Tony Greig’s competitive fervour got the better of him against West Indies in Trinidad in 1974 © Getty Images
February 3, 1974. Bernard Julien pushed the last ball of the day down the pitch. From the non-striker’s end, Alvin Kallicharran made his way to the pavilion. And Tony Greig fielded the ball at silly mid-off and threw down the stumps. Arunabha Sengupta recalls the infamous incident that almost resulted in a riot.
Shades of Greig
As usual Tony Greig had created diverse impressions on reaching the islands. Against Trinidad at Port of Spain, the final game before the first Test, he had batted with style and panache to score 70 and 100 not out. The sight of a towering figure topped by blond locks, almost struggling to extend his bat to reach the ground, had delighted the spectators. They had been even more entertained by the obvious joy that the charismatic cricketer derived from all the attention showered on him.
But, then, Greig could seldom be content with just winning hearts. He had appealed for leg before a bit too zealously against the local hero, wicketkeeper Deryck Murray. The crowd had not been too enthusiastic about that, the Trinidad side even less so. In response, Murray had resorted to time wasting tactics during the last moments of the game, in a deliberate attempt to prevent Greig from getting to his century.
The Trinidad Guardian had announced “Greig loses popularity at Oval” and had been opportunistic, if somewhat unfair, to use the occasion and harp on his South African origins. It would not be the last time that his heritage would be used against Greig by the Caribbean media.
However, worse was yet to come.
Not that ‘shy’
Mike Denness lost the toss at Queen’s Park Oval against West Indies and England were put in to bat on a humid and cloudy day. Keith Boyce and Garry Sobers made the ball swing around and Greig found himself striding out to bat with the score reading a pathetic 30 for four.
He counterattacked with characteristic mix of guts and skill, twice swinging full tosses from Inshan Ali over mid-wicket, one of the strokes carrying all the way for six. However, just after lunch, he tried to deflect Boyce off his pads and was caught down the leg side. His 37 was the top score and England ended on a measly and disappointing 131.
On the second morning, Bob Willis and Chris Old struck quick blows. But thereafter, Alvin Kallicharran made all the difference. None of the other men stuck around, but the little Guyanese left-hander went on and on. A crowd of over 30,000 enjoyed watching their team build up a massive lead.
Greig himself was not enjoying the proceedings. Kallicharran had played superbly all day and was looking set to bat forever. When Greig had bowled to him, he had been thrashed for three successive boundaries.
When Pat Pocock snared Deryck Murray, the score read 196 for six, and there was some optimism about restricting the hosts to a manageable lead. However, Bernard Julien came out to unleash a flurry of strokes and the Englishmen soon became unhappily aware that the match was slipping away from them.
By the last over of the day, the score had reached 274 for six. Greig was feeling particularly grumpy, and his competitive fervour was soon channelled along a rather dubious course. But for some confusion among the scoreboard operators, the events that transpired could have ended in some serious rioting.
Derek Underwood was bowling the final over of the day, with Greig perched close at silly-point. As Julien played the balls with a virtual dead bat, he crept closer and closer to the batsman until he was almost standing on his toes.
The final delivery was pushed somewhat harder, just wide of Greig’s right hand towards silly-mid-off. Captain Denness later recalled, “I was fielding at mid-off and I could see Greigy [Greig] hovering around and looking up towards Deadly coming in to bowl. I remember thinking to myself, ‘He has got something in mind here’. I could see Greigy going after the ball and not just at a saunter. I remember shouting to him to hold on to it because if he shied at the stumps and missed it was me who was going to have to go after the ball and then walk 100 yards back to the pavilion.”
Greig raced down the track, picked up the ball near silly mid-off and looked at the non-striker’s end. At the other end, Knott was already pulling out the stumps to signify the end of the day. Kallicharran, batting on 142, walked out of the crease, head bowed, heading towards the pavilion. And Greig threw the ball. The startled Underwood flinched as it rocketed past him and struck timber.
“I was thankful that his throw didn’t go for four overthrows,” the left-arm spinner said later.
Kallicharran turned around in shock. Greig appealed and umpire Douglas Sang Hue was aghast. According to Grieg’s biographer David Tossell, ‘Spreading his arms wide like Pontius Pilate [the umpire] had no option but to give the batsman out.”
Alvin Kallicharran went onto score 158 in West Indies’ first innings © Getty Images
Kallicharran himself later said that the act was totally in keeping with Greig’s personality. But, as Warwickshire teammate Willis observed, “I have never seen Alvin quite so furious.” He was seen storming off the ground in a fit of temper.
According to teammate Geoff Arnold who was on the field as a substitute, “Greigy nearly got us lynched. Kallicharran walked past me on his way off and smashed his bat on the ground. The crowd went mad and I thought we were not going to get out of Trinidad alive. It was a legitimate wicket because I don’t think the umpire had called ‘over’, but probably only Greigy would have run him out like that. It was typical of him.”
As Greig reached the boundary line on his way out the boos were deafening. The storm that he had created threatened to blow into dangerous proportions. John Woodcock later wrote, “I doubt whether anyone with a love and understanding of cricket can honestly have believed that Greig had played the game.”
It was perhaps fortuitous that the incident had occurred in Trinidad, an island associated with merriment and carnival spirit, rather than Jamaica or Guyana. Fans of the latter two were never too slow to react with extreme and violent demonstrations. However, fate also intervened in another way. The scoreboard operators, unsure of what had taken place, changed the number of wickets back to six. This gave the impression that Kallicharran was still unbeaten, although the official record at the end of play indicated that he was dismissed.
The players drifted to their hotels, but captain Denness and manager Donald Carr were asked to stay back and meet the West Indian Cricket Board representatives. Before going for the meeting, Denness spoke to Greig. “All I wanted to know was whether his action had been premeditated and therefore could be termed unfair play, or involuntary. His reply was that he had done everything on instinct, which was good enough for me. He was very upset about the whole affair, especially the feeling of the West Indian contingent waiting outside.”
Years later Denness confessed, “I think to a certain extent that Tony [Greig] had thought about it. You can’t prove it, but Greigy is not going to say, ‘Yes, it was premeditated because I thought it was the only way we could get him out.’ He didn’t look good because of the way it was done. If the ball had gone down the wicket at any other time in the game, I’m not sure Greigy would have gone after it in the same way. There seemed to be something about it.”
A good percentage of the crowd had stayed behind, and their intentions were obviously to confront the villain of this piece. Garry Sobers now stepped forward and offered to drive him back to the England team hotel.
After a three-hour discussion, the England management informed the West Indian Board that they were withdrawing the appeal. The umpires had acted according to the rules of the game, but they would be asked to reinstate Kallicharran at the wicket. A statement was issued, “Tony Greig in no way intended his instinctive action to be contrary to the spirit of the game and he is truly sorry this has caused an unhappy situation.”
There was also the undercurrent of Greig’s South African origins that the administrators had to worry about. Arnold believed, “They’d have killed us if we hadn’t let him bat the next morning.”
Denness explained, “It was early in the first match of the series and we had five matches to play. We were going on to Jamaica after that, and we did know the locals could become quite volatile. Also I was looking at Tony’s [Greig’s] background and the way apartheid was then… The next day was the rest day but when I walked to the ground for the start of the third day I was being asked as I went past queues of spectators, ‘What is happening with Kalli?’ They were opening little bags and they were full of empty bottles. They said things like, ‘Hopefully Kalli is going to bat, man. If not they are for you.’ I think we probably made the right decision.”
Unfortunately that was not the end of the matter. The West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) suggested that Greig should be sent home. Carr denied this later, saying, “There was never any question of taking disciplinary action and sending Greig home. If he had gone home it would have only been for his own safety. We received full approval of our action from Lord’s.”
Greig himself was in two minds about the incident. “It was straightforward and definitely not premeditated. I saw Kalli [Kallicharran] out of the crease and threw his wicket down. As soon as I hit the wicket I thought, ‘Oh dear, this could cause a problem or two.’ I was sorry for what I did in terms of what happened, but it was one of those things.”
Years down the line, he was rather less apologetic.
The press — English and Caribbean — were united against Greig’s act. Henry Blofeld wrote, “I feel strongly that Greig’s action was indefensible. The incident may have been explicable in terms of Greig’s character, his enthusiasm, his sense of competition, his determination to win; but in the final analysis it was surely unforgivable.” Christopher Martin-Jenkins accepted that Greig had probably been unaware that Knott had removed the stumps, but even then felt, “His action was ungracious. It was not worthy of an admirable cricketer, or of someone who, off the field, is a charming personality.”
There were some who felt that the all-rounder had acted according to the laws of the game and had got a raw deal with all the negative press. Willis put it down to the cultural nuances, “He had learned his cricket in South Africa where they play in just such an uncompromising fashion. It would have been almost unthinkable for an English-born cricketer to have run out a batsman as he left the field.” Ted Dexter accused Carr of speaking up to keep the peace instead of backing his player.
Before play began on the third day, Carr called Greig to his hotel room and said, “As far as I am concerned the incident is over. But to keep peace with the crowd I want you to walk over as Kallicharran arrives in the middle and shake his hand.” Greig agreed with considerable reluctance.
He did receive support from an unlikely quarter, though. Mick Jagger, lead singer of the Rolling Stones, was waiting for Greig on the pavilion steps at lunch on the third day. “Good work, I don’t blame you,” he remarked.
It was straightforward and definitely not premeditated. I saw Kallicharran out of the crease and threw his wicket down. As soon as I hit the wicket I thought, this could cause a problem or two
Kallicharran added 16 more to his score before falling to Pocock. Julien remained not out on 86 as West Indies finished their first innings at 392. Despite a superb 174 by Dennis Amiss and his 209-run first wicket partnership with Geoffrey Boycott, England lost their last nine wickets in the space of 64 runs to the combined spin of Lance Gibbs and Sobers. West Indies won by seven wickets.
However, the on-field handshake did little to bring the teams closer. Pat Pocock recalled, “There was a horrendous atmosphere, the worst I have ever known between two cricket teams. We knew we were up against it … so against a guy like Kallicharran, a brilliant player all round the wicket, somebody would have a go at him — very personal. His eyes would stand out like organ stops and he would get mad and slog and we would get him out. Greigy and the others would play on that and it was a deliberate effort to wind blokes up.”
But the Englishmen knew when to draw a line. As Pocock continued, “It all stopped when Garry Sobers walked in. Then, no one said a word. It would have been like swearing in a church.”
The series was tied 1-1. But, it was just a prelude to the differences between Greig and the West Indians.
England 131 (Tony Greig 37; Keith Boyce 4 for 42) and 392 (Geoff Boycott 93, Dennis Amiss 174, Mike Denness 44; Lance Gibbs 6 for 108) lost to West Indies 392 (Alvin Kallicharran 158, Bernard Julien 86*; Pat Pocock 5 for 110) and 132 for 3 (Roy Fredericks 65*) by 7 wickets.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)