Tony Greig’s death followed by Christopher Martin-Jenkins’ssurrender to cancer just like the former England captain inevitably gets you thinking about how saddened the commentators fraternity is.
Robin Jackman and Martin Crowe are fighting it out at the moment. Cricket needs them to be back on their feet and in the box. Crowe’s role is beyond ball-by-ball commentary and he has made a mark as a producer as well in New Zealand. Greig’s loss will be huge. He was loud, extravagant and often jumped the gun, but he made cricket exciting for many viewers.
Despite being gregarious in nature, he was not often interviewed by the print media. Not sure whether that was because he didn’t agree to interviews or whether he was merely untapped by the print gang. Remember, his ‘grovel’ comment before the 1976 Test series against the West Indies was made on camera. All the same, Greig was great with telling stories — yarns — as they like to call them in Australia.
For the documentaries Cricket in the ’70s and Cricket in the ’80s — he threw in a few gems which caused Mike Coward, the celebrated Australian cricket historian to call Greig a “generous interviewee”.
I particularly liked the one about Geoff Boycott, who, according to Greig, walked besides him to the pavilion at Queen’s Park Oval in Trinidad after England’s 26-run win over the West Indies, congratulated him (Boycott scored 99 and 112 while vice-captain Greig claimed 13 wickets in the match, bowling off-spin), and then told him that the only problem was that they contributed in helping Mike Denness keep his job as captain with the series now squared. As for Greig, he was just chuffed after winning a Test match against a formidable West Indies team, but Boycott’s complex nature left him shocked.
Greig was also amazed how a group of Indian and Pakistani cricketers, playing for the same Rest of the World team in Australia 1971-72 gathered in the dressing room listening to the radio about war between their nations. According to Greig, the Indians and Pakistanis, despite the war back home were “the greatest of mates” in the team room. It was also a great example to him about how “sport can break down politics.”
Greig played a crucial role in Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket and he narrated a story about a day-night match between Australia and West Indies in Melbourne which went on beyond the city council’s permitted time for floodlights. When Packer’s trusted man — World Series Cricket CEO — Andrew Caro told his boss that they would have to turn the lights off, Packer told him to stop the clock which was not far away to where the council’s representative was sitting. “Fix it, Andrew,” Caro was told. It was done and there was no trouble from the authorities.
Apart from talking cricket behind a microphone, Greig also got his kicks by collecting memorabilia. One of the items he possessed was Harbhajan Singh’s Test hat-trick ball, bought for around Rs 50,000 at a charity auction several years ago.
As a player, Greig endeared himself to the spectators, but he didn’t allow all that popularity to sway him. He loved winning just as much. On Christmas Day of 1972, he was part of an England team that won the opening Test in Delhi. According to him, the team went a bit overboard with their Christmas and victory celebrations, lost focus and went on to lose the next two Tests. The series ended 2-1 in India’s favour.
Four years later, he arrived in India as captain. Again, the first Test was held in Delhi and England won three days before Christmas. Greig remembered the lessons of 1972-73 and ensured the focus was good enough for England win the series.
He was determined to fight cancer too, like a boxer, he said, but it was too hard to beat. That a tall, strong, otherwise healthy man could be reduced to helplessness caused by lung cancer is no good an example to cite in motivational speeches, but here’s another Anthony William Greig gem: “In life, sometimes you’ve got to take what you are dealt.”
Clayton Murzello is MiD DAY’s Group Sports Editor