How an off-spinner bowling with a cap and jumper made history
“David Boon comes into the dressing room, there is water coming out of his shoes. He is saying I am sweating so much that it is coming out of my shoes. I am on the fence, it’s worse there, the heat is radiating from cement stands.” Greg Matthews, On the tied Test in Chepauk, 1986.
Half-an-hour into the conversation at Nelson Bar in Bondi Junction; Greg Matthews has gotten louder, animated and jumpy. This has nothing to do with the happy hours or his third beer. Matthews is on something headier, the India-Australia Tied Test of 1986. “Look,” he says climbing off the bar stool again and pointing to the calf muscle below the three-fourth pants, “I am still getting goose pimples.”
It’s long been said — Matthews heard from Dean Jones — the tapes of the Test have gone missing. Grapevine has it that someone recorded an inter-office ping-pong tournament on the master tape. Actually, it has increased the romance of the memorable Test that hasn’t gotten over-written in the minds of fans. Many lived those sticky, draining five days with the 22 at Chepauk. “I get into cabs, they go, ‘Matthews, tied Test’,” says the 55-year-old, who hasn’t changed even a bit since. “I ask ‘how do you know it’, they say ‘I was there’. Everyone was there, I believe.”
Even if they weren’t there, they still remember the off-spinner who bowled with his cap on, wore a jumper in the Chennai heat and got Maninder Singh lbw after Ravi Shastri ran a single to tie the score. How can they forget Greg Matthews, when they even remember Vikram Raju. Yes, we know that you know ‘Raju’ was that man they hated for being righteous, raising his right hand to give Maninder lbw and denying India a win.
Matthews these days, besides being a regular at the Nelson bar, is Australian Cricketers Association’s development officer, works with some spin bowlers, does a bit of corporate speaking and is involved with a few start-up companies. He is a busy man constantly on the move but right now he has goose pimples on his calf.
The reason for this emotional condition is the sickening memory of a drained-out Aussie hero from that Test and he isn’t talking about Dean Jones. Matthews thinks Jones’ role in the Test was over-rated. “Dean Jones was in the prime of his life, he was 23, he got a big rev up from the captain. ‘You are my boy Deano and you can do it’, Allan Border told him. He walked out of AB’s room 10 feet tall,” he says regretting AB never invited him there.
For Matthews, the hero was the 33-year-old spinner Ray Bright. First Matthews tells you about the heat at Chennai. “David Boon comes into the dressing room, there is water coming out of his shoes. He is saying I am sweating so much that it is coming out of my shoes. I am on the fence, it’s worse there, the heat is radiating from cement stands,” says Matthews with an expression of pain that’s straight from the Jim Carrey school of acting.
Now he goes to the Bright tale of valour, which reduced him to tears at Chepauk. “Ray is fielding at covers, he is walking around like he had 40 beers and he soon hits the deck. He is unconscious; his feet are dragging on the deck as they carry him out. I say, “Jesus, recover this man.” The dressing room doesn’t have an A/C, they wet a towel, get the ice to stick on it, get a bucket of ice with a fan blowing over. They would try to hydrate old man Bright. “Apparently he was falling in and out of consciousness and he was rocking his face. He is mumbling ‘Does AB want me?” recalls Matthews. AB is desperate to have him on field. “I see this bloke coming out of the dressing room and I start crying. I can’t believe that this 33-year-old had just hit the deck. He gives his cap and takes three wickets. We were back in the game. No one ever talks about it. No Ray, no tie, we lose.”
Interesting, many of the Australians weren’t sure what had happened. “Deano thought we had won, there were others who thought the game was drawn.” Tied Test wasn’t the only reason, Matthews comes across as an Indophile of sorts. “I used to love India, when it wasn’t cool to love India. I loved India before it became the beautiful place with the fastest growing economy.”
And those who followed that 1986 series will vouch that Matthews was the most loved cricketer in a team full of bigger stars.
“I love Andrew Symonds, mind you, but when people called me a monkey, I played a monkey. So what’s the problem? I am not bothered if they are going to ping with batteries or they are going to throw rotten fruits at me. If they had been fresh I would have had a bite,” he says.
On India, he gives his reason for bowling with a cap on and wearing a sweater. Matthews’ father also bowled with a cap plus he wanted to protect his scalp. Though, it’s the reason behind the choice of winter-wear that’s more interesting. “I just wanted to show the Indians how easy it was. I went to the Indian dressing room and I think that they were all dying. Krish Srikkanth said, ‘Gregie, even the rats are leaving Madras’. So I said wow even they are feeling it, it was our way of saying even we can play in the heat.” It was a bitterly fought series when Matthews had a run-in with Chandrakant Pandit. Matthews alleges how Pandit pushed him to the ground by running into him and how he told him ‘naughty things’ after getting his wicket. But it’s the post-game patch up that’s interesting.
“So Sunny (Sunil Gavaskar) calls me to the dressing room and tells me. ‘Georgie sit down here. If you want to leave India alive go and apologize to Pandit. I asked him ‘why’. He did tell me ‘why’. I go over to Pandit and go down on my knees and say ‘I am sorry. Please forgive me’. He says alright and we become friends.” It’s an obvious follow-up question and Mathews is waiting. So what was the ‘why’? “What goes on tour stays on tour. When the great one, Sunil, tells you to go and apologize, you go and apologize. And you go and apologize when you are in his backyard.”
Matthews wasn’t the most skilful cricketers but he was among the most confident Aussie cricketer. This is what he thought before the final ball of one of history’s most thrilling games. “I am standing at the top of my mark and I am saying to myself. ‘History brother, history. You are good for this.” He once again jumps from the bar stool.
Source:: Indian Express