Tony Greig. Born in South Africa with Scottish roots, captain of England, Australian broadcasting icon, West Indian motivational specialist, President of the Indian rebel league, and Patron of Sri Lanka cricket. Died, aged 66 in Sydney last month of a heart attack as he battled lung cancer.
The modern pioneering man; has there ever been a bigger personification of the Global Sporting Village?
With a man like Greig, what made his impact on cricket so large, was that he was your pin-up flawed genius.
As a player Greig was very, very good, and possibly his later activities covered that up. To judge an allrounder a commonly held benchmark is to subtract their bowling average from their batting average. By that measure Greig nudged out Botham and was vastly superior to Flintoff. There was also the fact that, like Sir Garfield Sobers, he bowled a variety of seam up and off-spin.
As a captain he led from the front then, in 1976, committed the biggest motivational blunder of all time. With a West Indies tour pending he said those words. “We will make them grovel”. Much has been made in recent weeks how that was merely a slip of the tongue. But these were politically charged bravado words coming from an England captain at the best of times, slightly reckless when delivered with a thick South African accent.
It failed spectacularly; the West Indies used it as motivation, and the blueprint for intimidating, non-grovelling, bowling was set. The magnificent Fire on Babylon movie was built around that one motivational speech.
The following year was the birth of Packer World Series Cricket, and Greig’s first venture into rebel sport territory. As England prepared for a home Ashes series, the England captain was being wined and dined in Sydney, and eventually news of the breakaway series was leaked to the media.
He was stripped of his England captaincy and although he played on for an Ashes series under legal injunctions, his mind was in Sydney and the promise of a broadcasting career for life.
Life in the pocket of Kerry Packer became a relationship that was to last for 30 years. He never returned to England or South Africa but was to remain loyal to his new overlord, and would start his new career as a cricket commentator while still meddling a fair bit in cricket administration.
As a commentator he is most famous for teaching us that car keys could be used for things other than driving cars and swinging parties. That, and the Panama hat, became his signature. No other commentator ever did a better pitch report than Greig.
There was the odd gaffein his commentating career. He had a fondness for referring to Asian players as short, and there was the time when the camera zoomed onto a couple in a marriage ceremony at a nearby church. Greig made a comment implying that the Asian woman shown was a mail order bride: “Do you think she’s been flown in?”.
Then there was the Rebel ICL League. Greig was made president of that, and once more played the well-worn maverick player card. But, unlike World Series Cricket, this was a tainted and deeply flawed set-up, and was not remotely interested in any innovation.
And remember the damage, from Shane Bond to Lou Vincent, that this inflicted on the game. The shadiness of it was exposed at its fullest with the Chris Cairns allegation of match fixing. Greig stood to one side of that, neither confirming nor denying, and the reputation of NZ’s second best all-rounder was never to recover; depriving him until recently of his chance to have a post playing career behind the microphone.
Greig, at his best, was a true pioneer of the sport. But in the post-death outpouring of universal love, it is important to remember his many other legacies.
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