Tributes flow for cricketing trailblazer Greig

CHLOE SALTAU AND MICHAEL LALLO
Last updated 10:13 30/12/2012
Fairfax Australia

Former England captain and long time cricket commentator Tony Greig dies

Tony Greig
Getty Images
ICON OF THE GAME: A photo of Tony Greig from 2004 showing him in his trademark wide-brimmed hat.

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Tributes have poured in for the former England cricket captain and veteran Channel Nine commentator Tony Greig following his death at the age of 66 on Saturday.

Greig, who had a key role in Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket revolution and was a distinctive voice in cricket broadcasting, suffered a heart attack at his home on Saturday and was rushed to St Vincent's Hospital.

''The staff of the emergency department worked on Mr Greig to no avail,'' a hospital spokesman said.

He died about 3.45pm (NZT). It is understood he was surrounded by his family.

Greig was diagnosed with lung cancer in October and did not join the Channel Nine commentary team this summer.

After an initial diagnosis of bronchitis in May, Greig had tests in October that revealed a small lesion at the base of his right lung. He had fluid removed from the lung and tests revealed he had lung cancer.

Last month, he spoke to the Channel Nine commentary team during their coverage of the first test between Australia and South Africa in Brisbane.

He was candid about the disease, saying, ''It's not good. The truth is I've got lung cancer. Now it's a case of what they can do.'' He had an operation later that month.

Kerry Packer's son James paid tribute to Greig saying: ''Tony stood shoulder to shoulder with my father at times when it was not always fashionable. And together with the backing of other key players and supporters they forged a brave new age for both cricketers and spectators alike. For that alone, every fan of the game is in Tony Greig's debt.''

For his loyalty, Packer promised Greig ''a job for life'', and Greig did indeed work for the rest of his life as a commentator for Channel Nine.

Richie Benaud, the former Australian captain and doyen of cricket commentary, was told of Greig's death by the Nine chief executive, David Gyngell. Benaud then broke the news to rest of the commentary team.

Gyngell said Nine had ''lost part of its extensive cricketing DNA. It's 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,'' he said.

Benaud also paid tribute to his long-time colleague. ''The main thing I found is that he was the most entertaining commentator to work with ... Tony always had a slightly different angle.''

The last time Benaud spoke to Greig he was determined to beat his illness. ''He was very upbeat about it and said, 'I'm going to knock this thing off,' and he wasn't able to do it.''

Fellow Nine commentator Bill Lawry said: ''World cricket has lost one of its best known figures. He'll be greatly missed.''

Born in Queenstown, South Africa, Greig trialled for Sussex in 1965 as a teenager and set himself the goal of representing England, which he did in 58 tests between 1972 and 1977.

He compiled a formidable record as a test all-rounder, with 3599 runs at an average of 40.43 including eight centuries, and 141 wickets at an average of 32.20, including one haul of 8-86.

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Over an 11-year first-class career he played 350 matches for 16,660 runs and 856 wickets and 190 one-day games (22 of them internationals) for 3899 runs and 244 wickets.

Australia captain Michael Clarke said he was shocked to learn of Greig's passing.

''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. On behalf of the Australian cricket team our thoughts, prayers and wishes are with Greig family at this difficult time.''

Australian Cricketers Association chief executive Paul Marsh said Greig would be remembered as a trailblazer for players' rights.

"Awfully sad news with Tony Greig's passing. A significant contributor to players' rights worldwide and never afraid to speak his mind," Marsh tweeted.

Former Australia batsman Greg Blewett, now a commentator on Fox Sports, tweeted Greig was a "great guy and was always great company", while former Sri Lankan player Russel Arnold, also a commentator, said Greig had been a mentor and friend.

"We will miss you a genuine friend and admirer of SL cricket. It was indeed a pleasure to have known you!", Arnold wrote.

Australian cricketing great Glenn McGrath tweeted: "My thoughts are with Tony Greig's family today."

Writer John Birmingham summed up the sentiment of many fans at the news of Greig's passing: "That's a big chunk of my childhood trailing along behind Tony Greig as he makes that last long walk back to the pavilion. *Stands. Applauds*"

Former Australian test player and current Pakistan coach Dav Whatmore said Greig was a "great man".

New South Wales medium-pacer Trent Copeland said the news had left him speechless.

"Had the pleasure of meeting the big man and what a passionate cricket tragic. RIP," he wrote.

Veteran ABC cricket commentator Jim Maxwell said the "very sad and sudden news" of Greig's passing "cuts you to the quick".

He praised Greig for putting his neck on the line for cricketers during World Series Cricket.

"It was a pretty brave call from him to get involved with Kerry Packer..."

He said Greig had a long connection to Australian cricket, and many fans remembered him for standing up to Australia's fearsome pace-bowling tandem of Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson in the mid-1970s.

Maxwell said some of the things Greig said in his commentary "drove him nuts", but he loved Greig's enthusiasm. He described Greig as a larger than life character who engaged with people.

Among Australian cricket fans, Greig will be remembered for his abrasive style as a player and his colourful style as a commentator, particularly in some of his memorable stints with colleague Lawry.

As captain of England during the 1970s he sparked outrage when he said he intended to make the West Indies team "grovel".

But in a speech made at Lord's this year he said he valued the spirit of cricket above everything.

"The spirit of cricket is also about putting the game's interests before yours or your country's interests," he said.

Greig is survived by his wife, Vivian, and two young children, Beau and Tom, and a son, Mark, and daughter, Sam, from his first marriage.

Vivian, said, ''Our family wants to extend our gratitude for the support and condolences we have received and would ask for privacy at this very sad time.''

 

 - with Adam Cooper, Chris Barrett and AAP

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