There are too many things to write about Anthony William Greig. And, in my opinion, an obituary is an insult to memory. So I will just restrict myself to two instances concerning his “loudmouth” which remain etched in my memory.
The second is more recent i.e. to be more precise, at the MCC lecture. Never one to be very pro-establishment (he was one of the key figures of both the rebel World Series Cricket and Indian Cricket League), Greig took pot-shots at the biggest of them all – the BCCI.
On what is the biggest stage of them all, Greig lambasted the BCCI for its greed of money and manhandling of the ICC with respect to a separate IPL window and acceptance of the DRS system. He also (rightly) questioned the credibility of the IPL matches where match-fixing and anti-doping terms have not been implemented despite the rumours of downplay. The IPL spot fixing and rave party scandals only corroborated his statement.
Although I feel that most of the vitriol in his statement can be attributed to the fact that he comes from the “other side”, I do tend to agree with him. While the BCCI has done a few good things to cricket like helping the likes of Bangladesh and other associates get off their feet, bringing more security and opportunities to first-class cricketers and felicitating the greats of the game, it has commercialized the game way too much. I do not think I have seen a half empty Eden for a Test match before; that too at a reduced capacity. No other team in the world would have continued with the same captain who has lost you 10 out of 11 Test matches played against the world’s top cricketing nations. Is the reason that he is the captain of the IPL franchise funded by the BCCI president?
While these are pertinent questions, I would like to talk more about the first instance which is more about what happens on the field. It is about a comment that Greig passed as the captain of England which galvanised an entire fraternity against him and was significant in the rise of a new world order in the world of cricket.
West Indies landed in England in the summer of ’76 after a 5-1 hammering in Australia the winter gone by. The wheels had already been set in motion as Lloyd and company had started assembling a fearsome pace attack that would dominate world cricket for the next two decades.
Our man Greig was not too sure. In an interview to the BBC, he spelled out his agenda in a clear statement – “I intend to make them grovel.” The remark, although probably intended to be a quip, was seen as coloured with racist overtones. 1976 was when apartheid and the infamous “Kneegrovel” movement was in full swing in South Africa and such as statement from a white South African playing for the colonial masters only added fuel to the fire. The already smarting West Indies were now prepared to do or die on the 22 yards.
The English team, on the other hand, were not amused. They had been cautious of the West Indian pace battery and most of Greig’s teammates felt that he had struck a sleeping snake on the head with a stone. But they somehow got their act together to secure draws at Lord’s and Trent Bridge.
Old Trafford was where it started to go all wrong. The pitch temperature had gone up significantly in what was one of the hottest summers in the country and the West Indian bowlers upped their ante to demolish the English batsmen. The larger West Indian crowds had found their voice back.
A repeat of Old Trafford was in store for Greig’s men at Headingley and when they finally trudged their weary boots to the Oval, they found Barbados waiting for them. South London had a large population of Caribbean expats and they brought their brand of calypso to the ground.
On the afternoon the day before the match (and the series) ended, Greig made his way to the open stands in one part of the ground and sunk to his feet. This would remain one of the most indelible instances of acceptance of defeat captured on celluloid.
Less than a year later, Greig was sharing drinks with Kerry Packer and walking out of the England side – but not before redeeming himself in India against the famed spin quartet and playing the Centenary Test. He went on to become a controversial yet successful commentator for Channel Nine, always letting it rip from his upper lip passing a lot of – by his own admission – “off microphone and not intended for broadcast” comments. Who can forget “Do you think she has been flown in?” as the camera zoomed in on a marriage ceremony in Sydney. He seemed to reserve his best though for the West Indian batsmen as the team went into decline in the 90s – “Goodnight Charlie” after each West Indian wicket being a prime example.
Soon after the BBC interview, Greig had appeared on a black radio station in an effort to diffuse the situation. “If you talk to me long enough I will say some something controversial,” he admitted, “I am bound to offend someone and get myself into deep water.” That was Tony Greig for you, doing something which we all want to but cannot – being politically incorrect. Professional cricketers and the burgeoning T20 leagues around the world owe him a note of thanks for the same. Although being the pantomime showman he was, Anthony William Greig would have taken it with a pinch of salt and moved on to his next act.