Standing at 6’8” and steaming in from his 12-pace run-up, Joel Garner – the man they called ‘Big Bird’ was a menacing sight for batsmen in the 1970s and 1980s. Garner was known for his searing pace, his steepling bounce and his toe-crushing yorker that sent many a stump flying.
Of bowlers to have taken 200 or more wickets in Tests, only Malcolm Marshall can boast a lower bowling average than Garner’s 20.97. His high release point provided him with a natural length well short of a good one that batsmen found close to impossible to get away. He was versatile as well – bowling averages of under 20 in every country he toured besides Australia illustrate just how potent he could be in all conditions.
It speaks volumes about the extent of West Indies’ fast bowling riches during Garner’s era that for the first 32 of his 58 Tests, he was not once thrown the new ball. Used instead as a first or second change option, Garner displayed remarkable wicket-taking consistency, only failing to take a wicket in one of the first 34 innings he bowled in.
After impressing in his first Test series against Pakistan in 1977, Garner was signed by Somerset as an overseas player for that summer’s domestic season. It began a nine-year association with the club and it was at Taunton where he was paired with West Indian team-mate, Viv Richards. There, Garner won five domestic one-day tournaments including both the Gillette Cup and the John Player Trophy in 1979, the same year that he took 5-38 in the World Cup Final to clinch West Indies’ second triumph.
Garner played his last Test in 1987 alongside his successor, Courtney Walsh. He was the last of the ‘Awesome Foursome’ of Holding, Roberts, Garner and Croft to hang up his bowling boots and his retirement signalled the passing of one great era of fast bowling to another.