RIP Tony Greig, a larger than life all-rounder

Kersi Meher-Homji Columnist

By Kersi Meher-Homji, Kersi Meher-Homji is a Roar Expert

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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 Meher-Homji
    Kersi Meher-Homji

    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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    The Crowd Says (32)

    • December 29th 2012 @ 8:39pm
      Kento said | December 29th 2012 @ 8:39pm | ! Report

      Vale Greigy; a fine character of the game. For those who fondly remember his enthusiasm in the box, here are some of his more humourous moments to celebrate the man.

      • December 30th 2012 @ 6:55am
        Kasey said | December 30th 2012 @ 6:55am | ! Report

        Terribly saddened to hear the news of Tony’s passing, I doubt there’s an Aussie kid of my era that didn’t play backyard cricket mimicking the commentary from the Great man: It just won’t be the Commentary ‘team’ without Bill and Tony.
        “You cawnt pawk you caw on the grawse, then go see jurassic pawk yew stewpid bawstid”!
        Thanks for the compilation Kento…classic stuff:) Was it Griegy who once commented “I wonder how much she cost?”on an Asian lady getting married in the parkland around a cricket game?

        vale Tony Grieg:(

        Anybody else think it was disrespectful of Mr Cricket to not delay his retirement Presser or was it just bad timing? I was thinking that the only cricket story today should be all Tony Grieg.

      • December 30th 2012 @ 11:31am
        Brick Tamlin of the Pants Party said | December 30th 2012 @ 11:31am | ! Report

        The clip with Tony going on a mathmatical diatribe while a bag pipe band wanders around the WACA is priceless.

    • December 29th 2012 @ 8:47pm
      Jason said | December 29th 2012 @ 8:47pm | ! Report

      Sad news. Hopefully he and Kerry can watch the SCG test together from the great members pavilion in the sky.

      While in Australia he is best known as a commentator, his record as a player is truly outstanding. A very under rated cricketer I think.

    • December 29th 2012 @ 8:53pm
      The Kebab Connoisseur said | December 29th 2012 @ 8:53pm | ! Report

      Summer will never be the same without his voice on the tele.

    • December 29th 2012 @ 9:15pm
      DubbleBubble said | December 29th 2012 @ 9:15pm | ! Report

      That’s a real shame. I always liked his presence in the commentary box. He had a habit of keeping the Aussie parochialism in check. He was a person who spoke his mind and a man of strong convictions but not without a sense of humour.

    • December 29th 2012 @ 9:25pm
      Football United said | December 29th 2012 @ 9:25pm | ! Report

      England legend and one of crickets champion

    • December 29th 2012 @ 9:25pm
      Jason Cave said | December 29th 2012 @ 9:25pm | ! Report

      While I’ll always remember Tony Greig as an outstanding commentator, as a player he was very good.

      Two innings stood out for me when remembering Greig.

      One was his knock of 110 for England in the 1st Test of the 1974-75 Ashes series. It wasn’t how he got his century, it was the way he did it, especially when you consider he was facing probably the best fast bowling pair in the world-Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson, and the game was played on an average pitch.

      The other was in India in 1976-77.

      After delivering his team a pre-match blast to his England side, Greig went and made 103 at Calcutta (Kolkata)-possibly the most important innings in his time captaining England

      But probably the lasting impact Greig made was in a courtroom in London, 1977.

      He alongside Mike Procter, John Snow and Kerry Packer took the ICC and the Test and County Cricket Board (now England and Wales Cricket Board) to the High Court over the ban on WSC cricketers via restraint of trade.

      Justice Slade found in favour for Packer, Greig, Snow and Procter, with the ICC/TCCB ordered to pay $A320,000 in court costs.

      To risk all that-the England captaincy, his own career at both international and county level-in order so that players of the future will be well rewarded would be the greatest legacy Tony Greig left to cricket.

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