Bevan Griggs: determination and dedication make the Stag

Mahela+Udawatte+Bevan+Griggs+Wayamba+Elevens+SxtDATXD63Tl

The image is a compelling one: imagine the scene, Wellington’s Basin Reserve. It’s the final day of the State Championship for 2005-06. The match is, surely, destined for a draw.

Not thanks to a banal set of innings culminating in an absolute absence of fruit-bearing, but instead courtesy of the fresh brace of black clouds rolling over the Rimutakas. To use a cringe-inducing cliché, time is of the essence.

New Zealand no longer uses a final for the First Class competition, an event sorely lacking from the domestic calendar. There’s nothing quite like reviving a flagging four-day competition with a short, snappy final of…well, five days.

Regardless, they were enjoyable events. For the domestic cricketers – from journeymen to greenhorns – it was the tangible culmination of over six months of competition, preceded by even more months or years of hard work.

Lance Hamilton stands at the top of his mark. The left-armer has played one-day cricket for New Zealand – but despite his recent successes in four-dayers, no Test call-up has been forthcoming.

The start has been delayed by morning rain. Last night’s early haul saw Wellington three down, and it’s evident that Hamilton is hungry to make it more.

Neal Parlane leaves the ball alone, jitters start to grow. Every ball that isn’t a wicket is an excruciating agony for all eleven Central Districts fieldsmen.

A forward prod rolls gently to mid-off. Dot ball.

***

The man behind the stumps for Central Districts in that game was Bevan Griggs, a talented keeper-bat in his mid-20s.

Not yet a senior player, but well ensured of his place in the line-up. The team as a whole had formed into a fighting unit over the preceding four or five seasons. Personnel changed little, and the crux of the side formed around Jarrod Englefield and Jamie How at the top of the order, with Mathew Sinclair and Ross Taylor following, and with Ewen Thompson performing the all-round role.

Although Glen Sulzberger had finished following the 2004-05 season, his influence was well felt by the class of ’05-06, and whilst the bowling attack had been dotted by injuries over the previous seasons (with Hefford, Sherlock and Mason all suffering bouts of unavailability) Lance Hamilton had always pulled the attack together well.

Griggs, who had seen Martyn Sigley out of a job, and Peter McGlashan out of the province, had well embedded himself as part of that central core of the side.

He’d come into the team in 2000-01, predominantly as the one-day ‘keeper, playing just a solitary First Class match that summer. Sigley, at this stage, was competent behind the sticks, and contributing (if not starring) in front of them.

By 2005-06, Griggs was certainly the only gloveman in contention, and effected 36 dismissals that season – including 35 catches, making him only the fifth man (after McSweeney, Nevin, Young and Hopkins) to achieve that milestone in a New Zealand First Class season.

Which belied the fact that Griggs was a very late starter with the gloves – it was more or less through chance that his ‘keeping role came about.

“I first had the opportunity to be a wicket-keeper in my last year at Palmerston North Boys’ High School, when a good friend of mine [Adam Penketh] – who was the first XI wicket-keeper – became injured. I was doing a little bit of wicket-keeping on the side, and they said ‘look, you’re an established batsman, would you like to go have a go at wicket-keeping?’

“I always had lots of energy and was jumping around the field, so they thought that I might be suited. And they didn’t think I was going to grow much at all, so I think I got the opportunity through my stature as well!”

Courtesy Palmerston North Boys' High School
Courtesy Palmerston North Boys’ High School; B Griggs first from the left, front row

Griggs took his chance readily, and performed so adroitly that he was quickly picked up on the radar of age-group selectors. But things weren’t smooth sailing – the Central Districts Under-19 side of the 1996-97 season saw Peter McGlashan in the same side, as the first-choice gloveman, with Griggs alongside him as a specialist bat.

“During the tournament, the New Zealand Under-19 selector [Dayle Hadlee] just tapped me on the shoulder and said ‘next session, would you mind taking the gloves?’

“And I said, ‘yeah, sure, I can show you that I can do it’ – and then, next minute, I’ve been selected as the New Zealand Under-19 number-two wicket-keeper behind Michael Papps. So it all happened relatively quickly, but it was a little bit of a right-place right-time scenario.”

The national Under-19 side undertook an internal tour, playing against selection sides from the First Class provinces around New Zealand. It exposed Griggs to the opportunity of playing alongside players who went on to become greats – Papps, as he mentioned, as well as the likes of Peter Ingram, James Marshall, Kyle Mills and Daryl Tuffey.

The side’s captain for that tour was Jacob Oram – a man whose skippership Griggs was well exposed to during their time together in the Palmerston North Boys’ High School’s First XI. They even combined for the CD Under-19s, managing a substantial partnership against an ‘Otago XI’, with Griggs’ 31 the second-top score, to Oram’s 153.

In 1997-98, the following summer, McGlashan managed to earn the New Zealand Under-19 gloves – but Griggs was already off, helping his Minor Association side Manawatu to a Hawke [then Fuji Xerox] Cup win over Wellington City, but falling short of retention against Auckland-Waitakere.

That was during the short-lived Hawke Cup experiment of including city-based sides (thus Wellington and Auckland), with the competition now back to the Minor, or District, Associations (such as Manawatu themselves) who were the foundation of the cup when Lord Martin Bladen Hawke donated it more than a century ago.

But it wasn’t Griggs’ only chance to don the Manawatu colours, playing in the other fixtures the zonal competitions provided. It meant that he’d experienced cricket at domestic and national age-group levels, as well as at Minor Association level, before making the step-up to the senior Central Districts side.

That jump came, as mentioned, in the summer of 2000-01, and while he only played one First Class match (with Martyn Sigley holding a mortgage on the gloves at that time), he became the side’s one-day wicket-keeper, in a competition which Central Districts immediately strode through and won.

“I had my doubts [about myself],” Griggs recalls of those first days. As for any young sportsman, the leap to the professional level is always a difficult one. The biggest issue relates to how much is unknown.

But Griggs did the hard work, and believed that his “work ethic and training” was in line with the requirements of top-level cricket.

“I did think I was ready…the unknown was how I was going to perform, and whether my game would stand up.”

Griggs made his senior CD debut in early 2001, and immediately made a gritty lower-order contribution. It wasn’t flashy or exciting, and Canterbury ended up winning at a canter, but Griggs’ performance was certainly a solid handling of pressure on debut.

“I can remember clearly, when I jumped on the bus to go from Christchurch to Timaru, to play my first game against Canterbury. We used to share buses back then, and I remember seeing all the stars who I’d only really seen on television, on the bus. So I had a nervous couple of hours as far as the bus ride was concerned.”

His debut summed up most of his knocks during that maiden season; down the order, holding the tail together, batting for the team needs. Central overcame their district cousins, Northern, in the Shell Cup’s semi-final, pitting them against Canterbury in a best-of-three finals series.

Despite losing the first game, held at McLean Park in Napier, Central Districts fought back to win the series 2-1. It meant Griggs had the opportunity to be a part of a winning team from the get-go.

But it was also a developing side. Mark Douglas, a former New Zealand one-day representative, was almost the only senior player in the side, alongside Ben Smith, a county pro from Worcestershire.

Craig Spearman, still in his 20s, was considered one of the old heads in the side, and captain Jacob Oram was the same age as Griggs himself – as seen by their shared time in high-school and age-group dressing rooms.

Spearman was 28, Glen Sulzberger 27, Andrew Schwass 26, Mathew Sinclair 25, Brent Hefford, Oram and Griggs were 22, David Kelly and Ewen Thompson 21.

The XI for the third final against Canterbury certainly wasn’t a wealth of experience.

“I think we were all learning together, and at the time we had Dipak Patel as the coach. Dipak has gone on to coach, and prior to his First Class position had coached, age-group teams. And I think he has a good rapport with, and can instil a good discipline into the younger players. So he was the perfect person for a young bunch to be learning from.”

Then came the 2000-01 Champions Cup. Don’t recall it? Don’t be surprised – it was canned after the one event. It brought together the top-one day sides from Australia (Western Australia), New Zealand (Central Districts), India (Mumbai), and South Africa (Kwa-Zulu Natal) to play a tournament, hosted at Perth’s WACA.

Mark Douglas took the gloves against Mumbai and Western Australia, but Griggs got his shot against Kwa-Zulu Natal. But the results and performances weren’t as important as the experience: for a side as formative as Central Districts were, it was the kind of opportunity that makes cricketers.

“It was the first opportunity to really see where you stood outside of New Zealand domestic cricket. The opportunity was overwhelming, and to play on international grounds, and to compete against players who you thought you’d only ever see on television, it can only put you in a good position for your career.

“For me, that exposure early on really set the bar on where you needed to be. Just the whole tempo, and excitement, and the media attention that came with that tournament really put you in a good position to deal with things – even outside of cricket – as you continued your career.

“That was absolutely a fantastic experience, one the most memorable experiences of my career, and it certainly allowed me to cope with things down the track.”

From there, things started to slowly culture and mature for the CD side, and Griggs personally. In 2001-02, and 2002-03, he tended to keep sporadically – albeit competently – playing regularly as a specialist batsman.

But with the bat, Griggs took a few seasons to settle into his task. 2004-05 was the real turnaround season for the man, from which point he averaged over 30 in First Class cricket – compared to 22 previously.

This early poor form was with one exception, a match against the touring Indians. Batting at number six, as a last-minute replacement for a rested Jacob Oram, Griggs clocked up a century. The 2002 Indians had Agit Agarkar, Ashish Nehra, Sanjay Bangar and Harbhajan Singh among their ranks, so it was certainly a top-rate innings.

Given it came at the start of his third season with Central Districts, and second as a serious member of the First Class side, it was crucial to his cause that he batted well.

“People often speak to me about that and say, ‘that must have been your best innings’. It certainly wasn’t, but it was probably the most high-profiled innings, so it allowed me to be a bit more established in the First Class set-up … To stand around at the non-striker’s end and have a look at the way that the likes of Laxman, and Ganguly, and Tendulkar really looked after themselves and encouraged the team, and the way they acted on a cricket ground, was something I’ll never forget.”

But that century certainly didn’t release the floodgates; it was a few more seasons until First Class hundred number two rolled around.

“At that stage, I thought ‘well I can play against the international teams, why can’t I go further?’ So I would’ve liked to have started notching up lots of First Class hundreds from that point, but it wasn’t to be.”

It took, as mentioned, until 2004-05 for Griggs’ batting to really start to hit its straps, followed two seasons later by a very strong summer in 2006-07. There were two reasons for his new-found form: experience at the top level, combined with the impact of the New Zealand Cricket Players’ Association.

“There’s a couple of factors there: as you get older, you understand your game a little bit more, and you have resources around you in a First Class set-up that you don’t in the regional level … I started to learn my game, and where my downfalls were, and I had to work harder than ever.”

Griggs mentions video analysis, specialised coaching, and self-analysis as key in the resource regard. But then there was the NZCPA’s influence.

“Around that time, the New Zealand Cricket Players’ Association was established, and Warrants of Fitness were reintroduced.”

This meant that no longer were grounds as diabolical as they had been, but instead had to reach a certain standard – only fair if the players are to develop and improve.

“Not to attribute that [previously poor wickets] to my failures at times, but it did have a big difference for all batsmen in New Zealand, that we then learned how to play on better wickets, and on better grounds.”

It culminated in the 2006-07 season, where Griggs made 580 First Class runs at an average over 41, with six fifties added to his tally.

“I was given a lot more responsibility. Mathew Sinclair had been called up into the Test team, and they looked for someone to bat at number three. And for a lot of those games where I was scoring fifties, I was batting three.

“And I really liked the scenario that I could play without having to bat with the tail, without having to manufacture anything, and to be able to play at the tempo you want to with top-order batsmen. That’s what I really attribute it to, I think I was at the top of my game.

“I would’ve liked to have converted more of those fifties, but having more responsibility is a privilege when you’re in a First Class set-up. And I even got to captain a few of those games – so to bat at three, wicket-keeping, captain, you’re fully engaged, and really excited when you lead a team of First Class cricketers onto the ground.”

***

Wellington, in 2005-06, were a team more or less at their peak. Matthew Bell dominated proceedings at the top, with Michael and Neal Parlane, Jesse Ryder, Grant Elliott, Luke Woodcock and James Franklin all fighting for top-order slots.

With Chris Nevin wicket-keeping, and bowlers like Mark Gillespie, Jeetan Patel, Iain O’Brien, and Woodcock, Elliott and Franklin themselves, it was an almighty side.

But four players were out for the final: Gillespie, Patel, Franklin, O’Brien. Nevin, meanwhile, was injury-bound to being a specialist batsman, with Stu Mills donning the gloves.

Had those three been available, with Nevin fully fit, those from the capital city may have been unsurpassable.

As it was, Central Districts had a chance to capitalise.

It took the man who was then the bright upstart of New Zealand cricket, Ross Taylor, to really enact on that opportunity. Cometh the two-down-for-one start, cometh the man. As the side slipped further – to 48-3, 80-4, and 84-5, Taylor continued to bat. And bat quickly.

He stroked 13 fours over the course of his knock, bringing up the century at better than a run-a-ball, and falling with the team score now a much steadier 176.

With the lower order rallying around Ewen Thompson, they set Wellington a target of above 200. They were back in with a chance.

But Neal Parlane was doing his best to deny Michael Mason, Lance Hamilton, and the English import Min Patel.

Eight off 51 balls he was. No opening for the bowlers, setting up the platform to deliver Wellington their trophy.

Or so it seemed. Lance Hamilton got one through the defences, and split bail from stump. Parlane was out; eight runs, laboured from 52 deliveries.

***

Griggs’ career hit the high-tide mark in 2008. First, it was representation for the ‘Major Association XI’ – effectively the selectors’ ‘players we’re watching XI’ – against the touring Englishmen.

Jamie How, Ross Taylor and Mathew Sinclair were the other Central Districts cricketers who joined Griggs in that team, alongside an aspiring Cantabrian in Peter Fulton, and five Wellingtonians: Mathew Bell, Grant Elliott, Jeetan Patel, Mark Gillespie and Iain O’Brien.

It was capped off with Northern Districts all-rounder Mark Orchard. For many, a little-known player, but for this writer a well-remembered cricketer, with many a day spent at Seddon Park watching Graeme Aldridge, Mark Orchard and Joey Yovich in action.

But it didn’t result in representation in the three-Test series against England; Brendon McCullum kept across all three Tests.

“I thought, potentially, that there was opportunity – there were a couple of injuries around, and I wasn’t far off. That was my first real opportunity where I thought I was close. But then, after that, I sort of slipped away, and although I got a good opportunity in 2008 to play in Australia, I did feel that that was my last opportunity, really, to push my case forward.”

The tour to Australia was with the New Zealand Emerging Players side, skippered by Jesse Ryder. Playing against an ‘emerging players’ side from South Africa, as well as representatives from India’s National Cricket Academy, and Australia’s Centre of Excellence, it meant Griggs was playing against those in a similar position to himself.

The make-up of the side certainly showed the selectors’ hands; the majority of those trialled in that side have gone to have significant international careers since.

For Griggs, once more, no call-up was forthcoming. New Zealand toured England, reciprocating the home series a few months prior, before playing Tests in Bangladesh and Australia, and then hosting the West Indians.

It was a busy schedule, but no opening appeared for Griggs to have a shot – Gareth Hopkins was very much New Zealand’s reserve gloveman.

“Was I disappointed not to get an [‘A’ team] opportunity earlier? Absolutely disappointed, but realistically … although I was there or thereabouts, I certainly didn’t begrudge the other guys. I thought we were pretty much neck-and-neck, and at any one period, if any of us had a good season we were going to get the go-ahead.”

It meant that Griggs’ career concluded without ever representing New Zealand – by no means an indictment on the ability of the man himself, but testament to some of the outstanding glovemen around the New Zealand domestic circuit over the last ten or fifteen years.

“I think I was there or thereabouts, and yeah, disappointed not to play for my country – that’s really what I’d wanted to do since I was fifteen. However, those around me I respected, and were very good players as well, and they got the nod ahead of me for various reasons.”

But despite that slightly negative tinge, 2008 remained a top calendar year for Griggs, and it was by no means over yet. Late in the year, he made his personal best First Class score – 143, against Wellington. It included a partnership worth 235 with Mathew Sinclair, and was achieved in the pristine environment of the Basin Reserve.

“Back on the Basin Reserve, a great place to play, Wellington a very competitive team to play against.”

Griggs had an aim when he was batting for Central Districts – to outscore Mathew Sinclair, a man who contributed a spine to the province for nigh two decades.

“That was my one goal, pretty much, when I’d get to the ground. And very seldom would I do it, but I knew if I got close to him I’d have had a pretty good day – because most days are good days for him. And on this, I was sure I was going to continue on longer than him, but I think he scored about 160 [164] that day. So even though I’d scored my personal best, he managed to get more than me again.”

Griggs remembers the opportunity of batting with Sinclair fondly, with the dominance he exuded at domestic level (and on his good days in international cricket) making life much easier for the batsman at the other end.

“It was really good batting with him, he had the opposition in the palm of his hand, and it really released the pressure on the non-striker. You got a lot more loose balls batting with Mathew Sinclar, he was just so dominant. To spend that much time at the crease with him, not only that innings but throughout my career, I’m very fortunate – I still put him down as the best player I played with.”

The name Mathew Sinclair immediately evokes a number of thoughts: the fact he never truly produced his true talent (consistently) on the international stage, the idea that perhaps he deserved a better run in the Test side, and then the issue of personality conflicts.

On the last count, Griggs doesn’t have any hesitation in lauding Sinclair the team man.

“I’m really interested in the public perception of Mathew Sinclair, it amazes me. He’s a fantastic team-mate. And although, I guess, a relative introvert, he’s a fantastic team-mate, he does everything asked of him, he was very much a professional in the way he went about his work. He’d just prepare so well, and really lead from the front … from a Central Districts’ point of view, I don’t have any bad words about him. I enjoyed playing with him for ten or twelve years.”

Despite the success of 2008 – ‘A’ side representation, double-hundred partnerships with New Zealand’s most eclectically-viewed cricketer – it was only a couple of years later that Griggs’ career ground to a halt.

In late 2010, he lost his Central Districts contract when they decided to sign Kruger van Wyk from Canterbury, and played just two matches during CD’s participation in the Champions League – Tim Weston was blooded with the gloves, despite having last been a part-time gloveman at high school.

“I had heard the news that Kruger van Wyk was moving from Canterbury to Central Districts for an opportunity. The message was that we were both likely to be contracted within the 12 players, and basically it was good luck to whoever was in form and who the selectors wanted to go with. At that point, I really thought the writing was on the wall.

“I probably didn’t have the strength or discipline to fight as much as I had in previous years – there were several players that came and went, and challenged myself at Central Districts during my career. But Kruger was and is a very good player, and I was a little unsure of my future with him coming. And at that point I decided to part ways with Central Districts.

“Up to this day, I’m very disappointed with how it ended. I guess everyone thinks of their fairy tale end and that they want to go out on their own basis, but no one has got that right to be selected in any team, and it’s a competitive industry like anything else. And Kruger’s shown his worth to the team since he’s been involved, and I’m glad Central Districts has a good keeper and at times captain, at the moment. From a personal perspective, I would’ve loved to have continued playing, but from a professional point of view, they actually ended up doing me a favour – because I needed to get out of cricket, and look for other opportunities in my life.”

When asked whether they could have played alongside each other, Griggs says that van Wyk was the “best gloveman in New Zealand” at that point, shown by his Test selections not long later, but that “I think that I could’ve fitted into the middle order and been a batsman, because I felt like I was starting to win games for Central Districts and contributing more than ever with the bat.”

But while it could have been feasible for the two to play together, Griggs saw himself very much as a wicket-keeper batsman by this stage.

“I prided myself on being a wicket-keeper batsman, and that’s really what I wanted to do. So, I would’ve loved to have spent a lot of attention just on batting, to see what I could have achieved, but the goal was to be the wicket-keeper for New Zealand, and I just saw that falling away, and I don’t know how much I would’ve put into my batting anymore.”

It means that Griggs now looks at the game as a ‘former player’. That allows a certain degree of objectivity, especially when looking at the events and details of his time in the game. The impact of the NZCPA, he notes, has helped players significantly.

“I believe the New Zealand Cricket Players’ Association have a great structure, and they’re working harder and better with New Zealand Cricket than ever. I think the resources that are around, the opportunities to travel with ‘A’ teams all around the world, and just the general structure of New Zealand Cricket is better than what it was.”

In terms of whether players are better off now than they were when Griggs set off on his career, he says that they are. But that does come with a rider.

“I am a little concerned that players aren’t as self-sufficient as they were, as part of the structure of being told what to do, rather than going out there and working on their own games without being told what to do. But if we’re comparing when I started to where it is now, absolutely I think they’re in a better position than ever before – and I think the national team’s results have shown that we’re doing the right thing [at the level below].”

Of the best gloveman he saw in New Zealand cricket during his time, Griggs doesn’t hesitate.

“Reece Young, is who I rate as the best catcher of a cricket ball in New Zealand domestic cricket, who I played against. I’d watch him for hours while we were waiting to bat, and the way he caught the ball – especially at Eden Park, where the ball was swinging around and seaming – I thought he was the best gloveman … And also Gareth Hopkins, as far as a tough, fighting tradesman goes. He did a fantastic job as well.”

In terms of glovework, Griggs says that there was “absolutely” more emphasis placed on batting than on pure ‘keeping ability – but that you’d be found out if you were lacking in the latter.

“There’s no place for a wicket-keeper to bat lower in the order, and I think around the late ‘90s, early 2000s that became evident, and that coincided with what Adam Gilchrist was doing in the Australian side. He certainly led the way, as did Kaluwitharana from the Sri Lankan team, opening the batting … there was certainly more emphasis on batting than on the glovework, however you’d soon get found out and be out from the team if you were dropping simple opportunities, especially in four-day cricket.”

Griggs now works in corporate banking for ANZ, living in Melbourne. It’s a different environment: no longer is he out there every day, with each performance being a virtual life or death decision on his professional sporting career.

“In regards to the security of the job, I’m not quite sure which one’s more secure actually, working for a big corporation or working as a sportsman! But, certainly, it comes with different pressures: the anxiety, you’re not on edge every day, as you are in professional sport. In domestic cricket you’re contracted for six months of the year, every performance you’re under the spotlight, and if you lose your position it’s very hard to get back. Working in a corporate office, you can have a bad day or two, or even a week – as long as you don’t make too many mistakes – and you’ll hold your job, and can come to work on Monday. So totally different pressures.”

***

Lance Hamilton has a roll on now: he’s ripping through the Wellington batsmen with ease, and they’re toppling over without so much as a fight.

Neither Parlane, nor Stu Mills, nor anyone else can stem the flow of wickets.

At 3.49pm, with rain very much threatening, Hamilton picks up his sixth: Dewayne Bowden’s lower-order rear-guard comes to a close, and the New Zealand season wraps up.

Mathew Sinclair leaps, Min Patel scrambles for souvenir stumps. There was a time when Central Districts looked out of it, so the 113 run victory is one the side can be very proud of.

“To win on a traditional cricket ground, in Wellington, in the way we did – with our backs against the wall, with rain coming over the hills in Wellington – was something I’ll never forget. When we woke up that morning, rain was forecast and we didn’t believe we were going to get on. In true CD spirit, the boys came out firing – and all of a sudden we had the trophy in our hands.”

Griggs lauds that team as “well-rounded”, with everyone having good game plans – and also knowing their plans, with the “team culture” leading to an XI ready to win. It was, he says, the best moment of his Central Districts career.

“I can’t remember all of my 80-odd four-day games that I played, but I can certainly remember pretty much every ball of that game. I’d definitely put that down as a highlight.”


Editors note: Thanks go to Jamie Bell (New Zealand Cricket Museum), Dominic King (Palmerston North Boys’ High School), and Ian Smith (Wellington Cricket) for their help with facts, details and images.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s