It was the Bard of Avon who said the ‘evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones’. Being human, Tony must have had his foibles. I would rather dwell on the good. I first encountered him when Central Province played a one day match against the MCC in 1973. Tony had earlier rattled the roof of the old Asgiriya Pavilion with a six hit or two. There was a suspicion of an edge to a Chris Old outswinger, but umpire Royle Barthelot, unaffected by the raucous din from the slip cordon, ruled in my favour. At the end of the over, the towering figure of Tony Greig was next to me: “Hey! What do you think you are doing? Why don’t you go?” A trifle sheepishly, I cast my eyes down and waited for the storm to spend itself.
My next close encounter with Tony was in the ‘box’ when we shared commentary. He was an international celebrity, whereas I was a fledging broadcaster. To me he was courteous, gracious, very professional and never pulled rank. Whenever we met on subsequent occasions he always hailed me, held out his giant right hand and asked “Are you well?”
Tony was charismatic, colourful, controversial and confident. He loved a challenge, though he may have got it wrong when, as England captain in 1976, promised to make the West Indians grovel. His competitive nature was evident when he threw down the stumps (almost at the end of the day’s play) to run Kalicharran out at the non-striker’s end. The decision was overturned to enable play to restart the next day. One man stood beside Greig until the baying of the crowd had subsided. That man was Gary Sobers. Good bye Tony.
What’s your Tony Greig moment? ‘These Sri Lankans are giving the Aussies a real hiding’ (’96 World Cup final), ‘These Sri Lankans are very, very good, they catch everything. (’95 Benson and Hedges Series), ‘Little Kalu has smashed that for four and the Sri Lankans are loving it’ (’95 Benson and Hedges Series).
At a time when Sri Lankan cricket was no body in the mid-90s, Tony Greig was a dear friend. During that acrimonious tour of Australia in 1995 and the World Cup that followed Greig came up with several gems supporting Sri Lanka. Here are some of those. “They have come such a long way in such a short period of time and here they are taking away the ultimate cricket trophy.”
It was only fitting that Greig was doing commentaries with Sri Lanka on the brink of winning the World Cup. As Arjuna Ranatunga scored the winning runs, Greig said, ‘This is a little fairytale. The thing that I like about these guys is that they not only win, but they win in style. It is only a small place Sri Lanka. And what a moment this is for Sri Lankan people.’
Greig first caught the imagination of Sri Lankan fans during the tour of Australia in 1995. In a very pro Australian commentary team, Greig’s role was crucial as whatever he said helped form public opinion and won Sri Lanka admirers among Australian public. One such Greig comment during the chucking controversy was, ‘I have got to say that I have sympathy with the Sri Lankans here. They had enough,’ he said as Arjuna Rantunga took the team off.
There are some commentators who you love to listen to. Benaud, Chappell, David Lloyd and Greig fed us with so much of information, both technical stuff and some terrific moments in the past. But what made Greig such a popular personality was his love for Sri Lanka. Greig not only kept our cricketers in a high pedestal but told everyone that our pineapple was the tastiest in the world and that our crab is the best in the world.
Once during a match some cricket fans put out a banner which said, ‘Tony Greig – Born in South Africa, played for England, lives in Australia and supports Sri Lanka’. When cameras showed the banner, Greig had a laugh and said, ‘oh boy, these blokes are going to get me into trouble.’
Greig is known for his banter as a player and a commentator. Once in the late 1970s during a game at the P. Sara Oval when Greig called Sri Lankan cheerleader Percy Abeysekara ‘a black b——-‘, Percy sledged him. ‘Hey Greigy, you’ve got your height, I have got my might. I will send you up like a kite if the air is right and I will have you for bite especially if I am tight’. Since that day Percy and Greig have been great pals.
Greig hosted Sri Lankan cricketers for dinner when they were playing in Sydney, his adopted home. And when he came to Sri Lanka he went out with current and ex-cricketers and Galle seemed to be his preferred destination.
His last commentary stint happened to be in Sri Lanka during the World T-20. He was struggling with bronchitis and when he underwent tests it was revealed that he had damaged his right lung. Upon returning to Australia he was diagnosed with cancer. The Sri Lankan fans were shaken by the news and conducted Bodhi Poojas hoping for his speedy recovery. Star cricketers Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and several others attended the religious ceremony.
It was a heart attack that claimed him at about 1:45 pm, the day after the Sri Lankans had suffered a massive innings and 201-run defeat inside three days at MCG. He was 66.
Born in South Africa, Greig came to England and went on to play 58 Tests, some of them as captain. Since abandoning England captaincy and joining Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket, he remained loyal to Packer’s Nine Network.
“You’ve no idea how much one misses getting to the cricket on a day like today. When you’ve been doing it for 33 years it’s absolutely unbelievable. Even my little bloke who came home from school today was almost ‘dad what are you doing at home, you shouldn’t be here’, so it takes a little bit of getting used to, and I’m sure it’s going to get worse as this Test Match goes on,” Greig told his Nine Commentary colleagues during the first Test between South Africa and Australia at the Gabba, where the traditional first Test of the Australian summer is played and Greig had not missed a game there for 33 years.
He was hoping to return to work for the Sydney Test involving Sri Lanka that gets underway on the 3rd of January. Greig was the ultimate Sri Lankan fan. He loved Sri Lankan cricket more than some of our own cricketers do.
III: Dinesh Weerawansa: Cricketing World mourns Tony Greig
The death of former England captain turned international commentator, Tony Greig shocked world cricket fraternity. The 66-year-old all-rounder who represented England in 58 Tests between 1972 and 1977, was an ardent supporter of Sri Lanka. His love for Sri Lanka cricket reached the zenith after Arjuna Ranatunga and his men won the 1996 World Cup, beating Australia in the final.
Since then, Greig has been a sporting ambassador for Sri Lanka, promoting the country’s natural beauty and its cricket team. Greig, who died of a heart attack in Sydney today, was diagnosed with a lung cancer two months ago. While commentating during the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka he was moved to undergo medical tests that uncovered a lesion in his right lung. Subsequent examinations and operations revealed the extent of the cancer, and he was unable to fulfil his usual duties for Channel Nine in the Brisbane Test against South Africa.
He led England in 14 Tests before giving up the captaincy to join Australian media magnate Kerry Packer’s breakaway World Series. He later became extremely popular in Australia as a television commentator.
Born on October 6, 1946 in Queenstown, South Africa Greig aggregated 3,599 runs (average 40.43) and captured 141 wickets (average 32.20) in his Test career. His illustrious career includes over 16,600 runs and 856 wickets in first class cricket.
Australian broadcaster Channel Nine, for whom Greig was contracted as a popular commentator, said the former England captain died after being rushed from his home to Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital earlier today.
“It’s not good. The truth is I’ve got lung cancer. Now it’s a case of what they can do.” Greig was quoted as saying to his Channel Nine colleagues last month. “Thanks to all of you whp have sent me good wishes for recovery. With your prayers and the help of my family I will give it my best shot,” he said after undergoing surgery in October.
“Merry Christmas and a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year to you all. Would love to be at Test but son Tom and I will be tuned in?” Greig tweeted on the Christmas day. Current England Test and Sussex wicketkeeper Matt Prior tweeted; “Can’t believe one of my heroes Tony Greig has passed away. One of the greatest voices in cricket and will be sorely missed”.
Pakistan coach Dav Whatmore, who guided Sri Lanka to World Cup triumph 17 years ago, tweeted: “Great man, great career. He will be missed.”
Greig’s familiar presence on television screens was missed greatly at the outset of the current Australian summer. The heart attack that claimed him, shocked the cricketing world after the Boxing Day Test between Australia and Sri Lanka.
At the time of his death, Greig hoped that he would be fit to return to work at the final Test of the summer in Sydney, scheduled to begin on January 3. His commentary colleague for long time on international telecast and fellow former captain Bill Lawry said world cricket has lost one of its great ambassadors.
He loved travelling the world to places such as Sri Lanka, India, England, Dubai, wherever there were international matches. Cricket Australia’s chairman Wally Edwards said Greig’s illness and early death came as a “terrible shock” and that he will be greatly missed. Former Australian paceman Dennis Lillee described Greig “a tough contender who took on all opposition with aggression and a determination to win”. There have been many tributes and condolence messages from world renowned cricketers and commentators including West Indian world record holder Brian Lara and Sri Lankan commentator Russel Arnold. “RIP Tony Greig. Mentor and friend. We will miss you, a genuine friend and admirer of SL cricket. It was indeed a pleasure to have known you,” former Sri Lanka batsman turned commentator Russel wrote on Twitter.
“RIP Tony Greig. You have left a great footprint on the world of cricket. My condolences to the Greig family.” former West Indies captain, Lara said on Twitter while former Australian all-rounder and ex-Sri Lanka coach Tom Moody said; “Saddened to hear the passing away of Tony Greig, RIP. Great commentator, mentor, player & friend will be missed by the cricketing family.”
Celebrated Australian wicket keeper Rodney Marsh said Greig will be remembered more for his commentary in Australia. “He was very special as a commentator. He got the place alive and working, that Channel 9 commentary box. He loved the game and he served the game very well,” ABC quoted Marsh as saying. “I was only speaking with Tony a couple of days ago so news of his passing is absolutely devastating. Tony has a long and decorated history with international cricket both as a player and commentator and cricket will be much poorer for his loss. Personally, he has also been a great mentor for me, providing great advice through the good times and the bad.” Australian captain Michael Clarke said.
Former Australia captain Greg Chappell on the Cricket Australia website said “Tony was a very willing opponent on the field, but was equally willing as a friend off the field. He made himself into a successful Test cricketer and Test captain by that willingness to take the game up to his opponent whether with bat or ball.
Greig, at the time of his death, was with his family, second wife Vivian, daughter Beau, son Tom, and two adult children from his previous marriage – daughter Sam and son Mark.
IV: A Tribute in the Herald Sun
CRICKET great Tony Greig died yesterday after suffering a cardiac arrest while fighting lung cancer. Greig, 66, was diagnosed in October and was due to begin chemotherapy this week, Channel 9 sports director Steve Crawley said. He was rushed to Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital by ambulance from his Vaucluse home at 11am. He was pronounced dead at 1.45pm.
Greig — a champion all-rounder who played 58 Tests for England, 14 as captain — had taken time off from his Channel 9 broadcasting duties to fight the cancer, but had maintained his famously optimistic outlook. On Christmas Day he had posted on Twitter: “Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year to you all. Would love to be at Test but son Tom and I will be tuned in.” His wife Vivian said last night: “Our family wants to extend our gratitude for the support and condolences we have received, and ask for privacy at this very sad time.”
As flags at the SCG were lowered to half-mast, his close friend David Gyngell led the tributes from around the world. The Channel 9 CEO said: “The network has lost part of its extensive cricketing DNA with his tragic passing. It is a deeply upsetting time for his family and for everyone associated with Tony at Nine, and indeed for many, many others who came to know and love the man.”
James Packer described Greig as a “larger-than-life figure” who “played an absolutely pivotal role in the success of World Series Cricket, which changed the game forever for the better. “Tony stood shoulder to shoulder with my father (Kerry) at times when it was not always fashionable. Together with the backing of other key players and supporters they forged a brave new age for both cricketers and spectators. For that alone, every fan is in Tony Greig’s debt.”
As a player Greig was renowned for his articulate wit on and off the field. The charismatic South African-born cricketer became one of the masterminds of the World Series Cricket in 1977 – convincing many of his English teammates, as well as West Indian and Pakistani cricketers, to defect. He quickly became a great mate of media mogul Kerry Packer and that friendship continued until Packer died on Boxing Day in 2005. It also resulted in Greig being offered a “job for life” at Channel 9 as a respected cricket commentator.
Every summer he could be seen jamming his key into the cricket pitch and often enjoyed fiery discussions with his fellow commentators, in particular his dear friend and old sparring partner Bill Lawry, and Ian Chappell. Richie Benaud had conveyed the sad news to Greig’s fellow commentators.
Greig revealed his battle with cancer in The Sunday Telegraph in late October. He said: “I have had a few scrapes in my life and this is another one. Vivian (his wife) and I are going to put the boxing gloves on and fight this like we’ve never fought anything.”
Ian Chappell said last night: “We knew the news was bad but I didn’t realise it was going to be this sudden. “He was such a fighter on the field, and he showed the same optimism away from the field as well. We had our run-ins on the cricket pitch, but he’d often come into the dressing rooms afterwards with a beer in his hand and we’d laugh about the silly things we said on the field. He was damn good company and always had a passion for the game.”
Former Australian captain Steve Waugh said Greig had inspired him to play.”As a young boy working the scoreboard at Bankstown Oval I eventually summoned up the courage to walk up to him and ask for his autograph as he sat waiting to bat next for Waverley,” he said. “He was very gracious in his response and while it was only a brief exchange it certainly ignited my desire to one day be a professional cricketer.”
Greig and Vivian had a daughter Beau, 12, and son Tom, 10. Greig also has two adult children, daughter Sam, 39, and son Mark, 37, from his first marriage.
Plans are under way to honour Greig at the Australia v Sri Lanka Test match beginning at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Thursday.
FACT FILE: TONY GREIG ON THE CRICKET PITCH
Highest score: 148
Bowling average: 32.20
Best bowling: 8-86
One Day Internationals: 22