'Visionary' Greig remembered

BILL LAWRY recalls his first meeting with Tony Greig – the man who would become his commentary box offsider for more than three decades – like it was yesterday.

"He said to me: 'Aren't you the captain of Australia that lost 4-0 against South Africa?'," Lawry said. "I said: 'Yes I am, and aren't you the captain that gave up the captaincy of England for money?' From that moment on we were good friends.

"He loved a bit of a banter but the main thing was his understanding of the game. I always felt comfortable with him on air because he understood the game."

Greig will be remembered as one of the country's favourite voices of summer but it was events in 1977 that shaped the remainder of his life.

Greig was labelled a traitor by the establishment in England for his part in Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket revolution but Lawry argues the should be hailed as a visionary. Recruited by Packer, Greig travelled round the world to sign players behind closed doors before featuring as the World XI team captain.

"When we look back on World Series Cricket, all of us today – the players in particular, the spectators who were getting such great television and the coloured clothing and all that – was due very much to Tony Greig having the courage to give up the captaincy of England to join Kerry Packer," Lawry said.

"That was a very big ask and he had the courage to do it. He was a tremendous competitor. I can remember when they played the World Series Cricket game at the trotting track in Perth. Richie [Benaud] had interviewed Ian Chappell, I think, because he was captain of the other side, and just before stumps we saw this big figure striding across the ground.

"He knocked on the door of the commentary box and said to David Hill, our producer: 'I want equal time. I want the same time as what Chappell had'. That's the way he was. He was bigger than life."

While the Packer team were secretly recruiting players, Greig captained England in the other momentous cricket occasion of 1977 – the Centenary Test. The opposition captain, Greg Chappell, said Greig had felt he had little option but to become Packer's lieutenant.

"The response from the establishment in England was as strong if not stronger than the response from the establishment here," said Chappell. "And as a foreigner who had been given the captaincy of England I think he received the brunt of the abuse that flowed to all of us. He felt there weren't going to be opportunities for him post-cricket."

Referring to a transcript of the meeting he said the conversation went like this:

"Kerry, money is not my major concern. I'm nearly 31-years-old. I'm probably two or three Test failures from being dropped from the England team. Ian Botham is going to be a great player and there won't be room in the England Test side for both of us.

England captains such as Tony Lewis, Brian Close, Colin Cowdrey, Ray Illingworth and Mike Denness all lost the captaincy long before they expected. I won't be any different. I don't want to finish up in a mundane job when they drop me. I'm not trained to do anything. I went straight from school to playing for Sussex. I am at the stage in my life where my family's future is more important than anything else. If you guarantee me a job for life working for your organisation I will sign."

On the 20th anniversary of the Centenary Test he said there were people who in England who still held against him his ties with Packer.

‘‘There is a little bit in England,’’ Greig said. ‘‘Not in Australia. I think the Australians have behaved impeccably over World Series Cricket. The hatchet got buried. It took a few years. There were a few little teething problems for the first five years. I mean, we lived with each other. We were marketing their game. We were working with them.’

Former Australian captain Benaud, enlisted by Packer as a consultant for World Series Cricket, described Greig's role in the revolution as fearless. "There was an enormous amount of pressure on him. He was captain of England at the time and played against Australia at Lord's," Benaud recalled. "The English people turned against him.

"He wasn't just a fearless cricketer but a fearless thinker as well. Not just jump in boots first, but . . . it wouldn't matter how much pressure it put on him he would stick with it."

This story 'Visionary' Greig remembered first appeared on WA Today.