Obituary, 2007

Geoff Griffin

ESPNcricinfo staff



Geoff Griffin: "he threw virtually every ball". © The Cricketer International
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GRIFFIN, GEOFFREY MERTON, collapsed and died while speaking at a dinner at his old school, Durban High, on November 16, 2006, aged 67. A central character in the "chucking" controversy that gripped cricket nearly half a century ago, Geoff Griffin made two indelible marks on Test history. During the Second Test of the 1960 tour of England, he took the first (and so far only) Test hat-trick at Lord's, and for South Africa anywhere. Far less happily, he also became the first bowler to be no-balled for throwing in a Test there. >

Griffin's problems stemmed from an accident at school - where he had been an outstanding all-round athlete, holding Natal titles in all four jumping events - which had left him unable to straighten his right arm fully. This, allied to an open-chested action, with front foot splayed towards gully, made him look more like a baseball pitcher than a conventional bowler. His methods were ungainly but effective: he booked his tour place by topping the South African averages in 1959-60, with 35 wickets at 12.22, including a career-best seven for 11 in the second innings of the freak match when Natal bowled out Border for 16 and 18. Griffin, only 20 when the tour started, was unfortunate in the sense that his arrival coincided with one of cricket's periodic frenzies about suspect actions, sparked off by the 1958-59 Ashes. Some in South Africa claimed he had been singled out in an attempt to clean up the game before Australia came to England in 1961. (If so, it worked: none of Australia's alleged chuckers was picked.) But Griffin's action was considered suspect even at school, and he was called in two domestic matches in 1958-59. The South African commentator Charles Fortune had no doubt that his bowling was illegal: "The South African authorities who sent Griffin to England chanced their arm," he wrote. John Waite, the wicketkeeper throughout the drama, felt the same: "Before that tour I'd played for Transvaal against Natal, and because I got cramp I had a runner. So I was standing at square leg when Griffin bowled. I said to the umpire, 'This chap is throwing,' and he said: 'You concentrate on batting, and leave the umpiring to me.' " Waite also recalled Ted Dexter's anger when he was bowled by Griffin in the MCC match at Lord's early in the 1960 tour: "He threw his bat down and grumbled that he'd been thrown out." Both umpires, Frank Lee and John Langridge, called him that day, and there were further incidents against Nottinghamshire, after which Griffin was sent to Alf Gover's indoor school for remedial treatment. When he returned, some thought his arm was a little straighter - but his direction certainly was not, and he had a notably wild spell during the Edgbaston Test, which he got through without problems from the umpires. In the lead-up to Lord's, he apparently reverted to his old style in a bid to regain his rhythm: he was called again at Southampton, yet was named in the Test team. At Lord's, Peter Walker, who put on 120 with Mike Smith, was unequivocal: "There was absolutely no doubt in either Mike's or my mind that he threw virtually every ball."

Frank Lee seemed in little doubt either. He no-balled Griffin 11 times but let go the deliveries that dismissed Smith for 99, and then Walker and Fred Trueman to the first two balls of his next over. Griffin's trauma was not over, though. England won the Test by an innings early on the fourth day and, with the Queen due to visit later on, the South Africans were persuaded to play an exhibition game to entertain the crowd. The "entertainment" that ensued was grim stuff: Griffin came on to bowl, this time with the fearless Syd Buller at square leg. Buller no-balled four of Griffin's first six deliveries, whereupon, in desperation, he tried bowling underarm, only to be called again by Lee, at the bowler's end, for failing to inform the batsman of the change of delivery mode - a heavyhanded act in a match of no consequence.

Griffin's international career was over: he did not bowl again on the tour, playing against the counties as a specialist No. 8 or 9 batsman. He attempted a comeback for Rhodesia, but another bout of no-balling finished his career for good. In retirement he did some coaching, and ran a couple of hotels. Still that right elbow troubled him: he once challenged some of his hotel guests to arm-wrestle, only for his first opponent to break his arm. South Africans talk, without exception, about his cheerful disposition and kindness. "He had no malice at all," said a Durban High School contemporary, Esmond Caro. "He accepted his no-balling and bore no resentment. When he ran the hotels, if anyone wanted a job, he would always find room for them."

© John Wisden & Co.