Herman Clarence Griffith
December 01, 1893, Arima, Trinidad
March 18, 1980, Bridgetown, Barbados, (aged 86y 108d)
Right hand bat
Right arm fast
In an age when West Indian fast bowlers abound, it might easily be overlooked that half a century ago there were men like Constantine, Martindale, Francis, and Herman Griffith, none of whom would have weakened the current West Indies Test XI. Griffith, the last survivor of those mentioned, died in Bridgetown in March at an age, 86, which helps defy the belief, held by so many fast bowlers themselves, that the vigorous pursuit of their youthful days on the cricket field shortens life.
Not that Herman Griffith of Barbados was irresponsibly a tearaway type. C. L. R. James, who saw so much of him and revered him, wrote that Griffith 'had his field set and he bowled to it. He was as strong as a horse, he always bowled well within himself, and he would wait on the batsman to give him an opening.'
From this it may be deduced that Griffith - who made his name with the famed Empire club - was not of top speed. But he was. It was simply that his career was long, and he was 34 before he played his first Test match. He missed the 1923 tour of England because of the territory quota system, George Francis being preferred. Griffith and Francis together, however, shook the 1925-26 MCC team when they went down by an innings to Barbados. They took nine wickets each.
West Indies disappointed on the 1928 tour, losing a dozen matches, including all three Tests by an innings, but Griffith was an outstanding success, bowling fast, with late swing either way, and taking 76 wickets (only Constantine took more: 107), his 11 at 22.72 being well ahead of any of the others in the Tests. Six of those wickets came in the third Test, at The Oval, five of them, all top England batsmen - Tyldesley, Hammond, Leyland, Hendren and Chapman - in the space of an hour with the new ball. This remains one of the most distinguished 'lightning strikes' in Test history. Griffith's tour record would have been even better but for the awful shortcomings of the close catching; how today's brilliant West Indian slip fielding would have lifted him. He annihilated Northumberland, Durham, Minor Counties and Cahn's XI, and against stiffer opposition outside the Tests, his greatest distinctions came against Yorkshire (6 for 46 at Sheffield) and Kent (11 for 118 in the match at Canterbury). Wisden referred at the tour's end to his 'indomitable perseverance'.
He needed that quality at Kingston when England toured in 1929-30 and scored 849. His reward in 58 overs was Sandham's wicket when the little Surrey man (in his 40th year) had made 325, and Ames (149). Earlier in the series Griffith took 5 for 63 and 3 for 99 in the Trinidad Test, but finished on the losing side.
A moment that lives in history came during the 1930-31 tour of Australia, when Griffith administered to Don Bradman his first Test duck. West Indies had had a hard time of it, being thrashed in the four earlier Tests. The pitch at Sydney, however, suited them better, particularly in the fourth innings, when it was awkward after rain. Grant's declaration challenged Australia to make 251 for victory, and Woodfull and Ponsford put up 49 for the first wicket. Bradman's downfall, described vividly by Learie Constantine in Cricket and 1, came after a skilful, teasing series of deliveries from Griffith, and demoralised the Australians. They collapsed to 76 for 6, recovered through McCabe and Fairfax, then fell away to lose by 30 runs. Griffith had the pleasure of taking the final wicket, giving him 4 for 50.
When he returned to England in 1933, now approaching 40, the fire was but an ember. His 44 tour wickets were expensive, although his appearance in the Lord's Test brought him the quality wickets of Hammond and Leyland. If Roberts, Holding and company are taking Test wickets at 39 they will be proud - as well as tired - men.
C. L. R. James again: 'Griffith had had a secondary education, called nobody mister except the captain, and had the reputation of being ready to call anybody anything which seemed to him to apply.'
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