England news June 24, 2013

Greig achieves final acceptance

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."