To be honest, I created this blog with very little idea of what I was going to do with it. But upon hearing the sad passing of Tony Greig today (29/12/12) I felt that I had to pay some sort of tribute to one of the main voices of my early cricket-watching years (having said that, I have yet to read a tribute to the great man as excellent and one that sums him up as Ian Chappell’s Cricinfo piece). That gravelly tone with a hint of boyish charm describing the events on the screen provided much insight into the game that I would follow for years to come. I’ve somewhat taken his presence for granted. You know one day he will hang up that that trademark panama hat of his and the voice will be replaced by someone else, but you never suspected that he would be quietened so suddenly, even with his battles with lung cancer it was almost as if we’d someday hear him take up the mic again.
Although his playing career was before my time, his playing style was similar to his commentary. It had a sort of effortless intensity backed up by a very combative mind; a mind which sometimes got him into trouble and perhaps said somethings he ought not to have, the infamous quote about making the visiting West Indians “grovel” came back to bite him with the famous ‘Blackwashed’ series of 1976 being a case in point. Nothing sinister or racially charged was meant or implied of course, and he was man enough to face Marshall, Holding and Croft fully aware that they wanted to shove those words down his throat (these being in the days before helmets or “crash helmets” as he used to call them). For whatever reason I don’t believe he was ever truly given his dues as an England cricketer and captain. Revered by those who have a long-standing love of the game and have studied it, he isn’t held in the same esteem in England by the average fan as Botham and Flintoff are, despite having a slightly better bowling average than the latter and a much better batting average than both of them in considerably fewer Tests (facing some of the best bowlers the world has ever seen), due to his participation in Kerry Packer’s new format of the game which would tarnish somewhat the latter part of his career.
As a commentator, it was hard not to get carried away with his love of the game and the way he was able to transfer his excitement on to the viewer is something not a lot of commentators can do in a time where the standard of Channel 9 and TV commentators in general is falling. He added to the spectacle instead of merely describing it, which is why I don’t think he would have made a good radio commentator. The blokes at TMS do a one-of-a-kind job but I guess that is for another blog post.
All this is sort of beside the point of why I really respected him. Now, as well as a follower of Sri Lankan cricket, I am also a Sussex fan whom he captained between 1966 and ’78 and played alongside the likes of Jim Parks, Imran Khan, Javed Miandad and Garth Le Roux. Over the years, Tony Greig was a huge and sometimes outspoken supporter of Sri Lankan cricket – to the extent that he is considered by many to be an honorary Sri Lankan and was after the end of the civil war against the LTTE, was named Ambassador for Tourism for the island. Although I’m sure to other fans his constant plugging of Sri Lanka would’ve grated a bit after a while.Despite his affection for the island dating back into the ’70s, he began to take a liking to Sri Lankan cricket in the mid-90’s where he predicted that Arjuna Ranatunga’s side would win the 1996 World Cup despite still being a relative minnow nation. I don’t remember watching much cricket before 1996 but the eternal line:
“These Sri Lankans are giving the Aussies a real hiding.”
sticks in the mind. It was his support for Muttiah Muralitharan through the controversies regarding his action that earned him the respect of many at a time when people outside Sri Lanka had a pretty dim view of his deformative elbow. Greig fought his corner in many a debate in the Channel 9 studio with Dean Jones and co in the years surrounding Arjuna’s decision to take the team off the field at the MCG after Darrell Hair called no-balled him. These days Sri Lankan cricket didn’t really need Tony Greig to extol the virtues of Sri Lankan cricket. The team has done that on the field with some scintillating performances especially in the shorter format of the game, made all the more enchanting with Tony’s commentary ringing in our ears; coupled with the end of civil war, the island really is opening up for business. But the fondness with which he will be remembered will not diminish. I still refer to Romesh Kaluwitharana as ‘Kalu’ or ‘Little Kalu’ because of the nickname coined affectionately by Tony.
So it is with great sadness that we must bid goodbye to one of the voices of a generation and a great man. Like I mentioned earlier in this post, I really didn’t have a clue about what I was going to write about. Chances are it would have been a long-winded moan about Sri Lanka’s latest Test performances in Australia and the lack of any viable plans to improve them in the future. I might well bother to write it, but all that pales into insignificance. It is to Sri Lankan cricket’s great shame and embarrassment that the last match this man who has given us so many great memories and even greater compliments and support got to witness during his battle against cancer, was that appalling dross served up on the MCG turf. After a memorable 15 years or so following that golden night in Lahore, Tony Greig goes to the great pavilion in the sky with one of our worst ever performances in his mind. So I that the players feel suitably ashamed of it and go into the Sydney Test with the sort of fighting spirit and enthusiasm that he had and put up a performance that would have given him hope that Sri Lanka as a cricket nation has a lot more to offer. The touring party are battered and bruised and are no doubt looking forward to getting out of their whites and into the blue and yellow of the limited overs kit, but lets have one big performance. If not for anyone else, do it for Tony.