Gangling cricketer-turned-commentator, remembered for his never-say-die spirit
Nobody gave England much of a chance against Australia in 1975. Except its new captain, Tony Greig, who took over from Mike Denness after the team lost by an innings in the first Test at Birmingham.
The setting, this time around, was at Lord’s, the halo of cricket grounds worldwide, and Australia was raring to go. By the end of day one, England had knocked up 313 for the loss of nine wickets with Greig leading the charge with 96. It was a remarkable comeback for a side which was doomed to perish against their proverbial foe. England had the upper hand in at least two of the remaining three Tests and Greig had well and truly announced his intent.
The 6’7” gangling cricketer, remembered for his never-say-die spirit, finally lost the battle with cancer and passed away on Friday. He continued in the Test arena for a couple of years longer as skipper before setting the cat among the pigeons with World Series Cricket.
It was Greig who played a major role in drawing some of the biggest names in the game to Australian magnate, Kerry Packer’s stunning initiative.
Players were offered the moon to participate and were promptly labelled rebels when they did. Greig was vilified for being the perpetrator except that the same critics had to eat their words when cricketing boards incorporated Packer’s innovations, such as coloured clothing and night cricket, in the one-day game.
But then controversy and Greig went hand-in-hand. His ‘grovel’ comment directed against the West Indies team of 1976 raised their hackles to such an extent that they singled out Greig for special treatment. It was, in hindsight, not the smartest thing to say given his South African origins. To use ‘grovel’ against the West Indians only reminded them of the hateful apartheid regime prevailing in the country.
Greig’s victorious march against India in the 1976-77 series, likewise, had its share of controversy when his successful wicket taker, John Lever, was accused of using Vaseline to make the ball swing. Despite this, there were no two ways about the fact that England was the superior side and deserved to win.
India, of course, has happier memories of Greig when he celebrated G.R Viswanath’s ton at the Brabourne stadium during the earlier 1972-73 series. It was quite a sight to see the blonde giant virtually cradle the comparatively small-built ‘Vishy’ and this gesture won the hearts of the Mumbai crowd. It was also during this series that Greig showed his mettle when he rescued England time and again with some big knocks.
Yet another occasion when he was in the eye of the storm was during the 1974 tour to the West Indies when he ‘ran out’ Alvin Kallicharan of what seemed a dead ball. The crowds did not like it one bit though Greig’s act could well have been within the rules of the game. Kalli was recalled and went on to add some more runs before he was eventually dismissed for 158. Yet, what is remembered about this series is Greig’s bowling in the last Test at Trinidad which helped England square the series against a distinctly stronger opponent.
Greig spent a large part of the last three decades as commentator and clearly enjoyed the new role. He will be sorely missed.