Bangalore: The only thing surprising about Tony Greig’s delivery of the Cowdrey Lecture at Lord’s was that he didn’t announce, on arrival in London ahead of the oration, that he would “make them grovel.” Them, of course, in this case being the Board of Control for Cricket in India, a body quicker to feeling aggrieved than Clive Lloyd’s West Indies, who put Greig’s Englishmen firmly in their place after a similar comment in 1976.
Greig, a lot of people tend to conveniently ignore, played 58 Tests for England, leading them with distinction and achieving more with bat and ball than should have been possible purely through his technique or skill. He was a large-hearted cricketer who scored centuries against the best attacks, pace and spin, around the world, and was good enough to take 8 for 86 against a line-up that included Fredericks, Rowe, Kallicharan, Lloyd, Sobers and Kanhai.
Far from being merely a cricketer, Greig threw himself into various projects with great gusto, not least Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket, and later media work with respected houses such as Channel Nine. Greig is a member of the board of the Epilepsy Foundation and a brand ambassador for Tourism Sri Lanka – although why someone would pay Greig for something he would do for free, his love for the little island is genuine and legendary, is another question.
But, we in India tend to gloss over most of this. Indeed, we overlook a love affair with the game that began when he tried out for Sussex as a teenager and has spanned five decades, simply because he threw his lot in with the Indian Cricket League. When Greig did so, he did it with typical enthusiasm, and was not shy to shout from the roof tops about how great the League would be, and subsequently how dastardly the Indian board was for scuppering the venture. That’s just who Greig is: where a kitchen mallet would do the job, he wouldn’t be shy to bring in the wrecking ball. Look no further than his twitter feed for a sample of just how he likes to stir the pot. But, to mistake that for malice is missing the point.
Now, after Greig’s Cowdrey Lecture, in which he makes many interesting points and often does so in a confrontational manner, Greig’s relationship with his Indian audience is likely to sour further. Already there is barely masked outrage, and this should not come as a surprise. Few people do outrage better than Indians, although why I should take it personally if an individual cricketer or the BCCI is attacked, I have never understood.
A line-by-line analysis of Greig’s speech, which you can read in full here, is beyond the scope of this piece. Anyway, as readers, you’re intelligent enough to read the speech and draw your own conclusions. However, there are a couple of ideas that beg to be looked at more closely.
It’s Greig’s hypothesis that India need to take their responsibility at the head of the table in world cricket more seriously, and focus their energies on saving the Test game. While this sounds earnest enough, its very foundations are dubious, as it should be clear to Greig that those running a national body have been elected by stakeholders whose interests they must protect. When N Srinivasan was elected president of the BCCI, his remit did not include ensuring that, say, cricketers in New Zealand did not turn freelance because their board could not compete with IPL salaries. When Sanjay Jagdale took over as BCCI secretary, among the many tasks on his plate, one was not to make sure that the Decision Review System was uniformly implemented. Running world cricket was never the responsibility of elected officials of the Indian board. As Greig knows very well, there is an entire other organisation charged with doing this, the International Cricket Council. If the ICC is failing to do its job, it’s hardly the fault of the BCCI which, like any other national board, is looking after its own interests.
Before you holler about the BCCI controlling the world through its undeniable financial muscle, take a look at how the ICC is structured. When there’s a contentious issue, matters are settled by a vote. Taking the example of the DRS, as that seems to be a matter of life and death to some, the BCCI has been consistent in its opposition. If the cricket boards of the other nine Test-playing nations are so keen on the DRS, and as united as they claim to be, why do they not push for a vote and pass the law? If they are so keen on not offending the BCCI, and are willing to sacrifice the beliefs they so vociferously espouse, how does this make the BCCI unprincipled? Is it really the BCCI who are chasing the dollar to the detriment of cricket, or have other boards abdicated their responsibilities in their unseemly haste to get a piece of the action?
Another Greig assertion that cannot go unchallenged is that India do not take Tests seriously. In the coming season, India play ten Tests at home and this includes series against England and Australia. What more can they possibly do?
The fact that Greig’s lecture has engendered debates means, in some ways, he’s done his job. To dismiss Greig’s thoughts on the basis that he was a Packer or ICL man would be missing the point. Here’s a man who clearly cares about the game, and he’s unhappy about how the BCCI is going about its business. The BCCI would do well to consider his opinions, even if it doesn’t agree with a single one of them. After all, it’s not long ago that one man got so high handed that he ignored the views of the world and ran his patch of cricketing turf as he pleased. Today, he lives in exile, and those he kicked on the way up are queuing up for his return.