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'Tony's passion for cricket always came through'

A tribute from an Ashes rival and a fellow commentator

Ian Chappell

December 29, 2012

Comments: 62 | Text size: A | A

Tony Greig and Ian Chappell inspect the vandalised pitch, England v Australia, 3rd Test, Leeds, August 19, 1975
Tony Greig and Ian Chappell inspect the damaged pitch at Headingley in 1975 © Getty Images

I'll always remember Tony Greig as a very combative cricketer. He was the sort of player who gave it everything he had. I have always described him as a cricketer who got the absolute best out of his ability.

As an opponent you knew you were in a contest with Tony Greig, and he always made his presence felt. He could do it in a lot of ways - with the bat, with the ball, and what is probably forgotten is, he was a hell of a good fielder, a terrific catcher.

I only captained against him, Australia v England, on three occasions, but I had a lot of reason to thank him in the second game, played at Headingley, in 1975. That was where they dug up the pitch and poured oil on it, on the fourth evening. The game at that stage was pretty evenly poised. (Evenly poised as far as I was concerned; Tony always said that England were in front.)

We got a call to do a meeting early in the morning at the ground with the umpires. So, as the two captains, we went out and had a look at the pitch. The umpires came to us and said, "Look, we feel the nature of the pitch has been changed, that we don't believe it is fit for playing, but if either of you captains want to play, then we'll agree to it." I thought to myself, "Oh, I'm going to get left in the lurch here", because obviously as the Australian captain and the team holding the Ashes, it wasn't in our best interests to bat on a pitch that had been damaged. And it was also very much in England's interests to play the Test match and try and level the series, with a chance of then regaining the Ashes with the final Test at The Oval.

But Tony immediately stepped forward and said, "I agree with you" to the umpires. "I believe the pitch is unfit for play and that the match should be called off." Afterwards I went to him and shook him by the hand and said, "Mate, thank you very much. I really appreciate what you did there. You could have easily left me in the lurch." That was typical of Tony. He was a very combative cricketer, a very combative captain, but he wasn't about to take advantage of you in an underhand way.

Probably the finest innings he played against us was in the Gabba Test in 1974-75, where he scored 110 against Lillee and Thomson, who certainly was at peak pace in that game. It wasn't easy out there. But Tony, every time he would hit Lillee for four, he would signal four like an umpire, and that obviously antagonised Dennis enormously. There weren't too many people around in world cricket at that stage who were looking to antagonise Dennis, but Tony did it, and he carried it off by scoring 110.

It was in that match that the "Sandshoe Crusher" was born. Before we went out to bowl in the second innings, I said to our guys, particularly our fast bowlers, "Guys, any chance we can get Tony Greig out rather than trying to knock his block off?" That's when Thommo came up with the Sandshoe Crusher that bowled Tony, and that was where the term was born.

We then went on to play each other a lot during World Series Cricket. Tony was an integral part of World Series Cricket. He was given a pretty tough job. You can imagine, as a white South African, having to travel around the Caribbean to sign up a lot of West Indies players. It couldn't have been easy for him but he was never one to shirk a challenge. He went and he did that job and he did it very well, and he signed up a lot of those international players for World Series Cricket.

Tony and I, our relationship deteriorated quite badly during World Series Cricket. Mostly, I have to say, instigated from my side. We finished a couple of years of World Series Cricket not on the best of terms. But then, after I played one more year, I went and joined the Channel 9 commentary team. Tony was part of that team. I thought to myself, "Well, we're obviously going to be working together pretty closely here. If we happen to work together for quite some time, this is going to be pretty silly, being antagonistic all the time." And because I had been the main offender, I thought it was up to me to get back on good terms with Tony. Nothing was ever spoken but we just go on with our job. It was, sort of, a case of "that was then and this is now". We just got on with our job, spent a lot of time together not only in the Channel 9 commentary box but a lot overseas.

He was a very combative cricketer, a very combative captain, but he wasn't about to take advantage of you in an underhand way. I really appreciated that

The thing that always came through with Tony was his passion for cricket. He had a lot of opinions, he was quite prepared to state them, and he was quite prepared to argue them. Always the thing that came through was his passion for the game. I can remember there'd be times when he'd get on one of his hobby horses about batsmen walking. He'd say, "Batsmen should walk." Occasionally I would remind him of Lord's in 1972 and say, "Well, you didn't actually walk in your career, Tony. What about Lord's, where you edged one and grabbed your shoulder to try and indicate to the umpire that you hadn't hit it?" His reply often was, "Well, do as I say, not do as I do."

We had some good times in the commentary box, we had some arguments even, but we could always sit down afterwards and joke about it.

That was another thing about Tony as a player. The Australian and South African style of play was very similar: play very hard and very competitive on the field but then sit down and have a beer and laugh about some of the silly things that happened on the field. And because Tony had grown up in South Africa, and grown up in that atmosphere, even when he joined England, he would still come in at the end of the day's play, or if we went into their dressing room he would always be there, with a bottle of beer. I think he used to bring a few of the Englishmen in with him to get them into that habit of mixing with the opposition.

I have a recent fond memory of times spent with Tony. We were commentating together on the World Twenty20 in Colombo, and there was a holiday, I can't remember exactly which holiday it was. I went to the bar to order a drink and the barman said, "There's no alcohol today." I said to him, "Well, mate, isn't there somewhere we can get alcohol?" And he said, "You can go to your room, order room service and get a bottle of wine." So we all did that. There must have been a dozen or so commentators, we came downstairs and we spoke to one of the security guys and he said, "Look, if you go quietly over to the dark corner by the swimming pool, that'll be okay. You'll be out of the way and we'll just let you have a drink and you won't bother anybody else."

So we did that, and over a glass of red, Tony, who liked to have a cigar occasionally, he said to me: "Would you like a cigar?" I quite enjoyed one every now and again but not very often. On this occasion his cigar smelt good and I said, "I'll join you." I had this cigar and a glass of wine with him and it's a decent memory of Tony.

In fact, when I got back home and got the news that he had lung cancer, I rang him up and said, "Jesus mate, I hope that wasn't a bad batch of cigars we had in Colombo," and he just laughed.

It was good to hear him laughing, even as recently as the first Test match in the South Africa-Australia series. The first day at the Gabba, I knew he'd be hurting because he always loved to be there and everybody loves to be there for the first Test, the first ball bowled. And knowing it was South Africa, I knew he'd be hurting a bit.

And Greigy, he was always the driver. He always drove us to the ground in the mornings. The cars were leaving at eight o' clock, and right on eight o' clock on the first morning of the Gabba Test this year, I rang his mobile. He answered and I said, "Greigy, where's the car?" And he said, "What are you talking about? Who's this?" And I said, "Mate, where's the car, we're waiting to go the ground." He suddenly realised who it was and said, "Sorry mate, you've just woken me up", and he laughed about it. That was typical of Tony, that he enjoyed the joke and the mickey-taking, and he loved to be part of that.

The Test match at Sydney is going to be hard work for all of us on the 9 team. Particularly because Tony and Viv, his wife, always had a big party on the third night of the Sydney Test. They would invite a lot of the international people who are in town, commentators from other countries, we'd all go to his place and it was always a very memorable evening. They were great hosts, Tony and Viv, so it'll be a tough Test match.

I'm sure it's going to be really hard for his family, particularly his younger son Tom, who is a real cricket fanatic. He used to love Tony bowling to him in the backyard and him bowling to Tony, and he always used to come to the Sydney Test match to watch the game and he'd sit in the commentary box and watch the cricket. It's going to be hard for his family. And we'll miss him greatly.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator and columnist

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Posted by vivbthra on (January 1, 2013, 16:18 GMT)

indeed,a shocker!Hooked to the game since the days i started speaking,probably from the age of 9 and that was precisely during the 1992 world cup.Believe me friends more than the game it was the great man tony who forced me watch the game called cricket simply because of his fantabulous commentory together with the another commentory legend Bill Lawry.I was in tears literally to have read about his untimely demise.RIP Sir Tony greig you have been a great ambassador of world cricket and it is certainly not going to be the same in the commentory box any more. Thanks Sir Tony You will stay in our hearts for ever.You will be missed deeply. It will certainly decline our interest in the game in your absence.

Posted by swamistyle on (January 1, 2013, 13:12 GMT)

Excellent article Chappelli. At least you had the guts to mention the ugly part of your relationship during World Series days & admit it was mostly your fault. Makes me believe that your spat with Botham is probably more beefy's fault. Will miss Tony in the Commentary box as he (along with Bill, Richie & Chappelli) were the voices of summer I grew up with. He always liked to stir up the Aussies which helped even out some of the bias seen in the Aussie cricketing media (especially in the newspapers). The only part I won't miss was his pro-Sydney bias that had slowly crept in over the last few years. With Tony gone, Bill rumoured to be downgraded after this summer & Richie & Chappelli probably retiring soon it will be time to put the volume down completely when watching the cricket on 9 from now on. The verbal diahhorea of the others (especially Taylor & Slater) will be even more unbearable once they control the commentary box entirely. Oh please Fox Sports can you bid for the cricket!

Posted by farkin on (January 1, 2013, 2:21 GMT)

his passion for cricket commentating did more to harm cricket then the under arm ball

Posted by   on (January 1, 2013, 2:13 GMT)

Stonnington Conveyancing staff Conveyancer Garvin Pereira, who is Lankan, and a big cricket fan too has always said to me that Tony Greig was the only white fella to master Sri Lankan pronunciation - and I respect that!

Posted by pcanadaguy on (December 31, 2012, 23:55 GMT)

I will always miss you Tony. I did not see you as a playing cricketer but I always loved your commentary. You gave cricket commentary a new era.

Danish .. A fan from Pakistan

Posted by   on (December 31, 2012, 17:59 GMT)

This chap,Tony Greig,was indeed a GIANT of a sports caster;his analysis and calls were right on because of his unfaltering love of game and the players. The world of cricket owes a great deal to Mr.Greig. In his next life he is sure a spot in the world's team of cricket! RIP and sympathies to your Family and Friends,and the world of cricket. With many Thanks,Mr.Greig. "God Bless".

Posted by   on (December 31, 2012, 17:14 GMT)

His Passion Came through the TV screen .... "Little Kalu and Sanath" his trade mark phrase ! RIP Tony Much love !

Posted by   on (December 31, 2012, 15:23 GMT)

shocked to hear the news,just can't imagine 9's coverage without Greigy.His role as a recruiting agent during WSC under the tutelage of Kerry Packer was dynamic,especially the fact that everything was under the wraps till the very end.I guess it was because of his charming personality.This personality also was the reason for his fan following during commentary.also he gelled with different cultures easily.His love-hate relationship indian crowds during 76-77 series is well documented.RIP tony,its going to be a very subdued commentary box during the start of new year test

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Ian ChappellClose
Ian Chappell Widely regarded as the best Australian captain of the last 50 years, Ian Chappell moulded a team in his image: tough, positive, and fearless. Even though Chappell sometimes risked defeat playing for a win, Australia did not lose a Test series under him between 1971 and 1975. He was an aggressive batsman himself, always ready to hook a bouncer and unafraid to use his feet against the spinners. In 1977 he played a lead role in the defection of a number of Australian players to Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket, which did not endear him to the administrators, who he regarded with contempt in any case. After retirement, he made an easy switch to television, where he has come to be known as a trenchant and fiercely independent voice.

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