Tony Greig – a great mate

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Australian Prime Minister John Howard, right, talks with former England cricket Captain Tony Greig, left, and former Australain Captain Bill Lawry at London's Lords cricket ground Thursday June 19, 1997. (AP Photo/Max Nash)

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Tony Greig’s sudden death yesterday at the age of 66 is gut-wrenching. I first met the genial giant of 6’6″ at the start of the Rest of the World tour of Australia in the 1971-72 season.

Rain was pelting down at the MCG during the first day of the tour opener against the Victorians, so play was called off early.

I rang Tony’s room at the hotel for an interview for the Sydney Sun and in his easy-going way he said, “Come on down”.

I knocked on his door and a deep voice invited me in. My first sight were two huge bare feet, and that was all I could see of Tony Greig.

Then he unfurled with a grin as huge as his feet, and it seemed forever until he stood erect.

That was the start of a friendship that lasted 41 years.

It was South African-born Tony’s first tour and he made no secret of the fact he was going to use it to the full to book a berth in the Test side for his adopted England, where he qualified through Scottish parentage.

We had a lot in common with our passion for cricket and a good few beers. There were many times over the next few years we were late to bed, but never a moment was wasted.

And I got to know the big bloke so well after writing two books for him. The first about his life, the second about the best cricketers he had played against, giving a run-down on each before he selected a World XI.

Fascinating reading.

Add to that ghosting a regular newspaper column for him, so I was in constant contact with Anthony William Greig and there was never a dull moment.

But the most fascinating were the 14 hours we spent together in Adelaide behind closed doors in early 1978, putting together a peace proposal for Kerry Packer and the Australian Cricket Board to end the war over World Series Cricket.

While both parties saw the merit in what we suggested, both were too pig-headed at the time to act on it. In the wash-up both signed off on peace over 12 months later with exactly what Tony and I had proposed.

That’s what genuine friendship really meant. Tony and I were in opposite camps over WSC, but we could still be close mates. Many friendships were shattered in that period, the most notable Sir Donald Bradman and Richie Benaud.

I will never forget his passion for everything, but more especially his cricket and his friendship.

He was a man for the big occasion.

In his first county game for Sussex he smashed a quickfire 156.

In his first Test for England at Old Trafford against the Australians just after the Rest of the World tour, he top-scored in both digs with 57 and 62, and captured 1-21 and 4-53.

The one wicket was Australian captain Ian Chappell first ball. The four second innings scalps were Keith Stackpole, Doug Walters, and Johnny Gleeson all bowled, and Rod Marsh caught.

Impressive.

I could go on all day about Tony’s achievements over 41 years, including his tilts with Ian Chappell through World Series Cricket and in the Channel Nine commentary box.

Sufficient to say they both had a healthy respect for one another, but were two of the most strong-willed men I’ve ever known.

Thankfully Chappeli is still with us. But I will miss Tony Greig.

Big time.

Thanks for the memories Greigy, many and vivid.

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