Few players have impacted the worldwide direction of cricket. Or, to put it another way, while many cricketers turn a game by dint of skill or attitude, precious few shape cricket's big picture.
For all his talent, memories of the great Sachin Tendulkar will highlight his nonpareil ability with the willow. However, the One Day revolution occurred during his peak and he did not compel it, but merely embraced theis new style of batsmanship. This revolution was authored primarily by a tiny, almost forgotten wicketkeeper from a sleepy island and his tactically aggressive captain.
In contrast, Anthony William Greig was a man who changed the way we regard the game –a South African who wanted to play Test cricket during the apartheid years and did so. Then, he led England and finally took on the role as perhaps the first truly modern professional cricket player in the world.
Tony Greig was the ultimate pragmatist.
Pragmatism requires clarity of vision and of thought: it is a process of identifying problems and solving them simply and brutally. With Greig, this manifested in his combative and versatile approach to the game. This attitude saw him graduate from Western Province to Sussex, England and then the captaincy of his (first) adopted country.
Another of the traits of the results-focused is strength of will. Hewas the first to challenge Lillee and Thomson during their Ashes campaign of 1974-75; two years later, his grit – and big ton at Kolkata – and subsequently led the first victorious MCC squad to India since his hero, Douglas Jardine. His leadership style was so obviously influenced by Jardine’s that he may as well have worn the Harlequin cap: calculating and yet noble as defined by his own distinct moral code.
His captaincy was astute and forthright. He deployed a thirtysomething David Steele at the top of the order and coaxed Boycott from his self-imposed exile, while focusing England first on making England difficult to beat. His final act as a recognised player was signing with Packer and World Series Cricket, a significant coup for the nascent league. Leaving the establishment for the betterment of cricket players' collective financial future and serving as Packer's chief overseas recruiter made him a cricket figure of the utmost importance.
The utilitarian is always questioned both aesthetically and morally. Greig’s reasons weren’t necessarily always the most wholesome – let’s not beat about that fact – but he bore the ultimate mark of the pragmatist: coming out on top more often than not. Tony Greig made effective decisions that led to his benefit and that of others – and what more could one ask from a leader?
Greig did not go quietly into the night. Six months – almost to the day – before his death, he delivered a stirring – if controversial – Cowdrey Lecture on the Spirit of Cricket. In the eyes of some, he implored India to take spiritual leadership of a game it practically leases to the rest of the world; others saw his presentation as further patriarchalism from a constant critic.
It would hardly have been Tony Greig if he didn’t address issues directly.
He will be remembered. He will be missed.