Allrounder, No 8 - Tony Greig January 12, 2007

Cricket's great pioneer



Tony Greig simply didn't know when he was beaten © Getty Images

Video - The Tony Greig story (Windows Media Player - 3m 55s)
Tony Greig is one of the most colourful and least pigeon-holeable cricketers in the modern game. He was born in South Africa, but went on to captain England. He bowled seam-up, but once took 13 wickets in a Test with off-breaks. He charmed the Indians, but riled the West Indians. He signalled his own boundaries off Dennis Lillee, but signalled his demise as a Test cricketer by signing up with Kerry Packer. But above all, in five years at the highest level he built up a formidable and often under-rated record as a flamboyant allrounder who simply did not know when he was beaten.

Achievements
A batting average of 40 at a time when the figure still stood as a benchmark for quality, and a bowling average of 32 - better than Garry Sobers - were testimony to Greig's talents. And that's before you mention the 87 catches he took, mainly at second slip, where he was a match for Ian Botham. He was also viewed as a sufficiently natural leader to captain England in 14 of his 58 Tests, and famously led them to victory in India in 1976-77. And international players everywhere remain grateful for Greig's role in helping Packer set up World Series Cricket. Never mind the threat to the establishment: Packer and Greig reminded the authorities that the players deserved their slice of the financial pie too.

What makes him special
Greig was big, brash and ultra-competitive, and made himself at home right from the start, scoring a pair of fifties and taking five wickets on Test debut in the win against Australia at Trent Bridge in 1972. He also had a perspective on life and the game that meant it was hard not to warm to him: his wooing of the Indian crowds was an object lesson on how to tour a country that English cricketers had not always relished, and his iconoclastic tendencies insured he relished a challenge. His 110 out of a total of 265 against a rampant Lillee and Thomson at Brisbane during England's bloodied-and-battered Ashes tour of 1974-75 remains one of the bravest in Test history.

Finest hour
Winning in India stands out on the CV, but few matches were more purely Greig than the thrilling 26-run win over West Indies in 1973-74 to square the series at Port-of-Spain. In an attempt to deal with the numerous left-handers in the West Indies batting line-up, Greig switched from medium-pace to off-spin, and promptly claimed 13 wickets. To put that performance in context, England's two front-line spinners in that match - Derek Underwood and Pat Pocock - took only four wickets between them in 105 overs. Greig finished the series with 24 wickets (England's next-best was Pocock with nine), and hit two hundreds for good measure. The fact that England lost their next five series in the Caribbean conferred a restrospective glow.

Achilles Heel
Occasionally the will to win got out of hand. The run-out of Alvin Kallicharran, who was on his way to the pavilion following the last ball of the day during the first of the two Trinidad Tests in 1973-74, cast a cloud over that series, even though the appeal was later withdrawn by England. And few articles on sporting gaffes are complete without reference to Greig's insistence, ahead of the 1976 series against West Indies, that he would make the tourists "grovel". Some commentators noted the racial awkwardness of a white South African preaching to Test cricket's only black nation, but in truth it was tactlessness more than anything.

How history views him
Greig will always be the devil-may-care rebel who cocked a snook at the establishment and ascended to the England captaincy almost in spite of the innate conservatism of the English game. On the field he was never less than watchable, and sometimes brilliant. Off it, he was part of the most important revolution the game has seen in the last 30 years. His alliance with Packer cemented his standing as an outsider, but it was typically pragmatic of the man. And the effects still reverberate today.

Life after cricket
Behind Richie Benaud, the commentary-box musings of Tony Greig are probably the most mimicked in the game. His friendship with Packer guaranteed him a job for life with Channel 9, and his on-air duels with Bill Lawry have become the stuff of legend, some of it comic.

Lawrence Booth is a freelance cricket writer based in London.

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