Tony Greig

Published: 2011
Pages: 252
Author: Tossell, David
Publisher: Pitch Publishing
Rating: 4.5 stars

Tony Greig

Just occasionally a new book really fires my imagination, so much so that I just have to acquire it as soon as possible following publication, and then immediately find the time to start reading it. Sometimes I end up very disappointed and put the book down part way through, never to pick it up again. More often than not I have hoped for rather more than is delivered, and feel slightly frustrated despite, ultimately, enjoying what I have read. Very occasionally the book lives up to the lofty standards I have created for it and I am spellbound from start to finish. I am delighted to report that David Tossell’s biography of Tony Greig falls fairly and squarely into the latter category.

The reasons for the weight of expectation? There are a combination of factors. First of all Tony Greig’s emergence as one of the dominant personalities of the English game coincided with my early days as a cricket tragic – he is a fascinating character well worthy of a full biography. The second reason for such eager anticipation was the fact that the writer was David Tossell, who has already produced one superbly crafted book on the Greig era, the magnificent Grovel. Finally I was aware from an early stage that Tossell had had the biographer’s dream ticket, that being a subject who was happy to give him his full co-operation, yet at the same time made no attempt to exert any influence over the book’s content.

Tossell’s style of writing is to allow a story to tell itself. He has clearly spent much time talking to Greig’s county colleagues, as well as his teammates and opponents from the International arena. Family, friends and, of course, the man himself, also contribute many of the quotes which are the heartbeat of the book. Tossell’s role, and one which he has performed superbly, is to provide a framework within which to place these first hand impressions, and to provide the commentary that links them together into a seamless narrative. Another key to the success of what is written is Tossell’s continuing glances at the state of Great Britain, and indeed the world over the relevant period. Such simple digressions can add a great deal of depth to a biography provided they are not overdone. For David Tossell, as for this reviewer, Tony Greig at the height of his powers coincided with our adolescence, and for me memories that extend well beyond the cricket field were stirred as Greig’s story develops.

Although it seemed much longer Tony Greig’s playing career lasted little more than a decade, but he was involved in more controversy in that time than most men manage in a lifetime. It has to be conceded that much of it was of his own making, and every one of those incidents is looked at closely here. Most of the main episodes remain well known; the “grovel” comment, the “Kallicharan” incident*, the battles with Denis Lillee and Ian Chappell and, most telling of all, the alliance with Kerry Packer and his World Series Cricket that was eventually seen in some quarters as the greatest act of treachery in the history of any sport. I did wonder if the book might amount to a campaign to clear Greig’s name. It doesn’t. All David Tossell does is set out the facts and the opinions of those who matter. The passage of four decades and an impartial account are all that is needed to demonstrate how unfairly traduced Greig was.

The other major issue with Greig is assessing his merits as a player. What is undeniable, but often forgotten, is that he was a very fine all round cricketer and that, unlike some, his career highlights almost all came when his side were in difficulty and faced with high quality opposition. The question of which of Ian Botham or Andrew Flintoff is England’s greatest all rounder is frequently debated.

Whether you judge your cricketers on statistics, your own memories of them, the opinions of experts or any permutation of the three David Tossell, again without entering the arena himself, provides ample evidence to make it absolutely clear that any such conversation which fails to involve consideration of Tony Greig cannot provide a worthwhile answer.

In fact it is difficult to find anything to criticise about Tony Greig. There is a superb selection of photographs, properly reproduced on art paper, and while I would have liked to have seen a slightly more expansive statistical appendix the basics are all there. If I were being churlish I might complain about the lack of an index, but the reality is that irrespective of the content the publishers have done an excellent job in bringing to market such a high quality publication for less than fifteen pounds. I have no hesitation at all in recommending this book and indeed will go as far as to say it is required reading for anyone with any interest in cricket in the 1970s.

* Author and publisher have kindly allowed us to reproduce the passage from the book dealing with this incident. You can find the feature here

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