Michael ‘Whispering Death’ Holding blows away Tony ‘Grovel’ Greig’s England

When the Pakistanis arrived on English soil for the recently concluded four-match Test series, they were welcomed with a barrage of verbal volleys. One of their main weapons, Mohammad Amir, was the prime target of the English side as the mind games were played keeping him in the mind. He was cautioned, read warned, about the hostile reception he would get at Lord’s, the same venue where six years ago he had shamed cricket. Right from England skipper Alastair Cook to the former players, no one left any stone unturned to un-nerve the young pacer and the visitors before the series started.

But as it happened, the tourists took it as an inspiration to do well and by the time the series ended, they had managed the unbelievable — stopping England at a scoreline 2-2. While playing mind games ahead of an important series may be a norm in cricket, it has not happened very often that the side on the receiving end has managed to beat the opposition. It did happen once, exactly 40 years ago. England escaped a series defeat against Pakistan recently, but they could not do so back then. The side that made it happen were West Indies, who humbled England on their own soil and taught them, and their skipper Tony Greig, a famous lesson.

The backdrop

As I mentioned earlier, it may be a routine thing to play mind games before the start of a series, but the England captain Greig perhaps went too far before the start of five-match series against West Indies in their own backyard in 1976. In an interview for the BBC’s Sportsnight programme before the series, annoyed possibly by a few press stories glorifying the strong West Indian side, Greig said, “I’m not really sure they’re as good as everyone thinks. These guys, if they get on top they are magnificent cricketers. But if they’re down, they grovel, and I intend, with the help of Closey [Brian Close] and a few others, to make them grovel.” ALSO READ: Fire in Babylon – Documentary film about the record-breaking West Indian team of 1970s and 1980s.

Those were the apartheid days and such a statement, coming from a white South African-born Englishman, was enough to galvanise the black West Indies side. The most offensive part of that statement was the word ‘grovel’, and the angry West Indies side wanted to show Greig and everyone else that the days for grovelling were over. Sir Viv Richards, who was on his maiden tour to England, summed it up nicely, “This was the greatest motivating speech the England captain could have given to any West Indian team.” Thus, a highly motivated and united Caribbean side took the field on every single match on the tour. This was the same side, which was humiliated by the mighty Australians 1-5 previous summer. But this, was going to be a different tour.

The Clive Lloyd led side went about its business like a side on a mission. On the entire tour, it played 26 First-Class matches, out of which 18 were won, 2 lost and 6 ended in a draw. This was the best ever performance by a West Indies team on English soil and interestingly, it came by a side which was considered too tired, jaded and exhausted for the contest before the start of the tour. The side, depleted by the retirements of Garry Sobers, Rohan Kanhai and Lance Gibbs had found new heroes by the time the tour ended. Richards, Michael Holding, Gordon Greenidge were just a few of them.

The first two matches of the series were drawn. Richards, who was highly motivated after the ‘grovel’ statement, scored 232 in the first Test. This was a warning bell from him to the English side for the difficult times to come. In the third Test at the Old Trafford, the West Indians drew first blood. After being all out for 211, they reduced England to 71 all out as Holding picked up a fifer. Riding on Richards’ another ton, they declared on the score of 411, thus leaving a hapless England with 552 to chase. Another shambolic performance saw the hosts bundle out for 126, thus losing the Test by a mammoth 425 runs. Who was grovelling now? ALSO READ: Tony Greig: 17 interesting things to know about the legendary all-rounder and commentator.

When it happened

The fourth Test, though relatively a competitive game, was again won by the West Indies by 55 runs. With this win, the Caribbean side also pocketed the series. But this was not the end of the misery for the hosts, as more was in store for them. The fifth and the final Test being played at The Oval saw England get crushed once again. Richards scored 291 in the match, thus finishing the series with a record 829 runs. Holding bowled at a vicious pace, almost like a man-possessed, and ended the game with a record 14 wickets (8 for 92 in the first and 6 for 57 in the second innings). What made his effort more commendable was the fact that the surface on which the game was being played was slow and dusty. He not only scalped wickets, but also terrorised the batsmen with his pace and bouncers, leaving a few rattled and injured.

His feat has not been emulated till date, as he remains the only West Indian bowler to take 14 wickets in a Test.

The aftermath and legacy

As the defeat became eminent on the final day of the fifth Test, Grieg kneeled down on to the pitch smiling and performed a ‘grovel’ crawl on the ground. His act was received with applause from tens of thousands of West Indian fans present on the ground, who had come to witness precisely the same thing. The English cricket went through turmoil in next few months, as Greig lost his captaincy and he along with few others joined Kerry Packer’s rebel league World Series Cricket. Greig then went on to become a leading commentator and kept enthralling the audiences with his iconic voice and style of commentary before his death in 2012.

Greig did apologise on a number of occasions and said his ‘grovel’ comment was misinterpreted. The famous series also helped the then financially struggling Test and County Cricket Board (TCCB) by generating huge revenue. West Indies went on to rule the world cricket for years to come and achieved unprecedented success as a group. The 1976 series proved to be a turning point for them, as they did not lose a single Test series in next 15 years. Holding, who had earlier said Greig’s comment ‘smacked of racism and Apartheid’, emerged as a hero. “He got our backs up and made us more determined,” he had said and his performances/actions backed his words, unlike Greig’s.

(A self-confessed cricket freak, Chinmay Jawalekar is a senior writer with CricLife and CricketCountry. When not writing or following cricket, he loves to read, eat and sleep. He can be followed here @CricfreakTweets)