MIGHTY WEST INDIES CRICKETER JOEL GARNER

Just his personal statistics were enough to inspire anxiety at the prospect of
facing Joel Garner. At 6ft 8in, few bowlers have stood taller, and with those
great big long arms and mighty levers of his, not many grounds had sightscreens
big enough to accommodate the top of his bowling arm. Garner was
phenomenally accurate, but the one word you had to focus on was ‘bounce’. You
were always looking at a length ball from him and thinking: ‘How high is this
going to bounce?’ ‘High enough’ was mostly the answer.
Although he was capable of generating bounce, though, or perhaps precisely
because of it, there was great danger in the balls he bowled of fuller length. A lot
of his wickets – almost half in Tests, in fact – were bowled or leg-before, the
batsmen no doubt worrying about the ball that might threaten the glove or head
only to find one homing in on their stumps instead.
Garner was a great purveyor of the yorker, the old sand-shoe crusher or big
toe breaker. The yorker is a delivery that modern-day batsmen have found ways
to lever to the boundary in one-day cricket but in Garner’s day we were happy
just to keep it out, whatever the game, whatever the situation. I doubt very much
if even today batsmen would be hitting him for six if he got his yorker in.
He was quicker than people thought. If he wound it up, he wasn’t far behind
Michael Holding and Andy Roberts in pace. That wasn’t always his role though.
The West Indies bowling was so strong that some of them – and Joel was one –
inevitably had to fulfil roles they would not have done had they been playing in
almost any other side. He started his Test career in 1977 but it was not until 1984
that he took the new ball, Clive Lloyd preferring to use him as something of a
stock bowler. But once the new ball was his, Garner became even more potent
than he had been. Somerset naturally used him differently when he played for
them and he helped them win trophies with some explosive bursts.
The first time I faced him in a major encounter was in the World Cup final of

  1. It was not to be my proudest moment. We were decidedly up against it,
    chasing a big total and already well behind the rate required, and Joel was hardly
    the man to give you something to play with in that situation. Giving myself room
    to try and carve one through cover just gave him a sight of my stumps. I was out
    for nought, bowled, one of five wickets he took in the space of 11 balls as the
    game sped to its conclusion. Four of us were bowled, the other caught behind.
    How to score runs off him was a big puzzle for us as a side. We faced him
    again a few months later in a one-day series in Australia without making much
    headway and when we then faced him for the first time in Tests in England the
    following year his control was incredible. In the first Test he bowled 57.1 overs
    off which just 74 runs were scored (at a cost of seven wickets); in the second,
    39.3 overs for 57 runs (and six wickets). It was some small crumb of comfort to
    me, having been dropped after the first game, to see that others found him no
    easier to play. Over the course of the five Tests, he sent down 212.4 overs for
    371 runs and 26 wickets.
    His metronomic capabilities should not be overstated, however. Every blue
    moon there might be something you could have a go at. He might sometimes
    give you something outside off stump you could flail at, or something short you
    could try and help over the slips. He played in the Jamaica Test in 1981 in which
    Graham Gooch and I both scored 150s. It was a quick, bouncy pitch but
    fortunately it was also true in its bounce. Somehow we found a way on that
    occasion.

He came into the West Indies side as a stand-in for a home series against
Pakistan in 1977 and was an instant success. He took 25 wickets in five matches,
although there were tell-tale signs that he still had things to learn. His wickets
cost 27.52 each and went at more than three runs an over. These were expensive
figures for Joel. Of the 14 series he subsequently played, his average strayed
over 23 only four times and his economy rate over three runs per over only
twice. He was very, very consistent. He was also a fine catcher around the slips
and gully.
He was perhaps fortunate to arrive on the scene just as West Indies were
reaching the peak of their collective powers and finish in the late 1980s before
the decline in Caribbean cricket had begun. Remarkably, he played in only five
defeats in his 58 Test matches (in which he took 259 wickets at an average of
just 20.97). A lot of that was down to his reliability but of course he was playing
in a side with very few weak links.
To be part of the most feared pace attack of all time almost automatically
qualifies you to be one of the great individual bowlers. They were all immensely
skilful as well as quick, and all decent men too. As a bloke, Joel was a
particularly lovely guy, with those big genial eyes of his and that typically Bajan
air of laid-back affability. He was known as ‘Big Bird’ not just by his own team
but by everyone. There was a lot of affection for him, if not for his bowling.