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Greig achieves final acceptance

Ivo Tennant

June 24, 2013

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Colin Graves and Geoffrey Boycott attend Tony Greig's memorial service, Trafalgar Square, London, June 24, 2013
Yorkshire chairman Colin Graves and Geoffrey Boycott were among those present at Tony Greig's memorial service © Getty Images
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Last summer, a few months before he died, Tony Greig was invited by the MCC to give its prestigious Cowdrey lecture at Lord's. Now, in death, he has been honoured by the other cricketing body who once outlawed him in England. To the gratitude of his widow, the ECB hosted his memorial service in Trafalgar Square, an occasion at which his controversial promotion of Kerry Packer's rebellious World Series Cricket - the breakaway movement which changed cricket forever - was widely praised.

Here was a service and reception at which the leading Packer-ites of the 1970s, Richie Benaud, John Snow and Derek Underwood among them, mingled happily with the odd foe. Doug Insole, a leading administrator in that era, was present. Michael Holding, whom Greig reckoned would once grovel before his England team, gave a reading. Jeff Thomson was there, the only member of the congregation not to wear a tie.

Dennis Amiss spoke movingly in St Martin in the Fields church, Trafalgar Square, of Greig's qualities of friendship and loyalty, but inevitably it was Benaud, with his lifelong gift of unearthing the telling phrase, who captivated his distinguished audience. "Players in those days were fine men who had families, wives, children and mortgages," he said. Then - after one of those characteristic pauses - "never forget the mortgage."

Pre-Packer, Benaud said, "players were paid peanuts and were treated with minimal respect if they asked for more. Tony felt strongly that there should be a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. If I had to choose one word to sum him up, it would be 'strong'. If two, it would be 'very strong'. " He concluded on the occasion by saying, "there is sadness but his advice would have been, 'just get on with it', so that is what we shall do."

Amiss said he had never heard Greig say a bad word to anyone - "except the Aussies, of course". He recalled his outstanding century in Brisbane against Thomson and Dennis Lillee on England's 1974-75 tour of Australia and how he would goad fast bowlers, be they Australians or West Indians, notably at The Oval in 1976. After describing how he had upped his pace and uprooted one of Greig's stumps in that final Test, Holding, the most gentle of cricketers off the field, was reading from Corinthians.

Greig's daughter, Beau, sang "Amazing Grace". There followed a stout defence of his stance over World Series Cricket by Vivian, his widow, who was critical of both administrators and the media of that era. She spoke of his enticing to WSC six England players who were at the end, or coming to the end of their Test careers, which was not strictly true: Underwood and Alan Knott, Greig's greatest supporter, were at the peak of their careers and Bob Woolmer had still to attain that, but her sentiments were understood and accepted.

Not least by Giles Clarke, the chairman of the ECB, the body that has succeeded the Test and County Cricket Board of Greig's time. Clarke, who was present, told her that "we have not properly recognised him".

The old players in the congregation - Geoff Boycott wearing a hat bearing his own signature, Mike Brearley, Keith Fletcher, John Lever, Tony Lewis, Pat Pocock and Mike Selvey among them - would doubtless have endorsed Underwood's view that Greig remains under-rated as a cricketer. "That was partly because Ian Botham came along, but Tony's ability to score a century against Lillee and Thomson in Australia and then make a nine-hour century in India showed that he could play in all conditions. And he was one of the best captains I played under."

Greig died last December, aged only 66. To a younger generation who had not seen him play cricket, he would have been best known as an exuberant, over-the-top commentator. He had told his second wife, whom he had known for 33 years, that by delivering MCC's 'Spirit of Cricket' lecture at Lord's last year, he had hoped to achieve "acceptance and understanding".

To his public, according to Vivian, "he could make anyone feel special". And to his children, he was a father "who would tell them such exciting bedtime stories that they couldn't go to sleep."

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Posted by keptalittlelow on (June 26, 2013, 11:00 GMT)

Tony Greig was a towering personality who the cricket fans of his era will never forget. History will judge Tony Greig as the man who ushered Cricket on to the new horizons of popularity.

Posted by Naresh28 on (June 26, 2013, 9:35 GMT)

What a great tribute to a great English player - TONY GREIG. He left the cricketing world in shock when he left so suddenly. He was a good all-rounder and deserves this tribute - nice to see other former greats at this function.

Posted by RodStark on (June 26, 2013, 1:47 GMT)

WSC undoubtedly did a lot of good overall, but what a career tony Greig might have had if WSC had never happened! He gave up a lot by being brave.

Posted by   on (June 25, 2013, 14:49 GMT)

Since I was born in 1990 i dnt know much about him as a cricketer..but as a commentator he's the best without any doubt, special for us Sri Lankans!..Miss ur voice and ur love for SL cricket...

Posted by   on (June 25, 2013, 10:31 GMT)

Is it inconceivable to suggest that without Packer AWG might have been remembered as one of England's greatest captains and players? His career might have ended about 1980 as he bowed out against the West Indies juggernaut having won series in India, Pakistan, NZ and od course won and then retained the Ashes in 77 and 79. Imagine the team he might have led to retain the ashes: Boycott, Gooch, Wooolmer, Gower, Greig, Botham, Knott, Emburey, Lever, Underwood, Willis. Although I would guess retiring before encountering the West Indies in 1980 would have been the the way to quit whilst his stock would have been its highest. The acknowledgment now is 30 years too late!

Posted by   on (June 25, 2013, 10:14 GMT)

What a character Tony! We in Sri Lanka miss you in the commentary box. There is nobody to stand up for SL on air, although Russell Arnold is doing a decent job. But he's no Greig. Nobody is....

Posted by YorkshirePudding on (June 25, 2013, 8:59 GMT)

A lot is made of the fall out of the WSC, but we shouldnt forget that it wasnt the TCCB that was pushing for players to be blacklisted, it was the ACB. The TCCB went along with the ACB as at the time they were being told scare stories by the ACB about the fall out.

Its a little like the IPL and ICL fued at the start of the T20 revolution 10 years ago, the IPL got the BCCI to outlaw the ICL as an illegal tournament, and ban any players that took part in it un less they showed contrition.

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