Tony Greig is the subject of David Tossell’s new book Tony Greig: A Reappraisal of English Cricket’s Most Controversial Captain – published by Pitch Publishing and available online at amazon.co.uk and at all good bookstores priced £14.99.
Here, Greig opens up on his upbringing, his time in the game including his rise and fall as England captain, his involvement in the Packer controversy and the modern game.
The cover of the book describes you as England’s most controversial captain, I suspect Douglas Jardine might have something to say about that, is that an accurate reflection?
Back in 1932 Jardine was top of the pops, I find it difficult to comprehend that I am up there with him. He is very much my hero, what he did stands out head and shoulders above any other England captain. So to be compared in any way to him is good enough for me.
If we can go back to the beginning and your childhood in Queenstown, you didn’t have the stereotypical privileged white South African’s upbringing?
No. Basically my dad, a Scot, was the editor of a daily newspaper, the sister paper to the Daily Despatch – Donald Woods the very famous South African was the editor and he wrote Cry Freedom. I was brought up in a very left-wing environment – people who know my neck of the woods, know that the progressive party was born just outside Queenstown. I was brought up in a slightly more enlightened environment. Having said that, I still look back at those early days in South Africa, and was playing on those wonderful sports fields at Queens College and I still wonder how I could have been so oblivious to what was going on around me – but then again as a youngster that was what happened.
A number of Sussex cricketers coached in South African during the English winter and they watched your progress and eventually offered you a contract in 1966. How much of a culture shift was it coming to Sussex?
It was hard to drag myself away. My mother was distraught when I left, I think she thought she would never see me again. My
dad was pleased, he always wanted to see me leave when I left school: if I was going to bring up a family he wanted me to bring them up overseas. It made it a little easier having been coached by guys like the Langridges, Thomsons, Alan Oakman, Michael Buss. So when I got to Sussex it was a home away from home, but at the same time very different to be out there in the nets coaching youngsters in April, freezing cold, sometimes with three sweaters on and desperate just to get going in those English conditions – it was very different, but from a personal point of view, some of the most exciting times of my life.
You spent that season in 1966 in the Second XI, and were given a three-year contract. You made your first-class debut on May 3rd against Lancashire at Hove. You came in at number five Sussex were 31-3 and Brian Statham and Ken Higgs were bowling. How much of that do you remember?
I remember a lot of my debut. You need breaks in life. I thought I was out LBW first ball – but I was given not out. I went on and made a decent score run of 56 and my career was made by that knock. Very quickly I came back down to earth, because there was nothing incredible soon after. I eventually got 8-25 against Gloucester, but it was such fun doing something you loved. Going around all these new places some of the great ground and playing cricket against all those county players – and Test players, who in those days used to play. It was incredible fun. I am very grateful for the opportunity from Sussex.
Your England Test debut came against the Aussies in 1970 and again you walked out to bat with your side in trouble, you seemed to prefer arriving at the crease with your team in trouble, rather than at a comfortable 200-3.
That was the way it turned out. In terms of playing and doing well when the chips were down, Knotty and I batted in the middle order for England and the challenge for us was in situations like that one. It’s not that you didn’t do your best in other situations, but the way you made name for yourself was to really turn something around which was going wrong. Knotty was very good at that and I learned a lot from him. The opportunity to make a difference often came when the side was in trouble.
You used to get under the skin of the Australians, who weren’t used to an aggressive Englishman.
If you treated the Aussies in the way they treated everyone else. They found it a little bit foreign. I think they thought they had some sort of exclusivity on it and they didn’t like it. There were people like Dennis Lille, who was a past master at letting people have it, but he was a bit of a fairy when he got hit himself. I must say I got a lot of pleasure out of that. I was an all rounder so I could afford to dish it out, because I was going to get it anyhow. Having come from South Africa I was brought up in the same way as the Aussies. I have always found the Australians struggled to handle that very confident South African team that regrettably didn’t play much Test cricket. The Pollocks, Procky (Mike Procter), Richards, Eddie Barlow and all those guys; they didn’t take a backward step and beat the Australians 4-0 and 3-1. We don’t hear the Aussies talk too much about that and they found that mentality difficult to handle.
Your career was going well, you were established in the Test side you went to the West Indies in 1974 - but in the winter that followed, England really struggled without Geoff Boycott against Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson. How good were those two bowlers?
They were absolutely magnificent and one should clarify, Boycott was our best player and I know Geoff regrets it, even to this day. He wasn’t there for all the wrong reasons, and really should have been captain. He might have not been in the right frame of mind, but the truth is that had John Snow and Boycott been on that tour we would have beaten the Aussies, in spite of the fact they had Thomson and Lillee. Our problem was that we were a little bit short on the batting front. They were petrified of Snowy. He is regarded by that group of Australians in glowing terms; he had a great record against them and had the wood on them.
I blame the captain Mike Denness on that: the England selectors in that era were inclined to give you what you wanted as captain, and he should have got John Snow. There was nothing he could do about Boycott – as much as he would have made a huge difference to our batting – because he had said he wasn’t going. But there is no use crying over spilt milk, and they were very, very good. Lillee up there with the two best fast bowlers I have ever played against. Thomson as quick as the quickest; Benaud has seen them all and he reckons Thomson and Tyson and I have no reason to disbelieve that.
© Pitch Publishing 2011