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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
August 11, 2012
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.
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.
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."
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Martin Williamson is executive editor of ESPNcricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and AfricaFeeds: Martin Williamson
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