Tony Greig: More than the sum of the parts

Published: December 31, 2012
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Having fought a lung cancer ailment, he succumbed to a heart attack in Sydney on 29th December 2012, aged 66. PHOTO: AFP

Having fought a lung cancer ailment, he succumbed to a heart attack in Sydney on 29th December 2012, aged 66. PHOTO: AFP Having fought a lung cancer ailment, he succumbed to a heart attack in Sydney on 29th December 2012, aged 66. PHOTO: AFP

The first time I heard of Anthony William Greig I was listening into a Test Match special in 1972 – the first Ashes test at Old Trafford. The voice of John Arlott describing Greig scoring a 50, when England was in need of runs. He scored another 50 in the second and then took a few wickets in Australia’s last knock.

The match is remembered for a late assault by Rod Marsh, when Australia looked down and out. It did not win the match, but for us serial non-England supporters created last session excitement.

In those days live television was rare and when I saw recordings on PTV, it surprised me to see this tall (six feet six inches) gangly cricketer. His bat was held up and there seemed an inviting gap for the ball. Cricket was traditional then – pre One-day – therefore trendy stances were not in fashion.

His bowling also seemed innocuous, yet he was able to get wickets, because the ball moved both-ways to create uncertainty in the batsman.

Greig ended his Test career with a double, 141 wickets and 3600 runs with an average of 40 plus. In the non helmet days, a 40 average was considered the sign of a good batsman. It now seems to have gone to 50. All present day batting careers should be evaluated in that light. The helmet has had a huge effect on batsmen confidence.

Greig’s career was mercurial, alternating between great performance and PR disaster.

When he ran out Kallicharran in 1974 as he left the field for close of play, a worldwide furor ensued; “This was not cricket!”

The decision was reversed overnight and Greig apologised. Later years saw his famous racist undertone message to West Indies in 1976 that they would grovel that summer.

That it was England who was made to grovel by Sir Viv Richard, was a humbling experience. But, after the 3-0 defeat at Oval, Greig made amends by dramatically falling on his knees to beg forgiveness and all was exonerated.

My two memories are just flashes and yet sped some light on Greig’s character. Hyderabad Test match 1973, day five post lunch England were in problems at 77-5, pitch turning, still behind first innings lead and it looked as if Pakistan would win easily.

Not so, Greig and Knott saw out the match, with some brilliant back against the wall batting. Cut to Brisbane 1974; a green and vicious pitch, Lillee and Thompson rampant. The English were physically dominated. Out walks Greig and hits both all over the ground. Every time he hit a four he would signal boundary himself. It was classic aggression and brinkmanship.

He got 110 that day and it is regarded as one of the bravest innings in cricket history.

For all that Greig would have disappeared into the annals of cricket history as a good cricketer, but for his two most famous contributions, post his retirement from Test cricket.

Firstly, professional cricketers owe him a debt of bringing money into the game. He was the one who led the WSC Packer initiative. At considerable risk to his career -in fact his career ended because of it- Greig ran the recruitment of cricketers as the front desk. Those who have not lived the division in cricket in 1977-78 would have no idea of the schism.

It divided cricket down the middle.

Pakistan’s own star cricketers faced the music also, being thrown out for two years, while the team lost badly in England.

Greig faced the brunt; lost his England captaincy and his place in the team. Nevertheless, cricketer’s earnings went from a pittance to international sports scale and also cricket was totally revamped to the look it has today.

Second was Greig’s reward for the sacrifice of his career. Kerry Packer and Channel 9 did not forget him and for 33 years he became the voice of cricket in Australian commentary. A South African, who ended up playing cricket as England Captain and then became the voice of Australian cricket; a strange and varied career! But Greig graduated beyond Australian commentary, travelled world over to commentate on a game he loved.

He was welcome in Dubai, England, Sri Lanka etc and loved everywhere. Truly the status he achieved out of commentary, he could not out of cricket.

Fittingly, in June 2012, the MCC which had banished him in 1977 invited him for the Cowdrey Lecture to its members. It’s an honour accorded to few. There Greig lay to rest the bitter acrimony which had ensued out of the Packer era.

It was just not his fate that he could enjoy this final triumph, on being recognised by former adversaries. Having fought a lung cancer ailment, he succumbed to a heart attack in Sydney on December 29, 2012, aged 66.

Read more by Sarfaraz here or follow him on Twitter @sarehman

Sarfaraz Rehman

Sarfaraz Rehman

The author has worked with large scale organizations like Unilever, Pepsi and Engro Foods in his 28 year career. He has now started an education initiative and writes on various subjects. He tweets as @sarehman

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • http://syedarbabahmed.blogspot.com Syed Arbab Ahmed (@SyedArbabAhmed)

    @SyedArbabAhmed

    Tony Greig was a reasonable cricketer and a good commentator, he’ll be missed in the world of #cricket. Recommend

  • Bilal

    ahh..you admired and wrote an article on Tony, but fail to notice how his last name spells out…quite obnoxious! Recommend

  • Anas Tanveer

    Dear Bilal, as per telegraph and rest websites, these are the correct spellings. Let’s not argue over the spellings, and respect the legacy.Recommend

  • https://twitter.com/aleemzubair Aleem

    I grew up listening to his commentary. Learned alot from it. To me, he was the best commentator in the world. Recommend

  • Sane

    Expecting from you or others to write about a real gentleman (which now is a scarce commodity in politics) Prof. Abdul Ghafoor Ahmed, who recently passed away.Recommend

  • Bilal

    @Bilal:
    good to see that it is corrected at last :)Recommend

  • Dr. Amyn Malik

    Tony Greig was an awesome commentator. Would be missed! Recommend

  • Sarfaraz

    @Sane:
    Unfortunately this is a sports blog. I can hardly write about the Professor on this one. However, I will say that from all I have heard of the gentleman, he was a good decent man. Nevertheless, I am not qualified to do so, as I do not know enough about him. Someone who knows about him should definitely take up this mantle. Sadly, there are many who have died a quiet death and disappeared without acknowledgement. Recommend

  • Bilal Moti, Arif Habib Ltd

    Sarfraz bhai you should stick to laughing all the way to the bank after encashing your engro foods shares which I am told is close to 500mn rupees now, as you had 5mn shares, rather than write here. I am sure other people will get a better chance. Recommend

  • Sarfaraz

    @Bilal:
    Bilal sahib while you are quite correct in the specific spelling for AWG, the normal spelling is actually as it is spelt in the blog. But Grieg is the way the gentleman himself spelt it.

    I did spell it as Grieg in my write-up, but someone probably spell-checking decided to change it. Happens :)

    However, it surely can’t be called obnoxious? (abhorrent, loathsome, hateful). That is more likely the firing going on outside in celebration of New Year, risking innocent lives. Lets just call it an error in judgement.

    Thank you.Recommend

  • Sarfaraz

    @Syed Arbab Ahmed (@SyedArbabAhmed):
    A reasonable cricketer sounds sort of sad…if you were to do the acid all rounder test..difference between batting and bowling average, Grieg finishes in the Top 10 of all time. Also he is higher than any other English player.

    He suffers from 2 things. His name was anathema for 30 plus years in England, due to the Packer era. And his commentator image, totally obscured his cricketing image. He was a difficult opponent on field. Seemed to surface just when the need was strong. Recommend

  • JSK

    Such events like passing of heroes reminds one how time cannot be held back. Some of the events described, I remember well and also that AWG had a head full of blond hair. Also another controversy when England beat India in 1977, AWG was a tough and good cricketer, well worth a tribute.Recommend

  • GhostRider

    He and Geoff Boycott made commentary sound fun…else it is boring (listen to ramiz raj, gavaskar etc). RIP Recommend

  • http://hammadsiddiquiblog.com Hammad Siddiqui

    He was one of the best in the senior lot! RIPRecommend

  • Sarfaraz

    @Bilal Moti, Arif Habib Ltd:
    Listening to rumors is bad and then passing it on comes under rumor mongering. I had to sell my shares when I retired in November 2011, per SECP agreement. So unfortunately, the benefits did not accrue as the price was less than par. Plus the numbers are exaggerated as usual. It’s our national past time. Also writing blogs is pro bono and does not yield any money. If you think the quality of writing is not upto publishing level, then my apologies :)Recommend

  • Sarfaraz

    @JSK:

    I did not write about the 77 tour of India, as the word numbers limit one to 800 and there is just so much one can input…but it was another controversy and success. England won resoundingly. But the ball tampering leveled at Lever, while never proved, left him a broken man. Never was able to do well after that tour. Grieg was involved only as the Captain and as usual defended Lever stoutly. Even today its a mystery if it did or did not happen. Both sides maintaining their stance.Recommend

  • Omair

    Tony Greig was one of the most outspoken and well respected characters in world cricket. Having grown up with listening to his commentary on channel 9 and later for all other networks world wide, his departure has certainly left a big gap in the cricketing world. Kerry packer and world series cricket owe a big debt to this guy and the likes of coloured clothing (day/night cricket) are all a continuation of the phenomena of this type of cricket which started way back in 1977.

    For me Tony’s commentary in the 1996 World Cup where he had a certain belief that Jayasuria and Kaluwitharna would win the cup for the srilankans was one of his fondest memories.

    I also remember him conducting the final presentation of world cup 1992 where he called up wasim akram for the man of the match and Imran Khan for the waterford crystal trophy from Sir Colin Cowdery .

    Btw he was also imran khan’s first test wicket caught behind by wasim bari. Recommend

  • Omar Mazhar

    The only thing i really knew about Tony was the “make them grovel” statement. the voice piece of a pre-apartheid south africa who had claimed the english captaincy. i always wondered how he had survived such a statement. i had guessed it was the 70s and white folks could get away with anything, but after reading this i realized that he did not mean it.

    i watched the interview in “fire in babylon” and i don’t think he intentionally meant it as a racist remark… his actual statement was “But if they’re down, they grovel, and I intend, with the help of Closey [Brian Close] and a few others, to make them grovel.”

    I focused on one aspect. and greig i guess looked the part.

    i can’t comment on his cricketing prowess, but his averages and the fact that he captained England show a top class performer, and his off field work for cricket correctly deserves praise. his commentary was colourful, even though i sometimes felt it might have been a bit biased.

    He will be missed. Good read, SAR.Recommend

  • Cynical

    @Sarfraz

    You have captured both the person that Grieg was and his career beautifully.
    Thanks for a good read.Recommend

  • Sarfaraz

    @Omair:
    did not know that one…Must have been the first test at Leeds in 1974? Would actually have seen that one, but don’t remember.Recommend

  • Sarfaraz

    @Omar Mazhar:
    Omar you have added to my knowledge. I did not ever see the actual interview. It was my A level year and I remember the later summer with Sir Viv scoring that masterly 291 and I think he got 891 in the whole series. And of course Holding bowling at lightening speed at Oval to take 16 wickets on a dead track.Recommend

  • Faisal

    Asif Iqbal was the able assistant of Grieg in the recruitment period for Packer. So 5 and later 7 Pakistanis, 13 WI, 13 Aus and 7-8 English and several SAfricans got recruited. It became the finest collection of cricketers ever to work together in the field. The pitches were dangerous green drop in pitches. So they started wearing helmets. Another innovation. Andy Roberts I believe hit Majid flush on the head in one of the games. Imran became the 3rd fastest bowler measured after Thompson and Holding.Recommend

  • Haris

    So many of crickets exalted are disappearing. We now get the T20 flash brigade. Compare Sobers, Benaud, Imran with the present lot. Only Kallis stands tall among them. The others are just boys.Recommend

  • Sarfaraz

    It seems to be a season on commentators. Christopher Martin-Jenkins commentator on Test Match Special for 40 years died today in England. Another major loss in cricket broadcasting.Recommend

  • Sarfaraz

    TOP 7 all rounders of all time in descending order.

    Criterion is batting average minus bowling average.

    Acid test.

    Sobers – West Indies
    Kallis – South Africe
    Imran – Pakistan
    Miller – Australia
    Pollock – South Africa
    Goddard – South Africa
    Grieg – EnglandRecommend