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Greig felt like an outsider but he was central to changing his sport

Sport sometimes throws up remarkable lives and unexpected events but few characters have had a more profound impact on their pursuit than Tony Greig, who died on Saturday at the age of 66.

Tony Greig was an outsider in some cricketing circles, but a pioneer in others, before he emigrated to Australia. Picture: Getty Images
Tony Greig was an outsider in some cricketing circles, but a pioneer in others, before he emigrated to Australia. Picture: Getty Images

Here was a man born in South Africa, to Scottish parents, who was venerated, then vilified in English cricket, before emigrating to Australia and moving as seamlessly from player to pundit, as he did from one continent to another.

In the last few days, the obituaries have, rightly, accentuated Greig's role as a revolutionary, who cracked open the stiff upper lip and old establishment values which were prevalent throughout the sport in England: a domain where jobbing county professionals were forced to search for alternative winter employment as shelf-stackers and window-cleaners, and where even the elite Test players were paid as little as £200 (for a five-day match). Greig might have been perceived as flash, arrogant and overbearing – and he was never forgiven by some West Indians such as Viv Richards and Michael Holding after saying he was going to "make them grovel" – but the irony was that this redoubtable individual (who subsequently regretted that remark and himself publically grovelled to the Windies team), should improve the lot of everybody in the Test sphere and transform those same Caribbean players into millionaires.

And what was the driving force behind Greig's decision to join Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket in 1977? It wasn't simply about money, nor an ego trip for the England all-rounder, who was later accused of betraying his adopted country to sell his soul. Instead, for all Greig's veneer of all-consuming confidence and brash exterior, his actions were largely dictated by the feeling that he was an outsider, somebody who would never be accepted by influential figures at Lord's and the English hierarchy.

This inner vulnerability developed while the young Greig was growing up in South Africa. On the surface his father, Sandy, was a well-respected RAF instructor, who arrived in the Republic with a distinguished war record. Back home in West Lothian, the family's electrical business flourished in the 1960s, as their shops in Bathgate and Whitburn catered for the increasing number of customers looking to buy televisions, modern cookers, record players and other gadgets. But, behind the scenes, there was a tension between the martinet, Sandy Greig, and his son, who later stated, as much in sorrow as anger, that his father "was exceptionally critical of every move I made."

In these circumstances, much of Greig's chutzpah and flirting with controversy – whether in slating his sport's conservatism or engaging in personal battles with Dennis Lillee or Alvin Kallicharran – was merely a front; he dealt with emotional issues in a similar fashion as he did with his epilepsy. It was something to be glossed over, or blocked out. Yet, when details of the WSC plan appeared in the press, Greig's response to his nearest and dearest being summarily ostracised by their former colleagues was instructive. Cut him and he bled.

"I went to pick up my daughter, Samantha, from school and found out that her best friend was having a party the next day," he later recalled. "The mother was handing out invitations and my daughter didn't get one. The mother looked at me and said she wasn't getting one.

"I was totally gobsmacked. That caused me to phone Kerry and tell him: 'I'm out of here.' Within three days we were out of England [en route to Australia]."

It doesn't take a genius to detect hints of George Douglas Brown's imposing Scottish novel The House With The Green Shutters. For want of any signs of love from his father, and excoriated by one-time colleagues, Greig sought a crusade, a mission, which would gain the approbation of his peers and, in the process, he became the driven orchestrator of a series of seismic happenings in cricket.

It helped, of course, that he forged a deep bond with Packer, another outwardly-rugged individual. Neither was ever accepted by their fathers in their formative years and neither forgot it. Yet, if it cut them to the quick, they used the scars as motivation for a new order.

Indeed, when I spoke to Greig, shortly before Scotland's debut at the 1999 World Cup, he was insistent that George Salmond's players should do everything they could to relish the experience. He regularly used the words, "passion", "belief" and "enjoyment" and added his hope that the Associate countries would prove their worth.

When I asked him what his main message would be to the Scots, he answered immediately: "Tell them to leave absolutely nothing on the pitch. If the boys play to the best of their abilities, they can't do any more. And . . . wish them well from me, if you can."

His accent was a mixture of South African and Australian. But there was a significant amount of Scottishness in Tony Greig's soul.

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