My career as a writer, perhaps, might be a tad incomplete if I do not follow the popular suit of sharing my views on the late Tony Greig. The stakes are certainly high, though, specially since Sanath Jayasuriya, the hard hitting MP (but more popular in recent years for his “pus” reference), had even underlined of Greig being “almost Sri Lankan”: a son of the soil in sentiment. In an appreciation written by the veteran broadcaster Aubrey Kuruppu, Greig was noted for his amiable commentary box presence, which I feel is a widely acclaimed general assessment of the man. In yet another Greigan postmortem, it is suggested that SLC should name a Cricket stand after the late Tony’s name. But, I am sure that if Greig was around he would feel that there are otehr stalwarts in Lankan Cricket — who gave their heart and soul for the game in the best and worst times — who deserve such a singular honour before he does.
A prolific and competitive all rounder – who could bat, bowl and field anywhere – Greig makes his debut for England in 1972, where he plays for five years, captaining the side between 1975-77. The towering six and a half footer becomes a household name in Sri Lanka during the national Cricket team’s 1995 tour of Australia, where Greig’s commentary box cheer and enthusiasm for the team and its potential is a stark contrast to the regular Aussie commentary headed by the partisan Chappel and Benaud. His cheer and goodwill scored trumps a year later, as his vigorous commentary backing up the table turning Lankans, to this day, is fondly recollected by Cricket fans who followed the team to that historic World Cup triumph in Lahore.
Tony Greig, the commentator and social personality, however, is of later maturity. As a young buck, going hard at the opponent, Greig was known as a fierce competitor who left no stones unturned. In Sunil Gavaskar’s autobiography Sunny Days the veteran Indian opener notes how batting was a different game when Tony Greig used to field close in. On one hand, the batter had to negotiate with Grieg’s towering presence and large limbs eagerly poised to snatch a “bat pad” (and Gavaskar, with his stature would have felt this no doubt); but, more so, because Greig was well known for his “chatter” around the bat. He records how Greig had memorized Hindi and Urdu swear words and used them with much effect in England’s tours of India and Pakistan; even though, Gavaskar muses, he may not have probably known the nuances of the words he freely threw out at the batsmen.
Greig’s Cricket career on field was always tied up with controversy. This includes the famous (or infamous) attempt at running out the West Indian Alvin Kallicharan in the 1974 series, with the batsman, under the impression that stumps had already been called, left the safety of his crease. His rebuts against Australian quickie Dennis Lillee, a year later, (readily stored for access in Youtube and such) further testify the fact. The ferocious competition in Greig backfired in what was a black mark in this jolly English skipper’s CV, where he challenged the West Indies team of Clive Lloyd in 1976, insisting that he and his boys would have the Windies “groveled”. This statement, most probably, was spoken in bravado and in the spirit of competition in spite of the unmistakable racial slur in it. A pumped up West Indies rallied around one another to have the English beaten 5-0 in what is still referred to as the “hottest English summer”. However, at the end of the series, with England completely whitewashed, Greig goes on his feet before national television in a resigned gesture.
Greig’s competitive spirit, however, is not to be misread; for he is one who played with a swagger and a flair. In Sunny Days, Gavaskar writes on Greig touring India as a member of Tony Lewis’ team passing comments and dropping hints at the Indian players. But, in a particular game, when Gundappa Vishwanath scores an elegant hundred Greig (a giant) is seen to whisk off Vishwanath (of a small stature) off his feet and rock him in the imitation of a mother cradling a baby.
The largest contribution Greig made to world Cricket, perhaps, was his promotion of One Day Cricket in the late 1970s. He was one of the leading “brokers” for World Series Cricket in Australia and this was done by compromising both his English captaincy and career. Sidelined and booed as a “Kerry packer man” Greig stood by the innovative and experimental spirits by which his career was always marked. This, perhaps, is one reason why he could sympathize so well with Ranatunga’s Sri Lankan XI in 1995 – for that team, in addition to its underdog status, combined an innovative and ex-centric spirit and manifestation. Greig’s contribution to World Series Cricket makes him an exile from the British Cricketing Establishment – which takes its own time to come to terms with the changing face of the game. He later moves to Australia and settles down as one of the most celebrated Cricket personalities and commentators of the modern game.
Greig’s life is marked by a strong “internationalism” and cosmopolitan outlook which he carried off the field. Born in South Africa, playing for England and being a resident of Australia, perhaps, makes him a trans-continental resident in the widest sense of the word. His cheering of Sri Lanka, therefore, would be a part of his cosmopolitan and more open socialization; and we should not take it too personally either. If at all, Greig’s working principles of innovation and inclusiveness are better implements we can adopt to make life more meaningful to the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural fabric of which we are a part. Greig was perhaps one of the most dogged captains England has produced and is seen as a contrast to those that preceded him (such as Tony Lewis) and followed suit (Mike Brearly). Yet, he was one individual who precisely knew the boundaries of competitiveness and is known to have left the on field rifts by the boundary rope and to smile over things with a drink in hand.
Greig will be missed worldwide, but for those Sri Lankans who came of age in their Cricket in the 1990s, the name of Anthony “Tony” Greig would have undeletable connections with the national team’s own coming of age. He would thus sleep firm in the annals of Lankan Cricket, as one of the firm believers of the islanders’ game even before they fully knew what they were capable of doing.