Wednesday, June 27, 2012

On Tony Greig's Cowdrey lecture

Tony Greig makes a lot of sense. Re-read that sentence because I probably won't type it again for a while – at least not while he consistently forces rubbish memorabilia down our gestalt craw on the telly. But, in his recent Cowdrey Lecture on the Spirit of Cricket, the man in the panama hat spoke passionately and – for the most part – incisively as to the state of the sport and issues facing the game in general.

He ruffled some feathers throughout, but what else could you expect? It's Tony Greig, for crying out loud! As far as he can make out, many of world cricket's problems come with the effective power of veto that India holds over the ICC; this, when combined with his unfortunate reluctance to address the Indian cricket cognoscenti as “the BCCI” rather than “India” means that Twitter was alight this morning with comment both moderate and vitriolic.

Tony Greig is not a buffoon. Occasionally he seems like it, but he is neither incompetent nor stupid. In fact, his references to legendary cricket writer E.W. Swanton and Alec Bedser were touching memories, sad in nature and an insight into a complex and – in his own special way – honourable man. It's a guess, and I may be doing some people a great disservice, but I'd hazard such personal, relational disappointments would be scarce in the autobiographies of many current cricketers.

That said, Greig is indubitably guilty of poor choices from time to time, as are we all. Unfortunately, his happen to be extremely high-profile. On this occasion, while highlighting some of those past choices, he unwittingly stumbled into another in generalising a cricketing culture too freely.

However, to dismiss all he has to say as wrong or even “establishment” just because the speaker has a past history of gaffes is incredibly short-sighted. Those gaffes shouldn't discount his every utterance, but instead mean his words must be examined carefully and sometimes taken with a grain of salt. I doubt Greig himself would suggest any differently, neither did he suggest his view was gospel – merely his opinion. While they must be considered, his past cases of foot-in-mouth have been used too often to flay Tony Greig without proper cause.

When invited to speak about a subject on which he is passionate, he gave his opinions. Any suggestions of ulterior motives or personal agendas are bunk. He addressed first and foremost the questions he has in regards to the game's future direction, a bearing linked inextricably with the globally-nuanced “Spirit of the Game”.

How an oration is received is a very personal process. Each listener will take home a completely different message as it relates to them and their world view. With that said, in my opinion the kernel of the lecture was a call for reconciliation and to attempt to move forward together.

It was unfortunate that the reference became somewhat confused, but Greig spoke of Nelson Mandela and the honour in which he is held by peoples everywhere – a man who was wronged, yet rather than wreaking his revenge when coming to power, did what he thought was best for the nation of South Africa. Mandela's global legacy will be one of reconciliation achieved through his struggle both as one of the oppressed and as a member of the powerful.

It's almost never perfect, and it doesn't solve everything, but reconciliation is an action of forgiving debts. It's a big ask because often those wronged have been so unfairly treated, and it certainly doesn't excuse or wipe clean past actions.  Though clumsy in his execution, Greig's suggestion is that giant steps can be made when parties approach each other not with self-interest but collective growth at heart.  Thinking of him altruistically, he then contends that because the BCCI (and by extension, India as a whole) holds so much power in the game, leadership on that nebulous issue of "Spirit" must come from that them.

The reason Greig's speech focused so much on India – how I wish he had said BCCI! – is simply because the BCCI are now the global creditors of cricket and find themselves in such a position after being mistreated for a long time.  In my opinion, Greig's point is valid and his premise strong; however he can be condemned for failing to separate the game's governing body from the nation as a whole. He has called for reconciliation, yet in some ways made it harder to achieve by misnaming those he hopes to entreat.

It was entirely Tony Greig – observant yet flawed, an exercise in his humanness.  Far from perfect but also far from an attack on India or their cricket.

Because Greig's speech was on the Spirit of Cricket it behoves us therefore as supporters and fans of the game to accept it with the grace inherent in that same Spirit of Cricket. That doesn't mean automatically redressing each of his suggested action points, but accepting his point of view – as his perspective if not a comprehensive one. Believe it or not – and the internet would love us to believe “not” – it is possible to accept someone's point graciously but still disagree with it. To shout him down is neither in the spirit of the game nor any decent spirit.

Some may suggest that Greig deserves no grace because his speech was delivered with none. Personally, I'd disagree with that, but surely – and to my mind, this is Greig's take-home point – if someone has operated without grace then the higher road, the more constructive path, is to be gracious in return rather than seek vengeance or simply dismissing them. This simple dictum is the core of many religions. From a global perspective, how often is revenge or even “getting mine” the way forward?


  1. Matthew, I think the reason people have objected so much is that Greig appears not to appreciate his role in the modern game. The Packer revolution, for better or worse, introduced an element of free-market economics into the sport. Greig's claim that he did not join Packer for the money was absurd and contradicted by the evidence he then gave. To then go on and suggest that the BCCI just give up part of the lucrative IPL money is like suggesting that Packer (or any other business) just give some of its assets away. In other words, most people are criticizing it for faulty logic. Also,did you listen to it? He was not eloquent at all - he kept tripping up over the words.

    1. David, you're right - I will amend that passage. Thanks for reading and commenting.

      The effects of the Packer revolution are far-reaching but from an Australian point of view his - and Ian Chappell's - role is celebrated. The transition needed to happen and future financial security - for themselves and their cricketing "descendants" - was at the forefront of Chappell's mind (and, from evidence here, Greig's also). I think it's justifiable for an athlete to expect to provide for his family - especially so since from all the evidence the game wasn't exactly administered according to it's true "spirit" at that time either.

      For mine, automatically gainsaying his precepts are a mistake, no matter what history he has. I'm not suggesting he's a saint, or 100% correct or even speaking with full context; but he was invited to speak by the MCC on the Spirit of Cricket and offered his view - which is swayed to altruism rather than cynicism. The Spirit of Cricket needs to be altruistic because it should govern the game. At present, political and financial expediency do that governing.

      Perhaps the important delineation to make is that his 1977 WSC decision was a personal one, rather than for any "Spirit of the Game"; which makes it almost two separate concepts.