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Mike Griffith: My choice of Mike Gatting as President of MCC was all about timing

(From Left) Steven Finn, Queen Elizabeth II, Alastair Cook and former MCC President Mike Griffith during last year's Ashes Test at Lords. Griffith was the president of MCC from 2012 to 2013 © Getty Images
(From Left) Steven Finn, Queen Elizabeth II, Alastair Cook and former MCC President Mike Griffith during last year’s Ashes Test at Lords. Griffith was the president of MCC from 2012 to 2013 © Getty Images

Mike Griffith was earmarked for cricket from birth. When the former President of Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) was christened Mike — it was not short for Michael, but after the PG Wodehouse cricket novel ‘Mike’.It also had a lot to do the great humourist Wodehouse being his godfather, with whom he shared his middle name Grenville. His father Billy Griffith was a wicketkeeper batsman for England, and Mike Griffith himself led Sussex and played alongside several legends. He also selected Mike Gatting as his successor as the MCC president. Arunabha Sengupta met up with him at the Coronation Garden at the Lord’s cricket ground during the recently concluded Test match between India and England.

Mike Griffth arrived punctually at five in the afternoon, at the reception of the Tennis and Squash courts where we had arranged to meet. Dapper and fit at 70, he was clad in the traditional red and yellow MCC blazer, tie and hat. With the Lord’s filled to the brim, baked by the sun and spilling out of the stands on that Friday afternoon, we moved to the Coronation Gardens behind the Warner Stand. The conversation flowed as Moeen Ali and Gary Balance put together a crucial partnership on Day Two.

Excerpts:

CricketCountry (CC): You toured India in 1964 for EW Swanton’s XI…

Mike Griffith (MG): Yes, it was when the Nawab of Pataudi was the captain of India, a long long time ago. It was a great experience. With big crowds, I have never played in front of such big crowds. It was in the late 1960s, I was very young, about 19. It was my first trip anywhere. I will never forget it. In those days, we were not put up in good hotels, the security on the grounds was a bit dodgy, but it was a fantastic experience. I had a wonderful time.

CC: Talking about India, the big question now is whether India is going to accept Decision Review System (DRS).

MG: I think they will, with time. When it started there were a lot of questions about the wind, the camera position etc made a big difference. But now the technology has improved a lot. I have spoken to a lot of people who are involved in technology and they are confident about the results. It is not good for the game that certain countries have DRS and certain don’t.

CC: You were christened Mike after Mike Jackson, the Wodehouse cricketing hero.

MG: Yes, I was christened Mike after the book that PG Wodehouse wrote in 1909. And one of my fondest possessions is the 1924 edition of this book with illustrations, signed by PG. And I have some letters he wrote me too. He was my godfather and when I was about 13 or 14, he used to write to me saying he was having awful trouble with the plot. ‘Another Jeeves novel and I can’t seem to make the book long enough.’ And he sort of talked to me as if I did not understand anything about Wodehouse. He explained who the people were. He also was quite interested in baseball by then, in the comparison between cricket and baseball. And there was a letter he wrote to me about the two sports. It was a shame that we did not get a chance to have more contact, because he was in the US. I find it difficult to persuade my son to enjoy Wodehouse. I think he will, but to start with you’ve got to put it in historical context. Now he is reading him mainly because PGW was my godfather.

CC: You had played with Nawab of Pataudi.

MG: I played under the captaincy of Pataudi. He was the captain of Sussex and very, very popular, very unselfish. But, he was slightly detached. He was a very nice man, but lived in a completely different world from the rest of the Sussex team. I had come from a public school and he from Winchester College and I found it somewhat easier to identify with him than some of the other players. He was a bit detached and lived his life in a completely different world. But, he was very popular because of who he was. And, he was a wonderful player, would have been unbelievable… it was a tragedy about his eyesight.

CC: Did you watch him bat before the accident?

MG: Yes, I have seen a video of him in his first match for Sussex against Yorkshire and Fred Trueman. He was 17 or 18, still a schoolboy, but unbelievable the quickness of his reactions. He was a fantastic fielder as well, fast and a phenomenal athlete. And then obviously I played with him after the accident. He was still good, but not quite so quick with his reactions.

CC: You also played under Jim Parks and Tony Greig took over after you.

MG: When Jim Parks was captain, he was good but not very inventive. He was more concerned about England than Sussex. Then I came in for a bit and was followed by Tony Greig. Greig is perhaps the most ambitious individual I have ever met. He was a good friend of mine, but was absolutely single-minded about becoming the captain of Sussex, playing for England, leading England. He got the players on his side, because he understood what motivated them. And in those days, since they were so badly paid, it was mostly money. He understood that quite quickly and fought hard for them. It was special for them that someone was at last trying to make them some money. In the meantime, of course, he was trying to make himself some money, which was fine.

Sussex did pretty well during this time. Greig was always someone who wanted to lead. He was a very aggressive captain, leading from the front, and he was a good all-rounder as well. All-rounders do make good captains normally. We were having a discussion with Steve Waugh about whether bowlers made better captains, or batsmen or all-rounders, and he said people with the best brain made the best captain. He’s right, but Greig was both a fantastic all-rounder and a very good captain. He could be very aggressive on the field but at a time it was frowned upon. He would do sledging a bit before it became normal. He said some things which were not received well.  But, he was good for Sussex, and for England.

CC: How was it captaining John Snow?

MG: Difficult. Snow was arguably the best fast bowler of the world at that time, and very much a maverick.. He was a bit of a loner as well. It was difficult to captain him. I was too young about 24, made captain at a time when you were made captain for the wrong reasons. I was not the best player of the team. Snow was a Test player, and in those days there were no central contract and he was bowling for Sussex when he really wanted to preserve himself for England. He wouldn’t bowl to our players in the nets. I said to him that he could benefit them by bowling, but he refused saying he was a bowler and they were batsmen. He did not have the best attitude, but you can understand it. Fast bowling is a difficult job. He has mellowed now, and is a lovely man, and he would acknowledge that he was a difficult character. He would bowl really well on pacy wickets, but on slow wickets he would not try at all. But, his record for England was pretty phenomenal, and he always got the good players out. We had that terrible incident here, when he pushed Sunil Gavaskar. We can laugh about it now, but it was very bad then. Snowy could be very difficult.

CC: You also scored some memorable First-Class centuries, one against the touring Australians and one against Nottinghamshire and Garry Sobers.

MG: I was really a wicketkeeper batsman, like my father (Billy Griffith) who was, in fact, a much better cricketer. I was a much better in hockey. I got that hundred against the Australian touring team. I also got a hundred at Trent Bridge, coming in on a hat-trick. However, what I most remember is Garry Sobers batting for Nottinghamshire. Those days there was a sort of board around the Trent Bridge boundary. And Sobers hit square on the offside. It was not a pull, just an off-side stroke, and it hit the board and almost bounced all the way back to the square. He was my hero, a phenomenal player. I went on a tour with him, Malaysia, Hong Kong and India, when he was right at his peak. I was just an average player really, but I did get a lot of fun out of it. Now I get all the fun out of Wodehouse.

CC: How was it being the president of MCC (2012-13)?

MG: I was lucky to be made the president and quite honoured. Being president of MCC is quite a good thing in cricketing terms. And you get to choose your successor.

CC: Yes, I have a question about that …When you look at Mike Gatting, he does not come across as the ideal man to be elected as the MCC President.

MG: No, he does not. It is all about timing. I just looked at the time, 200 years of the ground, 150 years of Middlesex and asked myself who is synonymous with Lord’s and Middlesex. Well, Gatting had spent 23 years playing for Middlesex, scored 36,000 First-Class runs. Okay, he has had been through some problems, he went on a rebel tour, did some other things, but all that was a long long time ago. We all make mistakes, I have made hundreds of them. I was glad when he said yes, and it’s good for the club because he is very well known, and he is a really good guy and he did a great job. He’s very, very popular and quite rightly so. He hasn’t got a public school background and that sort of a thing, but he is an iconic name in the cricket world.

CC: Also in the catering world …

MG: (laughs) When he took up the post, I said to him: ‘Gatt, if I give you one advice it will be to take up Real Tennis, because it will be good for your waistline.’ I don’t think he has…

Complete coverage of India’s tour of England 2014

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)

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