Teach a man to catch a fish
Through the annals of history there have been certain individuals of the likes of Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, Kublai Khan or Napoleon whose determination and action have reshaped events that thus has made what the present World is today. Well, that is somewhat in a political context.
However if I say that there has been an individual whose determination and action reshaped the World of Cricket who as far I know is the only individual to make such an impact on a global sport in such a telling manner.
The man I am about to put on the podium was born in one continent, played cricket in another, struck a deal with a business magnate in another continent which in turn saw a revolution in cricket for the first time and then joined another magnate in another continent which once again has shifted entire base of cricket in such a manner that we know for sure that it will not be the same again.
This man I feel, just like his cricketing skills, also developed another shrewd talent – that is to fish successfully in troubled waters.
The man whom we are talking about is none other than the former England cricket captain Anthony (Tony) William Greig. He was born on October 6, 1946 at Queenstown in the Eastern Cape in Border Province, South Africa to a Scottish immigrant father and a South African-born mother. His education at Queen's College, Queenstown, South Africa shaped his future destiny affiliated to cricket.
Queen’s College also had unique affiliation to the English County Sussex. The majority of the cricket coaches to this school arrived from Sussex. Every Sussex cricketer who coached the Queen’s College Cricket team while Tony was still in School spotted his talent and by the age of nineteen there he was in the backdrop of Sussex playing cricket even against the wishes of his guiding father who wanted him to become an academic. However in his first appearance for his adopted country he scored a memorable century against Lancashire and thus bade adieu to his academic future that his father wanted him pursue.
Mind you all this was done before South Africa faced a sporting isolation in 1971 as result of the Commonwealth Gleneagles Agreement against South Africa’s racial policies that prevailed at that time.
The first fish was in his basket.
Thereafter working up the county line and with his father’s Scottish lineage Greig was selected to play for England and his superb skills as a top order batsman, an effective medium pace bowler and a useful off spinner with the older ball saw him climbing the ladder until he was appointed captain of the England team in 1975 which he also did to good effect. In short in cricketing annals he was as good an allrounder as the legendary Ian Botham who incidentally replaced him in the English line up.
While being England’s captain he gave out indications of his bent towards commercial interests by signing up various endorsement contracts. Then with a long gap between England commitments, Greig headed to Australia for the 1975-76 season to play grade cricket in Sydney.
In March 1977 off to Australia to commemorate 100 years of Australia vs England test matches, a one-off test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Greig had played well in the match scoring18 and 41, bagged two wickets and held four catches. However just weeks before, he had signed a contract with the owner of the Nine Network in Australia, Kerry Packer, to play cricket in a series that would take place during the following Australian summer. Greig helped Packer by signing a number of English and foreign players with great secrecy. However once the matter came to light he was relieved from his England captaincy making way for Mike Brearley, and the World Series Cricket was on air.
Packer originally fell out with the establishment when he was denied of TV rights for his own Channel Nine. The Packer-Greig series was a huge success and culminated with a court order in favour of the WSC and the authorities bowed down and pyjama cricket came to stay.
Another fish in his basket!
As a matter of fact the entire game of cricket took a different perspective in the post WSC era and stayed on till the change of the millennium.
With television and commercial interests taking pride of place there came another change in the scenario. The cricketing hub which remained with England and Australia for over a century turned towards the Indian sub-continent. Here TV had their best commodity – the huge audience and the biggest member in the sub-section– India became the most powerful – monetary -- wise in cricket. With over a potential 1.5 billion viewers on offer the teams from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka became most sought-after by the TV magnates.
There came another development. Zee Telefilms a part of the Essel group, which is promoted by Subhash Chandra made a bid for the telecast rights to the 2003 Cricket World Cup. Although the highest bid, it was unsuccessful. In 2004, Subhash Chandra again bid for telecast rights and ended up in an inconclusive court battle. He made another bid for the 2006 ICC Champions Trophy rights and once again lost.
He responded by creating the Indian Cricket League. For this the ICL sought the expertise of Greig who by now had become a very articulate TV commentator, an influential cricketing personality with a track record of carrying out assignments of this nature. As the saga goes it even said that he was in Sri Lanka recruiting would be prospects for the ICL.
The launching of the ICL was done at the most opportune time. Unexpectedly the Indians had won the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup and the fledgling segment in cricket gathered a huge momentum in India.
However with the advent of the ICL the cricket establishment – this time the Indian Board experienced a shudder. While taking retaliatory measures of banning those who signed up with the ICL, the establishment made use of the talents of another genius – Lalith Modi to invent the Indian Premier League.
It was not the Twenty20 World Cup that really put the new concept into the World Cricketing Map; arguably it was the IPL which was the rival of the ICL. Like what WSC did to cricket in 1977, the ICL/IPL has done to cricket thirty years later.
The fish are in the basket, but cricket will never be the same again.