Tony Greig had an outsize influence on cricket

Last Updated: Sat, Dec 29, 2012 14:35 hrs

​To the younger generation he was everyone's favourite commentator. A rich and cheery voice, ready with the anecdotes and knowledge of the finer points of the game, Tony Greig was the cricket connoisseur’s delight. But for those who grew up in the late 60s and 70s Greig was one of the leading personalities in the game. 

Indeed the outsized Greig (he was 6’7’’ tall) had an outsize influence on the game thanks first to his all round skills, then an eventful tenure as England captain and finally as Kerry Packer’s right hand man in recruiting the leading cricketers in the world to play in World Series Cricket.
For all his manifold skills as a player and a charismatic leader it is that last role that Greig will be most remembered for. In May 1977 out of the clearest of blue skies came the revelation of Packer’s secret intrusion into world cricket wherein Greig while still England’s captain played a crucial recruiting part. 

In doing what he did Greig was not just saying goodbye to the English captaincy but also risked abuse and ridicule. Invariably there were charges of betrayal of trust fuelled by the fact that he was South African born. 

In retrospect with the benefit of hindsight it can be seen that Greig like Packer was a visionary even if both of them might have done what they did for monetary reasons.
Greig was at the height of his popularity both as a player and a captain and under the circumstances it was a rather courageous stand that he took fully aware of the price that he had to pay. Predictably he lost both the England and Sussex captaincy, was treated as a pariah and played the last of his 58 Tests (on the trot it must be added) in August 1977 when he was not yet 31. 

In just five short years he had emerged as the leading England all rounder with a record second to none – 3599 runs at an average of 40 including eight hundreds, 141 wickets at 32 apiece and 87 catches. Moreover his height, his dashing good looks and engaging personality made him one of the instantly recognizable figures in world cricket. A man in a hurry to succeed Greig could be both charming and ruthless.
As a batsman Greig was a front foot player who loved playing the free flowing drives. A courageous batsman he stood up to Lillee and Thomson during the 1974-75 disastrous Ashes series counter attacking with thrilling strokes none more outstanding than the 110 on a Gabba pitch of uneven bounce. 

He was a peerless player of spin and was one of the few England batsmen to combat the menace of India’s famed spin quartet successfully. This ability to handle both pace and spin with aplomb made Greig a feared batsman in world cricket.  
It is a bit unfortunate that Greig has not been given his due as an allrounder. He was the first England player to score a hundred and take five wickets in an innings in a Test match and frequently made a mark in the same Test with both bat and ball. In a squared series in the West Indies in 1974 he scored 430 runs at an average of 47.77 with two hundreds and took 24 wickets at 22.62 apiece. 

As a bowler he was good enough to take 13 wickets in a match in the same series when the batting line-up started with Roy Fredericks and Lawrence Rowe and continued with Alvin Kallicharran, Clive Lloyd, Gary Sobers and Rohan Kanhai. He was essentially a medium pace bowler able to swing the ball and obtain steep bounce. 

But he achieved his greatest bowling feats as an off spinner. To complete the picture of Greig the player he was also a superlative fielder at slip or close in positions, showing remarkable anticipation and reflexes.
As a captain Greig was astute on matters of strategy and tactics but his overall image was that of a charismatic leader who inspired his teammates on the strength of his strong personality. Of course leading from the front came naturally to a player of his calibre. He took over the captaincy when English cricket was a wreck. 

The team had been walloped in the Ashes battle `Down Under’ in 1974-75 and had lost the first Test of the return series at home by an innings. Mike Denness was sacked and Greig took over. He was a popular choice but no one expected a turnabout given that English cricket was in the doldrums and the strength of Ian Chappell’s touring squad. 

However Greig inspired his team to play above their potential and the result was that the formidable Aussies were held to a draw in the remaining three Tests.
Firmly established as captain Greig had to eat humble pie as England lost tamely to West Indies in 1976 with his now infamous ``we’ll make them grovel’’ remark part of cricketing folklore. However he redeemed his reputation in a big way by leading the team to a series victory in India only the second England captain to emerge victorious in this country. 

England won the first three Tests – a unique feat – on the way to a 3-1 victory. In India Greig was hugely popular and played to the gallery quite often endearing himself to cricket fans. Few gestures have stood more vividly in mind then Greig playfully lifting tiny (5’ 4”) Gundappa Viswanath at Bombay in 1973 when the Indian touch artist had completed his hundred.

More from Sify: