Cricket is a game of partnerships – opening batsmen, new ball bowlers, spinners, slip cordons and in the present era of spectacular fielding, the point and cover. I have witnessed some wonderful partnerships myself ever since I got obsessed with cricket – Sachin and Ganguly at the top in ODIs, Wasim and Waqar, Kumble and Harbhajan, Warne and Healy, each different in nature, each holding its own place in the pantheon of cricket’s impressive bonds. And then came a time, when cricket wasn’t just about what I saw live any more. It was also about poetic literature and poignant photos, narrating the heroics of greats that were well past their prime or had retired by the time I started understanding the game and its well documented nuances.
One such fascinating partnership, which has left the game richer and oozes with the same coolness quotient that Christopher Gayle brings to T20 but at a much higher level and against venomously superior bowling, is that of Desmond Haynes and Gordon Greenidge. Easily amongst the top 5 opening pairs of all time, they opened for a team that boasted of stars like Richards, Lloyd, Garner, Holding, Dujon and Marshall. They had to be the gods that they were. And God, did they know how to play the new ball!
We should delve a little bit into statistical tidbits first, for numbers are sincere if not comprehensive when it comes to analysing the grandeur of performances. Greenidge and Haynes hold the record for the highest tally of partnership runs at the top of the order. In 148 innings, the pair has scored 6482 runs, a high of 298 almost breaching the triple ton mark. 16 times they had put on a 100-run partnership and 26 times they had put on a 50 run partnership. That meant they gave the team a decent start at least 42 times in 148 innings, at an average slightly higher than 47 – a 50+ stand once in every 3.5 innings, approximately.
Between 2004 and 2012, the Gambhir-Sehwag duo crossed the 50 mark 36 times in just 87 innings, almost once in every 2.5 innings. Yet, most cricket lovers would rate the Haynes-Greenidge pair higher than the Indian opening pair. The English language affords us a few words to justify this choice – ferocity, intimidation, style and endurance. That it was one of the most feared batting combinations to ever have graced the cricket pitch is beyond doubt. Excellent players of pace, thanks to all the net practice that their own bowling greats offered, Haynes and Greenidge often slammed new ball attacks with ranked disdain.
Proposed for induction to the Cricket Hall of Fame in the same year, both Haynes and Greenidge hail from Barbados. They have similar batting records, Greenidge making 7558 runs in 108 Tests with 19 centuries and Haynes making 7487 runs in 116 Tests with 18 centuries. Every pair has a dashing end and a composed end, like most Indian viewers who have watched Sehwag and Gambhir bat together would know. Greenidge was the flamboyant one known for his hooking and square cuts. Haynes was the composed back-foot stroke maker who loved to play second fiddle to Greenidge on most occasions. Partnerships overseas though proved to be an Achilles Heel for the pair, whose average dropped from 65 at home to 35.51 away. However, the sheer endurance of the pair, at the top of a resource-rich Caribbean team during the 80s and 90s is proved by the fact that they are second only to Dravid and Sachin in terms of most partnership runs by a pair for any wicket.
Their 298 run partnership at the Antigua Recreation Ground against England in the 1990 series is as good a demolition act as you will get in Test cricket. One hears wonderful anecdotes that describe the partnership. One of the more famous ones is that of Frank Keating, who calls Greenidge the ‘Cruel Axeman’, Haynes playing the role of a ‘Silky Assassin’. Other wonderful tales of the pair have been recounted in a lovely book called Heroes of 100 Tests. Greenidge though is marginally ahead of Haynes, the former boasting of 4 double centuries, where the latter had none. Haynes, the disorganised fun-loving cricketer, the man who is always seen beaming, pays one of the greatest tributes to his partner in a dialogue with Frank Keating, “I only had to look across to Gordon’s neat and organized corner and say to myself ‘Man there’s the true pro to aspire to.’ It was an honour to be second fiddle to him all those years.”
Greenidge, who is often remembered for his Lord’s double century to help West Indies race the clock and beat England, put up 4 double century partnerships with Haynes, the second most by any pair for any wicket. Only Hayden and Langer are better with 6. But the Haynes-Greenidge pair has 12 partnerships in the 100-199 range, 4 more than that of Hayden and Langer. The two opening pairs show how important openers are to build a team of ‘Invincibles’. Greenidge and Haynes, thanks largely to the Calypso flair in their batting, were successful even in ODIs, garnering 40 fifty plus stands in 103 innings, almost as prolific in terms of substantial stands and a 50+ average, like Gilchrist and Hayden, the destructive Aussie pair that won two World Cups.
Haynes’ debut was a wonderful precursor to what was to come, the pair putting on 87, with Haynes smashing Jeff Thomson for quite a few boundaries. The legendary duo, which still continues its partnership on the golf field, brought joy to batting, the way Gilchrist and Hayden made a mark with their attitude and Jayasuriya and Kalu added exotic flavour to that particular skill. Greenidge spent a part of his teenage years as an immigrant in England, a country that helped him hone his cricketing skills later. In his impressive county debut, he partnered Barry Richards. Perhaps, he was destined to partner greats from the very first day. Perhaps, it was the racial tension in his early days that made him wear an inexpressive mask, the guard never down, the fury showing only in his ferocious cuts and hooks. Haynes was the more cheerful one, beaming at everyone, including the opponents.
Almost unusual for opening partners, Haynes and Greenidge spoke very less to each other in the early part of their partnership, coming from two different cricketing backgrounds. But, as Haynes puts it later, they started spending more time together, becoming best of friends. Haynes has gone on record to point Greenidge as one of the cricketers he tried to emulate and learn from. Greenidge returned the compliment by emphasizing on the special chemistry he shared with Haynes. Desmond Leo Haynes and Gordon Greenidge represent a pair that offered solidity without compromising on flair and that was what always put them ahead of the rest of the pack. The Lion of Barbados, as Haynes is fondly called, started his ODI career with a century and for a decade, sabotaged bowling efforts around the world. Greenidge, interestingly enough for the stats-lover, scored a century on Test debut in the second innings, after narrowly missing out in the first innings.
It has been more than two decades since the pair last walked out with their traditional confident strut on to the park. And yet, the numbers proudly stand, emblazoned in boldness, depicting the unadulterated joy and confidence that this opening pair brought to one of the greatest cricket teams of all time.