Sydney – The cricket world on Sunday paid tribute to former England Test skipper and broadcaster Tony Greig, remembering him as “the godfather of modern cricket” due to his influence in shaping the game.
South African-born Greig died Saturday after a heart attack at his Sydney home at the age of 66, as he battled lung cancer diagnosed just two months ago.
The towering Greig was remembered as being instrumental in the formation of late Australian media tycoon Kerry Packer's breakaway World Series Cricket (WSC) contest staged from 1977-79, which sent shockwaves through the sport.
“It could be argued that Tony Greig was the godfather of modern cricket, the man who believed the game should be entertaining and a little irreverent but always ruthlessly competitive,” wrote The Australian's Peter Lalor. “Cricket has lost one of its giants.”
Broadcasting doyen Richie Benaud, a former Australian captain who shared the Channel Nine commentary box for decades with Greig, described him as a dynamic cricketer, a fearless thinker and an entertainer.
“I found him a fellow full of courage; that was before he was ill,” Benaud said.
“He was full of courage because of many things that had happened to him in his cricket life and his outside life as well. It's one of those things where we know this was inevitable but there's always a sadness when you see a good friend go.”
Kerry Packer's son James said Greig “stood shoulder to shoulder with my father at times when it was not always fashionable”.
“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.
He added: “But he was much more than that. Our cricket enemy turned our mate; his famous car keys stuck in the pitch to demonstrate its hardness, and his legendary but friendly on-air barneys with the great Bill Lawry.”
Former Australian captain Lawry was distraught by the news, describing Greig as “an Englishman with an Australian attitude” whose absence from the commentary box had left a big hole in the game this Australian summer.
“I missed Tony this summer just in the commentary team and now he's gone forever,” Lawry said.
“My wife and I are absolutely shattered.”
Greig's opposing captain in WSC and fellow Channel Nine commentator, former Australia captain Ian Chappell, spoke of Greig's trademark competitiveness.
“I had enormous respect for Tony as a cricketer,” Chappell said.
“He was a great optimist as a player and a commentator. You always knew you were in a contest with him Ä whether playing cricket or over dinner.”
Current Australian captain Michael Clarke said the news was upsetting for the Test team.
“I was only speaking with Tony a couple of days ago, so news of his passing is absolutely devastating,” Clarke said.
“Personally, he has also been a great mentor for me, providing great advice through the good times and the bad.”
Greig played 58 Tests – 14 of them as captain – for his adopted country England between 1972 and 1977, scoring 3,599 runs with eight centuries at 40.43 and capturing 141 wickets at 32.20.
Greig said earlier this year of his life in cricket: “Give your hand to cricket and it will take you on the most fantastic journey, a lifetime journey both on and off the field.”
He is survived by his wife, Vivian, and four children. – Sapa-AFP