Tony Greig Relives a Courageous Brisbane Test century
In a memorable match when England Tony Greig relives a courageous Brisbane Test century. When I joined Sussex back in 1966, the group I locked into in the young players’ room included Peter Ledden, Terry Gunn, Peter Graves, and Allan Jones to name but a few. Our conversations there tended to revolve around Australia being the ultimate goal, the arch enemy. It was not a theory to which I was prepared to subscribe. As far as I was concerned, there had to be just as much ‘needle’ in Tests against countries like South Africa and West Indies. Little wonder that those Sussex dressing-room conversations all came flooding back to me in my first Test in Australia, in Brisbane at the start of the 1974-75 series.
It was not just the fact that it coincided with the Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson, and Max Walker bowling combination that would have to go down in history as among the greatest threesomes of all time or the fact that the Australians were led by Ian Chappell who, in the cricketing context, epitomized the no-quarter-asked-or-given type of opponent. There was also an amazing build-up to the ‘Battle of Brisbane’, a lead-up that pulled tightly on the nerves. And, of course, I have to admit, I remember it above all for my hundred.
It was a flirty hundred, technically far from the best I have played, but the one I value most because of the difficulty generally of scoring runs. The toughest thing of all was to play cricket against people who gave you the impression that there were no holds barred. On top of that, there was an incredible contrast. What happened between 11 and 6 was one thing. At the end of it all there would be a drink of beer — people with broken fingers and bruised ribs sitting and having a drink with the blokes who had done the damage. It is what sport is all about, but it was almost incongruous. On top of all that, I was the bloke accused of having started the ‘war’ by bowling Lillee a bouncer.
Dennis Lillee had made 15 and was being treated pretty well by fellow fast bowlers who could not bat. I decided to let him have it right from the word go. I had already read the signs. There was no way I was going to escape the wrath of Lillee and Jeff Thomson. I certainly didn’t plan to start anything, but the only counter I knew was to get in first. But the circumstances of that tour were also bound up in history.
The Australians had been the victims of pace during the Bodyline series and during the previous England tour, the tour on which John Snow did a fair amount of damage. There were some very hungry Aussies waiting to square accounts. The problems of Lillee and Thomson were extenuated by the fact that Lord Tony Greig, bat aloft, acknowledges the applause for his century Mayor of Brisbane, Alderman Clem Jones, who had chosen to take control of the pitch preparation.
The weather did not help either. The ground was flooded only two days before the Test began, and what with that and the Lord Mayor, it made for a pretty lively state of affairs. To say the least, the pitch was responsive to pacemen. And then there were the crowds. Australian crowds have always been very vocal. But I could not have believed they could be more vocal than they were in getting behind Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson.
The Gabba was alive with chanting as they egged on what they reckoned was a pretty good team. The entire ground, the whole atmosphere, was absolutely electric. It was all shaping up that way well before the Test. I will never forget, as long as I live, wandering up to Sydney’s Kings Cross at midnight one Saturday with Keith Fletcher and Bruce Francis to buy the Sunday papers.
We took them back to the hotel and opened them up in the coffee lounge – and spluttered over our cups. In one of the papers was a huge article by Thomson referring to blood on the pitch, Pommie blood, and the fact that it wouldn’t bother him if he hurt a few batsmen. The seeds had been sown. Going up to Brisbane and feeling the pressure and tension we were under was something else again. We had some very experienced players on that tour guys like Dennis Amiss and John Edrich (one of the toughest cricketers I ever encountered). When they started to struggle, we knew we were in trouble.
Denis Amiss had a thumb broken, John Edrich a hand. Jeff Thomson might have had a very ordinary introduction to Test cricket against Pakistan two years earlier, but he was proving dynamite against us. The crowd loved it. They were baying for war, and war they got. It was intimidating just to walk onto the ground with the roars echoing in your ears. Even more so, after seeing what had happened to two of our best batsmen, to have to pass Lillee on the way. When I got him out, he said something like, ‘Don’t worry, sunshine, I’ll catch with up you.’ As I walked past him on my way out to bat, he was quick to remind me of the promise. It made me wonder about the wisdom of having had my first conversation with an opponent in the Australian Test arena. I can handle being nervous.
But I don’t think that at any stage of my life have I ever been as tense. Luckily for me, the tension brought out the attack. I decided that there was no way in the world I would last too long if I started pushing and prodding. I had to give it a go. All of a sudden, I was signaling my own fours, and that only served to stir up the Aussies. Most people considered it madness, and to this day I don’t know why I did it. It just happened. The very first ball by Dennis Lillee bowled me was a bouncer, and I just managed to get my head out of the way. Lillee followed it down the pitch and made a mark on his forehead which, of course, they loved.
The beer was starting to run dry at that stage. I got 110. To walk away from that environment with a hundred against my name against Australia – I was quite happy by then to concede that they were, indeed, the arch enemy still not being sure how on earth it had been possible, was more than satisfying. The glory of it all was only blinded by the fact that the next stop was Perth. This was only the first Test. The other memorable feature of all that drama was Derek Underwood. We featured in a bit of a partnership for the eighth wicket, putting on a little over 50.
As a No. 9 or 10 batsmen, ‘Deadly’ has never been afraid to admit that he is not the best batsman in the world. I was bubbling over with adrenalin when Underwood came into bat, walked up to me, and said, ‘Well, what do you reckon mate?’ I told him: ‘It’s a straightforward question of fighting for your life.’ I will never forget the way he looked at me, going slightly pale, and said ‘Thanks a lot!’ One thing Underwood does correctly is to get his front elbow up. Well, the first ball from Thomson was an absolute flyer. It rose up off the pitch and passed through the crook of Underwood’s arm, between his elbow and his ear. How it didn’t kill him I still don’t know.
There was a look of absolute death on Underwood’s face as he came down the wicket and said to me, ‘Mate, you are spot-on right!’ But after our stand, in which he had helped wear down Thomson, Lillee, and Walker, Underwood fell for a bowling change by Ian Chappell. Doug Walters came on to bowl, and I warned Underwood about him.
To no avail. First ball from Walters, Underwood planted straight down mid-off’s throat. We lost the Test, but it had been a marvelous one for me. I didn’t enjoy getting cleaned up by the Australians, but I did enjoy the rest of the tour. I knew that Ian Chappell didn’t think I could play, so it always gave me a massive amount of pleasure to perform against Australia. But of all my Tests, that first in Brisbane, my first in Australia, will always be special.