Tony Gray © Getty Images
Tony Gray © Getty Images

Anthony Hollis ‘Tony’ Gray, born May 23, 1963, was one of the most lethal fast bowlers of the 1980s. Unfortunately, he spent his peak nursing injuries, thus missing out on having a long run following retirements of Michael Holding and Joel Garner. His career, as a result, was restricted to a mere 5 Tests and 25 ODIs. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at a “what-could-have-been” West Indian fast bowler.

Tony Gray was tall and quick, and was a nightmare for batsmen when he hurled those yorkers or used his 6’6” frame to get unplayable bouncers to take off from a length. He averaged less than 20 with ball in both Tests and ODIs. And yet, the injury-prone Tony Gray played only 30 international matches, 5 of which were Tests.

Gray’s 5 Tests fetched him 22 wickets at 17.13 and a strike rate of 40.3. How good are these numbers? Let us take a 20-wicket cut-off in the post-World War I era. Of all fast bowlers Gray is next to only Mike Procter (41 wickets at 15.02) in average. His strike-rate places him sixth on the list. No other West Indian fast bowler has an average below 20, and only Manny Martindale (37 wickets at 43.3) has a strike-rate below 43.

But these are very small samples, and we should delve into bigger databases. Gray played domestic cricket in three countries (for Trinidad & Tobago, Surrey, and Western Transvaal), and finished with 451 wickets at 22.80. His strike-rate read 45.5.

How good are these numbers? Let us pit Gray against the other West Indian champions of the decade (Michael Holding, Joel Garner, and Colin Croft were too senior for the era).

West Indian fast bowlers of the 1980s, sorted by average:

First-Class Cricket W Ave SR
Malcolm Marshall 1,651 19.1 45.2
Sylvester Clarke 942 19.52 46.2
Curtly Ambrose 941 20.24 51.8
Courtney Walsh 1,807 21.71 47.2
Tony Gray 451 22.8 45.5
Ian Bishop 549 23.06 48.3
Ezra Moseley 279 23.31 48.6
Franklyn Stephenson 792 24.26 50.8
Patrick Patterson 493 27.51 49.3

West Indian fast bowlers of the 1980s, sorted by strike rate:

First-Class Cricket

W

Ave

SR

Malcolm Marshall

1,651

19.10

45.2

Tony Gray

451

22.80

45.5

Sylvester Clarke

942

19.52

46.2

Courtney Walsh

1,807

21.71

47.2

Ian Bishop

549

23.06

48.3

Ezra Moseley

279

23.31

48.6

Patrick Patterson

493

27.51

49.3

Franklyn Stephenson

792

24.26

50.8

Curtly Ambrose

941

20.24

51.8

Indeed, had Gray not had persistent injury problems, he had a serious run-in for the role of the West Indian spearhead. The timing was also right, since he made his Test debut in the same winter that was Holding and Garner’s last.

Unfortunately, it also turned out to be Gray’s last winter. His Test career was over before he was 23. He played the sporadic ODI (his numbers read 44 wickets at 19, along with an economy rate of 3.94), but that was about it.

While Malcolm Marshall was still around, Courtney Walsh emerged as the first of the young pack, stretching his career till the 2000s. Then came Patrick Patterson, probably the quickest of them all; Winston Benjamin, as reliable as any of them; Curtly Ambrose, as lethal as menacing as they make them; and Ian Bishop, devastating but injury-prone; it did not help that the likes of Eldine Baptiste and Ian Allen kept hovering in the sidelines.

Yes, it was a team of that quality. Even if you were good, even outstanding for one season, you had little chance of making a comeback once you miss out. The man who seemed likely to take over from Garner spent most of his career bowling at English domestic batsmen at The Oval.

Early days

Born in Belmont, Port-of-Spain, Gray was hailed as a teenage cricket prodigy. He had a brief stint with football (given his height, he was obviously a goalkeeper) before taking to fast bowling for good.

Trinidad had seldom produced those devastating fast bowlers after their early days. Of course, there had been Learie Constantine, no less; Prior Jones spearheaded an attack that was generally reliant on spin; and Bernard Julien never lived up to the potential he promised.

Gray, thus, did not really have a Trinidadian role model — unlike Bishop, who had mentioned how Gray, a Trinidadian fast bowler, had been an inspiration. He was introduced to cricket by his father, and was largely self-taught in his teens. At 18 he won a scholarship from Trinidad & Tobago Cricket Board (TTCB) and Textel to attend Alf Gover’s cricket school.

He played for Trinidad & Tobago Under-19s side when India Schools toured the Caribbean in 1982. He was hammered on his First-Class debut less than two years later, but his second season fetched him a haul of 36 wickets at 21. This included 4 for 51 and 6 for 78 against Jamaica in a splendid display of fast bowling.

With Andy Roberts having bowed out and Holding and Garner approaching the ends of their careers, the selectors were on the lookout for fresh fast bowling talent. Gray was certainly on the shortlist, for he got to play the touring New Zealanders of 1984-85 thrice, for Shell XI, West Indies Under-23s, and Board President’s XI. He took 5 for 55 in the second innings of the first match.

That summer he was called up by Surrey as emergency replacement for the injured Sylvester Clarke. With 79 wickets at 23, Gray earned his Surrey cap in his first season.

The season also witnessed an intense contest against Geoff Boycott, then in his mid 40s. On that day, at Sheffield, Boycott carried his bat through the innings with 55, refusing to flinch, as Gray, with 8 for 40, skittled out Yorkshire for 131. “Tony Gray looks like the new Garner”, wrote Tim Heald.

International debut

Gray was selected for the Rothmans Trophy in Sharjah later that year. He played an ODI before touring Pakistan later that year for an ODI-only tour. He played the first ODI where, for some reason, West Indies went in with five fast bowlers and Harper. Pakistan scored 218 in 40 overs (but lost the match), and curiously, Gray did not get a bowl.

Garner was left out for the second ODI in favour of Larry Gomes, which meant Gray got a bowl. He removed both openers; he was easily the pick of the bowlers, and was dropped for the next two matches.

With the series levelled 2-2, Gray was recalled for the decider. Once again Garner was left out. The message was clear. Gray also shared new ball with Marshall, a role that usually fell on Garner, and finished with 6-4-14-1.

His next season for Surrey fetched him 51 wickets at 19. Against Warwickshire he took 12 for 113, including 6 for 30 in the second innings. He was ready. He bowled unchanged on a flat deck at The Oval to take 7 for 23 and rout Kent for 72.

He was ready for the 1986-87 Pakistan tour. He had played two ODIs against Pakistan, in Sharjah and the previous year, but this was the big thing.

Test cricket

West Indies halted at Bombay on their way to Pakistan. They played a one-day match there, against a full strength Indian team that turned up under the innocuous name of Indian Board President’s XI. Viv Richards used his fast bowlers in short bursts; Gray bowled 3 overs and claimed Dilip Vengsarkar, then the leading batsman in the world.

The new-look West Indian pace attack was spearheaded by Marshall, and was supported by Patterson, Gray, Walsh and Benjamin (Garner played the ODIs). They also included two specialist spinners in Roger Harper and Clyde Butts.

Gray played all three Tests on the tour, where he bowled his heart out on one of the most intense clashes between the greatest team of the era and their most formidable challengers. Marshall got more wickets in the Tests, but in First-Class all matches Gray pipped him with ridiculous figures of 19 wickets at 14 (and a strike-rate of 34).

The Pakistanis got their first taste of Gray at Quetta. As in Bombay, Richards used him in short bursts, but that did not stop Gray from taking 4 for 22 from 6 overs in the second innings on a pitch where Harper and Butts shared 13 of the wickets to fall.

However, Baluchistan Governor’s XI were hardly an all-conquering side. West Indies would have wanted a more formidable opposition for their only practice match before the first ODI.

The first ODI at Peshawar was where Gray announced his arrival in international cricket. Pakistan were restricted to 164 for 7. Gray, taking new ball, finished with 3 for 20 before Gordon Greenidge saw the tourists through.

Then came the Test cap, at Faisalabad, a match remembered for an astonishing 6 for 16 from Abdul Qadir: chasing 240, West Indies were dismissed for a paltry 53.

It was a brilliant performance from Qadir, but that should take the sheen away from Gray’s performance. The first burst came from Marshall, who reduced the hosts to 37 for 5. Then Imran Khan kept the fast bowlers at bay, first with Saleem Malik (whose arm was fractured by a snorter), then with Qadir, then adding 39 for the last wicket with Tauseef Ahmed.

Pakistan managed only 159. With 4 for 39, Gray was the most successful of the lot. West Indies led by 89. The entire Pakistan middle-order (including Malik, who braved a broken arm to turn up at No. 11 and helped Wasim Akram add 32) responded; Pakistan put up 328. Gray did his bit with 2 for 82. It was an excellent debut, but the effort went in vain.

It was West Indies’ turn to hit back: Pakistan were bowled out for 131 and 77 at Lahore, losing by an innings. Gray’s match haul of 4 for 48 was typical for a West Indian fast bowler of the era: you seldom got a lot of wickets, for there are others to share the bulk. It was a boon and a curse at the same time.

In the Multan ODI, he clinched his first Man of the Match award, taking 4 for 36 to bowl out Pakistan for 113. The hosts were 94 for 4 before a 4-for-16 burst from Gray rolled them over.

The big occasion, of course, was the deciding Test at Karachi. West Indies managed to clinch a 1-run lead, and would perhaps have won the Test (chasing 213, Pakistan were 125 for 7 when stumps were called). The contest, however, was indicative of the quality and intensity of cricket these two countries played. Indeed, had the same Pakistan side played in another era, they could have conquered the world.

Of course, Gray had his typical match haul of 4 for 58. In Champions Trophy in Sharjah that same season, Gray finished with 5 wickets at 13 apiece and an economy rate less than 3.

WI bowler
Tony Gray against Pakistan in Champions Trophy, 1986-87

Down Under

1986-87 was an Ashes summer in Australia, but it involved two ODI competitions. It started with the Benson & Hedges Perth Challenge. Once again Gray found himself bowling against his old rivals; and once again he was magnificent, with 4 for 44. Unfortunately, the batsmen undid his good job; and chasing 200, West Indies collapsed to 165.

There was no escape for Australia, who were bowled out for 91. Garner (6-2-10-2) and Gray (7.4-0-9-3), identical in structure and style, put a stranglehold the hosts never managed to get out of. The batsmen could hardly be blamed, for handling Garner and Gray together was no joke. Geoff Marsh faced the worst, when a steep bouncer from Gray hit him on the throat.

West Indies did not make it to the final (England won the tournament). However, the identical numbers of Gray (7 wickets at 7.71) and Garner (7 wickets at 8.14) in a tournament, where all matches were played at WACA, made interesting reading.

Gray played 4 matches in the Benson & Hedges triangular tournament that followed. Once again England won (they also famously won The Ashes, making it an outstanding summer for them). For once Gray had an ordinary tournament (4 wickets at 41), but with Holding and Garner on their way out, there was no doubt that Gray, Walsh, and Patterson were the next in line.

Unfortunately, Gray had multiple injuries during the tournament, a side strain being the worst of them. These injuries would be a regular companion in the years to come.

The Test series in New Zealand was significant in the history of West Indies cricket. The first Test at Wellington, a drawn affair, marked the exit of Holding. He could not add that single wicket to his Test tally of 249.

Gray replaced Holding in the second Test at Eden Park. Garner sat out too, to accommodate the extra spinner. After a titanic contest between Greenidge (214) and Richard Hadlee (6 for 105), New Zealand surrendered meekly, losing by 10 wickets. Gray had a match haul of 5 for 89.

Hadlee (6 for 50) had his revenge at Christchurch. With Ewen Chatfield (4 for 30) also joining the fray, West Indies were bowled out for 100 with only Richie Richardson putting up a fight of sorts. In fact, it took Gray (14) and Walsh (10), two youngsters with zero batting credentials, to add 25 and save West Indies from the ignominy of getting bowled out for a two-digit score.

The Crowe brothers batted out of their skin to secure a 232-run lead (Gray had 2 for 47), but once again the West Indians crumbled, this time against Martin Snedden (5 for 68).

New Zealand needed 33, but the match was far from over. Debutant Phil Horne went first, with Gray pulling off a stunner in slip off Walsh. Next went Jeff Crowe, once again Gray pulling off a spectacular catch off Walsh, this time at gully. Gray himself struck next, having John Wright caught at slip. The score read 13 for 3.

“Walsh and Gray, bowling with real pace and hostility, made it anything but,” reported Wisden. But Martin Crowe hung on grimly, while Dipak Patel found a boundary, the only one of the fourth innings.

Refusing to give up till it was all over, Walsh removed Patel with 6 runs left. Richards, desperate for a wicket, turned to Garner; this time Jeremy Coney fell, giving Gray his third catch. New Zealand became 30 for 5, but there was no further hiccup.

The Test marked the end of three illustrious careers of Garner, Gomes and Coney. Sadly, it was also the last Test for Gray.

Gray played 5 Tests in all, and the last of them was the only one where he took less than 4 wickets. On the flip side, he never got more than 6 in a match. Even at innings level, Gray took a wicket in each of his 10 innings, but only once did he get 4, in his debut bowling innings.

He played the ODIs, playing 3 out of the 4 matches. The first, at Dunedin, earned its place in history, for Richards became the first to score a hundred and take 5 wickets in the same ODI.

In and out

Gray had another excellent summer for Surrey, taking 48 wickets at 16 apiece. He broke his hand during the summer. As a result he could not become part of the 1987 World Cup or the winter trip of India — a long tour of the subcontinent that firmly established Patterson and Walsh as the support bowlers for Marshall.

With Pakistan touring West Indies in 1988, Gray got a call-up for the last two ODIs (after West Indies had clinched the series 3-0). He took 5 for 89 in the two matches, but that was not sufficient for him to retain a spot.

Something curious happened in 1988-89 when Gray toured Zimbabwe for a side called Young West Indians. At 25, Gray was not exactly a youngster, but one can probably pass the side as West Indies A. Led by Brian Lara, the side also boasted of several current and future Test stars including Carl Hooper and Jimmy Adams.

Gray crushed Zimbabwe with 5 for 70 and 1 for 21 in the first match, and 7 for 30 and 3 for 24 in the second. He was barely past his prime. His next season for Surrey was an ordinary one, but he had one final hurrah, when Australia toured West Indies in 1990-91.

He played the first match without any success, but came to his elements in the second ODI at Queen’s Park Oval. Early rain truncated the match to 42 overs a side before it was further reduced to 34, but not before Gray was through with his 9 overs.

Dean Jones (64) was the only one to put up some resistance as Gray scythed through the tourists with 6 for 50. He became only the third West Indian to take a 6-wicket haul in an ODI (after Colin Croft and Winston Davis).

Two matches later, Gray’s career was over. At 30, he had a good outing in South Africa, taking 19 wickets at 20, but the selectors were not interested in him anymore. He formed a deadly pair with Bishop for Trinidad, but that was not enough for him to make a comeback.

By 31 his domestic career was over.

Later days

 Gray coached Trinidad & Tobago and became a radio commentator. He also coached University of Trinidad & Tobago (UTT) with reasonable success. In 2012, he was honoured by TTCB for his contribution to the development of sport in the country.

He was one of the 25 coaches shortlisted by WICB for their high-level coaching programme in May 2016.

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