Many Scottish cricket aficionados were slack-jawed when Rahul Dravid decided to join the Saltires in 2003, as if it was the first time that an international legend had pledged allegiance to the Caledonian cause.
Yet, for those of us who were covering the sport, north of the Border, back in 1990, the news that Gordon Greenidge had committed himself to a season at Greenock was initially treated with no less scepticism.
Why would this Caribbean luminary, a past World Cup winner, with over 100 Tests and more than 7000 runs in these contests to his name, wish to up sticks and relocate, however temporarily, to a back-water country which, at that stage, had never come close to lighting up the global stage?
But it happened, and the West Indian star not only relished his opportunity to parade his talents in the Western Union, but journeyed around Scotland, in addition to turning out for the (then) SCU’s finest in the B & H Cup.
Now, as if to lighten the gloom sparked by an apocalyptic summer, Greenidge is returning to Scotland, to help participate in Greenock’s ongoing celebrations of their 150th anniversary (which means, incidentally, that for all the talk of football being the national game, clubs such as the Glenpark side, Grange and Clydesdale, were in existence well before the creation of the SFA or the Old Firm).
And the former opener was delighted to reminisce about the past and ruminate on the future when we spoke on Saturday, a week before he will return to the Scottish club and unfurl their new flag.
“I really enjoyed my time there, because there was a great sense of camaraderie among the lads, we liked each other’s company, on and off the pitch, and I am looking forward to catching up with some old friends, such as [the redoubtable batsman] Tom Black,” said Greenidge, who formed possibly the greatest-ever opening partnership in Test history with Desmond Haynes (they certainly added more runs together – a little matter of 6482 - than anybody else).
“What struck me about Scotland was how passionately the game was played, and at that point, they were trying to climb up the ladder with such countries as Ireland and the Netherlands. It was pretty tough, because they were all still amateurs and coming up against full-time professional counties was a big learning curve. But, you know, many of these players had talent, and were ambitious: they wanted to get better and prove themselves at a higher level, and some of them achieved it.
“That impressed me, and so did the coaching set-up, both at Scotland and Greenock, and I hope things have moved on. That has to be the aim; for the clubs to keep improving and produce more players who can represent Scotland with distinction. Because, from what I saw, 20 or so years ago, there were and are plenty of Scots who loved the game.”
Greenidge might be 61, but he still savours the eclectic, occasionally electric, atmosphere which hangs around cricket, oblivious to a few passing showers. Back in 1990, a few of us, dressed in parkas, galoshes and other protective clothing, stood for hours at Titwood to witness the great man in action, only for Greenidge to be dismissed for one, amidst a crescendo of anti-climax.
At that juncture, one Scottish journalist wrote: “For reasons best known to his accountant, G.G has chosen to live in Greenock and is therefore eligible to represent their national team (as a boy, he had probably wanted to be an admiral in the Swiss navy). To a man raised with the sun on his back and the calypso in his soul, the prospect was gey dreich. The rain pattered down on the clubhouse window; the scoreboard stood petrified in the gloom, like a giant tombstone; and, across the road, a new Safeway supermarket was being noisily erected amid the drip, drip, drip.”
But those of who chose to listen to Greenidge, rather than mock his career choices, were soon enthralled and the man, who now sits on the Windies Test selection committee, with his erstwhile colleague, Sir Vivian Richards, has retained his enthusiasm for Scotland, albeit from a distance. When asked, for instance, on the best way for the [newly professional) Scots, and Irish, and Dutch, to enhance their standards, Greenidge was unequivocal: they can only do it with the support of the ICC and the bigger nations.
“You need to play against teams who are better than you and you need to do it on a more regular basis than is happening at the moment, because you can only make so much progress if you are just playing against countries at the same level as you,” said Greenidge, who has been impressed by Ireland’s recent advances.
“There is no great secret about this, the Irish have been in front [of the other associates] for the last few years and I know that they are trying to gain more matches against the [ICC’s] Full Members. That has to be goal, but the administrators have to help, whether with finance, or with technology, or in getting more fixtures arranged against the best teams. It isn’t an easy balance to strike, but it is the only way to expand the game from where it it.”
Greenidge was in London when we spoke, and has recently linked up with a number of his former colleagues at Hampshire, where the weather, or so he informed me, has been nearly as bad as it has been in Scotland. But, at some point in the next few days, he will be back around the environs at Greenock, who might be struggling on the pitch – on the few occasions when the elements have relented – but have worked assiduously to develop a fitting series of events in 2012, including a match next month (on August 26) against a Cricket Scotland President’s XI, which will feature a string of internationalists.
“Playing for Greenock and for Scotland was a nice part of my life, and I have kept in touch with several of the boys and one of the best things about cricket is that you can meet up with one-time team mates and it is as if you have never been away from the place,” declared Greenidge, who has never been one for standing on ceremony.
“Hopefully, the rain will go away, but whatever happens, I will be delighted to be involved because I can honestly say that I hold Greenock very close to my heart.”
And it is safe to conclude that the feeling is reciprocated at Glenpark!