Lancelot Gibbs at 80 (and one day)

3rd October 2014

The Mason & Guests Show

A ‘frightfully English’ West Indian legend

AM: “Lance Gibbs – well he had a birthday yesterday. We hope to link with him in 15-20 minutes or so and go down memory lane with one of the great West Indians. In the studio, David Oram is back. David – nice to see you! Are you back from the mother country?”

DO: “No, I was in the USA last weekend with Christine in Chicago and Milwaukee – and I went and saw a baseball match.”

AM: “How was it?”

DO: “Low scoring! The pitchers dominated. 2-1 the Brewers beat the Cubs.”

AM: “Was it a slow pitch?”

DO: “Unfortunately in baseball the pitch has very little to do with it!”

AM: “Indeed. And we have very good friends here in the studio.”

DO: “The other gentlemen in the studio I’ve seen more recently than you yourself, Andrew. Pearson Bovell and Steven Leslie were on this show only a couple of weeks ago when I hosted while you were away. It’s you and I that haven’t seen each other for some time. It’s delightful to see both of them here – as one happy family all together again.”

AM: “And Kenny Benjamin is on the line from Antigua. How are you, Kenny?”

KB: “I’m fine. Good evening.”

AM: “First up is the news that Narine has been called for throwing. Are you surprised by this, Kenny?”

KB: “Not at all. I always felt there was some degree of suspicion with some deliveries Narine bowls. At the moment it’s just a report, but once they confirm that then that is when he’ll have to start to worry about the next move. As it is now, it’s just a report and he’ll just have to wait and see what the findings are.”

AM: “Would you say Narine is a chucker?”

KB: “He looks suspect. It looks to me like his arm is bent before releasing some deliveries and just before the point of release – and that is illegal. I always felt that quite a few bowlers have suspect actions. Narine was one I always felt needed a close look at.”

AM: “Pearson, do you agree?”

PB: “Sometime back he was under suspicion and I believe he visited Australia for some remedial work. Since then he has added a lot of deliveries to his repertoire. When you get into the realm of producing so many deliveries, your action can go. There is a tightening up by the ICC. We can’t judge Narine at this stage – we have to wait until we get the scientific analysis. I’d personally like to see the ICC go back to all pure actions anyway. We have too much artificial cricket nowadays. Everything goes. Pure cricket is suffering.”

SL: “My personal feeling is he’s innocent until proven guilty. For Narine to be reported there has to be some level of suspicion. I hope for the West Indies he’s within that 15 degree limit.”

AM: “Well, the West Indies have announced their ODI squad for India. Do you like the side selected, Kenny?”

KB: “I like Andre Russell – but I would have taken another spinner instead of him. We have enough big hitters, and his bowling has not been much to talk about. In India you have to have at least two front-line spinners because the wickets are going to take turn. I just think we have too many bits and pieces and same type of players. Medium pace hard-hitters: Bravo, Sammy, Pollard, Holder and Russell.”

AM: “Mike King from The Nation has joined us on the line. Do you agree with Kenny?”

MK: “I agree with Kenny 150%. I think Suliemann Benn’s pretty unlucky not to make the tour. Too many bits and pieces cricketers. For a tour of India you should have twenty overs being monopolised by two decent slow bowlers. Russell’s bowling has deteriorated badly. He’s very fortunate to be on this tour. I’m very disappointed with the selectors and Clive Lloyd. Clearly an error has been made.”

AM: “And of course since the selection Sunil Narine has been called for throwing and Marlon Samuels can’t bowl a faster ball. So we’re in trouble. Assume you go there and Narine gets injured? On pitches that take spin!”

KB: “With all due respect to the selectors, I think they’re a little out of touch in terms of current players. They’ve made an error. They should maybe even be going with three spinners. Someone like Nikita Miller should be there. They are carrying Andre Russell. We have to look at the selectors and the selection process and policies. We don’t know what they are. What are the criteria for selection? We can only make assumptions.”

AM: “Can West Indies win this one-day series?”

KB: “Yes, I think they actually can. India are a powerful unit, but a good partnership or two and a good spell of bowling in the shorter version can win some of these matches. I don’t think we will win, but I think we can. I have my doubts.”

AM: “Well we have a very special guest on the line. David would you do the introduction?”

DO: “On the line we have a man who turned 80 yesterday. He was one of the greatest ever turners, and flighters, of a cricket ball. He became for a time the leading wicket taker in Test history, surpassing Fred Trueman, when in his final match in 1976 he had Australia’s Ian Redpath caught by Michael Holding. His first-class career had begun in 1954, when he bowled Denis Compton and snared Tom Graveney. He retired with 309 victims in 79 appearances at 29 in Tests, and over a thousand first-class wkts at 27. We are of course talking about, and to, Lance Gibbs.”

AM: “Hello, Lance! How are you, sir? Happy birthday, belatedly.”

LG: “Thanks a lot. I’m delighted to be on the show.”

AM: “People call you Lance. But really you’re Lancelot.”

LG: “Lancelot Richard. Frightfully English!”

AM: “You’re eighty, but you don’t look it at all. You look like thirty, Lance.”

LG: “And I want to come back! I give the care to my wife! Fifty-one years of marriage. and two kids.”

AM: “Where did it all start for you, Lance? You were born in Guyana, September 29th 1934 in Queenstown, Georgetown, Demerara.”

LG: “That’s right. I lived a corner away from Robert Christiani, the West Indian Test batsman. I used to sit on the rails just to see him walk up and down in the house. I wanted to become a Test cricketer.”

AM: “And of course Clive Lloyd is your cousin. Did he live close to you in those days?”

LG: “We all lived in the same residence.”

AM: “You were telling me that early yesterday morning you got a call from him from India.”

LG: “That’s right. We keep pretty close to one another. My Mum and his Mum are sisters.”

AM: “Lance you started playing for the Demerara Cricket Club?”

LG: “The smallest first-class ground in the world. You had to be able to bowl properly to stop being hit out of the ground!”

MK: “You started, I think in 1958 against India and Pakistan didn’t you, Lance?”

LG: “Yes, in Barbados. I was in a party of thirteen selected to go to Barbados for the Test Match, and I was made 12th man. McMorris was 13th man. I cried myself to sleep. It must have been a fortune to a certain extent because Hanif Mohammad in the second innings made 337! If I’d have played in that Test Match that might have been my first and last! The next Test I played at Queen’s Park Oval and my first Test wicket was Waqar Hassan – caught Everton Weekes, bowled Gibbs. Everton and I stayed very good friends all this time.”

MK: “Didn’t McMorris make his debut in that match as well?”

LG: “Yes, he did. And so did Ivan Madray. Gerry Alexander was the captain.”

AM: “Before you got to Test cricket, obviously you did very well for Guyana in the first-class competition.”

LG: “Yes. My first first-class wicket was DCS Compton bowled Gibbs. I had my scrapbook, so I knew a lot about the Middlesex twins.”

AM: “That’s a big wicket, Lance!”

LG: “Yes, it was. And the second wicket was Tom Graveney. I got 2-123 off 41 overs. Three runs an over.”

MK: “Big fish! Two England stalwarts. But I think Lance really came into his own in the early 60s.”

LG: “In ’56 Guyana, well British Guiana then, won the Shell Shield tournament. I was called to trials in Trinidad in ’57, but didn’t make the flight to England. Ramadhin then didn’t go on the Pakistan tour, so I automatically got in.”

AM: “And, fond memories of Kensington – you destroyed Barbados in one match you’ll remember for the rest of your life.”

LG: “Well, that was no big thing, you know!”

MK: “Lance, it was quite a thing! We had only 134 to get, I think. We were bundled out for 98 – and this was a side that included Everton Weekes (he was captain), Seymour Nurse, Rawle Brancker, Peter Lashley, Tony White, Tony King.”

LG: “And they were all bowled Gibbs?!”

MK: “I think Lashley was bowled without playing a shot. You got 6-27. An amazing performance. Lance you were the outstanding man. Nobody’s even close to you. Without question, Lance Gibbs is the greatest spinner the Caribbean has ever produced. That’s a slam dunk.”

LG: “Thank you very much! You keep calling them!”

MK: “Your record speaks for itself. If I remember correctly your economy rate is under two. 1.98 runs per over.”

LG: “If you can’t get them out they shouldn’t make runs.”

AM: “Lance, what’s your favourite cricket ground?”

LG: “Kensington Oval, Barbados! I am joking. The first time I went to Kensington was in ’55. I got one wicket in two matches for a hundred and forty-something runs. It’s the type of wicket you’ve got to learn to bowl on. If you could master Kensington, you could master anywhere else in the world. It’s hard and you could get bounce if you tossed it up. It’s a good wicket to bowl on. A good wicket to learn to bowl spin on.”

AM: “Did you enjoy bowling at Bourda?”

LG: “Yes, I got three or four five-fors at Bourda. My first five-for was against Pakistan – 5-80 at Bourda. The groundsman was extremely good. He used to spin the roller. It was always hard and you could get bounce on it.”

AM: “Favourite ground outside the Caribbean to bowl on in terms of the pitch?”

LG: “I played for Warwickshire in Birmingham. I got 130-odd wickets in a season. I got to know the ground and the wicket particularly well. You know the things to do once you’ve played on a wicket for a period of time.”

AM: “Who was the most difficult batsman to bowl to?”

LG: “Ian Chappell played me quite well because he used his feet and he came down the track. He was a difficult little individual to get out. The same with Ian Redpath. He was the type that if you tossed it up in Australian conditions he could leave the ball alone to go over the stumps. His judgement was particularly good.”

MK: “What about the Englishmen, Lance? Who would’ve been the top ones you bowled to?”

LG: “Colin Cowdrey was difficult because he kicked the ball a lot. If I was playing today I’d have been getting wickets left, right and centre because if you kicked at it now you’d could be given out LBW.”

DO: “Lance of course took over a hundred or more Test wickets against both Australia and England. His greatest performances were against the other powerhouses of the period. I do have a question for Lance, but Mike might be the one to answer it: how would Lance’s cousin, Clive Lloyd, when he was Captain of the West Indies – if Lance had been ten years younger, how would he have fitted Lance Gibbs into the great West Indies side of the ’80s? Which one would he have left out, out of Croft, Garner, Roberts, Holding to accommodate Lance Gibbs?”

MK: “A good question!”

LG: “One of them would not have been there!”

AM: “Lance, who was the best batsman that you ever saw?”

LG: “Best that I saw, or bowled at? The best I bowled at was Tom Graveney. His all-round performances – he made a fair amount of runs against me. He did extremely well. I never played against Rohan Kanhai. We were teammates for Warwickshire, Guyana and the West Indies. He was an extremely good player of spin. Garry Sobers was a great player. He played quick and spin bowling particularly well. But the other best batsmen I played against would be the Chappell brothers; and I played against Gavaskar – and I got him out.”

(Interestingly, later that evening on Keith Holder’s Mid Wicket programme, his guest Sir Wes Hall was asked to name the five finest batsmen he’d seen. He also named Tom Graveney and Ian Chappell, alongside Sobers, Lara and Tendulkar)

AM: “And of course there’s that great combination, caught Sobers, bowled Gibbs – in the hip pocket.”

LG: “That’s right. About 50 or 60 times. But it had to turn to get to Sobey, you know! He was a great fieldsman. He took a catch, I think it was at Lord’s or the Oval, against Illingworth. He was captain, and was batting, and he pushed forward and it went flying past Sobey, but he picked it up. It was a great catch. That was the best catch I’ve ever seen.”

SL: “Lance, being in a dressing room with many other talented and highly professional players, would you say the way you guys discussed cricket, and discussed the opposition, that there was no need for formal coaching? Basically, you guys just talked it through and were able to execute because of your superior ability?”

LG: “Yes. The youngsters now are starting earlier than we did and have got more to do. The average Test cricketer in the dressing room then talked cricket. These fellows want to get back to the hotel and do something else. We could sit down after a game and be there for 3-4 hours, or until midnight and talk cricket. I think that’s how we learned and put things into perspective pretty quickly. If I’m coming on to bowl, Garry didn’t have any problems of where he was going to put Joe Solomon, or Basil Butcher, or Kanhai. They knew the positions they would go. The captaincy was pretty minor. But now you’ve got T20s, ODIs of 50 overs and fellas doing all kinds of different strokes. But once you learn to bowl, you try and exploit strengths and weaknesses. And once you’ve seen a fella take his stance you could tell where he’s strong as far as his batting is concerned.”

SL: “So, if you had a strong partnership between the Chappell brothers, or someone else, during the Lunch or Tea interval you guys would discuss what you believed were the weaknesses and go out and exploit them after the session?”

LG: “Exactly. Yes. You see, fellas in the West Indies today, unlike Sobers, Kanhai and all of the great players, they don’t ask questions – they’re not keen to ask questions, and that’s how you learn.”

MK: “In recent times, off spinners around the world, like Saeed Ajamal and Shane Shiilingford…”

LG: “I don’t want to go there, you know! What you’re talking about is throwing!”

MK: “Well, we never seemed to have it in the days of Lance Gibbs and those chaps. What are the guys doing wrong?”

LG: “When I started as a spin bowler, I think Berkeley Gaskin was the captain of the DCC. He said that if you’re a bowler your right arm must touch your ear. If your right arm is touching your ear up there you can’t throw. It’s when your arm drops all the way down – when you reach that level, that’s when you throw. If you put your right arm up to your ear you can bowl off spin or any bowling – and tell me if you could throw from up there? Get the young fellas in the Caribbean to bowl with their arms high touching their ear as they come down. When your arm starts to drop you’re near the finish of your career. If you see any bowling action of Gibbs, you’d see where my arm is.”

AM: “Lance, we haven’t spoken about your batting.”

MK: “I don’t know if we should!”

LG: “Would you ask Kanhai about his bowling?”

AM: “Very good answer!”

LG: “There were no helmets when I played, you know. And I had to face Thomson and Lillee and those fellas.”

MK: “Lance was a great off spinner, but not one of our better number elevens.”

LG: “I was bowled by some beauties though. Against England, Sobers made a hundred in the first innings and was 97 in the second, I think and John Snow bowled me a ball like a leg break. I told Sobey, ‘sorry, man but you should have batted earlier!'”

AM: “How good was John Snow?”

LG: “Top top top. He was a great bowler. He was one of the best that I’ve seen as far as England is concerned. Even on our wickets in the Caribbean he bowled particularly well. How many wickets did he take in Test cricket?”

DO: “Two hundred and two.”

MK: “A top class bowler. Of English fast bowlers I rate Snow with Trueman and Statham. That would be your big three.”

AM: “What was the best Test innings you’ve seen, Lance?”

MK: “Probably Sobers 113 not out at Sabina Park in 1968 on a wicket with potholes?”

LG: “Yes, that was a great innings. But he played a lot of great innings. Someone else who batted extremely well towards the end of his career was Seymour Nurse. He was a good player. He had his shortcomings here and there – that I may have been able to exploit! He was a great batsman mostly towards the end of his career. I think his last innings he made a double century.”

AM: “Lance, what was your most memorable spell in Test cricket?”

LG: “The fifteen overs I bowled after Lunch against India at Kensington. Eight for six in 1962! I think Charlie Stayers got the first two wickets and I got the other eight. I think an injustice was done to Charlie too, because when he was coming off the field they booed him – they wanted Griff to play.”

MK: “Charlie Griffith should have played. He’s still upset about it!”

AM: “Was it fun playing with Charlie Griffith, Lance?”

LG: “I tease him all the time. Charlie gets upset pretty easy. And if he’s got a ball, I ain’t going in the nets to bat! Not me!”

AM: “Who were the other great bowlers you’ve seen?”

LG: “Lillee’s got to be mentioned. Lillee and Thomson – and Thommo was the most dangerous because you don’t know what’s going to happen. Quick. Anything could happen when he’s bowling. Freddie Trueman could be included in the list. Graham McKenzie too did a lot of work.”

(Sir Wes Hall named his five finest fast bowlers as Malcolm Marshall, Dennis Lillee, Curtly Ambrose, Michael Holding and Fred Trueman)

AM: “It’s good to go down memory lane with you, Lance. Aged 80, and of course we’ve got to put that day on. Eighty years and one day. Looking very good – maybe it has to do with all that fruit you’ve been eating in Bourda market?”

LG: “You would know those places! I used to run six miles every morning, you know. I was the first man at practice and the last to leave. I would put a spot outside the off-stump and bowl at one stump. I didn’t need an analyst. I could tell the strength of a batsman from the time he takes his stance, where he puts his foot.”

SL: “The ability to be able to assess and work out strengths and weaknesses – what is lacking now is that we’ve become so dependent on technology, even though it has its positives, we are unable to be as effective.”

LG: “These boys nowadays have got an analyst. If you ask if any of these fellas come to you to find out things, they’ll tell you they don’t go.”

SL: “They’re more interested in the highlights package – how many boundaries they’ve hit and how many wickets they’ve taken.”

LG: “If you ball a bumper to an individual and he hooks you for four or six, do you continue to bowl it or do you try and bowl him a yorker or something else?”

AM: “Lance, you finished back in 1976. Do you believe you could have played a bit more?”

LG: “Against India in Trinidad, yes I should have played. They played Padmore, Imtiaz Ali and Jumadeen. I could have played there, certainly. That’s where the West Indies lost with 400 to get.”

AM: “In Guyana there’s a road named after you. Is it Lance Gibbs Street?”

LG: “Yes. Thank you very much!”

AM: “Did you expect more though by now? You’ve got a big stadium there – couldn’t it be the Clive Lloyd/Lance Gibbs stadium up at Providence?”

LG: “You could add Kanhai to that as well. I think it’s the only cricket ground in the world where names of former players are not mentioned. You could talk to the President of Guyana and see if something could be done!”

AM: “Is President Ramotar your good friend? Do you talk to him a lot?”

LG: “Everyone’s my good friend. Don’t go there!”

SL: “You have grounds that have produced less quality cricketers in the Caribbean who’ve got names in their stands and stadia.”

LG: “Grenada and St Vincent have got names.”

AM: “Lance, my final question to you: what’s your favourite meal?”

LG: “My favourite meal??? Why – do you want to look like me? It’s got to be rice and something.”

AM: “Of course, coming from the country of rice. And really great growing up with Robert Christiani. Was he that good a player?”

LG: “I don’t think you fellas know this, but I started as a leg-spinner, you know. I was seventeen years old when I was called to trials for Guyana – bowling leg-spin against Robert Christiani and Ganesh Persaud. I bowled seventeen overs for eighty-something runs. The next time I was called to trials I came as an off-spinner. I couldn’t bowl the googly.”

AM: “Do you think you could’ve bowled a doosra, Lance?”

LG: “That’s a bad word. A lot of fellas bowling today – to bowl that they’re throwing. I disagree with the ICC changing the rules and giving fellas fifteen degrees. If a fella gets hit for a six or a four in an over he’s gonna do whatever he feels like doing. It’s a pelt.”

AM: “Lance, my final, final question. You played in a time when West Indies cricket was good and very competitive. Nowadays things are not good at all. I know some of the great players sometimes have water in their eyes when they see this West Indian side. How do you feel having played your heart out and not getting a lot of money to see a lot of our younger cricketers not playing as well and making lots of money – it must be a little bit deflating?”

LG: “Not particularly. Every sport in the world fellas are being paid much better than in the past. A heavyweight boxer could go into the ring, get one punch, lay down and make a lot of money. You really can’t go back. Things have improved a hell of a lot. When you pick a team now – we’ve just had a team selected to go to India with nearly twenty-odd people going. Things have changed, and I wouldn’t want to criticise them to any great degree.”

AM: “But do you see any light at the end of the tunnel?”

LG: “Every cricketing nation has ups and downs. Look at India today, and India in the past. They were not a very good side. They had good players but they never played to the standard that they’re playing now. We’ve got our shortcomings here, and I believe we’ll climb back up.”

AM: “Lance we want to thank you. David, do you have anything to say to Lance before he goes?”

DO: “Just that it’s an honour to be in the presence and on the radio with one of the greatest ever West Indian cricketers.”

LG: “Thank you very much indeed. Have a good night!”

AM: “Bye bye! Lancelot Richard Gibbs – September 29th 1934, Queenstown, Georgetown, Demerera. Eighty years – and one day. A true legend.”

David Oram

David Oram is the resident ‘statto’, and sometime presenter of ‘Mason & Guests’ – Voice of Barbados’ weekly cricket talk show, the leading cricket radio show in the West Indies – hosted by the Caribbean’s principal  radio commentator, Andrew Mason. You can tweet me at DavidOram@colblimp1983.

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