Today, 29 December 2012, cricket lost one of the most influential cricketers of the modern era. Sadly, Tony Greig suddenly took a turn for the worse in his fight against cancer, and died, aged just 66.
Perhaps an eyebrow or two might be raised over my description of Tony Greig as being so influential. As a player alone, he does not have the legendary status of Bradman, Warne, Botham or Gooch but if you look at the big picture, Greig was a giant in the cricketing world. His relatively short Test career took place during exciting and turbulent times in the cricket world (the seventies) and he was a leader of change.
As an Australian, I need to sit and carefully reflect on Tony Greig. He was the epitome of the guy you love to hate. And I think Greig liked it that way. He always was a stirrer and enjoyed getting under the skin of the opposition. I have to admit that I grew up hating Tony Greig. I was but a boy and he got under my skin, too! Signalling your own boundaries against Dennis Lillee. The cheek! I am glad to say that I can now admire the fight and pluck of the man. I am of course referring to Greig’s innings of 110 at Brisbane in 1974-75 but we will get back to that.
As we would all know, Tony Greig was born and raised in South Africa. His first class career was gathering momentum at the time that South Africa was sent into sporting exile in 1970. He was playing for England just two years later. This wasn’t actually because he had jumped ship early when he realised he wasn’t going to play for South Africa. In fact, Greig had thrown in his lot with England long before that. Greig went to Sussex in 1966, aged just 20, with the intention of trialling for a season. It was such a success in his own mind that he decided there and then that he wanted to play for England (this was easily possible because his father was British).
Greig found himself debuting for England against an emerging Australian team in 1972. In a low scoring match at Manchester, he top scored in both innings (57 & 62) and took five wickets in the match, which England won. No question, if man-of-the-match existed in those days, Anthony Greig would have been that man, on debut.
Sometimes in the haze of showmanship, controversy, advertising and pitch reports it is forgotten that Tony Greig was in fact a formidable cricketer. He had a relatively short Test career (58 Tests over a five year span) but he had some memorable performances. Aside from his debut test, he made important runs as England had a rare win in India. He made runs and bowled England to victory in the West Indies, adapting his bowling to off breaks. He took 13 wickets in the 5th Test in Sport-of-Spain.
And that brings us back to Brisbane in November 1974. Greig scored 110 out of team total of 265. He did indeed signal his own boundaries and that incensed Lillee and Thommo, as you would expect. And he did quite some signalling, too. His 17 boundaries were more than the rest of the team could muster. The second innings saw Greig bowled by Thomson for 2. Bowled by a searing yorker. Tony Greig’s 1st innings success was responsible for invention of a new cricketing term: “the sandshoe crusher”. To say that England struggled for the rest of the series would be an understatement but Greig fought hard and scored three more fifties.
Greig was a huge man (six foot six inches), was very strong both in body and mind. He was not one to be dominated or intimidated. He was capable of being belligerent and even obnoxious (signalling your own boundaries) and was well versed in showmanship. You might say he was exactly what was needed against Ian Chappell’s Australians. Greig’s leadership qualities were apparent and he became captain of England in July 1975. He remained so until his involvement in World Series Cricket (WSC) ended his Test career in 1977.
Tony Greig featured in the 1977 Centenary Test in a way that perhaps he would rather forget. The nation rejoiced as David Hookes hit five consecutive boundaries from one over. The fact that AW Greig was sending them down was icing on the cake. Greig’s final series in Test cricket was the 1977 Ashes series against Australia, which England won. By then, the cat was out of the bag about WSC and Greig was a much maligned character in England. Suddenly, he was a mercenary and not even an Englishman at that.
Greig was a leading player and personality in WSC. In other words, he played an important part in revolutionising cricket in the late seventies. He captained the “Rest of the World” team and showed great resolve under pressure. He joined Packer at that time and never left. One of the WSC highlights was the historic moment when Greig arrived at the crease wearing a helmet (an ordinary motor bike helmet). There was no bullseye painted on it but there might as well have been. Lillee duly landed a bouncer right on said helmet and Greig took it well.
It was during this time that I believe Greig took advantage of being the villain in Australia. He seemed to enjoy stirring the Australian players and the crowds and he got great mileage out of it for WSC. Even some of the advertisements he did were along those lines. Remember the ad on the tee of the golf course, with Greg Chappell? Greig tees off. “Nice shot, Greiggy. That’ll be four.” To which Greig replied, “No way Chum, six.” That summed up Greig at the time. Rather than humbly accept a compliment from the opposition, he bored it up him. Naturally, this was scripted but it was consistent with Greig’s real life public persona.
After retirement from cricket, Greig joined the Channel 9 commentary team, and forged a reputation sparring with Bill Lawry, in particular. This relationship was immortalised by the impersonations of comedian, The 12th Man. The same goes for Tony’s pitch reports and the weather wall. Tony Greig, pitches and car keys are synonymous. How much we miss in today’s high tech world!
It is said that Tony Greig was a larger than life character with a big heart. This was evidenced by his behaviour and achievements on the cricket field. I would also draw attention to his life off the field. He uprooted himself and made a life in a new country, not once, but twice. He moved to England as a young man and then to Australia later on. I admire anyone who has the courage and resolve to do this at all, let alone twice. And Tony Greig did it successfully. He was successful on the field and off the field as a businessman and professional.
Tony Greig should be remembered as the man Australians loved to hate. I believe that it is the way “Greiggy” would want it. But I think it is important that this should be kept in the context of a game. Overall, Greig was a giant in cricket. A flamboyant leader with great personality, who could deliver on the field under times of pressure. Rest in peace, Tony Greig.