Greig the pioneer
THE TRIBUTES presented a wide range of personifications.
To those who knew him, played with and against him and worked alongside him, Tony Greig was, at one and the same time, “combative”, “controversial”, “spirited”, “knowledgeable”, “opinionated”, “entertaining”, “‘self-confident”.
Sir Ian Botham called him a “cricket revolutionary”. Sir Garry Sobers described him as “the kind of cricketer you would always want in your team”. Ian Chappell noted that “he got the absolute best out of his ability”.
As a fellow commentator with Channel Nine and other various networks over 30 years, I found Greig to be big-hearted, enthusiastic to a fault and, in his adopted home in Australia, a generous host.
West Indians, on the ground and in the stands, are fully acquainted with the several traits others saw in the former England captain, who became a prominent figure in the launch of Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket and a popular international television commentator.
They remember Greig most for his provocative boast prior to the 1976 series in England.
He told an interviewer on national television: “You must remember that the West Indians, these guys, if they get on top they are magnificent cricketers 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.”
Coming from a white South African at the height of the gathering global struggle against apartheid, it was a word guaranteed to provoke opponents from completely different racial and social circumstances. The consequence was a 3-0 trouncing.
The images of the summer were of the wreckage created of the six foot, seven inch Greig’s stumps by the rampant West Indies fast bowlers and of he himself grovelling on the outfield at The Oval, in front of the celebrating massed West Indians in the south-western stands as the West Indies were on their way to victory by 231 runs.
West Indians had witnessed Greig’s competiveness two years earlier at the Queen’s Park Oval.
As Bernard Julien blocked the last ball of the second day of the first Test from Derek Underwood to Greig at silly point, he (Julien) turned and headed back to the pavilion behind him. His partner at the other end, Alvin Kallicharran, followed as wicketkeeper Alan Knott lifted the bails.
They both presumed the ball was dead. Greig knew it wasn’t and quickly pinged the non-striker’s stumps with Kallicharran already three strides out of his ground. As umpire Douglas Sang Hue raised his finger on appeal, he waved his hands to suggest he had no alternative under the laws.
Concerned with the rising local reaction, England captain Mike Denness asked to withdraw the appeal. Sang Hue and his partner Ralph Gosein, not wanting to set a precedent, initially declined. It took three hours before it was agreed that Kallicharran be reinstated.
The West Indies won by seven wickets and, in spite of Greig’s 148 at Kensington and 121 at Bourda, England could not break the deadlock heading into the final Test on return to Queen’s Park.
It was there that Greig’s confidence and reading of the game were revealed.
Recognizing that a typically slow, turning Oval pitch of uneven bounce was unsuited to his usual bowling method of medium-paced seam, he changed to slower off-breaks. His height was a distinct advantage.
His 13 wickets (8-86 and 5-70) remain the best for England in a Test against the West Indies and along with Geoff Boycott’s scores of 99 and 112 they saw England to a series-levelling victory by 26 runs.
There was further evidence of Greig’s character, even when at his lowest ebb in the 1976 series.
After scores of 0, 6, 20, 9 and 3 in the first three Tests, he briefly turned his form around with 116 and 76 not out in the fourth at Leeds. But it didn’t prevent a West Indies win by 53 runs and Michael Holding delivered the final ignominy in the final Test at The Oval by ripping out his leg-stump in both innings, 12 in the first, one in the second.
The following year, Greig was helping recruit most of his West Indian tormentors for World Series Cricket. There would be more than 20 in all for an experience that primed them for their subsequent extended domination of the world game.
Greig himself was pilloried for his involvement by the establishment in England, characterized as a money-grabbing traitor for abandoning the honour of captaincy in favour of a radical venture with a crude Australian.
The effect was to drag the game from its staid past into the modern era. For whatever else, Tony Greig will be remembered as a pioneer for that.