x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Tony Greig's words worth a thousand pictures

The departure of Tony Greig has roughly the same impact on commentary as his arrival; never again will cricket sound the same.

South African born cricketer Tony Greig, pictured here in November 1996, died at the age of 66 in Sydney after suffering a heart attack. Reports suggest Greig, who went on to captain England during his playing career and then establish a subsequent career as a television commentator on the game, had recently been diagnosed with lung cancer.
South African born cricketer Tony Greig, pictured here in November 1996, died at the age of 66 in Sydney after suffering a heart attack. Reports suggest Greig, who went on to captain England during his playing career and then establish a subsequent career as a television commentator on the game, had recently been diagnosed with lung cancer.

The departure of Tony Greig has roughly the same impact on commentary as his arrival; never again will cricket sound the same.

Sure there were excitable guys in the commentary box after he came and there will be more, but they will always be pastiches and not great ones, to be frank. And where they might be selling all kinds of things, Greig sold mostly cricket.

The first time I saw him I only saw the hat, wide-brimmed, cow-boyish but not quite, and wondered whether he had stumbled into the wrong sport.

He was interviewing Imran Khan so coolly (he might even have called him "Immy". Imran just called him, "Tony" which was radically informal) in what, compared to post-match presentations now, looked like a prison cell.

He towered over him and anyone back then who towered over Imran?

Well, that was some man.

Fittingly that was my introduction to Channel 9 as well and the whole package was so difficult not to be seduced by. The colour, crowds, noise, graphics and these guys, and Greig especially; it was a formative experience for an entire generation of fans across the world.

Cricket went to Channel 9 to become, if not exactly sexy, then at least more with it.

In Greig's voice the game did not seem so anachronistic.

Suddenly it was not a bunch of old grey men in old grey suits talking in old grey and reverential tones. This man was live broadcasting a party on some pirate station and he wanted you there. He was cricket's first and best DJ.

At the very least he was making cricket sound like the other professional sports that would vie for a boy's attention.

And just as we have format specialists now, Greig was at his absolute best in limited-overs cricket. There he reflected perfectly the urgency of the game and the feverishness of the stadium's spectators.

The profile took time to become clear. He was a good cricketer once. He captained England. But where was he from? Because he certainly wasn't English. The accent was difficult to decipher; there was Australian, some English and something else too. Where was he from?

This was key not because of the real answer (from South Africa, to England, then Australia and a Scottish father) but because of the right answer.

He was from nowhere and everywhere. Because really, has there been a more global cricketing personality than Greig? Where was the impact of this immense man not felt?

His role in Kerry Packer's overturning of cricket's established order meant that in one way he really did help change everything.

But his entire being seemed untethered by nationality. One of his books, Test Match Cricket - A personal view, written in 1977 to mark the centenary of Test cricket, showcases not only his keen innovative mind (he was one of the earliest advocates of protective gear), but also his globality.

It has separate chapters on each country (sample line: "If I had to describe a Pakistani cricketer to a Martian, I would liken him to a cross between an Indian and a West Indian").

He led one of the most popular and successful English sides to India in 1976/77 (historically an impossible task). As captain of Sussex, he recruited Imran Khan and Javed Miandad to the English county side and their subsequent development turned Pakistan into a world-beating force (Miandad considered him an elder brother).

Above all was the championing of Sri Lanka just around the time they were becoming champions and no voice sounded more appropriate in celebrating the opening onslaughts of Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana.

He eventually became an official brand ambassador for the country, his business card detailing a Sri Lankan (and Australian) number and a Sri Lanka tourism logo on the back.

Was he, as some argued, a little too patronising in his support?

Perhaps, perhaps not.

And his impact in the Caribbean is probably very different to what it was around the rest of the world.

The "grovelling" comments in the summer of 1976 were, at best, unforgivable for a man who was to make such a career out of wordplay and public speaking.

Lately, he had become one of the loudest proponents of technology. It was another cause with which to rattle the establishment, to dust off the game's anachronistic nature.

At the MCC's Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lecture, he took on India's reluctance to embrace technology and though he was too simplistic, as ever the spirit was right.

osamiuddin@thenational.ae

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