Gordon Greenidge hit the ball with savage power but he was also a technically well-equipped batsman, an opener par excellence. He was equally at home in one-day cricket as in Test matches, and could handle pace and spin alike. He arrived just when the renaissance of West Indies cricket took root under the leadership of Clive Lloyd.
Greenidge became a vital pillar of the great team that dominated the world of cricket for a-decade-and-a-half. Forging at the outset a formidable opening combination with the diminutive left-hander Roy Fredericks, he later formed a longer association with Desmond Haynes. Greenidge and Haynes became an all-time great opening pair, ranked alongside the finest in history.
Still in his first year in international cricket, Greenidge made a placid start in the 1975 World Cup. He came into his own in the semi-final against New Zealand, putting on 125 for the second wicket with Alvin Kallicharran. He was dismissed for 55 with the West Indies on the threshold of a win. The 95-ball knock was punctuated by 7 fours and a six.
In the final Jeff Thomson had him caught behind by Rodney Marsh early in the innings.
Greenidge began the second World Cup in 1979 in scintillating form. He tore the Indian attack to shreds as he stroked a classy hundred. In combination with Haynes he put on 138 for the first wicket. It was only fitting that the first time Greenidge and Haynes walked out together in the World Cup, they featured in a century stand.
Greenidge next combined with Vivian Richards in an unbroken partnership of 56 that carried the side to victory. Greenidge finished on 106 not out off 173 balls with 9 fours and a six. It was a sterling effort that wrested him the man-of-the-match award.
This was followed by a fine 65 against New Zealand as the West Indies coasted to an easy win.
He posted another century stand with Haynes in the semi-final, off the Pakistani attack. They put on 132 runs, and set the West Indies on the road to the final. Greenidge’s contribution was a splendid 73 and it fetched him another man-of-the-match prize.
In the final Greenidge was run out for 9 but it was already a memorable tournament for him. With a century and two half-centuries in four matches he notched up the highest aggregate of 253 runs at an average of 84.33 as the West Indies lifted the Prudential Cup for the second time.
Ray Robinson wrote: "No paragon of straight-bat defence could keep his left elbow higher than Gordon. It enables him to be the world's strongest off-driver. A high backlift and full follow-through contribute to his driving on both sides to take command of the bowlers. His bruising back-foot drive and his fondness for the hook discourage them from shortening length."
In the stunning upset by India in the opening encounter in 1983, Greenidge and Haynes scored 24 apiece and put on 49 runs. But a steady fall of wickets accounted for the first West Indies defeat in the World Cup.
A failure against Australia was followed by an unbeaten century in the Zimbabwe game. His 105 came off 147 deliveries with 5 fours and a six, and a record unbroken 195-run stand for the third wicket with Larry Gomes ensured an easy win. Greenidge was man-of-the-match again.
As the West Indies sought to avenge their earlier defeat at the hands of India, Greenidge fell early. But he was back among the runs against Australia, putting on 79 with Haynes. Then along with his other great mate Vivian Richards, he flayed the attack comprising their old adversaries - and often tormentors - Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson.
By now much of the fire had gone out of the dreaded pace duo, and Greenidge and Richards put on 124 in an awesome display of power and dominance. It was another chapter in this long-running saga, and on this occasion the peerless West Indies strokemakers won hands down.
By the time Rodney Hogg had Greenidge caught by skipper Kim Hughes, he had hit up 90 and the West Indies were on the road to victory. He cracked 8 fours in his 140-ball essay.
This was, however, the end of Greenidge’s run of success in the World Cup. He missed the return match against Zimbabwe, and was dismissed for 17 in the semi-final. Then in the final he shouldered arms to Balwinder Sandhu’s in-cutter to be bowled for 1. That signaled the beginning of the West Indies collapse leading to the upset win by India.
Greenidge was not available for the 1987 tournament, and thus ended an epoch in the annals of West Indies cricket. With the great team beginning to disintegrate and Greenidge’s partnership with Haynes over, the West Indies were never the same force again.
Even today they bemoan the absence of a pair of classy openers. That only underlines his huge role in the unprecedented success of his side.
Greenidge will undoubtedly rank as one of the best openers in history. His wide array of powerful shots, which in later years also included the reverse sweep, made him a big draw.
Brought up in the English cricketing system, he imbibed the basics thoroughly, but was not lacking in West Indian flair. Greenidge was probably the most complete opening batsman of his era.
Gordon Greenidge’s World Cup batting and fielding record:
Matches 15, Highest Score 106*, Runs 591, Average 45.46, Strike-rate 59.15, Hundreds 2, Fifties 4, Catch 1
Also read – Most runs for tenth wicket in world cup