two of you who should face. It determined who should do it, because that person might have been better equipped on that day or better coordinated to take most of the bowling. What actually still happened is that that person was not inhibited to the point that it could not be forceful when given the opportunity. For me, personally, I am very fortunate to be part of a unit that allowed me to express myself the way I wanted to express when I batted. I felt that was great.

SJ– Were there any specific instances where you took most of the strike from Desmond or Desmond took most of the strike from you because of who the bowlers were or the conditions were or how you were feeling? Any specific things that you can recall?

GG– Whoever was playing better on that day would take most of the strike. It didn’t matter whom we played or where we played. There was a personal battle out there and we tried to out-do each other, who  was playing better on the day would try to take most of the strike.

SJ– You talk about the team that you played in. You had (Sir Vivian) Richards and (Clive) Lloyd and (Larry) Gomes coming up after you. So, did that kind of free your mind and go out and play? if you got out there was solid middle order coming behind you and so the team was not going to be in trouble as opposed to Boycott. If he got out England could be bowled out for 150.

GG– It wasn’t so much as having the team – yes you did have a couple of able guys who were able to get the job done. It was an individual standpoint. It was a case where you go and expressed, and played the game the way you want to play. That was the freedom that was given to the players that played so players coming in the back there knew they could get the job done.  You go out there and be free yourself, don’t be inhibited in any way, you play the way you want to play. This made you happy and comfortable with what you do. We didn’t feel inhibited in any way at all.

That is the beauty about the whole squad that we had. I am not certain but I was thinking very close to or over, in that 16 year period we didn’t play more than 25 or 30 players at the most represented the West Indies. That was over 16 – 17 players. That is perhaps not heard of. Many teams would have many changes over a short period of time. But, for that length of time the West Indies were dominant in world cricket. I doubt whether more than 30 players would have represented the West Indies.

SJ– I want to talk about some specific innings of yours. Are there ones that stick in your mind that “I was on fire and in the zone”? There was the Lord’s 1984 double hundred. Could you elaborate on that Lord’s innings and/or whatever sticks in your mind as you being at your very best?

GG– The Lord’s Test in 1984, it wasn’t a planned situation. It wasn’t a planned innings at all. The score of 340 runs in 2 sessions and maybe an hour – it is not, regardless of what team you have, it is not a score that you will say “We will get it”. You measure an innings , the amount of score that you can score, whether it is 90 or 80. There is no way that you could have done THAT. You could have liked to start off with a flurry of runs and develop the score before the first break in. You hope that you can reach that so that you can then give a more forceful challenge in the next two sessions. It wasn’t the plan, it wasn’t like we sat down in the dressing room saying “We will do this” and “We will do that.” You go there and you play what you see. If the situation presents itself, then you know that you have sufficient capable players behind you to come in and continue to fight. But, it wasn’t a planned situation. It just happened. I cannot recall just exactly how it happened. i saw what was coming, saw, played a shot to the delivery. A couple of false shots, I got dropped in the latter part of the innings. It is just one of those things that happen. It is like one of those phenomenon. You play the game the way you saw it. It happened and it came off. It wasn’t a planned innings, or a discussion that took place to see how you are going to go about getting those 340 runs.

I think more on my part, there was an innings in 1976 at Old Trafford, which was more measured and planned where we ended up getting bowled out for just over 200 runs and were 40/5 or something like that. I batted right through the innings. Those innings, that innings was more set in my sub-conscious than anything else because of what happened in that particular match. That was a more remembering situation. The Lord’s Test was, yes everyone remembers that because they saw something spectacular. But, as an individual that innings at Old Trafford was more that would stick to my mind than 1984 Lord’s.

SJ– Was that the Old Trafford Test because of the team situation that you still remember it fondly or is it because of how well you were batting?

GG– From a team perspective. It wasn’t a pitch where you should be bowled out for 200. The bowler wasn’t a demon bowler, he was a seam bowler, with the ball cutting in at times. I wasn’t pressured, we weren’t pressured in any way. It is one of the strange things that happen in the game from time to time. Every so often some strange things happen and you really can’t count for it and you can’t see why it’s should have happened. But it happens. It happens and it continues to happen, that is the beauty of the game. The game is poised at time where strange things happen as well. That was one of those days where you could not have foreseen that happening on that particular pitch with the players that were playing in that time. we lost so many wickets in such a short time for so few runs. It meant that the battle was twice as hard, difficult.

SJ– I want to go back to the Lord’s Test. It wasn’t some random bowlers you had Bob Willis, Ian Botham, Foster and Derek Pringle coming at you. And it was a day-5 pitch. Once you got in and got the flurry of runs and got to the first break, what was your thinking process when you come back out based on the pitch and the opposition?

GG– We were only about 40 odd runs in the first session. We still needed 300 runs. We just wanted to bat out the next two sessions and not create a crisis out there. it could have easily happened that we could have chased down the next 290 or 300 runs in 2 sessions. But, come on! It may occur now, because teams are scoring 400 in a day. But, back then if you in the first innings scored 300 runs in a day, you did exceptionally well. It was either a case where you had runs maybe 7 wickets or 6 wickets or you got bowled out. If You are looking at 280, you did very well in the day. It has changed, the game has changed that much with the One Day format and the amount of One Day format being played. The runs per over has changed tremendously. You are scoring consistently at 4 – 5 -6 runs an over. There were times where the fluency is not there and the run rate drops a bit. But you can see teams scoring 300-350 runs a day. That is not even losing 2-4 wickets. Back then if you scored 280-290, you did well in a day. To score the best part of 290 runs in 2 sessions, or 340 runs in 2 sessions and an hour, it was almost unheard of.

The bowlers, yes, you knew the calibre of the bowlers, you know what type of bowlers they are, you have played them before and you know what they are capable of. But like I said, you don’t play the man, you play what you see, regardless of the reputation. You know what you can do. But you play what you see. That is how you have to go about the job. If you play the calibre of the bowler, then you are probably 30-40 % beaten already. You don’t do that, you play what you see.

SJ– Haynes gets out when the score is 67, Gomes comes in. There is a phenomenal partnership. You go for the next session break and then come back out. Now it is a possibility, a definite possibility that you can take it down. What was the thinking process with you two batsmen there and what was said in the dressing room, if anything was said at all.

GG– You kept it going. We kept putting the pressure on. Once you get to the point that once you get to the last hour, last mandatory overs in the hour, you probably had less than 80 runs or 100 runs to get, we still had 9 wickets and we thought we will give it a thrash. We had to continue playing how we were playing, start all over again, playing what you see in front of you at the time. We got a chance when we got into position where we can increase the tempo. We did that. It was just a discussion. We have sufficient batsmen behind here should we fall into crisis who can hold out and battle for the last 15 overs or so. So, you just kept on going at it and going at it, to see how things would work out. And it did. You don’t plan it. i fail to think anyone is going to plan 340 runs in 5 hours. Regardless of who you are playing against. You have to go with a mindset, with a belief and put all your skills together and have that confidence to go there and execute what it is that you need to do in a manner that gives you a chance to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

It is one of those things like Larry. Larry is a very pragmatic player, coming in at no.3. Your best players come in at no.3 to hold things together, that is what the sort of role that he played. And Larry was quite explosive in that innings as well. A lot of you don’t look at the way Larry played, the role he played and the sort of mentions that I get for what I did. Larry played an exceptional innings too. When we discussed the matter about him getting his hundred, it wasn’t a matter to him at all. It wasn’t something that, the way he spoke, he was contemplating about. of course, he would have loved to have got it. He said “Let’s get the game over with.” Let’s get the game over with. That was brilliant. History was to be created that day, and we had done so.

SJ– One last question. Are there any in the current international team an opening batsmen that you see and say, “Well, he bats like me.” or, “I am impressed by the way he goes about his business?”

GG– I haven’t looked at international cricket that much, to be honest with you. I go to see cricket matches to go and see a youngster play, and would make my own assessment from what I see and not from what other people say about him or what they write about him. Things tend to overplay some youngsters and some of the youngsters are very impressionable. Then tend to labour on these things. One or two innings that is written up, and they feel their job is done. I have to go to watch them if I can, watch these youngsters and see if I can make my own judgment. But, I haven’t really been watching international cricket that much.

SJ– Ok! Alright.

Thank you SO much, Gordon, for taking this time this morning. It was an absolute pleasure talking to you.

GG– Ok!


Episode transcribed by: Bharathram Pattabiraman