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'Unorthodox cricketer': Garner took accuracy in pace bowling to realms

By Harsh Thakor* 

Joel Garner played an integral role in making the West Indies pace attack in the 1980s, the most lethal battery ever in the history of test cricket and make West Indies arguably the best ever team in the history of test cricket. 
There could not be a more perfect accomplice or any paceman better complementing   the fiery pace of Michael Holding, the versatility of Andy Roberts and the hostility of Malcolm Marshall. Arguably Garner was the most accurate or relentless fast bowler in the history of cricket, guiding a cricket ball in the manner of a propeller of an airplane.
Gamer was brought up by his grandmother in Barbados. He gained his first tutelage under Wes Hall, when working as telegraph operator at Cable and Wireless, who taught him use of the crease. He received  his initial breakthrough in Litteborough.

Bowling style

In the pure cricketing sense, Garner could be described as a freak, resembling basketball player more than a cricketer. Standing six feet high, he could not be bowler of letear away or express pace. Garner’s action was unorthodox and contradicted the purists, but nevertheless suited his build. Thus he resorted to fast medium bowling, moving the ball in the air or through the seam. His height automatically made the ball shoot up disconcertingly.
Garner’s action was unorthodox and contradicted the purists, but nevertheless suited his build. He would lean well forward from the waist, with his legs kicking up high, before his awesome figure rose up like a tidal at wave, like reaching for the sky, on verge of delivery. When lumbering up to the wicket he looked bizarre, but on delivery stride was technically brilliant, like Dr Jeckyl turning into Mr Hyde.
In addition to having to tackle his incredible bounce and control, the batsmen had to pick the ball from well above the normal sight screen, with arms and legs gangling. Possibly the sightscreens were not tall enough for Garner or big enough to accommodate his long arms! Often hi s good length ball had to be fended down from waist high. 
Garner was the best ever exponent of the Yorker or could make a ball rise up alarmingly from a good length, with his disconcerting bounce was almost impossible to negotiate. Garner at the same time could also smash a batsman’s toes. It is almost impossible for batsmen to pick the length of Garner. Often batsmen when anticipating ball that might hit the glove or head would be startled in sheer disbelief, by the ball crashing the stumps. Garner’s subtle change in pace, and his perfect timing of his monstrous Yorker, manifested his deep cricketing intelligence.
No bowler in his time was more lethal in the ball he bowled at fuller length, inspite of his capability of generating bounce. Almost half his victims were bowled or leg before.
At his best few paceman were more adept in delivering knockout punch or performing a demolition job, resembling a machine propelled. Garner’s fast medium bowling could be more lethal than those who bowled at express pace. There was possible never a better shock, stock and brake bowler.
Unfortunately for the major part of his career Garner played the role of a stock bowler and did not open the attack. Neverthless he could still be as daunting a proposition as Malcolm Marshall, Andy Roberts or Michael Holding, and in periods overshadowed all of them. 
Pertinent that in 1984 late Christopher Martin Jenkins stated that although Malcolm Marshall was faster it was Garner who was the most consistently lethal. Alan Lamb narrated how Garner would find an extra gear from no man’s land to turn the complexion of game. In the view of late English fast bowler Bob Willis, Garner bowled so many unplayable deliveries when the ball was 80 overs old, and thus with a new ball could be an absolutely terrifying proposition. Garner proved Willis correct n 1984, when opening the attack with Malcolm Marshall. If he played the role of a strike bowler more, he could have taken many more scalps.
At his best, Garner could bowl as fast as anyone. His well concealed change of pace bewildered batsmen. Possibly what Garner lacked was the diversity of Malcolm Marshall or Andy Roberts and refraining to taking risks by letting deliveries go for runs. 

Cricketing career

In his debut series at home, against Pakistan in 1977 Garner captured 27 victims at an average of 27 .In Kerry Packer World series supertests Garner had 35 scalps, at an average of 24.77.
In the 1979 Prudential World cup final Garner literally blew England apart in the manner of a combing operation of an army or a blitzkrieg arriving ,with a sensational spell of 5 wickets for 311 4 runs, of a mere 11 balls. It was reminiscent of a character jumped into a classic to give the climax a sensational twist. In no world cup final has a bowler given a knockout punch at such a scale.
In 1979-80 down under Garner captured 14 wickets at 21.50, paying a major role, in West Indies winning a series in Australia for the first time. His daunting bounce shooked the Aussie batsmen, like Greg Chappell, who were helpless fending, off his rising deliveries.
In England in 1980 although not turning in a single spectacular performance, Garner was consistency personified, capturing 26 scalps, and deservedly wining the man of the series award. I have distinct memories of how he made the English batsmen groping or always hopping about the crease, to precipitate sensational collapses at Old Trafford and Leeds.
In Pakistan in 1980, he was economy personified, even if he did not have big haul olf scalps, taking 10 wickets at 19.20.
In Australia in 1981-82, at Adelaide on the final day before lunch, with a   blistering spell of 5-56, Garner turned the fate of the Frank Worrel trophy. Australia folded   like a pack of cards, losing their last six wickets for a mere 24 runs .It set West Indies a target of 235, which they successfully did, to retain the Frank Worrell trophy.
In 1984 in home series against Australia, Garner bowled as if the spirits possessed him, capturing 31 wickets at an average of 16.87. He took 9 for 142 in a hard-fought draw in Georgetown when West Indies were missing Michael Holding and Malcolm Marshall from the attack. He followed that up with 6 for 60 in the first innings of the next match, in Port-of-Spain.He set the ball rolling at Antigua in the 5th test taking 5-63 in the 2nd innings. Still pertinent that he was at his best in the drawn affairs in that series at Georgetown and Antigua and did not play a big role in the spectacular wins at Barbados or Kingston.
  In 1984, in England he captured 29 wickets at 18.62, being responsible for his side accomplishing a 5-0 series win, the most emphatic in the history of the game. With an electrifying effect, Garner terrified the batsmen, more than any bowler.
In 1984/85 in Australia Garner was not at his best, taking 19 wickets at 29.78, and overshadowed my Malcolm Marshall. It was a similar case in home series against New Zealand in 1985, when taking 10 scalps at 30.20.
In his last 2 series Garner was consistency personified, retiring manifesting the traits of his illustrious career. He took 27 wickets at 16.14 against England in 1985-86 and in New Zealand in 1987, 12 wickets at 17.08.
Garner was an outstanding performer representing Somerset, enabling his team  to win titles in the Gillette cup, Benson and Hedges cup and John Player league. In the County championship he took 55 wickets at an average of 13.84.His 5-14 spell in 1981 Benson and Hedges final ranked amongst the most devastating ever.
Garner could at times also be effective batsmen, like when scoring a breezy 60 at Brisbane in 1979-80, 46 at the Oval in 1980, ,46 at Antigua v England in 1981 and a swashbuckling 37 of a mere 29 balls, against India in the 1983 Prudential world cup at Old Trafford.

Assessment of greatness 

Garner retired from test cricket capturing 259 wickets in 58 tests at an average of 20.97, at a strike rate of 50.8.In ODI’s he had 146 scalps at an average of 18.85.In terms of bowling average he outclassed greats like Richard Hadlee, Glen McGrath, Curtly Ambrose and Dennis Lillee. In test matches won Garner averaged 19.71 and took 142 wickets .
Remarkable that Garner had a better record away, than at home. At home he had 123 scalps at 22.34 runs apiece; away he captured 136 wickets at an average of 19.74. Commendable Garner averaged 17.93 in England.
Very commendable, he was part of only 5 test defeats, in his entire career. In terms of economy rate, no bowler as economical in his era. In 14 series he played, he averaged over 23, only 4 times. Garner took 5 wickets in a test a mere 7 times, and never had a 10 wicket haul in a test. However he took 25 or more wickets in a series, 5 times, which is remarkable. His only failure in a test series was at home against India, in 1983.
To trigger collapses in between an innings, Garner would be my ultimate man. Garner played an integral role in transforming his country into arguably the best ever side in the history of the game, in test and ODI cricket. In later periods, Curtly Ambrose was similar to a clone of Garner, apart from being more aggressive and diverse
In the 1970’s or 1980’s test cricket was at it’s competitive best, but still Joel Garner would be a strong contender for a place in the world test XI. In 1984 I would have selected Garner to open the attack of a world test team with Malcolm Marshall. In my view in 1984 Garner was the best pace bowler in the world, overshadowing even greats like Malcolm Marshall and Richard Hadlee. His whirlwind spells that year literally rocked English and Australian batsmen, often sending their stumps cartwheeling.
In an all-time test XI, he may have just missed out by a whisker, to likes of Curtly Ambrose, Richard Hadlee or Glen McGrath. In his era no paceman would have been a better accomplice to the allround prowess of the great Dennis Lillee or later Malcolm Marshall. To me Garner and Lillee or Garner and Marshall moulded into one would comprise the perfect fast bowler.
Ian Botham, Dean Jones, Colin Croft and Jeff Dujon chose Garner in their all-time test team.
 Garner was the best One Day International bowler of his day and age and possibly among the best -4 ODI bowlers of all time. In my all-time ODI XI, Garner would open the attack with Wasim Akram. In his day no bowler was equally effective at the death in ODI cricket as Garner or as relentless in the shorter version of the game. It was testified in his leading role in West Indies capturing wins in 4 successive triangular tournaments in Australia, in 1979-80, 1981-82, 1983-84 and 1984-85, literally blossoming like a lotus in the finals.
 In my view amongst Caribbean giant fast bowlers, Garner would rank at 5th place behind only Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose, Andy Roberts and Michael Holding. Marshall , Roberts and Holding were more complete in the allround sense  than Garner while Ambrose was more explosive and penetrative. Touch and go or a virtual photo to separate Garner from Wes Hall, Holding and Andy Roberts.
Cricket historian Geoff Armstrong ranked Garner at 61st place amongst his 100 greatest cricketers, in his sixth all-time XI, placing him above Andy Roberts and Michael Holding. David Gower chose him at 45th place in his all-time 50 best selection of cricketers. Garner would definitely comprise my top 100 cricketers of all, and scrape into my best 15 fast bowlers of all time.
---
*Freelance journalist

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