A modernising hero

Greigy went so suddenly, two days after his final broadcast when it was thought he might be fully fit for the New Year Test in Sydney, that I found myself expecting to hear his voice at any minute. Ted Corbett pays his tributes.

So, one by one, they slip away from the field of battle and into the past tense of our memories.

Tony Greig, off to the great pavilion in the sky and applauded for once; Dravid to the comm box where immortality is a given; Ponting and Hussey gracefully through the door marked retirement; Sachin out of one-day hustle and bustle and tempted, I’m sure, to quit the rat race that is now Test cricket.

Greigy went so suddenly, two days after his final broadcast when it was thought he might be fully fit for the New Year Test in Sydney, that I found myself expecting to hear his voice at any minute. The Australia Prime Minister Judith Gilliard paid tribute to him as if he had only ever been a broadcaster, but that was not even half the man.

I had the good luck to know him well for 30 years; each meeting was a pleasure. Like so many who chose the easier life in the gantry he might have been playing his part as manager, coach, chairman of selectors — he would have given one of his great rumbling laughs if that had happened in England and he tried hard to attain that post — because, especially by the standards of a sportsman, he was full of ideas, vigour, optimism and the wish to attain the greatest heights.

Ideas? “What will decide this World Cup?” he asked me as we strode towards the opening game in 1992. He didn’t wait for an answer. “The slower ball,” he told me and, lo and behold, so it did. Women? “We need more of them watching cricket on Channel Nine,” he decided and managed to persuade his bosses to play the female angle.

The result? Naturally, the Aussie girls are among the top teams in women’s cricket. I know it is customary to be nice about the recently dead but I have not had to stretch the truth to do so for Greigy. Think of his achievements; try to forget all the nastiness of 1977 when the English Press had one of their least appetising moments, damning him as if he had spit on the Queen.

Born in South Africa, starting at Sussex, immediately targeted by England — the South Africans were still embroiled in apartheid and beyond the international pale — soon to be their leading all-rounder, their captain, their leader and, to steal a phrase from the Chelsea fans about their beloved John Terry, their legend.

“Not English through and through,” a revered writer told us. No, sir, better than that.

Kerry Packer, who cared little for authority and who had an Australian’s hostility towards everything British, saw Greig as a like-minded soul, invited him to fulfil his dream of an independent international team to enliven his television screen, sent him off to recruit the stars and, well you know the rest. It changed cricket from the dirge of Test cricket to a vibrant, uplifting modern show.

Let me tell you how. In Sydney in 1983 I was sitting in my hotel room when I received a phone call from the circulation manager of my paper, having an Australian holiday. Could I get him into the SCG to watch the one-dayer?

I entertained him all day long but he grew bored. “England have lost again,” he said, implying as such people often do that it was my fault. “I’m not going to wait for the last over.” I said: “You never know.” He said he had a train to catch and I have never seen him since. It was, of course, the over when Allan Lamb blasted the runs off the first five balls. BG — Before Greig — such a feat would have been considered impossible. It was, of course, but Greig had opened the way for such thrills although my CM could not see it. If they meet in the blue horizon, Greigy might be able to convince him.

From ODIs grew T20 which Greigy loved just as much and which have brought about shots that make old men grow purple in the face and bite through their pipe stems and make youngsters leap out of their chairs — whether at Lord’s or Headingley or Bangalore.

Cricket is now a multi-faceted game, a joy whether you want to see long-term strategy, pulverising strokes or the special hours when bowlers hold the upper hand and whip batsmen back to the pavilion by luring them into no man’s land only to find that the ball is no longer where they imagined but in the hands of a screaming wicket-keeper.

The old game, BG135, has the same charm that lured a crowd to watch England v Australia at the MCG in 1877, but the craft of the ring masters Greig and Packer, has turned a one-trick entertainment into a many-ringed circus as well as making sure that the stars of the big tent were paid five times the previous pittance, presented as heroes rather than, in the words of the old contracts, “servants of the club” and treated with respect.

To the embarrassment of those nay-sayers who called him a traitor and worse, Greig died a modernising hero, a bugler sounding the charge and a prophet of better things to come.

May his memory live long, for, by his personality, his pleasure at the thought of yet another day at the cricket and his wish that the millions who now love cricket in all its forms might share his outlook, he has kept a game steeped in the past a 21st century game that will live even if he is forgotten.