Sportstar Archives: Tony Greig on World Series Cricket, move to England and Shane Warne

In this 1995 interview, Tony Greig opens up on his decision to back Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket and his time as an England cricketer.

Published : Apr 08, 2020 07:25 IST

South African born English cricketer Tony Greig was among the leading all-rounders of his era.
South African born English cricketer Tony Greig was among the leading all-rounders of his era.

South African born English cricketer Tony Greig was among the leading all-rounders of his era.

“Six point eight feet tall, without the jump.” That’s how John Arlott introduced the England captain, Anthony William Greig, in his typical drawl at The Oval Test in the 1976 series against West Indies. Tony Greig, by his sheer height, was easily recognisable then. It gave him an intimidating presence on the field.

Greig was South African born, but was destined to represent England and swear by the Union Jack. Greig doesn’t view his allegiance to England as a manoeuvre to escape from a South Africa steeped in apartheid in the 1960s. His father, Sandy, was a Scotsman whose persuasion influenced Greig to go to England in search of a career in cricket.

The compensation he got – between £7 and £14 – in return for playing league cricket in Sussex was a pittance, but money was not the reason for him to be in Old Blighty. Why did he go to England? “We had a whole lot from Sussex settled in South Africa. And during Tests between England and South Africa, I was always for England. There were some great Springboks like Neil Adcock and Jackie McGlew. But I always sided with England.”

And once he came to Hove, Greig never looked back. A hard hitting 156 for Sussex against Lancashire in 1967 brought him into prominence. “I was all over the newspapers in England. I was in the news. Dusty Jones, who was the umpire in that match, was my father’s friend. It was only after I knocked off those runs that he found out my name and that I was Sandy’s son.”

England foresaw immense talent and potential in Greig, who in the next few years showed to the cricket world what a fine all-rounder and popular and intrepid player he was. Greig may have played more than 58 Tests for England, but, for reasons that he elaborates on in this interview, his career was cut short. He was the brain behind Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket in Australia, which was a direct threat to the Establishment cricket controlled at Lord’s.


Greig’s views on cricket in Apartheid South Africa are candid. “Yes, they missed a lot. But politics and sport ought to have been seen differently. I think the cricket world was deprived of seeing some fine cricketers during that time. There was a lot of window dressing during the time of the ban, but it’s good South Africa is back to compete with the rest of the world. I think they have done reasonably well in the last five years.”

In this interview to  The Sportstar , Greig recalls his career, talks about the famous fast bowlers and Indian spinners he faced, and as to why he went along with Kerry Packer and the good WSC has done to international cricket.


You were seen as one of the fine all-rounders of the ’70s. Can you look back on your career which ended after you played 58 Tests?

I think I was pretty pleased with my performances for England. What was important to me was the competition you were up against, whether or not you won, and whether you made a contribution to either side that won the Test match. That was vitally important to me.

I now look back with great pride and so much pleasure that I faced Michael Holding and Andy Roberts in their pomp, when they really bowled fast. I have faced Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson when they bowled flat out. That 110 at Brisbane against Lillee and Thomson is absolutely right up there. And I have faced Bishen Bedi, (B. S.) Chandrasekhar, (E. A. S.) Prasanna and Venkat (S. Venkataraghavan) when they were in their pomp. All I can say is that I was just lucky as a cricketer to do very well.

Would you say that you succeeded against the best bowling in the world?

I think if you look around the world of cricket, someone else, who is thinking about his career, may be able to come out with something that is a little bit better. But as far as I am concerned, I had a career that encompassed the West Indian fast bowlers of the day... Roberts and Holding in particular, Lillee and Thomson with Max Walker as the backup and lan Chappell as the opposition captain. And also bear in mind that (Garry) Sobers was in that little trio with Roberts and Holding on a few occasions as well.

Sobers was not in his pomp, but he was still around along with Clive Lloyd and a few others like Rohan Kanhai. You just cannot dispute the standard of these guys. And when you talk about India, you talk about those spinners plus Sunny (Sunil Gavaskar). These guys are legends...they are absolute legends. So I was very very lucky to face that challenge.

Cricket has given Tony Greig a comfortable life and a secure future . - THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Those were interesting tours to India. You talked about the Indian spinners. They were all different slow howlers. Which one of the quartet really forced you to think?

I think Prasanna was the best spinner I have ever faced. I say that mainly because I was a bit of a driver. And if you drive at a ball spinning back to the right-hander, there is always a chance of the ball going through the ‘gate’ and this happened when Prasanna was bowling. He had this ability to make the ball dip. So did Bedi. Everyone was different.

I worked out a formula to deal with Bedi. I went across on the off stump a bit. There is a fallacy in cricket that says you must play know...the maker’s name and the theory of putting the bat down. The truth of the matter is, if the ball is spinning from just outside the leg stump and is going across towards first slip, and if you want to play straight, you really have to have the maker’s name pointing towards where the ball came from. Some people call that playing across the line. I don’t believe that. That was my formula to make sure the ball did not hit the edge. Sometimes I stood outside the off stump.

It’s very difficult to do that to an off-spinner. Because if you stand back the other way and if he is spinning this way, it’s very difficult... He gets the top spinner going. Then he beats the outside edge and back goes the off stump. With Bedi, if he bowled me a top-spinner, and I missed, there is a second line of defence in the pad. So Prasanna, by virtue of the fact that he was an off spinner, on one hand was the best.

I don’t think he was given the sort of support that he deserved. There was always a race as to who was the first to get to bowl among the spinners. Bishen was captain. I also don’t necessarily think that bowlers make good captains. I had a few hiccups when Bishen stayed off the field at times and I used to get people to go into the dressing room to get Bishen out.

To be honest, when Sunny was setting the field, he knew what it was like to have a silly point as well as a forward short leg. We are not talking about just anybody...we are talking about Venkat, Ekky (Eknath) Solkar...we are talking about guys who can catch flies. And what Bishen often did was – I am not trying to put him down – he left one side open. When Sunny was standing at slip, he had two men there (silly point and forward short leg) and sort of closed the gate on you a bit better. That’s why I used to send people into the dressing room to get Bishen back on the ground soon as possible, unless he was really injured.


What did you think of Ashley Mallett?

Not in the same class. I mean we are talking about these Indian spinners. I mean, I can only speak for myself. There are others who would think he was a great bowler. He is a good friend of mine...he is a nice chap. Or for that matter, Lance Gibbs. But you cannot talk in the same breath about Lance Gibbs and Ashley Mallett or any of the England spinners... You name them in the context of the Indian spinners. They were just unbelievable.

You don't see these silly points or leg traps these days. Is it not?

One of the things at that time, if you remember, I was the one to get that silly point. The reason I first went there was because Vishy (G. Viswanath) and Sunny were little guys. When I was bent in half, I was looking straight into their eyes. As a result of that, they used to go back. And Sunny did not like it. I know that Sunny...I know he would never admit this...loved to come on his front foot and drive at Derek Underwood. And there was always the chance of that nick going. So, my being there used to worry him. Greg Chappell, too, was worried.

Tony Greig has great regard for Sunil Gavaskar. Here they are seen in the Channel 9 commentary box. - THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Underwood was the other bowler I thought was up there (high). He never had the flight. He was not as dangerous as Chandra, who had the top spin that really bounced. Underwood could play that dual role, including the role of a change bowler who can never tire and bowl all day long. When he came to India and played on a wicket that was turning square, we were still better off bowling our fast bowlers. Because the truth of the matter is there is no point in playing the Indians at their own game. The Indians were too good at playing spin. So we used to stack our side with fast bowlers.

Do you think there has been a distinct drop in the quality of spinners now, or for that matter in the quality of fast bowlers? Could be Shane Warne is an exception.

Well, Shane Warne is a freak. He is a brilliant bowler. He is as good as anything I have ever seen. Having said that, I am not there with the bat and I don’t really know what Warne’s capabilities are like.

I think the test for Warne is about to arrive. I want to see how Warne bowls to the Sri Lankans. I think the Sri Lankans are going to be a big test for Warne. But he is super.

But no one can tell me Craig McDermott is in the same class as Lillee. We have got to be a little more careful. There are some pretty good performers around there... It is just that at the moment the Australian attack revolves around Warne. They have some competent operators...
(Glenn) McGrath is not a bad bowler...he gets a lot of bounce. The West Indies are having a tough time at the moment. When you think back of Holding and Roberts...those were the West Indies’ salad days. Pakistan...I don’t think there is anything fantastic about them at the moment. It’s all intrigue about them. In England, guys keep popping up. But they don’t seem to me as world beaters. Dominic Cork is going to be there for a while. Devon Malcolm...he has been in and out.

But Mike Atherton seems to be coming off well as opening batsman and captain. What’s your opinion?

Atherton is definitely a good opening batsman. He is a very good player. I think he is very much on the learning curve as a captain. His first year as captain was atrocious in Australia. However, certainly with the help of (Ray) Illingworth and with some experience, he is going to be a very good captain. Obviously, he is a smart boy. The good thing about England is they are not panicky like the Pakistanis.

That guy, Atherton, has gone through a very traumatic time. When you consider the problems, this chap was accused of everything under the sun. And he was having a bad time in terms of his captaincy. But they have persisted with him and I think things have settled.

Greig is seen in action in a Test match against India in 1973. - THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Would you agree that England has shown some improvement under Ray Illingworth?

Well, I have got great respect for Illingworth because he was my first captain and he is the best captain I have ever played with. I think it is vitally important in this damn age to have one person who has got to be the right bloke. More often than not, it is the combination... You just cannot pick a man, you have got to pick a combination of the captain and the man. So as a team they work well.

I can only go back to my own experience. I worked really well with Ken Barrington. He had things that I did not have and vice versa. We were a fantastic team. And nothing happened. We were responsible...and this is where I think at the moment Pakistan need a really strong manager with a five-year contract. And he needs to put in place a captain who will really stick with him and a strong support from people in the hierarchy. And they just need to get on with it. I mean, they have a great side at the moment... They are going to be beaten a few times. I am sure they are going to get a few rocks thrown at their buses... They are used to it. But they are not going to last. They are really going to get up there with solid leadership.

I think they are going to turn a new page in a book. Majid Khan has got an opportunity to prove himself. This is a challenge for Majid. We will see whether he passes that test shortly. Mushtaq (Mohammad)...he has a lot of experience. Whoever is the captain, they have to get together as a team. They don’t need any interference while picking teams. If these guys cannot pick the right team, who is going to pick the right team? Blokes on the backside, sitting in Karachi who have never played a Test match? No way.

But it appears Pakistan is having diverse problems?

That’s where it comes back to the leaders. We know businesses that have had problems, we know soccer teams have had problems. But at the end of the day, it comes back to the management. You have got to have strong people at the top in charge and you have got to support them as a board, like the directors of a company. And you have to bite the bullet... If you lose a few matches on the way, so be it.

England is beginning to emerge I think for that very same reason. Australia...they had all those problems with Kim Hughes. (Allan) Border got in there and they got behind him despite the fact that he definitely was not easy to get on with at times, but they stuck with him and with Bobby Simpson. So, you need this combination.

And mind you, Simpson has not been everyone’s cup of tea. But the board stuck with him. They got behind him and at the end of the day just look at the record. They have got stability in the side. There has been a little bit of politicking from time to time. But it’s been in-house, behind closed doors. You have got to decide who your captain is and decide what your management is. But don’t make them too powerful.

I am personally not in favour of supremos. England needed Illingworth. And looking at the papers today, he’s taken the real ‘supremo’ role in South Africa. He is the sole selector on the tour in South Africa. Even the captain is not there... I am not in favour of that.

I think Pakistan have made a decision. Majid and Mushi...I don’t know whether they are the right two. We will find out.

Tony Greig with former Pakistan cricketer Asif Iqbal. Greig then had a poor opinion of the Pakistanis. "It's all intrigue about them, "he says. - THE HINDU ARCHIVES

You were involved in Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket. Why did you promote that?

Very simple. I joined WSC because it was my security. We were paid disgracefully by the establishment. I was not thinking back to the £7 and £14. What I was thinking about purely was where am I now? Where am I going? My father gave me some very sensible advice going back. And that was, “Have a look at Wisden, read up a bit, and you will find that everyone that gets to captain England thinks that they are going to be captain of England forever. Illingworth, (Brian) Close, (Colin) Cowdrey, (Ted) Dexter...and they all left in controversial circumstances.”

So I always had in my mind...just remember, make the most of it. There will come a time when you have got to move on. And that time, you may not dictate...someone might emerge...something may go may say something silly and there will be heaps over you.

So when I played in the Centenary Test, I had no reason to believe that I would be doing anything other than captaining England for the next few years. And Mike Brearley was hardly going to be in the side; he was just in the side. I took Brearley to India only because (Geoff) Boycott could not come. Otherwise, nowhere in the world Brearley would have been in the side. And I made him my vice-captain because I thought he was a small plug, a good player of spinners. But believe me...he was fantastic. He supported me to the hilt. That’s the sort of team spirit you need with your vice-captain. So Brearley played...very well...he wasn’t the best.


We played that Centenary Test and after the Test I was actually going to see Kerry Packer through a mate of mine, Bruce Francis. I did not know at that time that Packer wanted to see me. At the end of the Centenary Test, Bruce fixed a meeting with Kerry. And Kerry put it down the line. “This is what I am going to do. I have got a problem here. The ABC has the cricket rights. The board has the cricket rights. I have offered them far more money than they are getting paid at the moment. And I want my cricket going... I want you to captain the side and pool a team. Will you do it?”

I asked him, “How much? What’s the deal?” He said this is the deal. Those days, my deal was $30,000. That seemed to me like permanent security. Those days we were getting paid peanuts. I made a commercial decision at a time in my career when I had captained England a fair few times and had a decent run of it. And I had to make a decision. I would have liked it to have been two years later. It would have been nice. But you don’t pick times. You make a decision and say I am game with it.

I went ahead with it. Of course, I wasn’t popular in England. They were darned; they thought I had deserted the camp. But that’s fine. They were not able to secure the future for me. And I got a deal with Kerry, which was the World Series Cricket, an exciting thing. I thought cricket needed a bit of a kick to be honest. The establishment was abusing the cricketers.

So would you say it was the WSC that prompted the boards to treat cricketers in a better way?

It improved things all round...certainly for England. There were players who wanted to join WSC, but we pushed them back. Bob Willis and Derek Randall...I pushed them back into the system. Because they responded so quickly in England that all of a sudden they were earning the same thing as we were getting. Plus things like that. Randall ended up playing more Test cricket; Willis ended up captaining England. It was a sensible thing... So we were giving people the right advice as well.

It gave cricket a shot in the arm. All sorts of things were happening. We pinched some of the South Africans’ the circles...that was Ali Bacher’s idea. We got the lights up... That was the South African idea, really. We had night cricket and television. The BBC was the yardstick then. Now there is only one yardstick for TV in the world as far as cricket is concerned. And that is Channel 9. Anyone who chooses the other way has no idea what he is talking about.

I think we have to go to the next stage. That (WSC) was good for a while in terms of security. But time moves on. I am not sure if all the other countries got the message. There are still some vulnerable boards out there. They are a bit greedy. I don’t know if all the other countries are as sensible as the Australians are in terms of their package to the players.

The top Australian players get guaranteed a quarter of a million dollars a year. You cannot pinch from the Australian team now. You better have a big cheque book. They are all on contracts with the ACB (Australian Cricket Board). The WSC and some of the South African rebel tours forced the Australian board to get their act together financially so that they could organise the money to guarantee players what they deserved. They are full-time now.

They have some sensible group of guys. Like (Mark) Taylor and Stephen Waugh. They negotiated sensibly and nicely. They have been tough and they got a good deal. I am not sure if all the cricketers have good deals with their boards. Forget the endorsements. The Aussies get guaranteed amounts.

Who is the best player in India? (Sachin) Tendulkar... What’s his deal with the board? What’s his guarantee from the board? Forget all his endorsements... I know that should be good. There are millions of people in India. But does he have a good deal with the Indian board? What about Waqar Younis? What’s his deal with the Pakistan board? What about Richie Richardson? Or (Brian) Lara. The board should do it and the players should be guaranteed something. The Aussies get Australian dollars equivalent to ₹6 million. Are the Indian cricketers guaranteed so much? And what about the insurance?

What’s important is guarantee. The top players should be financially secured. If they are not, then you can expect problems like getting involved with bookmakers and all that sort of stuff. If you don’t pay guys properly, if you don’t realise they should be well off, you are asking for trouble. If you pay them well, you can ask them for more in terms of what they give back to the game and their standard of behaviour. If they perceive they are only as good as their last bloody innings, they are likely to get buried and lose that sponsorship stuff. Having said that, there are always going to be a few bad apples.

Greig is seen giving his opinion about the pitch to the channel nine viewers in Australia. - V.V. Krishnan

How much has the game changed from the ’70s in terms of payments and all other aspects?

It’s changed dramatically...thankfully...thankfully. I think the players are getting a better deal now. I think they are required to be more fitter, because they have more on their plate. I think we have still retained the image of the a sport, generally. I think we have moved into the modern era... We have taken the first step, but there is a need to take the next step now. People thought that there was a lot of gimmickry going on when the coloured clothing came on and the white ball and the merchandising of goods.

The PBL used to market in Australia. The ACB has taken that back now. The ACB is motivated... It’s their business now. But I still think there are gin-and-tonic merchants sitting there who don’t understand what the game is all about. They can only think about tradition. Tradition is a vitally important aspect, but you cannot be surviving on traditions. This doesn’t apply only to England, it applies to other places, too. And they don’t seem to have the foresight that goes with the modern youngsters...because the future of the game is with them. It still disturbs me a little bit to see guys like Doug those guys were cleaned up during the World Series. We should have youngsters now, the new brigade.

I think there is a change in Pakistan. I haven’t had much to do with those blokes in Pakistan. But I met this guy Salman Taseer. I met him recently during my trip down here to Sharjah and I found him very refreshing. I have can quote me on this...a bit to do with this bloke Salman Taseer. From what I gather, he is quite powerful. He has got charge of the purse strings...and as I understand, he is a politician in his own right. I think he was locked up with Bhutto...or some sort of a thing.

I have to tell you, I’ve had a few conversations with him. And I found him refreshing. He loves cricket, though I don’t think he has been a Test cricketer. If what he said to me is right...I think that he could help Pakistan cricket get on track. I would like to get behind him.

I’ve had a long refreshing conversation with him. I found him to be quite western in his approach, not dogmatic. I asked him, “Are you on this bloke?” I wanted the or another...on this chap (Malik). His answer to me was clear cut: “The guy (Malik) certainly cannot be the captain. We may not be able to nail him, but he has let us down badly.” I found that his observation on the whole thing was refreshing.

Given a situation like where you have nothing to do...whom would you like to go and see...Tendulkar and Lara bat or Shane Warne bowl?tony grieg interview

My perfect scenario...Lara, Tendulkar bat or Shane Warne bowl. Well, if I think of cricket right now...where am I going?

Whether Lara is playing or not is not of great significance to me. Now, I don’t know who I would like to make runs. Michael Slater is a bit of a favourite of mine at the moment. I like the way he plays. Stephen Waugh is a magnificent cricketer. Warne...I enjoy watching him bowl.

The next thing I am looking forward to is definitely Christmas. I am looking forward to Sri Lanka taking on Australia on Boxing Day in what, as far as the Australians are concerned, is the only place one can play cricket...Melbourne. And I want to see Warne bowl to the Sri Lankans. Because these guys love spinners. It’s going to be interesting.

Then I am looking forward to that World Cup match between Sri Lanka and Australia in Sri Lanka. I am sure there’s going to be a lot of buzz down there. And then I cannot wait to get to Calcutta. I want to see cricket in Calcutta again and in Bombay. I want to see India versus Australia in Bombay, and I hope in Calcutta it’s India vs Australia in the semifinal and a final between Pakistan and Australia in Pakistan in Lahore. It will be fantastic for Pakistan cricket if they could get to the final. I come from South Africa, and if they come up, that will be great, too. I have played for England, and if they come up, that will be great, too. But nothing like a Pakistan-Australia World Cup final in Lahore.

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