Tony GreigMartin Chandler |
Tony Greig was a comparative novice of just 19 Test appearances when he was appointed vice-captain to Mike Denness for England’s tour of the Caribbean in 1973/74. His combative nature as much as his undeniable skills as a cricketer brought about his swift elevation and he played a leading role in a series that England managed to square with a thrilling 26 run victory in the fifth Test. Greig, with a match haul of 13-156, was the matchwinner. It would be nearly 17 years and another 29 Tests before England next tasted victory against the West Indies.
Greig’s were the best figures by an England bowler since Jim Laker’s magical 19-90 against Australia almost twenty years previously, and no England bowler has taken more than 13 since. Altogether in the series Greig, who had only recently taken up the off-spinner’s art, took 24 wickets at 22. No other England bowler took more than the 9 of fellow off-spinner Pat Pocock, who paid 61 runs each for his wickets.
Greig could not top the batting averages as well, that honour went to Dennis Amiss who, assisted by a marathon 262* in the second Test averaged 82. Greig was second with two centuries and an average of 47.
In his pomp Greig was hugely popular amongst sections of the cricket loving public and particularly, but certainly not exclusively, its younger elements. His South African heritage however, and his distinctly aggressive approach to the game, meant he had his detractors amongst traditionalists and when, in 1977, his role in Kerry Packer’s breakaway World Series Cricket became public knowledge those voices won the day, and Greig became something of a pariah. With the simultaneous emergence and rapid progress of a brilliant young all-rounder from Somerset he was soon a largely forgotten man.
Not before time David Tossell has produced a fascinating and thought provoking biography of Greig. In the 21st century his tarnished image has, as his young admirers have joined the ranks of the traditionalists, regained a good deal of its lustre. The dust jacket describes Tossell’s book as “A re-appraisal of English cricket’s most controversial Captain”. The objectivity of Tossell’s writing cannot be questioned, but the facts and opinions he sets out should, to the extent it needs to be done, now fully restore Tony Greig’s reputation as a cricketer.
To give a flavour of the man himself, and the quality of the writing in the book, author and publisher have kindly agreed to allow us to reproduce an extract from the book. That happy decision left me in something of a quandary – did I choose a passage that illustrated Greig the cricketer or Greig the man? In the end I went for a single incident that does both, so here we have the definitive account of a well known incident from that distant tour of the Caribbean, one of the many controversies that Tony Greig managed to become embroiled in during his all too brief Test career.
As he had done in India, Greig made an immediate impression on the crowds, notably in the final game before the first Test, against Trinidad at Port of Spain, where he batted beautifully to score 70 and 100 not out. The sight of such a tall, blond figure struggling to make his bat reach down to the ground delighted and amused spectators as much as the player’s obvious joy at the attention he was getting. This being Greig, however, he was always as likely to offend as please and the mood turned against him when they thought he appealed too zealously for an lbw against wicketkeeper Deryck Murray, a local hero. Greig’s ability to antagonise opponents to the point of seeking revenge was apparent in Murray’s attempts to prevent him reaching his century at the end of the game.
The Trinidad Guardian ran the headline “Greig Loses Popularity at Oval”, and chose this occasion to bring up his South African background. It was far from being the last time that his heritage would be used in evidence against him by the Caribbean media and public. As a barometer of the kind of tour Greig was to have, the game would prove an accurate one. But if he thought this incident had stirred things up, he had no idea of the uproar he was about to provoke when the Test series began on the same ground a few days later.
Having been put in by the West Indies on a humid and cloudy day, England found themselves at 30 for 4 when Greig strode to the crease. In the course of his residence he twice swung full tosses from left-arm spinner Inshan Ali over mid-wicket, one of them carrying for six, but was caught down the leg side by Murray after lunch for 37, top score in England?s disappointing 131. A crowd of 30,000 spent the second day watching their team build a commanding lead but had it not been for some scoreboard confusion they could have ended up rioting. Not surprisingly, Greig’s failure to control his competitive fervour was the catalyst.
As the final over of the day neared its conclusion, England had seen more than enough of Alvin Kallicharran, the little left-hander from Guyana who had scored 142 of his team’s 274 for 6. Greig was feeling particularly grumpy. Wicketless throughout the day, he had at one point been thrashed for three successive fours by the centurion. Underwood bowled the final ball and Bernard Julien pushed it just wide of Greig’s right hand at silly point.
Denness recalls, “I was fielding at mid-off and I could see Greigy hovering around and looking up towards Deadly coming in to bowl. I remember thinking to myself, ‘He has got something in mind here.’ I could see Greigy going after the ball, and not just at a saunter. I remember shouting to him to hold on to it because if he shied at the stumps and missed it was me who was going to have to go after the ball and then walk 100 yards back to the pavilion.”
As Greig turned towards the non-striker’s end to field the ball, wicketkeeper Knott was already pulling out the stumps to signify the end of his working day. Kallicharran ventured from his crease, although with his head bowed he was clearly doing nothing more than heading for the pavilion. Greig threw at his stumps, causing the startled Underwood to flinch as the ball found its target. “I was thankful that his throw didn’t go for four overthrows,” the bowler recalls. Kallicharran looked back in shock, Greig appealed and umpire Douglas Sang Hue, spreading his arms wide like Pontius Pilate, had no option but to give the batsman out, having not yet officially called time. The booing that assaulted Greig’s ears as he reached the boundary signified the storm he’d created. As John Woodcock would write, “I doubt whether anyone with a love and understanding of cricket can honestly have believed that Greig had played the game.”
Arnold remembers, “Greigy nearly got us lynched. Kallicharran walked past me on his way off and smashed his bat on the ground. The crowd went mad and I thought we were not going to get out of Trinidad alive. It was a legitimate wicket because I don’t think the umpire had called ‘over’, but probably only Greigy would have run him out like that. It was typical of him.”
Kallicharran agrees that it was an act totally in keeping with Greig’s personality. “I wouldn’t say Tony was world-class as such, but he showed a good aggressive attitude,” he says. Yet county colleague Bob Willis recalls, “I have never seen Alvin quite so furious,” and remembers feeling grateful that the incident had occurred on the carnival island of Trinidad rather than within the more volatile atmosphere of a game in Jamaica or Guyana. Given that fans in the region had never been slow to react to controversy with extreme demonstrations of disapproval, it was also fortunate that the scoreboard operators, unsure of what had happened, changed the number of wickets back to six. Much of the crowd, therefore, dispersed under the impression that Kallicharran was still in. Officially, however, he remained out at this stage.
As the players began drifting away to their hotels, England captain Denness was asked to remain and meet with manager Carr and representatives of the West Indies Cricket Board. Before joining the meeting, Denness spoke with Greig. “All I wanted to know was whether his action had been premeditated, and therefore could be termed unfair play, or involuntary,” he recorded a few years later. “His reply was that he had done everything on instinct, which was good enough for me. He was very upset about the whole affair, especially the feeling of the West Indian contingent waiting outside.”
With the benefit of further distance from the event, Denness now suggests, “I think to a certain extent that Tony had thought about it. You can’t prove it, but Greigy is not going to say, ‘Yes, it was premeditated because I thought it was the only way we could get him out.’ He didn’t look good because of the way it was done. If the ball had gone down the wicket at any other time in the game, I’m not sure Greigy would have gone after it in the same way. There seemed to be something about it.”
Aware that some fans had remained behind, presumably with the intent of confronting Greig, Garry Sobers stepped forward with an offer to drive him back to the England team hotel, the assumption being that the company of the region’s most loved player would guarantee a safe passage. Meanwhile, the England management told their West Indian counterparts during three hours of talks that they were withdrawing the appeal and asking for Kallicharran to be reinstated – even though the umpires had acted correctly. A statement to that effect was issued, in which it was noted, “Tony Greig in no way intended his instinctive action to be contrary to the spirit of the game and he is truly sorry this has caused an unhappy situation.”
Knott sensed “a hidden worry about the fact that Greig had been born in South Africa”, while Arnold believes, “They’d have killed us if we hadn’t let him bat the next morning.”
Denness explains, “It took us hours to get the thing resolved. The umpires had given the correct decision; that is what concerned them most. But it was early in the first match of the series and we had five matches to play. We were going on to Jamaica after that, and we do know the locals can become quite volatile. Also, I am looking at Tony’s background and the way apartheid was then. You think about the best interests of the tour and are we going to encounter a lot of problems? I wasn’t at all happy that we would have got through the remainder of that Test in Trinidad if we hadn’t allowed Kalli to go back in. The next day was the rest day but when I walked to the ground for the start of the third day I was being asked as I went past queues of spectators, ‘What is happening with Kalli?’ They were opening little bags and they were full of empty bottles. They said things like, ‘Hopefully Kalli is going to bat, man. If not they are for you.’ I think we probably made the right decision.”
Anyone who thought that was the end of the matter was mistaken. The WICB even suggested that Greig should be sent home, although Carr insisted, “There was never any question of taking disciplinary action and sending Greig home. If he had gone home it would have only been for his own safety. We received full approval of our action from Lord?s.”
The question remained in some minds, though, of whether Greig had been maliciously opportunistic. Had he known full well what he was doing and was seeing what he could get away with? “It was straightforward and definitely not premeditated,” goes Greig’s version of events. “I saw Kallicharran out of the crease and threw the wicket down. As soon as I hit the wicket I thought, ‘Oh dear, this could cause a problem or two.’ I was sorry for what I did in terms of what happened, but it was one of those things.”
Writer Henry Blofeld was in no mood for forgiveness, saying, “I feel strongly that Greig’s action was indefensible. The incident may have been explicable in terms of Greig’s character, his enthusiasm, his sense of competition, his determination to win; but in the final analysis it was surely unforgiveable.”
Others felt that Greig was, in fact, the one person who was blameless. They argued that Knott should never have pulled stumps before the umpire officially ended play; Kallicharran ought to have known better than to wander down the pitch; and the umpire should have been more aware of what was going on and asked Denness immediately if he wished to withdraw the appeal. Keith Fletcher believes Denness was at fault for not realising that Kallicharran had “been cheated out” and not reinstating him of his own volition. Underwood, the bowler, adds, “The umpire hadn’t called close of play so he was out, no doubt about that. For the sake of goodwill it had to be changed and the players accepted the ruling, but Kalli was at fault. He knows the rules; stay in the crease until the umpire calls close of play.”
Denness agrees, however, that it was difficult to imagine any England player other than Greig, the arch-competitor, acting in the same manner. “Whether Greigy was premeditating it or not, within the rules of the game he had not done anything wrong. But I can’t say I can think of anyone else who would have tried to do it. He wanted to be in everyone’s face the whole time.”
Willis puts it down to geography. “Greig, I felt, got a slightly rough deal. He had learned his cricket in South Africa, where they play in just such an uncompromising fashion. It would have been almost unthinkable for an English-born cricketer to have run out a batsman as he left the field.”
Jameson adds, “Greigy’s whole idea was to get in there and get stuck in; wind people up however he could do it. He succeeded in a lot of places and some of them came out horribly wrong. He played the game hard and was a very determined cricketer, very single-minded. It was why he probably made more of his limited ability than people might have thought.”
The ripples from the Kallicharran incident would spread out across several more weeks. David Whiley, an official of the Association of Cricket Umpires wrote to The Cricketer to say that Sang Hue had acted correctly and that “the spirit of the game is irrelevant when a decision is called for”. Former England captain Ted Dexter argued that Greig had been “shamefully treated” by the tour management. “I can think of nothing more natural than his instinctive shy at the stumps,” he continued. Dexter was among those who accused Carr of speaking up to keep the peace instead of backing his player, saying, “If it had been me I would have been ashamed of myself.” It was, of course, an easy argument to make when you weren’t the one looking out of the pavilion window at a potential riot.
Greig had an unlikely supporter in Mick Jagger, lead singer of the Rolling Stones, who was waiting on the pavilion steps at lunch on the day that play resumed. “Good work,” he told Greig. “I don’t blame you.”
Of all the first-hand witnesses to the event, perhaps Martin-Jenkins offered the most succinct summary. Although he accepted that Greig had been unaware that Knott had removed the stumps and could not be accused of sharp practice, he commented, “His action was ungracious. It was not worthy of an admirable cricketer, or of someone who, off the field, is a charming personality.”
Before play began on the third day, attempts were made to show the public a united and friendly front. Carr had called Greig to his hotel room and told him, “As far as I am concerned the incident is over, but to keep peace with the crowd I want you to walk over as Kallicharran arrives in the middle and shake his hand.” Greig, believing himself to be blameless, complied only with reluctance.
There was not, however, much in the way of reconciliation between the teams for the remainder of the series. England spinner Pat Pocock recalls, “There was a horrendous atmosphere, the worst I have ever known between two cricket teams. We knew we were up against it so against a guy like Kallicharran, a brilliant player all round the wicket, somebody would have a go at him – very personal. His eyes would stand out like organ stops and he would get mad and slog and we would get him out. Greigy and others would play on that and it was a deliberate effort to wind blokes up. It only stopped when Garry Sobers walked in. Then, no one said a word. It would have been like swearing at the Pope.”
Warwickshire fast bowler Willis observed that even with three players from his county on each team the games “were not pleasant affairs” and featured an “undercurrent of bad feeling”. Jameson, another of the Edgbaston contingent, recalls. “There were colleagues playing for the opposition and sure as hell we were going to play hard on the field, but I didn’t see why we should carry it off the field of play. It was an intense rivalry. I think there were certain moves – and I am not going to say who started anything – to say we must not walk if we edged it. I certainly could not play the game that way.”
The rift between the teams would, of course, become almost impossible to breach two years later after Greig’s injudicious comments before the first Test in England. In fact, the 1973-74 tour would mark the start of a sequence of England series, especially those on tour, that were marked by controversy and confrontation. The fact that they came at a time when Greig was the heartbeat of the team cannot be dismissed as mere coincidence.
Tony Greig, priced at a penny shy of fifteen pounds, is available now from all good booksellers or direct from the publishers, Pitch Publishing. You can read CW’s review ,here.