Cricket ‘revolutionary’ Greig passes away

Updated 11:29 AM EST, Sat December 29, 2012

Story highlights

Tony Greig dies in Australia following a short battle with lung cancer, aged 66

Born in South Africa, he went on to captain England before moving Down Under

Greig was one of the key figures in the breakaway World Series Cricket competition

Australia's prime minister pays tribute to his "passion and commitment"

CNN —  

The cricket world is mourning the passing of former England captain Tony Greig, a larger than life character who helped revolutionize the sport in the late 1970s before becoming a high-profile commentator.

Greig died aged 66 on Saturday in his adopted home of Australia, having been diagnosed with lung cancer in October.

Born in South Africa, the 6 foot 6 inch all-rounder qualified to play for England due to his Scottish father and represented his new country in 58 Test matches from 1972-77.

However, he was stripped of the captaincy after becoming a leading figure in the breakaway World Series Cricket competition set up by Australian entrepreneur Kerry Packer, who owned the Channel Nine network that Greig would work for until recently.

“Tony stood out as a player and captain, as an influential part of the Kerry Packer World Series Cricket era and then for decades as a familiar voice in millions of Australian living rooms each summer as part of the Nine telecast which revolutionized the TV presentation of cricket,” Cricket Australia chairman Wally Edwards said in a statement.

“His illness and too-early death comes as a terrible shock – he will be greatly missed.”

Greig’s fellow South African David Richardson, a former international player who is now head of the International Cricket Council, also paid tribute.

“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,” Richardson said.

“His figures in Test matches show that he was one of the leading all-rounders of his generation with a batting average of above 40 and a bowling average around 32.”

Australia’s prime minister Julia Gillard issued a joint statement with sports minister Kate Lundy that was published in the Sydney Morning Herald.

“Greig was a wonderful example of someone who came to Australia from somewhere else in the world and embraced his adopted country as his own,” it said.

“Most Australians would be deeply familiar with Greig the commentator, in particular his unique brand of colorful game-calling and entertaining banter. His life in cricket wasn’t always without controversy, but no one could doubt his passion and commitment to the sport he loved.”

Greig, who went to England as a teenager in the late 1960s, was heavily criticized for an “unsporting” run out of West Indies batsman Alvin Kallicharan in 1974 that saw the home fans storm the pitch in protest. Greig then revoked his appeal and Kallicharan was reinstated.

That ill feeling spilled over into the Caribbean team’s series in England in 1976, before which Greig infamously said he would make the tourists “grovel.”

As recounted in the 2010 documentary “Fire in Babylon,” the incident fired up the West Indian players, who perceived it as a slight by their former colonial rulers, especially coming from a white South African at the height of apartheid.

It sparked a transformation that made the tourists the dominant side in world cricket for the next two decades, as their bowlers battered Greig’s team with a fearsome pace attack.

Greig, having lost that series 3-0, then redeemed himself as he led England to a first victory in India in 15 years – but his time at the helm would prove to be shortlived.

He successfully took the English cricket authorities to court after they tried to ban the Packer “rebels” but his own playing contribution came to an end after the inaugural series.

Greig moved into commentating, with the Nine Network and broadcasters around the world, as he teamed up with former cricketing opponents such as Ian Chappell.

He is survived by his wife Vivian and children Mark, Sam, Beau and Tom.

Meanwhile, veteran Australian batsman Mike Hussey has announced he will retire from international cricket after next week’s third and final Test against Sri Lanka.

The 37-year-old’s decision comes in the same month that former Australia captain Ricky Ponting ended his career.

Hussey scored 19 centuries in 78 Tests, being Australia’s 12th-highest run scorer with a total of 6,183 at an average of 51.52.