Tony Greig: The oft overlooked cricketing career of the iconic voice of cricket
Tony Greig was much more than an enthusiastic commentator, he was a player of mighty substance.
Sharjah, 22 Apr 1998; India were playing Australia in what was a virtual qualifier for a spot in the final of the Coca-Cola Cup. Chasing a target of 276 in 46 overs (238 to qualify for the final), revised from 284 in 50 overs due to a desert costing 4 overs of play.
When play resumed after the storm, India were placed at 143/4 in 31 overs, needing 95 runs in 15 overs to qualify for the final, and 131 to win the game (which seemed highly unlikely).
Sachin Tendulkar hoisted a slower ball from Kasprowicz to end the 32nd over and get India past the 150 mark. He kept batting with relative restraint until about the 38th over, the match equation stood at 60 runs needed off 56 balls for India to qualify for the final.
Starting with a straight, almost nonchalant, six off Steve Waugh, Tendulkar produced an awe (and romance) inspiring display of batting which has not been experienced by his fans since. By the time the dust of that onslaught settled with his dismissal, India had not only cruised past the qualifying score (with 20 balls remaining) but with 34 runs required, looked poised for a win.
But apart from Tendulkar’s pyrotechnics, there’s something else which will be associated with that great night almost for eternity, Anthony William (Tony) Greig’s pyrotechnics played out from behind the microphone. I think it’s a pardonable exaggeration to say that Greig’s commentary has had a big role to play for the cult status that innings of Tendulkar has acquired over the years.
With Greig’s demise on Dec 29, 2012, cricket lost one of its most avid disciples. He played a key role in making cricket the spectacle (limited overs if only) it is today by promoting Kerry Packer’s World Series cricket.
Greig as an international cricketer
But is Tony Greig to be remembered only for his stint behind the microphone? After all, he represented England in 58 Test matches, led them in 14, scored almost 3600 runs and took 141 wickets with medium pace bowling. I believe Tony Greig is one of the most under-rated cricketers of his generation.
Tony Greig played 58 Test matches between a five year period between 1972 and 1977. It is a testament to his abilities as a genuine all-rounder that during his career, he scored the most runs, and took the most number of wickets for any England player after Derek Underwood.
What’s even more impressive is that even amongst all test playing nations, only Greg Chappell scored more runs than Greig, and apart from Derek Underwood, only Dennis Lille took more wickets than Greig’s 141.
One must also remember that Greig was an all-rounder, so in-spite of having played more matches than any other cricketer during his career, he played as an all-rounder. Yet for an all-rounder to be at the top of the batting and bowling charts is quite an achievement.
His batting prowess
As far as his batting is concerned, Consistency is the word which describes it best. For one thing, his career average never dropped below 40, which is mighty impressive for an all-rounder. Greig was also amongst the select few batsmen who averaged more than 50 in Test wins during his career.
Although he placed far below several batsmen of his generation, he still had a better average than Doug Walters and Ian Chappell. 3 of his 8 Test centuries came in winning causes.
Table 1: Average in test wins (8 Jan 1972-25 Aug 1977) - min 750 runs
Greig’s consistency as a batsman is also illustrated by his series-by-series record. He played a total of 15 Test series, and in 10 of them, he averaged over 35. One must also not forget the runs he scored in ‘tough-rubbers’; most evident is his performance vs Australia in the 1974/75 Ashes played Down Under.
The fierce pace of Lillee and Thomson terrified England batsmen throughout the six-match series, eventually won 4-1 by Australia. Not only was Greig the highest scoring England batsmen with 446 runs, but he was the only English batsman apart from John Edrich to average more than 40.
The 1976 Wisden Trophy against the West Indies was marked by controversy over Greig’s comments of making the West Indies ‘Grovel’. He was nowhere near the top of the batting charts which was dominated exclusively by three West Indies batsmen (Richards, Greenidge, Fredericks), but notably he was the only England batsman apart from Dennis Amiss, Alan Knott, and David Steele to have managed a century against the West Indies pace battery.
For a majority of his career, Greig batted at no.6, and till date, he has scored the most runs at this position apart from Steve Waugh, Hashan Tillakaratne, and VVS Laxman.
Although his average looks a bit mediocre compared to other batsmen on the list, it must be remembered again that Greig was an all-rounder, and only Gary Sobers averaged more than him at this position whereas Ian Botham averaged only 29.23.
That is some class to be at par with.
Table 2: Most runs at No.6 (Qual-2000 runs)
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