Tony's star turn
When I returned home after a long and tiring Test series in the West Indies in 1974, every one of my team-mates back home at Surrey had the same question: "Did Greig really bowl that well?" The reason for their surprise was that Tony Greig had been getting hit all over the park with his offspinners back in England. But in that drama-filled, spectator-occupied, loud calypso music-blaring fifth Test in Port-of-Spain, he produced one of the greatest ever all-round displays by an English cricketer.
Greig's story started on the first day of the first Test, at the same venue, when he provoked the ire of the crowd by running out Alvin Kallicharran on the last ball of the day. Kallicharran was run out as he was walking back to the dressing room, believing play to be over, and he was understandably upset. He smashed his bat into two on the steps on his way back to the pavilion, which caused the crowd to erupt. To prevent the matter from getting out of hand, Kallicharran was recalled the next morning. Obviously Greig didn't like it, but he was not one to be undone by such incidents.
That West Indies batting line-up was probably the best I ever played against: Roy Fredericks, Lawrence Rowe, Kallicharran, Clive Lloyd, Garry Sobers, Rohan Kanhai. We only played two seamers in that game: Geoff Arnold and Greig. Arnold worked hard, bowled tidily, pitched the ball in good areas, but was just unlucky. That was when Greig decided to try and be innovative.
During the second Test, in Jamaica, Greig had had problems bowling seamers to the likes of Clive Lloyd, who had scored freely on a flat Sabina Park pitch, where the straight boundaries were only 55 yards. But it was still a bit of a surprise when Greig told our captain, Mike Denness, that he was going to bowl offspinners from round the wicket with three men on the boundary, a lone slip, and the rest inside the circle. That was the first time I had seen him bowl his slow tweakers in international cricket - but they did cut down on the run-rate.
England were one Test down in the series when they returned to Trinidad for the fifth match. The tour itinerary had a clause that stated that the final match would be played for six days if its outcome could affect the series. Port-of-Spain was generally a low and flat wicket with some turn. In the final game it turned more than usual, but only at one end, curiously, while at the other it was completely flat.
Denness elected to bat, but barring Geoffrey Boycott, who unfortunately got out just one short of a century, none of our batsmen spent enough time at the crease. In contrast, West Indies' opening partnership of Fredericks and Rowe continued their handsome assault on the English bowling. Halfway into the third day they were cruising at about 220 for 2 in reply to England's 267. That was when Greig's big fingers spun everything around.
He replaced me at the end that was helping the spinners. He varied his length, bowled accurately, got a lot of spin and bounce off the pitch with his big six-foot-seven-inch frame. Another smart thing he did was bowl round the wicket to the left-handers - that helped him maintain a tight line to them without giving any width.
In the space of 20 balls, he sent back Lloyd, Sobers, Kanhai and Deryck Murray for just six runs. He ended up almost singlehandedly demolishing West Indies, with brilliant figures of 8 for 86.
He carried on with the same line of attack in the second innings, when West Indies were set a target of 226, after Boycott finally got a well-deserved century. From 62 for no loss, West Indies slumped to 85 for 5, and it was left to Sobers, Bernard Julien and Murray to fight back.
At 166 for 8 we thought the game was ours. But Inshan Ali helped Keith Boyce cut down the target, and it got tighter and tighter. Then Greig got Ali, and Arnold yorked the last man, Lance Gibbs, to claim his only wicket of the match. We won by 26 runs.
Pat Pocock, who took the two wickets Greig didn't take in the first innings, was speaking to Nagraj Gollapudi. This article was first oublished in Wisden Asia Cricket magazine