Author: Charlie Griffith
Publisher: Pelham Books
Rating: 3 stars
By Martin Chandler
20 Sep 2010
Between 1963 and 1970 Rowland Bowen was the driving force behind a magazine called "The Cricket Quarterly". Bowen's periodical is highly regarded and is now a scarce collectors' item. One of the most entertaining aspects of the magazine were its book reviews. Bowen could be, and often was, quite brutal in his criticism and volumes of autobiography by current or recently retired players were not his favourite genre. While flicking through an old copy recently I noticed the review of this book which I will quote, in its entirety; "There is not the slightest reason why any reader of the CQ should show any interest in this book, nor why we should in anyway recommend it to them. Anyone with the smallest imagination can guess its contents, or could have written it: Indeed, we would suggest that imagination would not really be needed. Several of the photographs seem to be irrelevant."
I have no doubt that Bowen's intention in writing his review in the terms that he did was to stop people reading the book, although I wonder just how many were, as I was, so intrigued by the damning nature of his comments that their curiosity was aroused sufficiently to do precisely the opposite.
Forty years after his book appeared Charlie Griffith is remembered as a man with a suspect bowling action and for the controversy that followed him throughout his career. It is not a long book, this sort of autobiography tended not to be in the 1960's and 1970's and, discounting the index and the usual preliminaries, there are only 139 pages to it, and I would be surprised if the word count exceeded 50,000.
There is, in the initial chapters of the book, some time spent explaining Griffith's background and upbringing and, by virtue of the passage of time, there is probably more interest in that now than there was at the time it was written. The account that follows of Griffith's cricket career and of the Test matches in which he played is brief and to the point and much of the book consists of his seeking to defend himself against the accusations of throwing that always haunted him.
As is to be expected Griffith hotly denies the accusation and points out that he was only ever no balled for throwing twice. One of those occasions was in a difficult Test match against India after the opposing captain, Nari Contractor, had suffered a serious head injury by ducking into a Griffith bouncer. The only other occasion on which the call came from square leg was during a tour match against Lancashire in 1966. Griffith's major complaint throughout is that if he did throw then he would have been called consistently and he clearly had little time for those who he considered to be his fiercest critics. He singled out for special mention former England captain Ted Dexter, but there are a number of others who criticised him and who he in turn takes to task.
I have read several books by or about Griffith's contemporaries and the recurring theme is that his action was generally fair, but that when he strove for extra pace for, particularly, the fearsome yorker that was his signature delivery, his arm straightened. For Griffith however it is an all or nothing argument and at no point in the book does he even consider that that yorker might have been an unfair delivery. In fairness to Bowen this failure by Griffith to deal with the actual case against him is frustrating, and must have been the more so back in 1970.
The above notwithstanding since Chucked Around appeared no one has written a full length biography of Charlie Griffith, and the fact that a character who did attract such controversy has a record of his thoughts in print is welcome. The basis upon which Bowen criticises the book I can understand but I found it rather better than he suggests and despite its flaws, and its blinkered approach to the throwing issue, an enjoyable read. Particulary interesting was the concluding chapter which consists of Griffith's thoughts on the future of West Indian cricket and, while Bowen would not of course have known this, those views proved to be remarkably prescient.
The lack of any statistical appendix is, as always in a cricketers autobiography, an irritation, but Bowen's complaint about the illustrations is difficult to comprehend. Perhaps he was unhappy at the fact that the only two photographs of Griffith actually bowling show him with an arm that is ramrod straight, and that the rather better known image of his bowling with an apparently bent arm is omitted and therefore does not need to be explained. It is unfortunate that Griffith did not try and tackle the photograph in question but it is the one that the dust jacket carries which, for him anyway, is doubtless the most relevant. The man behind the stumps as Griffith begins his followthrough is Syd Buller, the finest and most fearless English umpire of his generation, who effectively ended the career of South African Geoff Griffin in 1960 by him calling for throwing and who called a number of others as well. Buller stood, without incident, in six of the ten Tests that Griffith played in England, the relevance of which is certainly not lost on this reviewer.