Billy Griffith

GRIFFITH, STEWART CATHIE, CBE, DFC, TD, died aged 78 in a nursing home at Felpham in Sussex on April 7, 1993, after a long and trying illness. Batting as a makeshift opener in the Port-of-Spain Test of 1947-48, Billy Griffith became the first man to score his maiden first-class century for England and the only man to do so on debut. Later, he became secretary of MCC and guided the club from 1962 to 1974, during which time the club's role and the game itself changed profoundly.

At Dulwich, in spite of making more than 1,200 runs during four years in the XI, Griffith lived in the shadow of his friend Hugh Bartlett, whose scoring was phenomenal. However, when he took up wicket-keeping, he found an identity of his own. He won his Blue in his second year at Cambridge, 1935. "It is a long time since Cambridge had a better wicket-keeper," said Wisden. He toured Australia and New Zealand with a young MCC team under Errol Holmes in 1935-36, but lost his Cambridge place the following year to Paul Gibb.

Griffith returned to Dulwich as cricket master, moved from Surrey (for whom he had played once) to Sussex and became first-choice keeper in 1939. He had a heroic war as an officer in the Glider Pilot Regiment, along with Bartlett. As second-in-command he carried the commander of the 6th Airborne Division, Major-General "Windy" Gale, into Normandy, crash-landing after being caught in a storm. He also took part at Arnhem and won the DFC. His exploits make his subsequent heroism on the cricket field easier to comprehend.

After the war Griffith became captain and secretary of Sussex. Though he rapidly stood down as captain, he maintained his wicket-keeping form to be chosen for the 1947-48 tour of the West Indies. Called in as opener because three leading batsmen were unfit, he played an epic innings in the Second Test, battling for six hours and scoring 140. He would say later that he had to stay out there because he had run out his opening partner Jack Robertson for two and dared not face his captain's wrath. He toured South Africa in 1948-49 and played in the last two Tests before retiring to become cricket correspondent of the Sunday Times for two years and then one of two MCC assistant secretaries to Ronnie Aird.

Ten years later he became secretary. Immediately afterwards, amateur status was abolished and one-day cricket began. In 1968, MCC surrendered its controlling role to the TCCB and cricket became embroiled in the D'Oliveira affair. Griffith was a man of enormous natural charm who never liked to say an unkind word to anyone, however acute the crisis; this sometimes meant that other people at MCC had to take the more unpleasant decisions.

© John Wisden & Co