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No-balled out of the game

The sorry tale of South Africa fast bowler Geoff Griffin, who was no-balled out of Test cricket at Lord's in 1960... but not before he had taken a hat-trick

Martin Williamson

August 11, 2012

Comments: 25 | Text size: A | A

Geoff Griffin in the nets at the start of the tour of England, April 19, 1960
Geoff Griffin in the nets at the start of the tour. Many felt that his selection was a mistake in the first place © PA Photos

The subject of questionable bowling actions has dogged cricket since its earliest days. Initially it was roundarm, and then overarm, bowling that caused much gnashing of teeth, and then, in the last century, throwing - for which there have been three peaks: the late 19th century, the late 1950s and early 1960s, and over the last few years. But few victims of the resulting bids by the establishment to clean up the game have been as sad as Geoff Griffin, the 21-year-old South African fast bowler whose career was so publicly ended in a Test match at Lord's in 1960.

Griffin's inclusion in South Africa's 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. 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.

In the light of this, most newspaper correspondents called for a tough line to be taken and expected Griffin to be left out of the Tests. That he was not, given the obvious backing umpires had received from the authorities to call Griffin, was to the shame of the South African management.

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.

Griffin played in the first Test at Edgbaston, where there were again mumblings, but the umpires did not call him. He cut down his speed, but his penetration went with it. The only time he really opened up, late on the first day, the old problems appeared to return. At Southampton a week later, he was once again no-balled. It was to general surprise that he was named in the XI for the Lord's Test.

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 Griffin's 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.

Geoff Griffin's hat-trick as reported by the <I>Daily Mirror</I>, June 25, 1960
No mistaking the view of the Daily Mirror after Griffin's hat-trick at Lord's © Daily Mirror

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, Griffin 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 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. He allowed the next - overarm - delivery as fair before again calling him for throwing.

Jackie McGlew, South Africa's captain, consulted with Buller. "What's going on?" McGlew asked. "He's obviously not throwing... he's bowling slowly. Is he going to be allowed to finish the over?" Buller replied: "We are playing to the Laws, which I must abide by." An exasperated McGlew asked how "we can finish the over if this sort of thing goes on", to which Buller answered: "There's only one way and that's for him to bowl underarm."

A disconsolate Griffin switched to underarm - and was promptly and pettily no-balled by Lee for not notifying him of his change of action. "We didn't take the warning seriously," Griffin said. "It sounded so preposterous to use an exhibition match to do the dirty on me." That was his final act as an international player.

According to Griffin, after the match Don Bradman came into the South Africans' dressing room to sympathise, and told Griffin that Buller was acting under orders. Bradman claimed to have overheard Gubby Allen, the MCC president and a leading campaigner against chucking, instructing Buller to call Griffin out of the game.

The overwhelming reaction was one of sympathy for Griffin but anger that his own management had exposed him on such a public stage as a Lord's Test to what was seen as inevitable, and also that the selectors had picked him in the first place. The response from South Africa was to blame the English media for stirring up the storm. Griffin was not the only victim. Buller, who had done as asked, was controversially dumped for the rest of the series by the MCC, to the fury of the press.

Geoff Griffin resorts to underarm bowling after being no-balled, England v South Africa, 2nd Test,  June 25, 1960
Griffin resorted to underarm bowling after being no-balled at Lord's, and was promptly no-balled for not notifying the umpire he intended to switch from overarm © PA Photos

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 was contacted by a lawyer who offered to take the matter to court, free of charge. "You'll win hands down and end up a wealthy young man," he said. But Griffin declined. "I loved cricket too much to sully the great game further."

Two days after the Lord's Test came the inevitable announcement that Griffin would not bowl again on the tour "for reasons obvious to all" but would remain with the squad as a batsman. He made one or two useful contributions from the No. 9 spot and was widely praised for what the Cricketer described as "the superb manner in which he has taken this misfortune". His behaviour was always polite and measured.

There was a brief glimmer of hope when, back at Lord's during the tourists' match against Middlesex, he bowled in the nets in front of Bradman and McGlew, wearing a plastic arm split designed by a surgeon, but nothing came of it.

In 2006, shortly before he died, Griffin said: "I was the victim of a thoroughly distasteful 'chucking' conspiracy. I was the fall guy. I attribute the blame to the South African cricket authorities and MCC, who should never have allowed things to develop as they did."

Griffin 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.

Former Rhodesia opener Ray Gripper, who played in that match, told me: "I must say I also thought that Geoff threw but he had got away with it for some time, and let me say he really could bowl/throw at pace. However, I became thoroughly confused in the game in question when Umpire Fletcher called Geoff for throwing.

"Geoff left the field and returned a couple of overs later wearing a long-sleeved sweater and bowled with as much pace as he had before. Fletcher once again called him and Geoff took off his sweater to show Fletcher that he was wearing a metal brace on his arm and asked how he could throw with that brace on.

"I saw it and agreed that there was no way he could bend and straighten his arm while wearing the brace, and yet he had bowled with just the same pace as he had before putting on the brace. So although I had thought Geoff's action suspect, I had no answer as to how he could bowl with the same pace whilst wearing a metal brace. Therefore the question remains as to whether he really did throw or not."

What happened next?

  • The no-nonsense approach to "chuckers" continued and climaxed with the no-balling out of Test cricket of Ian Meckiff, one of the most notorious culprits, in the first Test of the 1963-64 series between Australia and South Africa.
  • Griffin never played first-class again after being no-balled in Salisbury. His career was over at the age of 23

Is there an incident from the past you would like to know more about? Email us with your comments and suggestions.

Martin Williamson is executive editor of ESPNcricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa

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Posted by SouthPaw on (August 13, 2012, 6:22 GMT)

"Bradman ... overheard Gubby Allen, the MCC president ... instructing Buller to call Griffin out of the game". So what's new? It is happening again, Hugh Morris has managed to get another South African, Pietersen out of the game!

Posted by   on (August 12, 2012, 11:47 GMT)

they only brought in the 17 degree allowance to keep Sri Lanka happy with Murali

Posted by   on (August 12, 2012, 11:44 GMT)

am sure had SA toured AUS, aussies would've gone on to tackle him 'on the fileld'. But english start complaining the moment someone has the better of them

Posted by Headbandenator on (August 12, 2012, 5:57 GMT)

The trouble with the 17 degrees "allowed" today is that younger players are not discouraged from throwing at a younger age.By the time they make it to first class level it may be too late to change anything. During a local game, I actually heard a teenager shouting at an umpire, "I've got 17 degrees and you have to refer me. You can't no-ball me." Wrong on so many levels.

Posted by Peterincanada on (August 11, 2012, 21:25 GMT)

While I agree with those who claim that bowling actions have been allowed to deteriorate, it is certainly better than the situation that prevailed in the 1960's. There is no doubt in my mind that cowardly administrators who did not want to be blamed, bullied umpires into doing their dirty work for them. The no-balls were called at random even when the bowler wasn't throwing and allowing certain balls that were thrown. It was too haphazzard not to have been pre-judged. It was undoubtedly political. Charlie Griffith's action was as bad or worse than Meckiff or Griffin but he got away with it. The English and Oz administrators were in love with the Windies at that time so Charlie escaped while the others didn't.

Posted by mikefm on (August 11, 2012, 20:34 GMT)

Griffin could not straighten his arm due to an old injury. With today's definitions of a throw, as he did not straighten the arm beyond 17 degrees, his action would have been allowed. He was no more a chucker than several of today's players.

Posted by   on (August 11, 2012, 19:42 GMT)

Thanks David Baker - Forune suggests that the MCC put pressure on the umpires - particularly Frank Lee - during the Lord's Test. He notes that before lunch on the second day, Lee showed hardly any interest in Griffin or his action, whereas after the interval, Lee watched Griffin like a hawk, no-balling him for throwing. Fortune suggests that the umpires had more than R&R during the lunch break and were pressurised by English cricket authorities to no-ball Griffin. Buller was probably given similar instruction, but I don't think stood at square leg to Griffin's bowling until the Exhibition match.

Arlott notes that Buller stood in the tourists' opening first-class match against Worcestershire, and considers it odd that Griffin was not selected to play in that match. He thinks that SA would normally have wished to play their likely test team in that match but didn't want to expose Griffin to Buller. Finally, Buller was dropped from the Test umpires' roster for the season after Lords

Posted by thalalara on (August 11, 2012, 19:24 GMT)

I feel that, with the current rules of the game favoring the batsmen, fast bowlers either should be allowed to bowl as many bouncers they wish to in an over or allowed to chuck a couple of balls to make the game interesting.... especially in a docile wickets....

Posted by AdrianVanDenStael on (August 11, 2012, 19:17 GMT)

That's a great quotation: "I loved cricket too much to sully the great game further." Can think of a few cricket personalities who should take that to heart at the moment.

Posted by Dannymania on (August 11, 2012, 16:41 GMT)

@steve19191..I am a pakistani and i do agree with u that strictly speaking,ajmal throws.but if we're just saying names about who threw,well,we should mention James Kirtley(I really don't know how he got away with it!!),also Brett lee,Cameron Cuffy,Muttiah Muralidaran(He was the biggest thrower).These are just a few names.In Ajmal's case,All i can say is that if Murali was allowed to bowl,ajmal should be allowed too as he is a 'lesser' of a chucker than murali.Also,if Akhtar was a thrower(I personally think he was),then James Kirtley was definitely a thrower and then Brett Lee's action was also not completely legal.ANYWAYS,I see that my point here is clear,now here's my point of view.I think that the current rules are the best as they are for bowlers who're suspected for 'chucking',and we should all be at peace with any bowler who clears it.Rules are rules people,if the rules clear them who're we to point out the 'obvious'?!

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