A lively man who enjoyed lively cricket

Cricket commentator Tony Greig makes a pitch report at the Bellerive Oval, Hobart in Australia before a one-day match between Australia and India. Greig was practically right when judging the playing surface in India.-V.V. KRISHNAN

In India, Tony Greig will be remembered for various reasons, including unfairly supporting John Lever in the ‘Vaseline controversy’, and lifting Gundappa Viswanath in his arms in spontaneous warmth at the Brabourne Stadium in 1973. By Vijay Lokapally.

Tony Greig loved the crowds in India, but not the ambience at the venues. He was critical of the cramped commentary boxes, avoided the autograph and photograph seekers. However, he adored the artistic cricketer and raved endlessly, especially if he happened to be a Laxman, Azharuddin or Sehwag.

Greig’s observation of India in ‘The 2012 MCC Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lecture’ ruffled many feathers. “India’s apparent indifference towards Test cricket and its response towards some of the key issues — the international calendar and the mix of the different types of cricket; its attitude to the earlier ICC corruption inquiries; its indifference to the urgency to introduce anti-doping rules; the rumoured corruption hanging over the IPL; its attitude to the Decision Review System; and its role in the lack of due process in stopping former Australian Prime Minister John Howard being appointed vice president of the ICC — are all examples of disappointing decisions,” observed the former England captain, who, as an all-rounder, had as good averages as Ian Botham.

Greig was a lively man and he welcomed lively cricket. It reflected in his commentary too: loud, at times shouting and screaming in tandem with Bill Lawry, but unlike the composed Richie Benaud and Ian Chappell. “It’s all happening here….” was a stale refrain, but an integral part of Greig’s vocabulary. No wonder, cricket historian David Frith once wrote, “Thank God for the mute button” in reference to Greig’s garrulous show behind the mike.

His boisterous commentary, with clichés galore, made him popular with the Indian audience. Even a trivial dismissal of a tail-ender evoked a raucous response from him. “Oh! he’s gone, he’s gone,” Greig would rant, much to the discomfort of his fellow commentators. They knew his postures were exaggerated, but then peopled liked his style.

Greig did not miss an assignment to the sub-continent. Impeccably attired, with that inseparable hat of his, Greig was a striking figure at 6ft. 6in.

He was an imposing figure at silly point, literally shaking hands with the batsman. “I could hear his breathing,” recalled the former India captain, Ajit Wadekar.

Gundappa Viswanath, one of the finest batsmen to have graced the game, had some fond memories to share. It was in 1973 at the Brabourne Stadium that Greig lifted Viswanath in his arms as the stadium went delirious.

“I had reached my second Test century and broken a hoodoo. I was pleasantly surprised when Greig instinctively hoisted me. He knew it was a special occasion because no century-maker on Test debut had made another hundred for India. The stadium was in raptures. I can never forget the moment. In his death I lost a dear friend,” said Viswanath.

Former Test captain Bishan Singh Bedi had his reasons for keeping Greig at a distance. The ‘Vaseline controversy’ was one of them. It was when the English left-arm seamer, John Lever, was accused of using unfair means to make the ball swing prodigiously. Bedi protested in vain and came to dislike Greig, who was the captain of the English team then, for his role in the episode. England won the series 3-1, but the scars of the vaseline controversy lingered for long.

A fearless and ebullient commentator, if Greig had to chastise Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara or Glenn McGrath on air he would not duck. His style made him immensely popular with cricket lovers. “He was a household name in India,” Viswanath noted.

When it came to reading the game, Greig was second to none. “There goes the match” or “the team is done”, he would exclaim, only to be proved right a while later. “Nothing for the bowler”, he would declare at first sight of the pitch, and seldom would he be wrong. He was practically right when judging the playing surface in India.

Greig had first visited India as a 22-year-old with an International XI that included Micky Stewart, Dennis Amiss, Keith Fletcher, Geoff Arnold and Derek Underwood. The team played in Bombay and Madras with Greig hitting a century at Chepauk. He toured India again in 1972-73 and 1976-77, and later as a commentator and ended up making many friends. He travelled the world for his media work and was known as a cricket gypsy.

It was amazing that Greig played for the World XI (in 1971) even before he earned the English Test cap. This was the tour when he asked Don Bradman to look after his bags at the Adelaide airport. It was his favourite story for almost four decades. The recruiting agent for Kerry Packer’s rebel World Series Cricket that shook the cricketing world 35 years ago, Greig was hugely embarrassed after his “We shall make them grovel” remark against the West Indies in 1976. He paid dearly for that comment, as England was swept off its feet by Michael Holding and his speed partners.

Greig, who died at 66, may not have been very popular outside the sub-continent. In India, he will be remembered for various reasons, including unfairly supporting Lever in the ‘Vaseline controversy’ and lifting Viswanath in his arms in spontaneous warmth.

* * * The Greig file

• Born on October 6, 1946, in Queenstown, South Africa, to a Scottish father and a South African-born mother.

• Essentially a batting all-rounder, he could bowl both medium pace and off-break.

• Played for Sussex where he honed his skills as an all-rounder.

• Played 58 Tests for England, scoring 3,599 runs at an average of 40.43.

• Scored eight Test hundreds and 20 fifties, and took 141 wickets at an average of 32.20.

• Played 22 ODIs, scoring 269 runs and taking 19 wickets.

• Captained England in 14 Tests, winning 3, losing 5 and drawing 6.

• A colourful character both on and off the field, he had lifted Gundappa Viswanath in the air and rocked him like a baby after the Indian batsman struck a majestic 113 in the 1972-73 Brabourne Test.

• Ran out Alvin Kallicharran in controversial circumstances off the last ball of the day at Port of Spain in 1973-74 that led to a riot in the crowd. The decision had to be revoked the following day.

• Became the first England player to score a century and take a five-wicket haul in the same Test (148 and 6-164 versus West Indies in Bridgetown in 1973-74).

• Scored 430 runs and took 24 wickets in the five-Test series against West Indies in 1973-74.

• Scored a fifty and took 10 wickets in the same Test, versus New Zealand in Auckland in 1974-75.

• Made an infamous “make them grovel” remark against the visiting West Indies in 1976 that propelled the tourists to even greater will. West Indies went on to win the series 3-0.

• One of the architects of the World Series Cricket, he convinced many international stars to join hands with Kerry Packer.

• Became a popular figure as a commentator for Channel Nine.

• Was loved for the heft of his voice and round hat.

• Played an important part in recruiting players for the Indian Cricket League.

• Was diagnosed with lung cancer in October 2012.

• Died in Sydney on December 29, 2012, after suffering a cardiac arrest.

Rajneesh Gupta