The sagacious words of Gordon Greenidge

Former Bangladesh coach Gordon Greenidge speaks at the Dhaka Lit fest on 8 January, 2023Prothom Alo

Every list on the greatest openers of all time invariably contains his name. His career of 108 Tests and 128 ODIs warrants that position. In a Test career that began with scores of 93 and 107, he accumulated more than seven thousand runs. Although his ODI tally of 5134 runs seems nothing special by today’s standards, his average in 50-over cricket is still exceptional– 45.03.

He was one of the main fixtures of the all-conquering West Indies team of the ‘70s and ‘80s. However, labelling him as ‘one of the main’ players doesn’t do him justice. It would be better to say that he was one of the three-four biggest stars of that star-studded team.

An explosive batsman, who was ahead of his time– that’s how everyone recognises him. But for the people of Bangladesh, Gordon Cuthbert Greenidge is perhaps best known as the coach of the 1997 ICC Trophy winning team, a triumph that ushered in a new era in Bangladesh cricket.

Gordon Greenidge speaks with his players when he was coach of the Bangladesh national team
File photo

Naturally, whenever Gordon Greenidge returns to Bangladesh, those memories come rushing back. The memories of that nerve-wrecking match against the Netherlands, Kilat Kelab Club, playing in a World Cup for the first time…

Greenidge’s bond with Bangladesh cricket also ended at that very World Cup. Before the match against Pakistan in the 1997 World Cup, he was handed the letter of termination. Since then, he has wiped off the memories of the bitter departure from his heart and has returned to Bangladesh quite a few times, a country he calls his ‘second home’.

His latest visit was as a guest at the Dhaka Lit Fest. On Sunday noon, former Zimbabwe batsman Hamilton Masakadza accompanied him on stage. The session was moderated by Yusuf Rahman, a Bangladeshi all-rounder who played during the nascent stage of Bangladesh cricket. He is better known as Yusuf Babu in the Bangladesh cricket fraternity.

The session with Greenidge and Masakadza was called ‘Eye on the ball’.

It was an apt title for a show on cricket. But the title had a double meaning. On the day prior, the cover unveiling programme of a book by the same title written by Yusuf Rahman was held. The book is about the history of cricket in this region. Greenidge and Masakadza were present in that ceremony as well.

Gordon Greenidge, former Zimbabwe skipper Hamilton Masakadza and moderator Yusuf Rahman during the session, 'Eye on the ball'
Prothom Alo

Will the session also revolve around the book- this question popped up in my mind. But the book was hardly ever mentioned during the session. It came up only at the very end, following a question from an audience.

Before that, as expected, Greenidge was the central attraction. He spoke eloquently as he talked about his observations on modern cricket, why he chose to play for the West Indies even though he had the option of playing for England, his immortal unbeaten 214-run innings at the Lord’s Test in 1984, an innings that helped the West Indies turn the impossible into possible as they chased down a target of 342 in just two sessions and 15 odd minutes. The margin of victory– nine wickets!

Still, Greenidge refused to label that innings as his best ever, which just shows how many more such gems are there in his illustrious career.

Gordon Greenidge with the 1997 ICC Trophy champion Bangladesh team
Shamsul Hoque

The moderator’s question forced him to go back to the 1983 World Cup final, where Kapil Dev’s India shocked the cricket world and even themselves by defeating the West Indies.

After reminding everyone of cricketing sayings like– in cricket, records don’t matter, whichever team plays better on the day wins– Greenidge feigned annoyance and said, “This is not fair. Why are you asking questions about the 1983 World Cup? Why not about the 1975 and 1979 World Cups?”

Even you most likely know why Greenidge wants to speak about the 1975 and 1979 World Cup as the West Indies won both those tournaments.

Back then, Twenty20 cricket didn’t exist. There were only Tests and ODIs. In both those formats, the West Indies enjoyed unchallenged dominance.

Not just because of that, but overall, Greenidge claimed that era was the greatest ever in cricket. Greenidge also posed a challenge, “Cricket saw its best period in the ‘70s and ‘80s- I am prepared to challenge anyone about it.”

Gordon Greenidge feels batsmen coped with bouncers better when they used to bat without helmets

Any attentive student of cricket history will not cancel out Greenidge’s claim simply as the common tendency of players to claim their era as the best ever.

Greenidge’s observation on modern cricket is in line with his claim. Every change in cricket laws has been in favour of the batsmen. Still, Greenidge is quite unconvinced that the standard of batsmanship itself has improved.

Batters, who go on to the field decked up with protective gears from top to bottom like they are going into a battlefield, turning their heads away from the ball when faced with a bouncer is proof of the declining standard of batting, according to Greenidge.

Greenidge feels that batsmen have been struck on the head by bouncers more after the introduction of helmets. He also said he wouldn’t mind seeing someone conduct a research on the topic!

Fearing controversy, the moderator had banned any question on Bangladesh cricket. Still, one question was posed. The question went something like this– compared to when Greenidge was working in Bangladesh, the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) now has a lot more money at its disposal. In comparison, how much has Bangladesh cricket progressed?

Disregarding the objection of the moderator, Greenidge answered, “If you don’t properly invest for the development of cricket, what’s the point of having so much money? If you improve the facilities and infrastructure to prepare the cricketers for international cricket, then having so much money would be useful.”