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The subject of questionable bowling actions has dogged cricket since its earliest days
September 3, 2004
The subject of questionable bowling actions has dogged cricket since its earliest days. Initially it was roundarm, and then overarm, bowling which caused much gnashing of teeth, and then in the last century, throwing. There have been three peaks - the late 19th century, the late 1950s and early 1960s, and the last few years. But few cases have been as sad as that of Geoff Griffin, the young South African fast bowler whose career was so publicly ended in a Test match at Lord's.
Griffin's inclusion in South Africa's 1960 squad to tour England was controversial in itself. The vexed subject of illegal actions was high on the agenda - Ian Meckiff, Graham Rorke and Charlie Griffith were all under the spotlight - and Griffin had been called in domestic matches the previous winter. But tall, blond and fast, he headed the national averages in his second season with 35 wickets at 12.23 for Natal and could not be overlooked. He also suffered from a physical defect, having been handicapped by an accident when a schoolboy which left him unable to straighten his right arm fully..
No tourist had been called for throwing in England up to then, but in the South Africans' early matches Griffin's bowling attracted muttering among the media. Ian Peebles, who sat side-on in the game against Essex, wrote that he was much perturbed by what he saw and that "there was something amiss." At Lord's in May, against MCC, Griffin was no-balled for throwing (in one instance he was called for throwing and dragging) and the genie was out of the bottle. At Trent Bridge a few days later Griffin was again called.
The affable Griffin retreated to the internationally famous Alf Gover Indoor School in south-west London, where a three-day coaching session appeared to have ironed out the problem. Although Gover did his best, he later admitted that the arm was unquestionably bent.
What followed was a match of mixed fortunes for Griffin. On the plus side, he became the first South African to take a hat-trick in a Test. But that was scant consolation for the events that ended his Test career.
In the third over of England's innings Griffin was no-balled by Frank Lee, who was standing at square leg, and after a break for rain, he was called again by Lee. Onlookers commented that while his action was suspect, there was no discernible difference between any of the deliveries. In all, Griffin was no-balled five times on the opening day.
On the Friday (the second day) Griffin didn't bowl until the new ball was taken after lunch. He managed four deliveries before he was again no-balled in successive balls by Lee. The next delivery was fine according to Lee, but the hapless Griffin was called for dragging by Syd Buller at the bowler's end.
In between these battles with the umpires, Griffin bowled well, giving the batsmen a real going-over. In the dying overs, Mike Smith chased a wide one from Griffin and was caught behind by John Waite for 99; the first ball of Griffin's next over bowled Peter Walker, and when Fred Trueman was bowled heaving, Grffin had his hat-trick, the first in a Test at Lord's.
His euphoria was short-lived. South Africa were twice bowled out cheaply, and by 2.25pm on Monday (the fourth day) had lost by an innings. But with the Queen was due to visit Lord's at tea, both sides agreed to play a 20-over exhibition match. Griffin was brought on to bowl at the Pavilion End - where Lee was standing - but this time he fell foul of Buller. Buller watched the first ball from square leg, then ambled across to point, and, satisfied with what he had seen, called Griffin's next three half-paced deliveries as no-balls.
Perhaps the most damming evidence came from Gover. He explained that he had remedied the problem ahead of the first Test, but that Griffin's "consequent loss of pace at Birmingham made him ineffective. At Lord's he put all he could into his bowling and slipped out of the groove into which he had been put."
Griffin received the full support of the South African management and remained with the tour, but did not bowl again. He played as a batsman, making one or two useful contributions from the No. 9 spot. He was widely praised for what The Cricketer described as "the superb manner in which he has taken this misfortune", and there is no question that his behaviour was always polite and measured.
He returned home and moved from Natal to Rhodesia, but within two years - and still only 23 years old - his career ended when he was repeatedly no-balled against North-Eastern Transvaal at Salisbury.
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