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         Volume 7 | Issue 01| January 06, 2013 |


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Tony Greig (1946-2012): The Larger than Life, Cricketer

Asrar Chowdhury

Photo: Internet

From fourteen, he fought epilepsy. The disease handicapped him, but made him stronger than others. He fought against all adversities that came along his way. And he fought with grace and pride. He even challenged and shook the establishment that was making money out of him and his fellow men. He dared to ask like Oliver Twist, “Please Sir. May I have some more”? In the end, they all did have some more, but by then he had stopped playing to pursue a life-long career educating and entertaining generations of followers in 'Cricket, Lovely Cricket'- like the Calypso song. Anthony William Greig (Oct 6, 1946 – Dec 29, 2012) or Tony Greig as the world knows was a thoroughbred Cricketer. The present generation knows Tony, the commentator. Not too many know or remember Tony, the larger than life, Cricketer.

Born in Queenstown, Eastern Cape, South Africa to a Scottish immigrant father who fought in the British Royal Air Force in World War I, and a South African Mother, Greig had to make a decision between university and a career for cricket at the age of 19 after he finished studies at Queens College, Queenstown. His father put his mind to rest. "Son, when I was your age I was fighting a war". In the end his Father said, "Go over to England for one year [only] … and see what you can do".

The rest is history. Tony scored 156 in his first match for Sussex versus Lancashire in 1966. Standing at 6 foot 6 inches (1.98 M), he remains the game's tallest all-rounder who like Sir Garry Sobers could bat; could bowl pace and genuine spins; and was also a brilliant fielder. But above all- could lead from the front as a Captain. His Test statistics speak for themselves. In between 1972 and 1977 in 58 Tests, Tony Greig scored 3,599 runs with 8, 100s; 20, 50s; at an average of 40 with a top score of 148. With the ball, Tony took 141 wickets; with six 5 wickets in an innings and two 10 wickets in a match; with a best bowling of 8/86. As a fielder he took 87 catches. These figures reveal only half of the story. Greig's runs came against the devastating Lillee and Thomson pair of Australia; Roberts, Garner, Croft and Holding lightning pace quartet of the West Indies; and the spin web of Prasanna, Venktaraghavan, Chandrasekhar and Bedi quartet of India. This was a period when batsmen did not wear protective gear as they do today. Any Cricketophile will testify- these figures speak much more than their weight in gold. Tony Captained England in 14 Tests with a famous Series win versus India in India (3-1; 1976/77).

In June 1974, Greig scored the 100th Test Century to be scored in a Lord's Test match that crushed India. Down Under that year, Lillee and Thomson were 'waiting'. At the Gabba- the fast bowler's paradise, the England camp melted. Greig had different ideas. He was hitting Lillee for boundaries and then signaling a boundary like the umpire. His team mate, Derek Underwood, begged him not to anger Lillee, but Greig knew better than anybody else- Test Cricket is a Mind Game of patience and endurance. In the end, Greig stood tall with a century, 110.

Photo: Internet

Tony Greig's playing days are recalled for his infamous statement to make the West Indies 'Grovel' in the 1976 series in England. Greig was in no way a racist, but 'Grovel' is a derogatory colonial word used against slaves. If any good came out of this unintentional slur, it lead to the birth of the famous pace quartet of West Indies bowling that terrorised batsmen till Ambrose and Walsh. In that series, Greenidge and Richards played as if there was no tomorrow. The West Indies 'Blackwashed' England. At the Oval, Tony Greig 'Groveled' on his knees. But that was the magnanimity of the man. He would play combatively and competitively, but never would he play unfair. He was always willing to apologise and make up for any mistake. This is what the sport of Cricket has always stood for- a Gentleman's Game.

Tony Greig's lasting legacy remains in commercialising Cricket in collaboration with Australian media tycoon Kerry Packer and Channel 9 where he was candid to admit that he got a 'job for life' as a commentator. Although branded a 'traitor' by England and many at the time, in hindsight, Kerry Packer and Tony Greig have done a world of good for the game of Cricket and incomes of Cricketers in general. It takes more than a man to challenge an establishment and then make it bow down. Tony Greig did just that. Greig and Packer are forerunners of today's IPL.

Today's Cricket lovers will remember Tony Greig the Commentator. The man who immortalised Shane Warne's Hat Trick in Tests against England at the MCG, 1994/95; the man who would greet a Sachin Tendulkar Century as if each was history in the making; the man who wanted more than Brian Lara himself, to convert his maiden Test Century to a Triple at Sydney, 1992/93. Lara was run out for 277!

On the field, Greig provided entertainment and genius with bat and ball. Off the field, he provided education and entertainment with the microphone. The Cricket World will sadly miss the golden voice and cricketing exploits of Tony Greig. RIP, Mate!

(The author teaches economic theory at Jahangirnagar University and North South University.)

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