SYDNEY, Dec 29 (AFP): Flamboyant former England cricket captain and television commentator Tony Greig died of a heart attack Saturday at the age of 66, as he battled lung cancer.
South African-born Greig had only recently been diagnosed with cancer and suffered a cardiac arrest at his Sydney home, dying shortly afterwards. “Tong Greig passed away at St Vincent’s Hospital of cardiac arrest at 1.45 pm,” hospital spokesman David Faktor said. “He was rushed to St Vincent’s and staff at the emergency department worked on Mr Greig but to no avail. I understand his family was with him.”
Greig, who worked for Australia’s Nine Network for decades, first became aware of his illness during Australia’s one-day series against Pakistan in Dubai in August and September. On his return to Sydney, he had fluid removed from his right lung and tests revealed he had cancer, said the network, which described Greig as a “beloved”character.
“Tony Greig is a name synonymous with Australian cricket — from his playing days as the English captain we loved to hate, to his senior role in the revolution of World Series Cricket, his infamous car keys in the pitch reports and more than three decades of colourful and expert commentary,” Nine said. Last month, Greig spoke to the network’s cricket commentary team, of which he was a member, during their coverage of the first Test between Australia and South Africa in Brisbane. “It’s not good. The truth is I’ve got lung cancer. Now it’s a case of what they can do,” he said at the time, ahead of an operation.
Greig played 58 Tests for his adopted country England between 1972 and 1977, scoring 3,599 runs with eight centuries at 40.43 and captured 141 wickets at 32.20.
He captained England in 14 Tests and also played in 22 one-day internationals. Greig was a controversial, swaggering figure throughout his career, once prompting a storm of criticism when he promised to make the West Indies “grovel” ahead of their 1976 tour of England, evoking the spectre of slavery.
He was 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. Greig helped secure the signings of a number of English and other foreign players to the rebel series, launched in response to the Australian Cricket Board’s refusal to give Packer’s Nine Network exclusive Test broadcast rights.
The series featured stars such as Dennis Lillee, Imran Khan, Greg and Ian Chappell, Viv Richards and Clive Lloyd and left a lasting legacy on the game, including improved financial rewards for players. Greig’s involvement caused an abrupt end to his international career and in the 1980s he joined the Nine Network’s cricket commentary team along with former Australian captains Richie Benaud, Ian Chappell and Bill Lawry. “When he played cricket, he was big and he did big things,” Benaud said.
“And he didn’t care about anyone else who was bigger or perhaps might even be faster or anything like that. He would just get in there and fight.” His old Australian adversary Lillee described him as a “tough opponent who took on all opposition with aggression and a determination to win”.
“He had a take-no-prisoners attitude which helped him lead England with flair and toughness,” he said. “He was a genuine all-rounder who in turn was an integral part of World Series Cricket’s success. Once his playing days were over Tony offered an insightful commentary. He will be sadly missed.”
ICC chief executive David Richardson said Greig played a significant role in shaping the modern game. “This is extremely sad news for cricket and the ICC send their condolences to Tony’s family and in particular his wife Vivian,” Richardson said. “Tony played a significant part in shaping modern cricket as a player in the 1970s and then provided millions of cricket lovers with a unique insight as a thoughtful and knowledgeable commentator.”