If The Contractor Has Fulfilled Griffith: Concussion Of The Brain, Of The Disease And The End Of A Career-Test > Cricket News, cricinfo, mobilecric, cricbuzz, livescore and more
Cricket news - When Contractor met Griffith: Concussion, illness and the end of a Test career
After his brutal assault on Australia's batsmen during his Test debut, there is no doubt that Jofra Archer is the man of the moment. But of course the enthralling chapters of West Indian fast bowling are blind to the passage of time. The Barbadian might have grabbed headlines when he forced the first concussion substitute in international cricket by hitting Steve Smith on the neck, but it is just the latest story of a West Indian quick pushing the limits with bumpers and intimidatory tactics.
With India playing a two-match Test series in the Caribbean, it is worth traveling back in time to 1962 to recount one of the game's more serious concussion cases - the battle between Nari Contractor and Charlie Griffith, when Contractor was hit just above his right ear by a short ball that left him critically ill.
The gritty southpaw had just led India to a famous Test series win against England at home in 1961-62. At the time, Contractor was just 27 years old, captain of the Indian team and primed to shine at the highest level. Unfortunately, fate had other ideas.
The Caribbean is synonymous with reefs, idyllic islands and beaches. But for the Indian team that arrived on the islands in the first part of 1962, all the picturesque scenery seemed like an illusion, as they had to prepare to face pace like fire without helmets and other protective gear.
The pace of Wes Hall, Chester Watson and Charlie Stayers, alongside the all-round abilities of Garry Sobers and Lance Gibbs' bagful of tricks, had left India searching for answers in the first two Tests of the series, where they succumbed to heavy defeats. India desperately needed a spark of inspiration from somewhere. Before partaking in the third Test at Bridgetown, India had a first-class outing against the Barbados side. Barbados, which is renowned for producing a battery of fast bowlers - with Archer just the latest of them - had the likes of Hall, George Rock and one certain Griffith in the ranks.
India already had a taste of what to expect from Hall, having faced him at home in 1958-59 and during the early part of the Caribbean tour in 1962. Rock was a useful pacer, who had made his first-class debut in 1960-61, and the side also had the young and fearsome Griffith.
Griffith, born on the sugar-growing region of St. Lucy (18 miles north of Bridgetown) in Barbados, started his trade as a wicketkeeper and then tried some off-spin. After paddling through a couple of cricket clubs, he landed up at another Barbadian club called Lancashire. And that is when the well-built fast bowler took up pace bowling and finished with 73 scalps, including a hat-trick during his first season. His next destination was the Empire club where he impressed the likes of Conrad Hunte and Everton Weekes. Such was his rapid rise through the ranks that he was soon playing for Barbados versus the touring MCC side. He repaid the selectors' faith by scalping batsmen of the class of Peter May, Ted Dexter and Colin Cowdrey in his maiden first-class game. He was also elevated to the Test arena when he took part in the fifth Test of the series against England in 1960.
However, in 1962 he was still not a bowler who had a huge reputation to go by, having not played another Test after his debut game. Nevertheless, before the tour game in Barbados, then West Indies skipper Frank Worrell issued a warning.
"There was a cocktail party, which the West Indians call Sundowner, where Frank Worrell told us there was a bowler in the Barbados side called Charlie Griffith and he's a chucker," Contractor later told Backspin magazine. "As we had so many injuries before the game, he suggested that it would be better to get out than get hit. Frank said Griffith was crude and impolite. He cited an example of him hitting an 18-year-old batsman on the head and he didn't even apologise to him, so Frank told us to take care."
In the tour game, which would change the course of Contractor's career, Anthony King composed his second first-class fifty while Hall made useful runs lower down the order to push Barbados to 394. India, in reply, needed a good start. Just before the break, the pair of Dilip Sardesai and Contractor had to negotiate one over from Griffith, and they were able to wade through it. As the duo of Sardesai and Contractor walked back to the pavilion, Sardesai was believed to have told his skipper that Griffith wasn't exactly quick.
But they were in for a surprise after the break. Hall removed Sardesai for no score and Rusi Surti replaced the opener. At the other end, Griffith charged in to bowl his second over, which would shock the cricketing landscape far and wide. The first delivery was a yard quicker than what he had bowled before the break and whistled past Contractor's nose.
The gutsy opener decided to do 'spot running' to get himself warmed up to face the menace. The next two deliveries were rapid, too. And then came the fourth offering from Griffith, which Contractor managed to defend towards short leg, where Hunte took it on the half volley. If the West Indian cricketer had pouched the catch, Contractor would have survived the nasty blow that followed. It wasn't to be. By then, Surti had also shouted from the non striker's end that Griffith was bowling with an illegal action.
The fifth delivery was pounded in short of length (some believe it was a bouncer) and climbed awkwardly on the batsman, before striking Contractor just above his unprotected right ear. Such was the impact that Budhi Kunderan, who didn't play in the game, later said: "We could hear the sound in the dressing room."
Contractor was in acute pain and sat down, bleeding profusely through his nose and ears. He was helped off the field by India's manager and former off spinner, Ghulam Ahmed. Even after he changed his shirt, he continued to bleed and was rushed to the hospital. The diagnosis was brain concussion.
Meanwhile, on the field, the action continued. Vijay Manjrekar took a blow on his nose from Griffith's lifter and had to retire hurt. Griffith was also no-balled by the umpire, Cortez Jordan, for chucking. Griffith, on his part, later believed he "bowled at half-hearted pace" through the course of the rest of the innings.
At the hospital, Dr Leacock gave a sedative to Contractor and said that if the Indian skipper lost movement in his limbs or threw up, he should be called immediately. When the Indian manager checked on his ward in the evening, he observed the symptoms that the doctor had mentioned, and urgently called for Leacock to have a look. Leacock helped to stabilise Contractor by reducing the clot during the night. Dr. Ghourilal, the neurosurgeon, soon arrived and performed a two-hour operation. Chandu Borde, Polly Umrigar, Bapu Nadkarni and Worrell himself donated blood. Umrigar was also said to be Contractor's constant companion at his bedside.
However, the players didn't exactly know the seriousness of Contractor's condition. It was only around the time the stumps were drawn that the cricketers got to know Contractor was battling for his life. Griffith duly made a courtesy visit to the hospital. By then, Contractor's family was also informed. After six long days of pain, distress and battling for life, Contractor finally regained full consciousness. After spending time with his wife for a while in Barbados, he travelled back to India.
There was some confusion over whether or not Contractor had ducked while facing the delivery. The batsman believed it was a short ball and he didn't duck underneath it. "I expected another short ball and it was short. I was already on the back foot when the ball was right before me. I turned my head a fraction but it hit me at a 90-degree angle and I fell on my knees. Photos show me sitting down and it was said at the time that I had ducked into the ball. That is not correct," he said to BBC Sport.
Griffith, though, has a slightly different version about the incident. "It wasn't a bouncer and Nari would tell you that. He ducked into the ball; that was what really happened," he was quoted as saying by Gulf News. Wisden, on the other hand, supports Contractor's views. "Contractor did not duck into the ball. He got behind it to play at it. He probably wanted to fend it away towards short-leg, but could not judge the height to which it would fly, bent back from the waist in a desperate, split-second attempt to avoid it and was hit just above the right ear."
Either way, Contractor never played for India again. There is a belief that the selectors were apprehensive about his condition, worried about what could happen if he was hit on the head again. He did eventually make a full recovery from the near-fatal injury and returned to first-class cricket, taking part in the Defence Fund match between Maharashtra Chief Minister's XI and Maharashtra Governor's XI in January 1963. He continued to play for his state Gujarat until the 1970-71 season.
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