Tony Gray, 'People didn't know about my battles'
by Veersen Bhoolai,
Tony Gray was destined for greatness. Tall, fast and able to extract extra bounce with his 6’7” frame, he was a nightmare for the world’s best batsmen.
Making his First Class debut for Trinidad & Tobago in 1984, he quickly tore a path through the best that the region and English County Cricket had to offer.
It was no surprise that in less than three years he was making his Test debut vs Pakistan. He took 15 wickets (in five Tests) in less than six months at an average of 17.13 and a strike rate of 40.3; his Test debut saw him bag a career best of 6/121 in the match.
His tally is even more impressive considering he had to compete with Malcolm Marshall and Courtney Walsh for those wickets.
Amazingly, despite years of performance, Tony Gray was never again selected for a Test match.
His five Tests were no fluke if you observe that in 25 ODIs for the WI he bagged 44 wickets averaging 18.97 and a SR of 28.8. His Test average and SR is superior to every WI fast bowler, including Malcolm Marshall; Mike Holding, Andy Roberts and Courtney Walsh. His ODI average and SR is inferior only to Joel Garner who just barely pipped him with an average of 18.84 with a lesser SR of 36.5.
So what really did happen to Tony Gray? How did the WI Selectors seem to hold such indifference to a gem of a fast bowler?
The rumor mill at home was that he was “sorf.” He was prone to injury and had had the audacity to ask the Selectors to drop him for the Second Test vs Pakistan in Port of Spain (1988). The allegation although never confirmed publicly hung over him for the rest of his career like a black cloud.
He believes that part of the reason was a constant production of fast bowlers in the WI.
“However, the main reason was TT did not support me. I was the first TT fast bowler in 34 years to play for the WI. There was a misconception about my heart. But people didn’t know about my battles. I had epilepsy as a child. I had to fight through it. I have an indomitable spirit. We have a culture that is very negative towards our own. People said (Viv) Richards didn’t like me but it was more than that, our people are weak.”
He continues, “The TTCBC was an interesting bunch of personalities.” Coming back from Australia, he was fined four hundred dollars for not playing against Guyana. However, he explains he was injured. I had nobody to consult with me. We had the best sports team from the 1970s – 1990s but we did not understand how to deal with and manage the athletes. I had to manage myself and deal with my own injuries. I was not soft. I was very strong. I had to fight epilepsy to make the WI. There were rumors about me but that is the culture I had to deal with.”
We have a culture that is not towards understanding sport. But maybe I had to go through that. It made me understand how to handle players.”
Playing in the fifth ODI vs Pakistan in Georgetown, he suffered a hip injury. “For the first three overs, I bowled well but then my ten overs went for 44 runs.” He managed three of the seven wickets to fall (with two being run out). Two of these wickets were Rameez Raja and Saleem Malik taken in back to back balls. I was the last man to walk off the field. I went straight to the Physio. The next day at practice, I told Jeffery Dujon, ‘I can’t bowl.’”
Arriving in TT for the second Test in POS, “I did my best, I went to PJ Wilson, a well known starter at the TT Track Championships and a Physiotherapist. He said you are alright for tomorrow’s Test. That night as I packed, I was struggling. I visited Dr. Toby on Dundonald St. He gave me an injection but it was not muscle related, it was structure related. One leg was shorter than the other.”
He had no choice but to ask that he not be picked on the day of the Test. “However, they knew I was injured from before.”
Surrey was more sympathetic to his problem and provided him with some “build up boots to level my spine.”
He laments, “You still hear negative comments, thirty plus years, people still come through with this foolishness. We have a culture that stagnates our players.”
Growing up in El Socorro, his earliest cricket memories are playing U-21 cricket in Aranguez. Also playing for Bissessar Youths in the Aranguez Colts league. He cites his father as his greatest influence during his youth, “although he was more of a football player.”
It may surprise some to know that young Gray was an aspiring footballer of note. He played between the uprights for St. Augustine in the National Intercol Final, 1979 losing to Fatima, 2-1. It was that year they were first dubbed “the Green Machine.” He adds that they had a good squad in 1980 but the TTUTA strike cut the school season short.
As a teenager, he played for Aranguez and Barataria Ball Players alongside Maurice Alibey and Marvin Faustin.
Selected for the TT Schoolboys team (circa 19880) to tour Suriname, a knee injury prevented him from going. Sadly, that knee would haunt him throughout his career.
Deciding to focus on cricket, he played for the TT U19s vs the Indian School Boys in 1982 and made his First Class debut vs Barbados in 1984.
“Barbados hammered us, we lost outright. The pace of Milton Small was very evident. Carlyle Best was giving me a lot of talk…’Gray Is coming in to bowl and he is driven through the covers.’ That amazed me a lot. Carlyle was not well liked (for his commentary). Small took seven wickets and I realized I had to be combative. I promised myself that the next year I would come back faster and meaner.”
Gray played just three games before a knee injury (again) curtailed his season. However, he had an injury free 1985, manhandling all before him that made fans and the Selectors sit up and take notice.
Textel had actually offered a scholarship to him and Dean St. Hillaire (the medium pacer from Tobago) in ’84 to the Alf Gover school of Cricket for one month in England.
“It was a great experience. Gover was around 77 years old and he was just wisdom filled. I thought he was concentrating on Dean more however, he told me to use my height. I was 6’7” and I impressed him.”
Gray took 10 wkts vs Jamaica in 1985 and TT beat them outright. He took 23 wicket in his first full season.
However, he was far from finished. The Kiwis were touring the WI and Geoff Howarth, the NZ and Surrey Capt. Was impressed with him. “I performed very well in the three games I played against them.”
Playing for the WI Board II, the U-23s and the President’s II, he took a total of eleven wickets including six for the Board with 5/55 in the second innings.
“I was aggressive and productive. Howarth was impressed.” Sylvester Clarke, who played for Surrey had an injured knee and the Kiwi Captain who had seen Gray first hand, suggested him as a replacement.
“Gover also had a connection to Surrey, so through Gover and Howarth, I was asked to play for Surrey. I took 79 wickets (22.98) and was 13th in the standings. I was the Surrey Player of the Year for 1985.” A distant second for Surrey amongst the wickets was Pat Pocock with 48.
The highlight of his County season was a hattrick vs Yorkshire but he missed out on the prized scalp of Geoff Boycott. “Because he ran away from me. He had been dropped the afternoon before by Jack Richards. He did not want to face me so he got away.” Yorkshire was dismissed for 131 with Gray taking 8/140.
He made his ODI debut vs Pakistan in Sharjah. Sharing the ball with Holding, Garner and Marshall, they all took a wicket each. He was then selected for an ODI tour only of Pakistan. In the first game he was not used as WI went in with five bowlers. With Garner dropped for the second game, he did bowl and removed both openers. Played sparingly due to the proliferation of fast bowlers, it was nevertheless, obvious that young Gray was the future.
His 1986 County season saw him garner 51 wickets (19) including 12/113 vs Warwickshire and an innings tally of 7/23 to rout Kent for 72. Gray was simply getting better and better.
The inevitable happened later that year as he was selected for the WI tour of Pakistan. How was it making his Test debut for the WI? ”It was brilliant. I had a meeting with Richards, Garner and Holding, the night before. I was nervous that I would be playing with these big names and you had Imran Khan and Javed Miandad for Pakistan.
“I was an exceptional fieldsman fieldsman for my height. Richards put me at fourth slip. I dove to my right took a catch and the nerves decreased right away. I took four wickets including Khan and Miandad. I always got big names.”
His four wickets in the first innings, six in the match and 12 no in the first innings would be his best performances during his Test career. He singles this Test as his proudest memory. “Growing up I had heard of Khan, Miandad and Akram. I was amazed and in awe that I was going up against these guys in a Test match and I did well.
“As we walked off the field, Richards pointed out the scoreboard to me (his four wickets). ‘Look at that, you did well.’ I felt wonderful, the Master Blaster pointing out how well I had done. That stands out for me.”
Marshall managed 16 wickets in the three Test Series. Gray was just behind him with 14 with a superior average/SR of 16.21/42.24.
The heir apparent to Joel Garner seemed to have arrived.
Sandwiched between the Pakistan tour and that of New Zealand was the Benson & Hedges OD tournament including the host and England in late ’86. Not surprisingly Gray and Garner manhandled the opposition despite England winning the competition.
Played in the Second and Third Test vs NZ in early ‘87 (replacing Michael Holding), he managed eight wickets (18.75).
With the departure of Holding and Garner, Gray seemed set to be the next Express super star for the WI. He had another great season for Surrey taking 48 wickets at 16 apiece. However, he broke his hand that Summer which automatically excluded him from the World Cup or the Winter tour of India. For the next five years Gray continued to perform albeit incurring the odd injury. Despite his successes for TT and Surrey, he would only occasionally be selected for an ODI. The emergence of Ian Bishop; Curtley Ambrose, Kenneth and Winston Benjamin (no relation) only made it harder for him. However, his exclusion seemed to have nothing to do with a lack of ability or performance.
Gus Logie, was Gray’s teammate for both TT and the WI. In addition to being a Coach of international repute, he is also Godfather to Gray’s daughter. When speaking about him, Logie admits “He had a career that could’ve lasted a lot longer. He was a quality player but he had only five Tests.
“He had height, pace, bounce, movement and a cricketing brain. He also had the potential to bat. He also had a safe pair of hands. He would have been a regular in today’s world. But back then he had to contend with Ian Bishop and others. However, he deserved to play a lot more than he did.”
Logie comments “It was unfortunate that some people referred to him as ‘soft.’
“I played and roomed with Tony. He was a hard worker. He always put in an effort on the field. He had injuries at inopportune times. He was epileptic and may not have wanted people to know. People would look at him and perhaps the situation was misunderstood to be not as serious as it was. However, that’s how we in the WI were back then. We were tough and uncompromising. We had a never say die attitude. That is the era we were brought up in.
“Once or twice he had bouts with epilepsy. The perception of him was not right. He had a good career in Surrey and in South Africa and they would tell you he contributed a lot.”
Asked if there is any special memory he has of Gray or his career, Logie, immediately mentions a TT vs Barbados match at Kensington in the late eighties.
“Ranjy Nannan was the Captain and Tony had bowled quite a few overs. His father was in the Pavilion and at one point he ran over to Ranjy and shouted, ‘You trying to kill my son!’” Logie in between fits of laughter continues, “Tony told him, ‘Dad, I’m a big man, I can handle it.’ But his father was more worried than him!”
Despite not being on the Test scene, he did merit the occasional selection. Touring Zimbabwe with the “Young West Indies” (despite the majority of team being well above 20) and Captained by Brian Lara, he went through the host country, taking six wickets in the first game and 10 in the second.
Selected to play against the Australians during their tour of the WI in 1990/91, he took 6/50 off nine overs (in a match reduce to 32 overs due to rain). He became only the third WI to ever take six wickets in an ODI after Colin Croft and Winston Davis.
Calling it quits
Gray played five matches for TT during the 1994/95 season taking 17 wickets (26.29). Then at the relatively young age of 31, he walked away from the game.
“I think that obviously the Selectors weren’t looking at me again. I had some very good performances year after year and they said ‘No’ to me. I don’t know why. Up to this day I still have that question in my mind.” He pointed out that despite some good performances before the 1992 World Cup, he still wasn’t chosen. Not being in the Selectors’ line of vision simply led to “demotivation.”
He adds, “I always wanted to play at the highest level to represent the people of the region and I wasn’t getting that opportunity although my productivity was still high not just with ball but with bat. I was an exceptional fieldsman for my height. The fact that they weren’t looking at me again, I decided to call it quits.”
His FC bowling stats show 122 matches (451 wickets) with an average of 22.8. His SR of 45.5 are at just a glance is superior to those of Ambrose, Walsh, Andy Roberts and Bishop.
If were one were to look at the two leading fast bowlers for the WI at the moment, Jason Holder and Kemar Roach, Holder has 88 wickets at an average of 28.29 and a SR of 65.3. Roach has 171 wickets at 28.21 and a SR of 52.6. What could we do with a Tony Gray today!
TT’s 1985 season
He recalls the TT’s 1985 season as the highlight of his FC career. He took 10 wickets vs Jamaica at Sabina. TT won the regional title for the first time in more than a decade. “Winning with Ranjy as Captain; Prakash Moosai was quite indomitable, playing the last game with a broken thumb. We represented the Red, Black and White with our hearts. The physicality, the mindset, it was a team effort.
“Bryan Davis was the Chairman of Selectors and he selected three fast bowlers, this had never happened before. We had Giles Antoine, who bowled quite fast, Kelvin Williams and myself. This changed the dynamics in TT cricket.”
Brian Lara, unparalleled
Having played with some of the finest players in the region and the world, I asked him his opinion on a few.
Gus Logie: “Speed and quickness. Great fieldsman, very disciplined and the Godfather to my first child.”
Brian Lara: “Unparalleled batting ability. An amazing outside the box think. One hundred was not special for him, 400 was more important. The WI won’t see the likes of him for a very long time.”
Ranjy Nannan: “The consummate professional. Very tight, cheap with runs, in love with cricket and WI cricket.”
Ganesh Mahabir: “Highly jovial, excellent bowler. Critical thinker, able to think outside the box, willing to try different things.”
Ian Bishop: “Highly disciplined, very fast and the consummate pro. An excellent commentator who does not allow controversy to be a part of his delivery in commentating. An excellent example to follow.”
Courtney Walsh: “Charismatic, addicted to any team but a fantastic example of someone who could be used more by the WI to be impactful where fast bowlers are concerned. A work horse for the WI team and a good roommate.”
Impressed with the “Lil Master”
Of the foreign batsmen faced, he remains most impressed with Sunil Gavaskar. “I am proud of my stats. I have superb names including Gavaskar. He did well against our fast bowlers, e.g.,Andy Roberts, Garner and Holding. He came from a country not known for fast bowlers, really medium pacers. Yet he succeeded against the WI. He was something special.”
At home, he is most impressed with Viv Richards and Gordon Greenidge. “I believe that Greenidge was the best because he was decisive in his strokeplay. I believe that he was slightly better than Richards.”
Life after Cricket
Post cricket, Gray stuck to what he knows best and turned to Coaching. ”I coached TT’s U-19 team for nine years. Ninety percent of TT’s international players have come through me, such as Ravi Rampaul; the Bravos; Kieron Pollard, Shannon Gabriel and Adrian Barath.
“I have had short stints with the Senior. team. I was Coach with the National Sports council for 14 years and Head Coach at UTT for 11 years. A member of the High Performance Unit as well as doing Radio commentary and co hosting programs on TV and Radio.
“I am part of a proposal committee with Ken Julien to benefit elite athletes and develop sports. The Eight Tentacles of Sport. I call it the Octopus Effect.”
The perfect preparation of an athlete
The ex Surrey pacer also firmly believes that the WI can once again regain their lost status in international cricket.
“I love WI cricket. I am doing research right now at UWI. We must have the right mentality to restructure WI cricket.
“We were the most dominant team in the history of sport. We have not done our analytic research to find out why we were the best. We have embraced misconceptions year after year that have stagnated us. People think that we dominated world cricket on natural talent but it was not natural talent. There was a logical sequential to get players to the international arena – perfect preparation.
“People thought we dominated world cricket because County Cricket made us better. But really it was the perfect finishing school. You played 19 games in different environments and pitches. The players were in a professional environment which further improved their game.
“God gave us cricket. It united the people of the Caribbean and we have benefited immensely from it. Look at Gus Logie and Brian Lara, that is the perfect preparation of an athlete.”
He explains that there were “unconscious systems” at work which led to our success. As kids “We would play marbles, jump rope, scooch. Pitch was a prelude to cricket: angles, strategy, hand to eye coordination, squatting.
“The necessary info must be requested and divulged as a prelude to what we used to do intrinsically. We had the advantage of the perfect preparation of our players. We’ve stopped doing a lot of those things since then.”
Despite a roller coaster relationship with the Selectors, he continues to do as he once did in his playing days, giving his best for West Indian Cricket.
Tony Gray was destined for greatness and were it not for the curious nature of Selectors, he may have achieved it.
Tony Gray Biofile:
Favourite athlete: Michael Holding.
Hero: My father.
Favourite meal: Curry Melongene, chicken with potato and rice.
" ... people didn’t know about my battles. I had epilepsy as a child. I had to fight through it. I have an indomitable spirit. .."
Tony Gray, the heir apparent to Joel Garner.
Gus Logie: “He had height, pace, bounce, movement and a cricketing brain. He also had the potential to bat.