If there is one man who truly deserves to be called as a “Global Cricket Citizen” then it has to be Anthony William Greig also known as Tony Greig. Born in South Africa, he played cricket for England, finally settled in Australia and most importantly was loved all over the cricketing world.
Such was his charisma that in 1977, along with businessman Kerry Packer he managed to get the top cricketers of the world together in a rebel series called as the World Series Cricket (WSC). This led to his removal from the post of captain of the English Cricket team, but more on that later.
Tony Greig began his cricketing career playing for Queen’s College, Queenstown, South Africa and it was there that he got in touch with some former Sussex players who had been recruited as coaches for the college team.
They spotted the talent in Greig and asked him to give a trial for Sussex. Greig not only was selected in the Sussex team but went on to play for England and in fact led the national team in 14 Test matches.
Amongst the top three England all-rounders
His overall record of 3599 runs at an average of just over 40 and 141 wickets in 58 Tests easily gives him a place amongst the top three all-rounders (along with Ian Botham & Andrew Flintoff) to have represented England.
As a batsman, his best performances came against India and he averaged more than 55 against them. He was one of the few batsmen who performed better in away conditions. His away batting average of 46.92 was much more than his home average of 34.63.
With the ball, his best series was also one of the most controversial one. It took place in the Caribbean islands in 1974 and during the first match, Greig hit the stumps and appealed for a run-out when Alvin Kalicharan was returning back to the pavilion at the end of day 2. Technically, Kalicharan was out but Greig’s actions were considered unsporting and the next day Kalicharan was reinstated.
This set the tone for the remainder of the series. Despite this ominous start, Greig had a marvellous series in which he went on to score 430 runs and took 24 wickets.
Although he was a charismatic leader, his leadership did not translate into a great deal of success for England. He won only three of the fourteen tests in which he led the English team. Once again his finest hours as a captain came against India. England defeated India 3-1 in the five-match series in 1976-77 and in the process won a Test series in the sub-continent for the first time in 15 years.
Like with any other English or Australian cricketer, Tony Greig’s career analysis will be incomplete without a mention of The Ashes. In 20 Ashes tests, Greig scored 1244 runs at an average of just over 36 and took 42 wickets.
His Philosophy : Cricket is a game and it is to be enjoyed
But his career was much more than those numbers can ever suggest. He believed in the philosophy that cricket is a game and it is to be enjoyed. And as he would have himself said “Oh boy, did he enjoy it”. With the Kerry Packer series, he ensured that other cricketers can also enjoy the game without having to think about money. His association with Packer can be credited with bringing money in cricket.
Talking about the WSC, he had once said, “Cricket the world over, I don’t think, will ever know how different things would be without Kerry Packer”.
A fan’s commentator
And with Kerry Packer’s Channel Nine, post retirement he continued his association with cricket as a commentator. The incomparable enthusiasm in his voice had led stand-up comedian Vikram Sathaye to joke that Sachin Tendulkar owed half of his runs to Tony Greig.
Well, Greig had this unique talent to bring in excitement even during the most boring phase of a match. He could explain the most mundane of shots in a manner that the listener would get a feeling that something special was taking place in the middle. He was essentially a fan’s commentator.
Commentary lines that will never be forgotten
His quotes like “They are dancing in the aisles in Sharjah” (during the famous Desert Storm courtesy Sachin Tendulkar) or “Little Kalu” (while referring to the Sri Lankan wicketkeeper Romesh Kaluwatharna) will give goosebumps to any cricket fan.
He could cover up for mistakes during commentary in the most graceful manners like he did after confusing Allan Border with Rod Marsh, three years after the keeper quit test cricket. Realising his mistake in the middle he had said, ”That was hit really hard by Rod Marsh… no, it wasn't, Rod Marsh has just walked into the dressing room, and what's more, he's retired!”. Interestingly, he had also once failed to recognise the great Sir Donald Bradman at the Adelaide airport in 1974 and had asked Sir Don to carry his luggage.
Along with Bill Lawry, Ian Chappel & Richie Benaud he formed a great commentary team. He will surely go down as one of the best cricket commentators ever in the history of cricket. He left for heavenly abodes in 2012 after being diagnosed with lung cancer.
Coincidentally, he shares his birthday with fellow cricketer & commentator late Richie Benaud. So, maybe someday as a mark of respect to these two great human beings, the ICC will declare October 6th as the “International Commentator’s Day”. And whenever that happens, be rest assured that “The whole of cricketing world would be on their feet”.
Till then, Tony would carry on his banter with Richie up in the heavens and whenever a great player would perform, we will hear the words - “Whadda Playa” from the top.
Also read: 5 famous mid-pitch conversations in cricket