Greig - pioneer who shocked the world

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Tony Greig rocked the establishment in walking away from high office as England captain to play a key role in setting up Kerry Packers breakaway circus in 1977. Photo by Tom Shaw

Tony Greig rocked the establishment in walking away from high office as England captain to play a key role in setting up Kerry Packer’s breakaway ‘circus’ in 1977.

Sportsmail pays tribute to one of the most significant cricketers in the history of the game by recalling how the late, great Ian Wooldridge broke the seismic news of the Packer revolution exclusively on the front page of the Daily Mail. And how Greig, who died in Sydney on Saturday at the age of 66, was finally welcomed back into the home of the game when he was invited to deliver the Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey lecture by MCC at Lord’s last summer.

On May 9, 1977, under the headline ‘World’s top cricketers turn “pirate” ’, Ian Wooldridge wrote: ‘In a player revolution unprecedented in sport the world’s top 34 Test cricketers have secretly signed contracts to become freelance mercenaries. Disenchanted by low pay and what they regarded as doormat treatment by cricketing authorities throughout the world they are to play exhibition “Tests” for television and ten times the money.

‘The new Dogs of Cricket include England captain Tony Greig and 13 of the Australian touring party (in England at the time). The possibility must be faced that Greig’s involvement will be seen at Lord’s as defection and that he will be removed from the captaincy this summer. Overnight. the whole balance of world cricket has shifted.’

Last June, 35 years after being ostracised from the established game, Greig, whose career of 58 Tests, 14 of them as England captain, was ended by his shocking switch, stood tall at the home of cricket and explained, at the behest of MCC, why he made the move that changed the game for ever.

Greig said: ‘I must explain my reasons for sacrificing the most coveted role in world cricket, the England captaincy, to become involved with an Australian television tycoon. A quote from the transcript of my meeting with Kerry Packer, five days after the Centenary Test on March 22, 1977, gives the best insight of how I felt at the time:

“Kerry, money is not my major concern. I’m nearly 31 years old. I’m probably two or three 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 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 am at the stage of my life when my family’s future is more important than anything else. If you guarantee me a job for life within your organisation, I will sign”.

Greig worked as a commentator for Packer’s Channel Nine in Australia until his death from a heart attack, after being diagnosed with lung cancer in October.

He continued at Lord’s: ‘Obviously there were also key issues with the England administrators that disturbed me which I felt would never be resolved. I couldn’t understand why we were only paid £210 a Test when we were playing in front of packed houses. The psyche of the administrators was that the honour of playing for England was enough — money shouldn’t be a consideration.

‘Consequently I couldn’t see an end to the game under-selling itself and there appeared to be no hope of expanding the revenue base for Test and county players alike unless there was a revolution, or at least a big upheaval. I have never had any doubt that I did the right thing by my family and by cricket. I have worked for Kerry Packer’s organisation for 35 years and my family’s future has been secured.

‘After the initial nastiness and internal feuding, cricket and cricketers also did quite well out of World Series Cricket.

‘WSC ensured cricket reinvented itself to survive the changing world.

‘WSC was the jolt the administrators needed and it flagged the message that they were substantially under-selling the sport to TV.

‘Players immediately received substantially more money at both Test and first-class level, which increased the longevity of their careers.

‘Companies saw the value in using cricket as a marketing tool.

‘TV coverage improved significantly, which increased interest in the sport.

‘Night cricket created a new audience, both in terms of television and at the ground, and generated significantly more income.

‘Cricket’s success inspired other sports to imitate cricket with things such as TV coverage and sponsorships.’

Greig concluded: ‘Cricket as we know and love it still has plenty of problems. Most can be solved if the International Cricket Council members put the game’s interests before their own; if India accepts the survival of Test cricket as non-negotiable; if India accepts its responsibility as leader of the cricket world; if it embraces Nelson Mandela’s philosophy of not seeking retribution; and if it embraces the Spirit of Cricket and governs in the best interests of world cricket, not just for India and its business partners.

‘What we have is a game with its roots deep in the 19th century but, like a magnificent English oak, continues to spread its luxuriant branches in the 21st century.

‘If we want our children’s children to be able to climb on that tree, we must do everything in our power to ensure that the tree can live.

‘To do that, no matter where we come from in the world, we must be guided by the paramount and enlightening thing that Colin Cowdrey, a man so courteous he called Jeff Thomson “Mr Thomson” out in the middle, knew and cherished so well. The Spirit of Cricket.’ – Daily Mail


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