England cricket December 30, 2012

Tony Greig: Turning cricketers from Patriots into Professionals

Seemingly a giant of a man, literally and figuratively, he was the captain of a team central to the Indian team's understanding of itself in the cricket world

On December 17, 1976 as the bell rang for the lunch recess at my Delhi school, a gaggle of fifth graders, including myself, came together, lunch-boxes and transistor radios in tow, to check on the cricket scores. The first Test between the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) and India was underway at the Ferozeshah Kotla, and thus far, on that bright Delhi winter morning, we had been denied updates. I did not own a radio myself so I was dependent on my classmates for a ticket to the ground. I walked over to a young lad, the ubiquitous square-shaped little box glued to his ear, and asked for the score. The MCC were batting, and stunningly, five wickets had already fallen for a little over a hundred on the board.

I wasn't done yet though. "Is Greig out?" I asked. "Yes." "How much?" "Twenty-five." Twenty-five! Stunned, I wandered away, my fingers nervously strumming the edges of my lunchbox; how was it possible for such a giant of a man to be out for such a low score? I've responded with shock on hearing the news of a favourite player's dismissal many times, but this was something else altogether: giants were not so easily felled by midgets, after all.

Last year, when I penned a short tribute to Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi on the occasion of his passing away, I wrote up a cricketing XI consisting of players particularly important to me:

[T]hose cricketers whose presence in some dimly perceived consciousness in my childhood became the basis of a romantic affiliation with the game. I heard and read about them before I saw their images, whether electronic or photographic. Some of them I never saw perform live at a stadium. But they have left a deeper imprint than many I have seen perform hundreds of times on television. In this case, the vivacity of a child's imagination far outstrips the not inconsiderable workings of the modern media machine.

Tony Greig was a member of that eleven. In the cricketing India of the 1970s, few names carried as much gravitas as he did. Seemingly a giant of a man, literally and figuratively, he was the captain of a team central to the Indian team's understanding of itself in the cricket world, England, one whose cricketing feats, in those days of limited television coverage, grew seemingly boundlessly in a schoolboy's imagination. Greig's interactions with Indian crowds -- and perhaps, later, with television fans and Twitter followers - were legendary; he had, according to Sunny Gavaskar, also mastered a short and pungent vocabulary of Indian expletives, all the better to use against his opponents while fielding at silly point. And he never stopped being combative, colourful or contrary on the field.

In the 1976-77 series, as England rattled off three straight wins against India on Indian grounds, he contributed mightily with the bat as well: in a low-scoring series, in those three Tests, he scored 223 runs in five innings at an average of 55.75, including an epic 103 at Calcutta - made with a fever -that took all of seven hours and ensured an English win. He clearly knew how to play Indian spin bowlers at home. And he was no slouch against quick bowling either. Whatever his troubles with the West Indies in 1976, he never backed away from a battle with their quicks, and neither did he do so against Thomson and Lillee in the 1974-75 Ashes.

Greig's presence in the modern fan's imagination is a function of his role as a commentator: garrulous, opinionated, excitable, and prickly. This earned him plentiful scorn by those stung by his coarse or hasty judgments, or those who just wished he would turn it down.

But for many, including this writer, his place in the modern cricketing world will be ensured by something far more significant: the role he played--via his involvement in World Series Cricket - in facilitating the movement of the cricket player toward becoming a true professional, one not tied down by a national board, one whose name appears on perhaps the most famous legal action in cricketing history: Greig vs. Insole [1978] 1 WLR 302, Courts of the Chancery Division. If you consider yourself a serious cricket fan, and wish to understand why modern cricket has the shape that it does and how it might change in the future, you owe it to yourself to read about the history that led to this case, and what its relevance is to the player of today. Modern players too, should take a look at their paychecks, and thank Greig.

Tony, I think, would be happy, if after all the accounting of runs, wickets, and captaincy successes that pegs him as only a moderate player, he would be reckoned a true revolutionary just for that contribution to the professionalization of today's cricketer.

My new book Brave New Pitch: The Evolution of Modern Cricket is now available at Flipkart and Amazon.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on January 2, 2013, 5:54 GMT

    My generation could not experience Tony's brilliance on the field. But 'boy' did we love his voice on air or what! He'll be really missed big time. (With Bill Lawry also retiring this year, cricket will never sound that awesome again). :( R.I.P. Tony Grieg!

  • testli5504537 on January 1, 2013, 4:34 GMT

    AW Greig had so much energy. Great Cricketer and even greater commentator, revolutionized TV commentary and pitch reports. His banter with WM Lawry will never be forgotten.He is cult figure in Lanka. The commentary team of channel 9 will never be same. Throughout the world he was loved and respected. His lively reporting which had all the facts were interspersed with poignant comments and fun Harindranath

  • testli5504537 on December 31, 2012, 18:07 GMT

    Thanks Mr. Samir Chopra, you're a wonderful cricket writer. Love your eloquent cricket writings.I can imagine it being wonderful to be a schoolboy in Delhi in the 1970s with limited television coverage, all the action given by radio. So your imagination can run wild on the exploits of Tony Grieg as you put it a giant of a man. Tony Grieg was not just a giant of a man in a physical sense, he was also a giant of a man in the literal sense. Nice tribute Samir.

  • testli5504537 on December 31, 2012, 17:22 GMT

    You will be sorely missed Greggy. Your voice and your personality onscreen added so much energy to whatever game u commented, and life. I am a Sri Lanka fan, and even when the team was loosing, it was enjoyable to me just listening you speak. Love, respect. From Nepal.

  • testli5504537 on December 31, 2012, 16:36 GMT

    Tony was one of the greatest all rounders. He performed well against the best of his time. He was also a very good captain. He did not get the recognition for his achievements on the field as his off field achievements were monumental as well

  • testli5504537 on December 31, 2012, 10:51 GMT

    Tony Greig was a giant both on and off the Cricket field.

    None can really replace him for his forthright commentary in his imicable voice and style. He changed the way of cricket and literally made cricket follow him whichever parts he choose to trot in the Cricket Globe .

    Despite the fewer Tests being played those days ,Greig was undoubtedly the best allarounder during his times and comparing him to the pygmies of current times is quite out of place.

  • testli5504537 on December 31, 2012, 8:19 GMT

    Tony Greig was a hero that always looked out for the underdog -- and oversaw many underdogs topple the tables. So as a viewer, there was so much to share and treasure with his voice on air (and views). The treatment meted out to him by the English establishment may have made him an underdog, but his combative nature belied any such perception. He really was cricket's own child. His silence in the box is truly deafening.

  • testli5504537 on December 31, 2012, 5:36 GMT

    Dear Tony Greig,

    A man who delivered originals.He was not a Photo copy.He was always aggressive for the reality .He was a balanced person when it comes to Goliath and David.He was a bridge for the Asians specially to Sri Lankans. He did talk and comment things in his own way with freely, but in total command about the subject(Cricket).

    Rest in Peace ! Hoping to see you in the eternity.

    God Bless !

  • testli5504537 on December 31, 2012, 2:57 GMT

    Tony had clever mind, a born captain with good allround skills on a cricket field. RIP.

  • testli5504537 on December 30, 2012, 20:44 GMT

    Tony greig,dear Sir, thanx a lot all work you have done to world cricket.we miss you lot.You are great person and Ambassidor of the sri lankan cricket.Rest in peace

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