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Greg Matthews bowling with his cap on © Getty Images

Gregory Richard John Matthews, born December 15, 1959, was one of those rich 1980s characters cricket could do with in the slam-bang generation. A capable off-spinner and a remarkable fielder, Matthews was, contrary to popular beliefs, a competent batsman who was usually sent mysteriously low down the order. Despite that he finished with a Test batting average in excess of 40, almost at par with Mark Waugh. However, there was more to Matthews — which made him one of the most interesting characters of his era. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at an eccentric all-rounder.

There have been few like Greg ‘Mo’ Matthews. For starters, he often bowled with his cap on, most famously in the tied Test between India and Australia, at Chepauk, 1986. But that was not all. It was excruciatingly hot out there throughout the Test. In fact, during his iconic 210, Dean Jones urinated involuntarily, vomited, suffered from dehydration, lost weight, and was hospitalised after the effort. In the same Test, under the same conditions, Matthews bowled with not one, but two sweaters on almost throughout the Test.

He sent down 409 balls in the Test, finishing with 5 for 103 and 5 for 146.The efforts also remain his only five-wicket hauls of his international career. He also scored 44 and 27 not out.

Of course, like everything, Matthews had an explanation for his sweater. Steve Waugh recalled in Out of My Comfort Zone: “He wore two sleeveless sweaters throughout the day. Actually, he gave one to the umpire when he fielded and only wore them both when he was bowling. We just shook our heads in disbelief, because it was so hot with 90 degree [sic] humidity, but as usual Greg had a theory. He explained that nomadic herders in the desert wore woollen coats because they kept the cool air in, thus acting as a kind of air-conditioner.”

Matthews was the original hipster of Test cricket, much before Colin Miller, Chris Gayle, or Andre Russell. He was also (probably) the first Test cricketer at the receiving end of a flying toilet seat on a cricket ground. He mentored Shane Warne and Adam Gilchrist. He is also one of the two bowlers to bowl the last ball of a tied Test.

How does one describe Matthews? In Cricket Characters, Christopher Martin-Jenkins wrote of him: “Matthews is a tough, useful, determined little cricketer; a steady, flat, off-spin bowler; a staunch, correct left-hand bat; and a brilliant fielder. He is also a cocky, slightly zany character.”

It is surprising, how Matthews’ batting is often forgotten. A tally of 1,849 runs at 41.08 with 4 hundreds is more than competitive: he averages more than the likes of Andrew Hilditch, Graeme Wood, Kim Hughes, David Hookes, Geoff Marsh, Matthew Elliott, Greg Blewett, and Phillip Hughes. Mark Waugh averaged 41.81.

The bowling numbers, 61 wickets at 48.22, are surprisingly sub-par. Even then, in a country that has seldom boasted of a quality all-rounder of quality since Alan Davidson and Richie Benaud, one would have expected Matthews to get more opportunities.

As an all-rounder he was better than most: as mentioned above, a cut-off of 1,000 Test runs and a batting average of 40 are impressive for an Australian of the era. Of those Australians who meet the above two criterion, Matthews ranks third on the wickets tally, after Steve Waugh (92) and Bobby Simpson (71).

His First-Class numbers, 516 wickets at 31.80, are not as bad, given that Australia have seldom provided quality off-spinners. The batting numbers, 8,872 runs at 38.91, are actually worse than his Test numbers, adding to the bizarreness of the man.

For New South Wales (NSW) alone, Matthews had 6,266 runs and 417 wickets, thus making him the only NSW cricketer to achieve the 5,000 run-300 wicket double (let alone the 6,000 run-400 wicket double). One must remember here that Keith Miller, Benaud, and Davidson belonged to the same state.

In the history of Sheffield Shield Matthews (5,567 runs, 363 wickets) is the only one to the 5,000 run-300 wicket double. There was a reason Steve Waugh said that Matthews“was always excellent for the shock-value element, but also a guy who could play better than he probably ever realised and whose record as an all-rounder for NSW is unrivalled.”

Waugh would know, for he was a contemporary of Matthews. In fact, they were competing for the same spot. Both were known for their determination and hunger for success. Unfortunately, while Waugh went from strength to strength, Matthews never scaled the same heights.

So what went wrong with the man of whom Gary Linnell once wrote that “his dashing batsmanship and growing ability as a spin bowler suddenly elevated Matthews to a position of a national hero?”

A part of this had to do with the Australian perception of Matthews. He had the gifts of the average Australian: grit, determination, doggedness, and hunger. Unfortunately, it did not show on his appearance the way it did on, say, Allan Border. He was as uncompromising and hard-nosed as any of his teammates, but he did not look it.

An exasperated Matthews told Andrew Webster of Inside Sport: “Some guys chew gum. Some chew their nails. Some abuse their team-mates. I played air guitar. I sang to the crowd. I sang to myself and I danced. I said things to the good sorts in the crowd. Can someone please tell me what’s wrong with that?”

Another aspect was the way Matthews was handled. While some of his teammates drew inspiration from Border, Matthews had a different take: “He was a poor captain. I only played two Test matches under Allan where I had total freedom at work,” he told Nagraj Gollapudi in an interview with ESPNCricinfo.

Indeed, Matthews has always rated Mark Taylor as the greatest captain he has played for. Unfortunately, these stints came mostly for NSW. When asked by selector John Benaud on how Matthews should be handled, Taylor’s response was curt: “At New South Wales we let him run.”

That was August 1992. Taylor was the Australian vice-captain for the Test at SSC, and for once Border gave Matthews the run he needed. Matthews took 3 for 93 and 4 for 76, and scored a crucial second-innings 64. Australia won despite conceding a 291-run first innings lead, and Matthews was named Man of the Match for the only time in his career.

The feat, however, is seldom remembered, for the Test also witnessed Warne’s famous 3 for 0. It is also seldom recalled that it was Matthews who had convinced Border to give Warne a bowl, resulting in the first step to history.

It makes one wonder, what Matthews could have done if he had a proper tenure under Taylor. Sadly, that combination never happened at the highest level. Indeed, Matthews must have been special to a young Taylor, who recalls an incident of Matthews’ generosity.

Taylor wrote in his autobiography Time to Declare:“I was sitting in the dressing-room after a practice session when Greg Matthews walked in, leather shoes in hand. ‘There you are, man, they’re yours,’ he said, plonking them down. They fitted like a glove — my first decent pair of black shoes. Knowing Moey, they would almost certainly have been imported Italian leather.”

Taylor also called Merv Hughes “more mainstream than Greg ‘Mo’ Matthews”. Now, that is some compliment.

Early days

Born in Newcastle, NSW, Matthews went to Ermington Public School. His father Neville worked in the retail furniture industry. Neville was a grade cricketer who could spin the ball either way, and led a second-grade side. He also advised Greg to switch from pace to off-breaks — always a rarity in Australian cricket. Greg made it to NSW schoolboys soon afterwards.

Surprisingly, Greg was not interested in a season-ball. Brian Mossop ofThe Sydney Morning Herald wrote:“Matthews not keen on the hard leather ball. Even a monetary incentive from his mother for some fielding practice fell on deaf years. His older brother, Peter, claimed the dollar.”

However, at this stage, Greg’s career was shaped by his coach Gordon Nolan. Greg was eight when he met Nolan. At that age he ended up playing for Rydalmere CC Under-11 when he was a mere eight-year-old. He was named Northern Districts Cricket Association Under-11 Cricketer of the Year in 1970-71 and 1971-72.

Nolan shaped Matthews’ career. Matthews later admitted to Mossop: “He was everything to me. He made me what I am, cricket-wise. My ways, my aggression, my attitude, are all due to him … He always said there was definitely a Test position for me if I played good cricket.” Unfortunately, Nolan passed away shortly before Matthews got his Test cap.

After Ermington, Matthews went to Marsden High School. He acquired his High School Certificate, and worked first at Grace Bros., Broadway, and then at Yennora Wool Depot. He had stints at North Lancashire League, Bolton League, and Birmingham League. By 1983 he was playing for NSW in the antipodean summer and for Worcestershire Second XI in the English summer.

He failed with the bat on First-Class debut, scoring 4 and 1, but he took 3 for 64 (including Geoff Marsh in each innings) in the match, against Western Australia. He was not dismissed on his next four outings, scoring 196 runs.

Matthews rose into prominence when the Pakistanis reached Australian shores in 1983-84. The attack consisted of Tahir Naqqash, Rashid Khan, Abdul Qadir, and Mohammad Nazir, but Matthews blasted his way to a 124-ball 86 with 13 fours. He followed this with 3 for 41 (including Qasim Umar and Zaheer Abbas) and 1 for 26 (Mohsin Khan).

Three weeks after the match he was a part of the NSW side that won the Sheffield Shield after 17 years — in 1982-83. A week after the Shield final he made his Test debut against Pakistan, in the Boxing Day Test, along with John Maguire.

Test cricket

Matthews ran out Zaheer Abbas, but had to toil hard for his wickets.He conceded 95 but claimed only two tail-enders; it was with bat that he impressed. Australia reached 342 for 3 after Pakistan piled up 470 before Qadir triggered a mini-collapse. Matthews walked out at 354 for 6 and dug in, helping Graham Yallop register a gargantuan 268.

Yallop and Matthews added 185 in 252 minutes. Matthews looked reasonably composed when Sarfraz Nawaz rapped him on the pad, and Tony Crafter (erroneously, as television replays suggested) gave him out LBW. But Matthews, a mere 25 short of a hundred on Test debut, refused to budge. Matthews “reacted vigorously, punching his bat to indicate the ball had struck there first and then speaking at the umpire as he left,” write The Canberra Times.

The management was not amused. Jack Edwards, the manager, made Matthews pen down an apology to Crafter the following day for “any embarrassment it may have caused him.”

However, Matthews’ innings won him accolades. His captain Kim Hughes, for example, told The Canberra Times: “Matthews’ innings was a remarkable performance as he is fiercely competitive which is typically Australian. His batting was great and his overall performance was outstanding.”

Meanwhile,Matthews continued, unperturbed. He got Mudassar Nazar and Zaheer in the second innings, and Javed Miandad the following Test.

It was roughly around this time that he acquired the nickname Mo, abbreviated from misère (how?) — his ubiquitous call when he played 500 with his teammates.

Unfortunately, he failed against West Indies, both home and away, but still made it to the disastrous Ashes tour of 1985.He played a solitary Test in England,

Then came the New Zealand series at home, where Richard Hadlee broke Australia — and Matthews emerged a hero.

Hundreds and fifers

It is a Testevery New Zealand cricket fan knows by heart. Hadlee tore into the hosts with 9 for 52, bowling them out for 179. Matthews snared John Wright (with a skidder, which he had developed by now, courtesy Murray Bennett) and the Crowe brothers for 110, but received little help from the other end. Jeremy Coney declared with a 374-run lead.

Australia needed to bat for close to two days. In a little over two hours they were 67 for 5 when Matthews joined Border. Poor Matthews had been hit on the box by Hadlee in the first innings before being castled for a 4-ball 2.

Hadlee later reminisced to Ben Horne of The Daily Telegraph: “I hit him in the protector area and some damage had been severely done to Matthews. Some pain was inflicted, and the eyes started to roll a bit. He was very itchy and scratchy around that area then the fourth delivery he got his middle stump knocked out. I remember that wicket fondly.”

As Hadlee hurled one thunderbolt after another, Matthews seemed largely unperturbed. He reached his second Test fifty before almost throwing it away to Vaughan Brown, the off-spinner. It eluded deep backward square-leg.

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It is a shame they rarely took Matthews’ batting abilities seriously © Getty Images

The landmark eventually came up with a slog-sweep that took him from 97 to 103, but what Matthews did after that was worth a watch. He later told Gollapudi: “I left my bat on the ground without seeing where the ball went. My girlfriend [Jillian Clarke] was at deep-backward square leg and I took off running for her. I was about halfway towards the fence and she stood up and waved for me to stop and go back, because I was going to jump the fence and put one on her. I then drew an imaginary M for my mum to let her know I was thinking of her.”

Unfortunately, he did not last Day Four. Coney claimed the second new ball, and Hadlee removed Matthews. New Zealand won by an innings on Day Five, Hadlee taking 6 for 71, but Matthews’ 205-ball 115 promised bigger things.

Border later wrote of Matthews in his autobiography: “I think we had all regarded him as a bowler who fielded energetically and could bat a bit. We’d misjudged him, and that century put the true all-rounder stamp on him.”

The WACA Test saw Matthews revive Australia twice. Australia bowled out New Zealand for 293, but found themselves reeling at 71 for 5 when he joined Greg Ritchie. Matthews got a life when Australia were on 89, but thereafter he settled down, carving out a 138-ball 50, and adding 115 with Ritchie. He then snared Wright and John F Reid.

Set 260, Australia reached a comfortable 132 for 1 when there was a flurry of wickets. They needed 68 with 4 wickets in hand when Matthews joined Hookes. Two runs later he was dropped off Hadlee. When he finally fell, he had raced to a 28-ball 32, and the pair had put on 66.

New Zealand won the third Test to seal the series. Matthews had 247 runs at 41.16 in the series, finishing next only to Border. His 6 wickets came at 36 apiece.

The same summer saw him play another spectacular innings, against India in the Boxing Day Test at MCG. Once again he was sent low down the order, at 109 for 5. He lost Marsh soon afterwards, but added 66 with Ray Bright. Bruce Reid (1) and Dave Gilbert (4) batted for 78 minutes between them, helping Matthews add 67. Matthews took complete control of proceedings, and was left stranded on a 152-ball 100. He later called it his best hundred.

The Test ended under ridiculous circumstances. Set to chase 126 and with rain predicted in the last session, India withdrew to a mysterious crawl, finishing on 59 for 2 in 25 overs, Sunil Gavaskar leading the way with a 54-ball 8.

The ill-fated tour

At this stage there was no doubt regarding Matthews’ place in the side. The selectors decided to include both Waugh and Matthews as all-rounders. When Australia toured New Zealand, Matthews responded with a resounding 235-ball 130, helping Australia reach 435 after they were 166 for 4.

Unfortunately, the Wellington crowd pelted eggs at him when he left the ground during an interval. He also had a spell of 4 for 61 in the third Test at Eden Park, but New Zealand clinched the Test and the series.

There was, however, more for Matthews in the series than runs and wickets. The crowd booed and catcalled him throughout the tour. As far as pelting was concerned, the crowd did not stop at eggs: they hurled a toilet seat at him at Basin Reserve.

It had started with Matthews landing in Auckland, when the customs officer commented “we won’t put up with him, you know.”

Matthews was jeered. There were crank calls. He was called a homosexual by the crowds. A woman at Christchurch approached an Australian cricketer, asking whether Matthews was bisexual. A banner went up, insisting Matthews be sent on the next space shuttle.

Border was confused: “I could never analyse why, right from the outset, sections of the New Zealand crowds had taken a set against Greg. Perhaps it was his juanty manner on the field. Perhaps he was a shade too successful for the liking of the more rabidly parochial Kiwi fans.”

Coney was less supportive in an interview with The Canberra Times: “If he finds the crowd harsh here then he must remember he asked for it. But crowds just can’t be neutral about him. He said. Some applaud his behaviour and others didn’t.”

What went wrong? Matthews himself tried to explain: “I suppose I am paying the price for my style of individuality after they watched me on TV in the series at home.” That, along with the usual on-field animosity between the two nations, had triggered it.

His funky apparel and accessories (including ear-rings), his chic hairdo, and the fact that he appeared on the covers of “a series of yuppie magazines” probably did not go down well with the New Zealanders. Matthews was perhaps too energetic, too flamboyant for the generation.

To his credit, Matthews kept delivering. With Australia trailing the 4-ODI series 1-2, Matthews came to his elements at Eden Park. Walking out at 96 for 4 he smashed a 50-ball 54. Once Australia reached 231, Matthews led the rout, finishing with 3 for 33. Australia bowled the hosts out for 187, levelling the series.

Matthews was named Man of the Match. Meanwhile, there were sympathetic New Zealand fans, writing letters to newspapers, sometimes apologising, sometimes lauding the patience with which Matthews handled the entire situation…

Cricket ties

The tied Test has been discussed at lengths by many a writer. I have mentioned Matthews’ performances (and eccentricities) during the Test above, but the final over deserves retelling.

ALSO READ: India vs Australia 1986-87: The dramatic last day of the Tied Test at Chennai

Matthews had already sent down 39 overs unchanged. Now, with India 9 wickets down, he began the final over of the day, to Ravi Shastri. India needed four. Shastri, playing probably the most odds-defying innings of his career, blocked the first ball.

Shastri did not time the second ball: it took the inside edge and strolled to deep square-leg. The batsmen ran two before Marsh’s throw came in. He played the third ball confidently, this time to the deep mid-wicket for a single. The scores were tied, but Maninder was on strike.

India could not lose the Test from there. The onus was on Matthews to either get Maninder out or deny him a single. Maninder survived the fourth ball as the crowd, braving the heat for five sultry days, moved closer to the edges of their seats.

The fifth ball hit the pad, and the Australian fielders all went up in unison, as did umpire V Vikramraju; and despite vehement protests from Maninder, there was nothing that could be done to alter it. Between them, Matthews and Maninder had created history — as had twenty other men.

Test cricket witnesses her second tie. Picture courtesy:Jatindra Pandey’s YouTube channel
Test cricket witnesses her second tie. Picture courtesy:Jatindra Pandey’s YouTube channel

Matthews, with his cap, sweater, and weather-defying all-round performance, became a star in Madras. He later told Sandeep Dwivedi of The Indian Express: “I get into cabs, they go, ‘Matthews, tied Test’. I ask, ‘how do you know it?’ They say ‘I was there’. Everyone was there, I believe.”

After the second Test at Kotla was washed out, India scored a mammoth 517 for 5 at Wankhede. Four of these wickets went to Matthews. He finished the series with 14 wickets at 29.07. Nobody else managed more than 8 wickets or an average better than 35. He also averaged 45.50 with bat.

Ashes victim

Few gave Mike Gatting and his men a chance when they toured Australia, but they had already regained The Ashes 2-0 going into the last Test, at SCG. Matthews did not get the big scores, but the first four Tests got him 215 runs at 53.75. His average was next to only Dean Jones’ 56.77.

And yet, when it came to the last Test, Matthews, David Boon, and Craig McDermott were all axed, making way for Ritchie, Dirk Wellham, and debutant Peter Taylor. While Boon had failed (144 runs at 18) and McDermott was left out to accommodate an extra batsman, the axing of Matthews defied logic.

But they did drop Matthews, and while Boon and McDermott were recalled (both men formed crucial cogs of Border’s team), Matthews was left in the cold for four years. He was ‘accused of’ being a loner.

Greg Matthews during Ashes 1986-87 © Getty Images
Greg Matthews during Ashes 1986-87 © Getty Images

Rob Nicolson wrote in Melbourne Herald: “On many occasions he had breakfast alone, and he wasn’t one to spend more time at a bar with the boys when there was a disco on hand. The ‘minor’ things were causing a rift — his eating habits, his hair-style, his choice of clothes, or whatever, seemed to be an extra reason why he wasn’t one of the boys.”

This seems a bizarre reason today, but it was perhaps more than relevant in the mid-1980s. Before that he was fined for disapproving of tobacco, for Benson & Hedges were sponsors of the Australian team. One wonders who was right.

The Sharjah Cup of 1987 saw Australia losing all their matches (to Pakistan, India, and England). Matthews did not do too badly, getting once out for 39 runs and going for 4.03 an over.

The incident, however, took place off the field. It involved, of all things, a barbecued steak. Coach Simpson and manager Ian McDonald fined him A$100, and for some reason, Matthews was almost a forgotten man.

Resurgence

Matthews’ name resurfaced following the 1989-90 Sheffield Shield (he also made a couple of ODI appearances that season, including one in Nehru Cup). Not only did he take 5 for 31 and 3 for 96 to help Taylor’s NSW win the title, he did spectacularly throughout the tournament. He finished with 43 wickets at 22.09 in addition to his 401 runs at 33.41.

Life came a full circle for Matthews when England came over the following summer. For the first time he was part of a successful Ashes campaign. He played all five Tests, top-scoring with 128 at SCG, and adding 65 and 34* at Adelaide Oval, and 60* at WACA.

With 353 runs at 70.60 Matthews finished only next to Boon’s 530 at 75.71. He also picked up 7 wickets, including 3 for 40 at MCG where he and Bruce Reid bowled out England for 150. Australia regained The Ashes by a resounding 3-0 margin.

He failed on the West Indies tour that followed, though he helped the tourists beat Jamaica by an innings with 95 not out and 4 for 57.When Australia were busy dishing out the Indians a 4-0 defeat the following summer, Matthews was having an excellent domestic season. He led the bowling chart with 49 wickets at 20.87, and added 580 runs at 41.42 for good measure.

His peak came against Queensland, a match he won single-handedly with 85*, 6 for 63, 67, and 5 for 70. He remains the only NSW player to score two fifties and take two five-wicket hauls in the same match. In fact, George Giffen is the only other person to do it in a Sheffield Shield match.

In the Tests, however, the Australians preferred a chubby Victorian blonde.

The last hurrah

Australia needed a second spinner for the Sri Lanka tour. With Warne still new, they opted for Matthews. His 7 wickets and second-innings 64 at SSC (mentioned above) set the tone of the series. He did not manage a single wicket in the second Test at Premadasa, but scored 55 and 51 in a draw.

At Moratuwa, Matthews scored a crucial 57 before McDermott and Tony Dodemaide gave Australia a 63-run lead. Then came a once-in-a-lifetime spell from Dulip Liyanage, reducing Australia to 9 for 4. Once again there was a battle to be waged. And once again, with a 227-ball 96, Matthews secured a draw for Australia.

Matthews scored 329 runs at 54.83, top-scoring from either side, securing 5 fifties in 6 innings. Of Australians only McDermott had more wickets than his 8 (at 39 apiece). For once it seemed Matthews was on his way to secure a permanent spot.

When West Indies came over, Matthews was selected ahead of Warne at The Gabba. Set to chase 231, West Indies were reduced to 9 for 4 before Richie Richardson, Carl Hooper, and Ian Bishop saved the day for them. Matthews picked up Brian Lara and Hooper, but it was not enough for him to retain a spot.

Warne was reinstated at MCG, and bowled the spell that sealed his spot as the leading Australian spinner. Chasing 359, West Indies were strolling at 143 for 1 before Warne, with 7 for 59, spun Australia to a 139-run victory.

Matthews got one final chance, for SCG traditionally offered turn. He batted at No. 8, scored 79, and claimed two top-order wickets. Unfortunately, Lara decided to stamp his mark on the Test with his iconic 277.

Matthews was dropped, not only for the final two Tests at Adelaide (Tim May was preferred) and WACA, but for good. Ironically, West Indies won both Tests and clinched the series. It was surprising that Matthews was never considered as a batting all-rounder.

The show went on

Matthews was appointed NSW captain in 1996-97, and continued to play Shield cricket till 1997-98. With Matthews at the helm and Geoff Lawson as coach, differences were bound to occur, given the fiercely independent nature of both. However, despite the minor tussle, NSW had a good season in the absence of the men on national duty.

His men, especially newcomers, loved him. Gilchrist wrote in his autobiography True Colours: “One guy who really did his best to make me feel like I belonged was Greg Matthews. He occasionally had weird ways of showing it, but I always felt he was a supporter of mine.” This, of course, was before Gilchrist made the move to Western Australia.

When the New Zealanders toured in his final season, he was still good enough for 71 not out and 10-3-15-1, helping Taylor’s NSW dish out a resounding innings defeat. It was his last First-Class appearance.

Later days

Matthews continued to make fleeting appearances, mostly for Australia Masters; he also played Sydney Grade Cricket. He represented NSW in Australia Cricket Association (ACA), and won the Kerry Packer Award in 2014.

Once the pin-up boys of his era, Matthews has also been involved with skin growth brand Advanced Hair Studio. He has also tried his hand at coaching, and more famously, in commentary and hosting television shows.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor at CricketCountry and CricLife. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)