Tony Greig was the heart and the soul of Aussie cricket
There has never been another cricketing story like Tony Greig’s and there never will.
The son of a Scottish migrant was a South African-born, England-finessed, Australian-residing citizen of the world, a Test captain who loved stirring the pot, a revolutionary who fought the establishment, losing some battles but spectacularly winning others.
At times throughout his colourful life all of nations mentioned above claimed and cursed him but that was the essential flavour of his story as a man who followed in no other man’s steps.
In an attempt to intimidate rivals Greig would stand within breathing distance of the batsman and make subtle jibes, making the term silly point as suitable for what he was saying as where he was standing.
He would bait crowds when few of his generation would never have been so bold and found verbal combat stimulating.
In some ways his trademarks - such as the windmill swings of the bat when he came to the crease - were unforgettable, in other ways the footprints he left on cricket have been underplayed.
He was among the first to wear motorcyle helmets for protection, to stand upright in his batting stance and to slice fast men deliberately over slips… a trailblazer in every sense.
Later in life, with Channel Nine, the playful side of his personality shone through as a commentator who enjoyed playing the contrarian, the man in black.
The cricket world, though hearing Greig as a commentator for more than three decades with the Nine network, never really heard the best of him.
His finest work was done as perhaps the best dinner company in cricket, a man whose colourful stories ranged from tales of Bradman to Tendulkar, from Shane Warne’s brilliance to Muttiah Muralidaran’s family biscuit factory in Sri Lanka, to Kerry Packer’s private world.
Some of his greatest battles were ones kept mostly away from public view such as his battle with epilepsy which once saw him collapse at Heathrow Airport after the return of the 1975 Australian tour.
As an allrounder Greig was no Sir Garfield Sobers but certainly he was in one of next drawers down.
He was dynamic and, like Sobers, a master of versatility. His Test record of 3599 runs at 40.4 and 141 wickets at 32.2 in 58 Tests may not make the jaw drop but he was robust competitive force in everything he did.
As a player he carried himself like a man who had the key to every lock; his body language radiated the vibe “just watch this’’ and he often got wickets through the force of his personality.
Greig arrived in England from South Africa having played just one first class match but such was his exceptional talent he reached 1000 Test runs in just his 14th Test and won Test matches bowling medium pace on some occasions and off-spin on others.
No lesser judge than keeping icon Alan Knott rating Greig’s - at his peak - the best off-spinner in the world.
Sometimes Greig’s combative nature got the better of him and he lived to regret a throwaway line made against the West Indies in England in 1977 when he said he intended to “make them grovel.’‘
With their sensitivities over the region’s slave ancestry raging, the West Indies never forgave or forgot.
After one dismissal of Greig in that series Viv Richards said: “Who wouldn’t want to maybe have one-up on your colonial masters at some point? ... I just wanted to send that message we are all equal. It’s pretty simple.”
Greig will almost be remembered for his role in quitting English cricket to help Kerry Packer organise the World Series Cricket circus in the late 1970s.
No other cricketer in World Series was closer to Packer than Greig; their mutual admiration knew no bounds.
One theory has it that Packer and Greig gained their rebellious streak from having domineering fathers who they could never please.
Greig’s once said his father was “exceptionally critical of every move I made” while Packer could never recall his father praising him to his face.
Greig was given a brutal working over from the English public and media but his final decision to join Packer was made when he felt shattered by a snub to his daughter.
“I went to pick up my daughter, Samantha, from school,” he recalls. “Her best friend had a party the next day. The mother was handing out invitations and my daughter didn’t get one. The mother looked at me and said she’s not getting one.
“I was gobsmacked. That caused me to phone up and tell Kerry ‘I’m out of here’. Within three days, we were out of England.”
Greig had cricketing life like no other. It’s hard to know where he fits best in his history but one thing is sure - history will never forget him.
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