RIP Tony Greig, a larger than life all-rounder

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The passing of Tony Greig came as a shock to me, and us all. It was always interesting discussing cricket with him in the SCG Press Box.

He had that certain presence, that certain aura, a charisma that attracts. At 6’7″ he was larger than life-size, but was very approachable.

Tall, fair, handsome and articulate, Greig has gone through the gauntlet and emerged unscathed. Born in South Africa, he shone out as an all-rounder for England, later captaining his adopted country to success. He was one of the key figures in the formation of Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket in 1977. His voice was recognised internationally as the cricket commentator on Channel 9 in Australia with that typical ‘Greigy’ unflappable style.

He was a leader of men, charming and multi-talented. He knew what he wanted and he got it.

According to Christopher Martin-Jenkins in World Cricketers (1996), “[Greig] was a brave determined and skilful all-round cricketer who seldom failed in Tests and many times seemed to be holding England’s fortunes on his shoulders.”

At times ruthless, he relished challenges, imposing his personality on matches and on events.

He usually batted at number six and showed the bowlers who the boss was. And who would argue with his tall frame? He came out swinging his bat round his shoulders as he took the ‘middle’ from the umpire. Mostly a front-foot batsman, he specialised on the off-drive and lofted straight drives which went over the ropes and within the Stands.

Like Keith Miller before him he had ‘six appeal’ and he was a crowd favourite, especially in India. Many of his best innings were played on his two tours to India.

In 1972-73 he shone out as a batsman playing unbeaten innings of 68 and 40 (and accepting five catches) in the Delhi Test which England won by 6 wickets. In the final Test in Mumbai, he hit 148. During this innings he added 254 runs with Keith Fletcher.

Greig achieved all-round success when England toured the Caribbean the next season. He scored 430 runs (including two centuries) at 47.77 and captured 24 wickets at 22.62 runs apiece.

In the third Test in Bridgetown he made 148, his joint top score and bagged 6 for 164, becoming the first to record a hundred and take five wickets in an innings of the same Test for England. Inspired, Greig scored another century in the Georgetown Test and captured 8 for 86 and 5 for 70 in the final Test in Port-of-Spain.

Both his 8 for 86 in that innings and 13 for 156 in the match were records for England against the West Indies at that time. On this tour he had switched from swing to quickish off-spin which may explain his success. This bowling bonanza enabled England to win the Test and draw the series.

However, his copybook was blotted somewhat by a controversy in the first Test in Port-of-Spain. When West Indian batsman Bernard Julien played the last ball of the second day down the pitch, Greig picked it up. Then observing that Alvin Kallicharran was out of the crease, he threw down the stumps and appealed. Kallicharran was given run out by umpire Sang Hue and the crowd was furious. After long consultations between captains, umpires and administrators, the appeal was withdrawn. Greig apologised and peace was restored.

He carried his fine batting form to Australia in 1974-75, playing a buccaneering innings of 110 against Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson at their peak. This was the first century in a Brisbane Test by an England player since 1936-37. He put in an impressive all-round performance in the third Test in Melbourne, scoring 60 in the second innings. lofting off-spinner Ashley Mallett for a monstrous hit in the outer and taking valuable wickets.

Appointed captain, Greig led England to a successful tour of India in 1976-77. England won the Test series 3-1 as he totalled 342 runs at 42.75. His 103 in the Kolkata Test, his 49th, was memorable as he became the first one to achieve the double of 3,000 runs and 100 wickets for England.

Greig led England in the historic Centenary Test in Melbourne in March 1977 which attracted the largest collection of international cricketers in history.

Although England lost, Greig remained a very popular player on and off the field. At that time he was “earning upwards of £50,000 a year from various cricket contracts and allied business activities”, according to Christopher Martin-Jenkins in World Cricketers (1996). He was also certain of leading England for many years.

Then came Kerry Packer’s rebel World Series Cricket (WSC) with Greig as one of the key figures and he lost credibility with the establishment. Although he was the captain of England, he travelled the world between March and May 1977 to sign up many of the world’s best cricketers on Packer’s behalf, including some of his own team-mates. The WSC was born soon after and Greig was dismissed as captain of England for what was regarded as “his betrayal of trust” but he continued to play for them successfully under Mike Brearley in 1977.

In 58 Tests he scored 3,599 runs at a healthy average of 40.43 with eight centuries and took 141 wickets at 32.20, claiming 5 wickets in an innings six times and pouched 87 catches.

He was one of the four cricketers who averaged more than 40 with the bat and under 35 with the ball in Test arena, others being Aubrey Faulkner of South Africa, the West Indies’ legend Garry Sobers and South African Jacques Kallis.

And in 350 first-class matches, he amassed 16,660 runs at 31.19, took 856 wickets at 28.85 and held 345 catches. As a slip fielder he was superlative, the safest and the most brilliant of his era. Well, his height helped too.

Greig migrated to Australia in 1978 and started as a chairman of an insurance company and became a successful television commentator on Channel 9.

Along with WSC pioneers Richie Benaud and Ian Chappell, Greig has been broadcasting the game and presenting his views on the box for 30 years. He spoke his mind without fear or favour and remained popular with TV viewers from the time the coin is tossed (with his key in the pitch as his trade mark) to interviewing the man of the match at the end.

One cannot speak for hours on end without a gaffe here and there and Greig is known for putting his foot in his mouth on occasions. He was once ‘caught out’ when commentating on Channel 9 during a one-day international between Australia A and West Indies on the Sydney Cricket Ground on 10 January 1996. When a batsman hit a sizzling six, he yelled in excitement “It’s a HUGE sh*t” instead of “It’s a HUGE six.”

A lively after-dinner speaker, he told a humorous story at a cricket function. He had just started playing county cricket for Sussex after leaving South Africa. The bowler steamed in and had Greig out plumb lbw. That was the first ball he had faced and to his relief the appeal was turned down. He took a single off the next ball which brought him near the umpire who whispered to him: “Do you know Sandy Greig from Queenstown?” “He’s my father”, Tony replied. “Damn good decision, then!” was the retort from the umpire who was Sandy’s mate. Greig went on to make 150-plus, captured newspaper headlines and never looked back.

Tony Greig will be remembered for his tall frame, tall hits and tall (but true) tales.

With the passing of Peter Roebuck, Roar’s Vinay Verma and now Greigy, the SCG Press Box will not look the same.

Vale, Tony Greig.

Kersi is an author of 13 cricket books including The Waugh Twins, Cricket's Great All-rounders,Six Appeal and Nervous Nineties. He writes regularly for Inside Cricket and other publications. He has recently finished his new book on Cricket's Conflicts and Controversies, with a foreword by Greg Chappell.
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