Tony Greig: Cricketer who captained England

  • @cmaume

Tony Greig was not merely a skilful cricketer, an accomplished captain and a thought-provoking commentator, he was, in his own way, a cricketing revolutionary.

Greig, who died at the age of 66 from a heart attack, two months after being diagnosed with lung cancer, helped usher cricket into the modern era of fully-fledged, handsomely-paid professionalism.

Greig, who captained Sussex, was renowned as a tenacious all-rounder and led England in 14 of his 58 Tests after taking over from Mike Denness in the summer of 1975. But he will be remembered as much for his advocacy of Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket extravaganza, which dragged the sport into the 20th century.

Greig's presence gave WSC international credibility and a respected cheerleader, and in the process he helped change the game forever. Another former England skipper, Nasser Hussain, said of his impact on cricket: "It was huge. It was an amateur game before with players just playing for the love of the game."

It was not without cost to Greig. He was stripped of the England captaincy and lost out on a lucrative benefit year. But history's verdict on him has softened somewhat, given that the Packer model is now increasingly the norm in professional cricket.

Greig was born in Queenstown, South Africa and qualified for England due to his Scottish father. Standing 6ft 6in (1.98 metres), he scored 3,599 runs in Tests for an average of 40.43, including eight centuries, and took 141 wickets at 32.20 each. He was also a brilliant slip fielder, taking 87 Test catches. Greig could bowl at either a lively medium-pace or, on occasion, employ quickish off-spin, using his height and bounce in the latter style to take 13 wickets and win a Test match in the Caribbean.

Greig's name will always be associated with the West Indies in another never-to-be-forgotten way. In 1976 the days of proper media training were a long way off when he spoke about his plan to undermine the all-conquering West Indies in a forthcoming Test series. "If they get on top they are magnificent cricketers," he began. "But if they're down, they grovel, and I intend, with the help of [Brian] Closey and a few others, to make them grovel." In an era when sporting race relations were at best problematic, that word was particularly incendiary, and the West Indies took great delight in peppering Greig with short-pitched bowling on their way to a 3-0 series victory.

Greig rated winning a Test series in India in 1976-77 as perhaps the greatest moment of his career (England's recent series win there was only the fourth). He masterminded a stirring 3-1 victory; having led the tourists to an innings win in Delhi, he hit a tenacious 103 on a deteriorating pitch in Calcutta to make it 2-0 before securing the series with another decisive win in Madras.

After he retired he was offered "a job for life" by Kerry Packer, and he became known for his endless enthusiasm and wilfully provocative style, not to mention his booming voice and signature white hat. He was last heard at the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka in September and October, and was diagnosed with cancer on his return.

Anthony William Greig, cricketer and commentator: born Queenstown, Cape Province, South Africa 6 October 1946; played 58 Tests for England 1972-77; died Sydney 29 December 2012.