Tony Greig's fantastic journey ends

05:27, Dec 30 2012
A cartoon remembering Tony Greig.
RIP: Remembering Tony Greig.

"The more they hoot me ... the better I'll like it," Tony Greig once said.

Just as well.

They hooted in his native South Africa when he turned his back for England.

They hooted in England, when he turned his back on cricket's establishment and fashioned World Series Cricket.

And they hooted in Australia, when he played England captain, World XI captain, and public enemy No.1 in a country he later would call his home.

So just where does Anthony William Greig's 66-year-old heart lay?

In South Africa, where he was born in Queenstown on the Cape Province to Scottish parents, on October 6, 1946?

Greig's Scottish immigrant father, Sandy, flew more missions in World War II than the supposed limit.

And when Greig, an epileptic educated at Queen's College, was offered a trial at English county club Sussex as a 19-year-old, his father told him: "Boy, when I was your age, I was fighting a war".

His father gave his blessing for Greig to trial and spend a year in England - such were his son's talents, he never returned home to live.

So does the heart of Greig - a 198cm, or six feet six inches in old-speak, tall athlete who could bat, bowl and field with aplomb - lay in England?

In 1972, Greig played his first test match for England - qualifying courtesy of his Scottish dad.

He followed his test debut - appropriately against Australia - with another 57 Test matches and made 3599 test runs, averaging 40.44, with eight centuries and a highest score of 148.

He also took 141 test wickets at an average of 32.30 with mainly medium-pacers but also some off-spin.

The statistics, as always, fail to tell the full story.

Greig was confrontational, influential, abrasive.

In 1976, preparing to play the West Indies, Greig told a television interviewer: "The West Indians, these guys, if they get on top are magnificent cricketers. But if they're down, they grovel, and I intend ... to make them grovel."

Surely, the intelligent Greig was aware the word "grovel" had sinister connotations for West Indians, many whom had slave ancestry?

In 1977, Greig captained England in the acclaimed Centenary Test against Australia at the MCG.

He was best remembered, on the field, for brash young Australian David Hookes cracking five consecutive fours from his bowling - all after Greig asked the 21-year-old batsman on arrival at the crease whether his testicles had yet dropped.

During the Centenary Test, many Australian cricketers pledged to play with multimillionaire Kerry Packer's renegade World Series Cricket.

Days after the game finished, Greig met with Packer in Sydney and was offered $90,000 over three years.

"Kerry, money is not my major concern," Greig recalled this year of his meeting with Packer.

"I'm nearly 31-years-old, I'm probably two or three test failures from being dropped from the England team ... I don't want to finish up in a mundane job when they drop me.

"I'm not trained to do anything ... if you guarantee me a job for life working for your organisation, I will sign."

He was, and signed.

And Greig soon helped sign a raft of the world's best cricketers to play for Packer in the revolution which changed cricket forever.

World Series Cricket was played in Australia, where Greig stayed and spent his post-playing days working for Packer's Nine Network as a constant in cricket commentary - so does his heart lay here?

Greig's commentary was like his playing: challenging, taunting his fellows, but living to a mantra of cricket being entertainment.

He grated in many loungerooms and things didn't always go to plan - in 1999, Greig was commentating when a camera focused on a couple in a marriage ceremony at a nearby church, a Caucasian groom wedding an Asian bride.

Greig's off-camera remark - "do you think she's been flown in?" - intimated a query about a mail order bride and was picked up by his microphone.

But he survived the outrage and continued on - under boater hat, sticking his key in the pitch - until October this year, when diagnosed with lung cancer.

Greig was missing from the commentary box this Australian summer and died of a heart attack on Saturday.

His body will be laid to rest. Yet his heart lay not in countries, but cricket.

"Give your hand to cricket and it will take you on the most fantastic journey, a lifetime journey both on and off the field," Greig said earlier this year.


Tony Greig
ICON OF THE GAME: A photo of Tony Greig from 2004 showing him in his trademark wide-brimmed hat.