Tony Greig's 'Spirit of Cricket' lecture at Lord's was a combination of self-justification, populist attack on the Big Bad Wolf of world cricket (India), and re-interpretation of history that was hilarious. Whether this means he is now forgiven for splitting world cricket through his self-interest – the very thing he accuses India of being guided by – or it just happened that his brother-in-law is the President of the MCC and was doing a favour to a relative, we will know soon enough.
Thirty five years ago, when Kerry Packer showed his petulance at being denied a chance to telecast cricket in Australia by establishing a rival series and signing up some of the world's best players, the motive was simple: Packer wanted to get his own back at the officials, and generate more money; his players couldn't care less about the first, but they were keen on the second reason.
Now, 35 years later, Greig says that Packer's World Cricket Series "ensured cricket reinvented itself to survive the changing world; provided the jolt the administrators needed; increased the pay and thus the longevity of careers; suggested to sponsors that cricket was a marketing tool; improved television coverage; introduced night cricket and drop-in pitches."
The catch, of course, is that these were not the original motives, but the incidental consequences of one man's ego fanned by the self-interest of men like Tony Greig. It is rather like saying that Hitler's war in Europe was good because it helped bring down the Berlin Wall. It is always possible to find consequences that are intended, unintended or plain silly from any set of historical facts.
In the age of ICL (Indian Cricket League) and IPL (Indian Premier League), it might not be easy to imagine how the Packer revolution affected the suits ruling cricket. That cricketers were underpaid there was no doubt, but equally beyond doubt was the fact that both Packer and his 'adopted son' (as one player referred to Greig), were not interested so much in raising the cricketers' lot as in taking advantage of the discontent in their ranks.
WSC might have been an idea whose time had come, just as the IPL is today. Whether cricket leads the changes in society or not, it certainly reflects them, and has always done so. WSC affected the purists in much the same way that IPL does now – in fact the later, shorter game has borrowed many of the gimmicks associated with the earlier one.
That India generates more money than any other cricketing nation has almost become a cliche in recent years. That the Board of Control for Cricket in India has problems with transparency and accountability and seems determined to make the world pay for its past sins, real and imagined, is not disputed. For these very reasons, India have become easy targets. But there is huge money in the game, and this has caused the players to keep their peace, just as the money generated by the WSC has kept a Tony Greig one of its most ardent defenders all these years.
The Indian board is ruled by self-interest, and so is Greig, which reduces his credibility somewhat. Pots and kettles come into the picture.
Greig was a very fine cricketer, just short of being a great allrounder, and infused the English team with some of his own aggressive, never-say-die spirit when he was captain. He is too a student of the game, and even if his stints on television as a commentator do not always suggest it, he has a deep understanding of the game and the men who played it.
Still, the self-justification ruined some of the genuine points he raised – like the Indian Board's casual disregard of conflict of interests, for example.
As Packer's prime mover, and later a founding member of the ICL, Greig cannot, with his hand on his heart, talk of the spirit of cricket and bask in the implied notion that he has been an upholder of it always. The more he talked of his honour, wrote Emerson in another context, the faster we counted our spoons. Greig's speech must have set off a flurry of spoon-counting worldwide.