Black History Month: Gordon Greenidge

Hampshire Cricket – courtesy of Club Historian Dave Allen – is marking Black History Month this October by celebrating and honouring the contributions of some of the best players to ever represent the Club

Cuthbert GORDON GREENIDGE (1970-1987)
Born 1 May 1951, St Peter Barbados

Right Handed Opening Batter

275 First-Class Matches, County Cap 1972
Batting: 19,840 runs, average 45.50, 48 centuries, 100 half-centuries
Highest Score 259 v Sussex at Southampton 1975
Bowling: 16 wickets, average 24.18, One five-for
Best Bowling Innings 5-49 v Surrey at Southampton 1971
Catches: 315

273 Limited Overs Matches
Batting: 9785 runs, average 38.37, 20 centuires, 54 half-centuries
Highest Score 177 v Glamorgan at Southampton 1975
Catches: 110

Gordon Greenidge is one of the major figures in the history of Hampshire and West Indies cricket, yet curiously he might have spent much of his international career opening the batting for England with Geoffrey Boycott. If that seems entirely wrong, consider that during his great years, the 1970s and 1980s, many cricketers born overseas came to England to play county cricket and found their way into the England side. They included South African Tony Greig (Sussex) the man who planned to make the 1976 West Indies team “grovel”, Gordon’s Hampshire team-mates Chris and Robin Smith and Allan Lamb (Northamptonshire) also from South Africa, Graeme Hick (Zimbabwe to Worcestershire) and a number of cricketers from the Caribbean.

In November 1982 the Jamaican-born, Middlesex pace-bowler Norman Cowans made his Test Match debut for England in Perth, and bowled England to victory in the thrilling fourth Test Match of that series. In March 1986, Cowans’ Middlesex team-mate, Wilf Slack, (St Vincent) came into the England side against his fellow-countrymen at Trinidad, and in August of that year Warwickshire’s, Gladstone Small from Barbados, opened England’s bowling against New Zealand at Trent Bridge. In the following winter, Phil De Freitas from Dominica had five wickets in his first Test Match appearance at Brisbane, although Cowans, Slack and Small had been discarded at a time when England’s selectors rang the changes at the expense of stability. In the England sides of the near future came Gloucestershire’s English-born Black fast bowler David Lawrence (first Test Match 1988), Devon Malcolm (Jamaica to Derbyshire, 1989), Chris Lewis (Guyana to Leicestershire 1990) and Neil Williams (St Vincent to Middlesex 1990). These cricketers moved to, lived in and played for England, graduating through the county game, and other Black county cricketers included Martin Jean-Jacques (Dominica to Derbyshire & Hampshire), Hartley Alleyne (Barbados to Worcestershire), Cardigan Connor (Anguilla to Hampshire), Ricardo Ellcock (Barbados to Worcestershire) and UK-born players Alan Warner (Derbyshire & Worcestershire), Keith Piper (Warwickshire) and Mark Alleyne (Gloucestershire). These county and England players were often the children of cricket-loving parents from a time when the West Indies attracted voluble ‘ex-pat’ support on tours of England, while Alleyne and Piper were two of the notable ‘graduates’ of the Haringey Cricket College, London, run by West Indian Test cricketer, Reg Scarlett. Sadly, it ran into funding problems and closed.

While Gordon Greenidge also moved from his Barbados home to live in Reading this was in his early teens so by the time he was selected to play for the West Indies he had spent about half his life in the UK. He recounted the tale of those early years in his 1980 autobiography The Man in the Middle, telling how his unmarried mother, a qualified seamstress had come to London to find work and married the man (Greenidge) who Gordon regarded as his father. They moved to Reading. When his mother first crossed the Atlantic, Gordon, age eight, stayed in Barbados (Black Bess, St Peter) with his grandparents and at St Peter’s Boys’ School he “played in a proper grass wicket” at a time when many pitches in the Caribbean were still matting.

At fourteen he arrived in Reading which he described like “setting feet in hell” and at the school he “collided head on with something I had heard about yet had never fully considered: racial prejudice” (8). He discovered also that while Reading had a large West Indian population it consisted of people from the variety of Caribbean islands some of who “regarded me every bit as foreign as the white Englishmen in whose country they were now living” (9). He added that the project of assembling a West Indian XI against the backdrop of “intense” rivalry between the islands was “something of a minor miracle” (9).

His memory of early years of cricket in England is slightly strange. He remembers eventually playing for the school cricket team but with little more than an “ordinary contribution” with “no ambition” to become a cricketer but “somehow I was chosen for the Berkshire Schools side and to this day I really do not know why” although he suspects that the fact of being West Indian may have had something to do with it. Whatever the case he played at county level again apparently without any remarkable achievements and went off to work locally at Sutton Seeds where the physical work helped his physique. His main social life in his mid-teens revolved around a local church.

In 1967 he played for Berkshire Bantams – he recalls an innings of 135 against a Wiltshire (Colts?) side, while we have records of two other matches coincidentally the first against Warwickshire Young Amateurs in mid-August at Edgbaston which was rained-off before he could bat and a month later against Hampshire Colts at Church Road, Reading, where he scored 70 of his side’s 150 all out in a 52-run defeat. Gordon recounts that he can remember little of how he came into the first-class game except that he was invited to trials by Warwickshire and Hampshire and surely in the latter case at least, that innings of 70 must have helped to secure a first contract although by then he had already played for the county 2nd XI.

Responding to the two invitations, Gordon chose Southampton over Birmingham and with little confidence caught the train where he met on Southampton Station by Hampshire’s coach Arthur Holt a very kind man, Southampton born-and-bred, who had captained the ‘Saints’ football team and after a playing career with Hampshire interrupted by six years of war, became the coach who helped captain/secretary Desmond Eagar to shape Hampshire’s first Champions in 1961. The Hampshire Colts at that time were nicknamed ‘Holt’s Colts’ and a diminutive Gordon Greenidge played for them, for local club side Southampton Wednesday and also for the 2nd XI, oddly against Warwickshire at Southampton in August 1967, in the same side as fellow Bajan John Holder and past and future Champions Mike Barnard, Henry Horton, Alan Wassell, captain Leo Harrison, Richard Lewis, and Trevor Jesty. He batted only once, scoring just two runs before bowled by Roger Edmonds but Hampshire won and later that season clinched the 2nd XI title for the first time. He was not selected again but as the season drew to a close he scored 95 in less than an hour against the local junior club side Hampshire Hoggets and Hampshire offered him a two-year contract while he was qualifying under tight rules of residence.

He became one of the ‘groundstaff’ boys in what was then a fairly hierarchical profession cleaning the ground after matches, painting the seats pre-season, taking his turn to operate the second scoreboard at Southampton and playing for the 2nd XI where, in 1968, he had a full but unremarkable season, scoring just one half-century. The Hampshire Handbook noted some promise but added “his fielding leaves much to be desired” which Gordon felt was somewhat generous – yet in years to come he became an outstanding, versatile fielder in the deep or at slip. In those early years with Hampshire Gordon lived through the year when there were no winter cricket contracts then in the Southampton YMCA as part of his qualifying. He worked for Dimplex, played some weekend football but generally endured unhappy winter months as a young Black teenager in an unfamiliar home.

At the start of the 1969 season there was one case of ‘horse-play’ among the junior players which had clear racial undertones; Gordon reacted very angrily, his fellow cricketers backed off and he recalled “never again did I become the butt of racial jokes or misguided horse-play at Hampshire” (19). That was perhaps a positive outcome but the season was not a happy one, he did not play well, and with the slim coaching set-up at Hampshire in transition found few people to talk to. Of his fellow West Indians, John Holder was a friend but newly-married and trying to establish himself in the side, while the older Danny Livingstone was usually away with the first team. Gordon did score a century for the Hampshire Colts against his former side the Berkshire Bantams but for the 2nd XI he missed a number of games, batted in the middle order and again there was just one half-century against Sussex 2nd XI with a decent attack of John Spencer, Allan Jones, Mike Buss and the Indian spinner Eknath Solkar. At the season’s end it was not certain that another contract would be offered but some of the decision-makers had seen sufficient and Gordon went away for the winter determined to prove them right. He returned to Dimplex for the winter but also joined Northam Boys Club to improve his physique and when he returned to the county ground in the spring of 1970 stronger, fitter and with a more positive attitude he worked hard on his fielding and had a much better 2nd XI season although his best of 96 against Glamorgan meant once again no century – yet.

Gordon was also completing the same three-year qualification period that Roy Marshall had undertaken 15 years earlier and before the end of the 1970 season he would be eligible to player in the Championship, under Marshall’s captaincy. There was no certainty that the call would come but in early August they were to meet Sussex at Bournemouth. One of their openers, a farmer, Barry Reed, had been injured in the previous game and Reed, in one sense the last of the ‘amateurs’, would not play in the Championship again. His regular partner in recent years, South African Barry Richards had been injured playing for the Rest of the World against England, the series organised when the South African tour was cancelled aginst the threat of disruptive protests. There were injuries also to Hampshire’s batters Richard Gilliat and Danny Livingstone as well as the opening bowlers ‘Butch’ White and Bob Cottam, so a weakened Hampshire side met Sussex and at the last minute Greenidge got the call.

He batted at number six and arrived with his side in trouble at 73-4, soon to be 74-5, so his debut contribution of 24, while modest, was second only to Roy Marshall’s 44 in a total of 150. Sussex declared 108 ahead but half-centuries from Sainsbury, Lewis, Jesty, Stephenson plus 18 from Gordon to Hampshire to 337-7 and a comfortable draw. Gordon had done well enough and retained his place through the seven remaining Championship matches. In his fourth match against Gloucestershire at Portsmouth he was for the first time listed to open the batting with Barry Richards but the weather was awful and they never got to the pitch. So again ironically, the greatest Hampshire opening pair of all-time, finally appeared together at Edgbaston where they put on 40 and Gordon went on to a score of 51, one of four half-centuries in that short run and an end-of-season average of 35.10. He was established and would remain a fixture at the top of Hampshire’s order for the rest of his career – and until mid-way through 1978 that was almost always with the great Barry Richards, an incomparable opening partnership.

Gordon played for Hampshire from that debut in 1970 until 1987, missing only those seasons when he toured England with West Indies - 1976, 1980, 1984 - plus parts of the English World Cup seasons of 1975, 1979 (the first two won by West Indies) and 1983. For Hampshire he passed 1,000 runs in every season until the last one which ended early after he learned there would not be another contract after the 1988 West Indies tour. Even then his 899 runs included three centuries and an average of almost 50. In the previous season he had scored 2035 runs in first-class matches at 67.83, with a club record of four successive hundreds and a best of 222, one of six double centuries for Hampshire. He is the last man to have passed 2,000 county runs in a season for Hampshire and it is unlikely to be matched in the future.

At the end of his county career he was just short of 20,000 first-class runs (average 45.50) and the six men ahead of that total all played through the previous decades when there were more first-class matches and few if any in the shorter forms. But Gordon also scored almost 10,000 List A runs (at 38.37) and over his career the county won their last Championship (1973), finished runners-up twice and won three Sunday League title – the only surprise is that the side of (at various times) Greenidge, Richards, Roberts, Marshall, Jesty, Turner, Sainsbury et al never reached a limited-overs Lord’s Final. There were special days in the knock-out cups however, in 1975 for example he scored 177 against Glamorgan in the second round of the Gillette Cup, sharing a double century partnership with Richards in the county’s record limited-overs total of 371-4, which still stands. When he left the county he held Hampshire’s record scores in all three limited-overs competitions, adding 173* in the B&H Cup in 1973 and 172 v Surrey in the Sunday League (1987) – and only James Vince has yet bettered those limited-overs innings.

Those figures record the huge weight of runs that Greenidge scored for Hampshire but they do not in themselves indicate the brilliance and sheer destructive power of his batting at its best. In late 1975 in a crucial match for Hampshire he scored 259 against Sussex at Southampton in one day, an innings that included 13 sixes, reaching every successive half-century and century with another shot that cleared the boundary.

He was a very committed club man. In 1978 Hampshire were in contention for a second Sunday League title when Barry Richards and Andy Roberts walked away mid-season. In the 40-over matches captain Richard Gilliat then opened with Greenidge and in the remaining games Gordon scored 116 v Yorkshire (won), 48 v Gloucestershire (won), 2 v Northants (lost), 51 v Kent (won) and 122 in beating Middlesex at Bournemouth to clinch the title. It was as though he took it upon himself to score his and Richards’ runs in the crucial final matches.

His fielding, especially his slip-catching, improved to such an extent that he took 315 catches in his 275 matches for Hampshire, one of few regular players in the club’s history with an average better than one per match. He was never keen to bowl but on the last day of the 1971 season he took five Surrey wickets in a Hampshire victory although Surrey might claim extenuating circumstance – they had the won the title on the previous day at Southampton and had no doubt been celebrating.

Gordon Greenidge was not of course simply one of Hampshire’s greatest cricketers – and neither did he spend his career opening for England with Geoffrey Boycott. He first played for the West Indies in the English winter of 1974/5 scoring on debut and through a career of 108 Test Matches scored 7,558 runs at 44.72 with 19 centuries as well as 5,134 ODI runs at 45.03 with another 11 centuries. His highest Test Match score was 226 against Australia at Barbados in his penultimate Test - a way to say goodbye to his home crowd and ground - but perhaps the finest was an incredible innings of 214* against England at Lord’s in 1984 after David Gower dared to declare setting West Indies 342 to win at what would prove to be about five runs an over. Greenidge scored almost two-thirds himself in five hours from just 242 balls and West Indies won having lost just one wicket – to a run out! That wicket was Desmond Haynes who succeeded Roy Fredericks and formed with Greenidge one of the greatest opening partnerships in cricket history.

After his difficult start such a career might have been plain-sailing but it was not always so; there perhaps three ‘difficult’ moments in his career; the first being his early days selected by the West Indies

In 1973 the West Indies toured England and came early in the season to play Hampshire. Antiguan fast bowler Andy Roberts, like Marshall and Greenidge before him was qualifying by residence but made his first-class debut against the tourists and while figures of 1-144 gave no indication of what was to follow, he injured West Indies opening batsman Steve Camachao, hitting him in the face and putting him out of the tour. West Indies needed a replacement and considered a number of players before choosing Worcestershire’s 34-year-old Ron Headley, a decision which left Gordon “stunned”. Immediately after hearing that decision, Gordon played for Hampshire against Yorkshire and ended 196*, while Ron Headley played in the first two Tests, scoring 62 runs in his four innings; he never played Test cricket again. While this was a severe disappointment for Gordon it was greatly to Hampshire’s advantage as he scored 1,656 first-class runs that year at an average of 48.70 and Hampshire won the County Championship. In 1980 he said “looking back … I see 1973 as my outstanding English season. It provided me with some of my best moments in county cricket and yet, because of the rejection by the West Indies some of my worst feelings” (65).

In the following English winter he returned to the Caribbean to play first-class cricket for Barbados without any notable success and he had to wait another twelve months before he was selected to tour India. In the sub-continent on 22 November 1974 he opened the batting for West Indies in Bangalore and started superbly although unfortunately run out for 93 in the first innings; he made up for it in the second innings with 107 in 260 minutes as West Indies won by 267 runs. It was a thrilling series as West Indies led 2-0, lost the next two and then won the decider and Gordon seemed established with his first opening partner Roy Fredericks. In 1975 in England they were together as West Indies won the first (60-overs) World Cup at Lord’s but he followed this with an unhappy tour of Australia (1975/6) scoring just 11 runs in four innings as Australia won the series 5-1. He was much more successful in England in 1976 with 592 runs at 65.77 and in February 1977 came his 13th Test Match finally ‘back home’ in Barbados against Pakistan, scoring 47 and two in a drawn match. He was now established as a Test cricketer.

One of the more complicated consequences of that evaluation came with the ‘Packer Affair’ and World Series Cricket. In March 1977, following their tour of India, England played Australia at Melbourne in the Centenary Test Match, captained by South African Tony Greig. It was a great event but with unpleasant consequences for cricket. By the time England played their next Test Match, against Australia at Lord’s in June 1977 their captain was Mike Brearley after Greig was sacked, for revealing he had played a leading role in helping the Australian media tycoon Kerry Packer to sign 35 leading international cricketers to play in his own televised cricket ‘circus’. Packer took this step after the Australian Cricket Board rejected his decision to reject the offer to screen Australian Test Matches and Sheffield Shield matches on his Channel 9. Packer paid his stars about £12,000 for three years, by comparison with Greig’s annual salary, as England captain, of just over £1,000. The story has been told many times and does not require further detailed examination. Packer’s World Series Cricket improved the remuneration of leading players and he also introduced coloured clothing, floodlights and a white ball. The matches were contested fiercely but they have never been recognised as first-class. In 1979 the two sides resolved their differences, principally as a consequence of the legal battles taking the Australian Board into serious financial difficulties. The players returned to Test and first-class cricket, which was, however, never quite the same again.

While this controversy was eventually resolved it was a complex matter which involved and implicated many county cricketers – including Hampshire’s Greenidge, Barry Richards and Andy Roberts. Some counties including Kent and Warwickshire sought to exclude their players from the English game and it took a legal contest before the High Court in London ruled that any attempt to prevent World Series cricketers returning to the county game would be unlawful. When Hampshire went to Bristol for their final County Championship match in 1977 they thought it might be the last they saw of Richards, Greenidge and Roberts. The court ruling two months later meant that those players had the legal right to return and would remain available to the county clubs at least until the completion of their contracts – although less than a year later only Greenidge remained at Hampshire.

The third difficult, rather sad moment came with the end of Gordon’s career. Under a new captain, Mark Nicholas, Hampshire finished in second place in the 1985 Championship and won the Sunday League in 1986. Gordon contributed to both successful seasons but in 1987 injuries restricted him to fewer than half Hampshire’s first-class matches. His batting average was still above 45 but there were just 725 county runs – for the first and only time he was short of 1,000. In 1988, he toured England again with the fearsome West Indies side, averaging in excess of 50. On 12 May he appeared once again on the County Ground, Southampton but playing for the tourists against Hampshire; he hit eight sixes in a score of 103 as West Indies won a 50-over match by 93 runs.

The first-class tour ended in early August with victory for the West Indies (Greenidge 77) and at some point shortly after that he appeared at Bournemouth during Hampshire’s mid-August week there, where he was seen in discussion with Hampshire’s Cricket Chairman, Charlie Knott. Hampshire had a quandary as for some years Gordon’s residential qualification had enabled him to escape the limitations on overseas players but they were changed in 1987 and Hampshire had to choose between Gordon and Malcolm Marshall. Whatever the precise content of those discussions with Charlie Knott, Hampshire chose Marshall, Gordon did not return to Hampshire in 1989 and never played for them again.

In 2016, Mark Nicholas published his autobiography and dwelt for some time on his relationship with Gordon after he became Hampshire’s captain. He acknowledged that the decision in 1988 “deeply hurt” Gordon but suggested that at Hampshire Gordon “did not make life easy for his captain”. He added “I cannot pretend that my relationship with Gordon was always as it should have been” but also that the relationship with Gordon “remains one of only a very few things I regret about my time as captain” (89-91)  

In 1983 Gordon was awarded a Benefit by Hampshire which amounted to a record £28,648 – beating the previous record of Roy Marshall’s twelve years earlier. In 1987 Malcolm Marshall set a number record, emphasising the extent to which Hampshire’s bajan’s were loved and respected by the county’s members and supporters. Among those of a certain age all three are still remembered with great affection.

In the New Year’s Honours List of 2021 Sir Gordon Greenidge was appointed as Knight Commander of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George (KCMG).

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