Tony Greig was a big man in every sense. Not just 6ft 7in tall but partner in the decision that jetted cricket from its dawdling 18th century ways into the 20th century when he joined Kerry Packer to bring about one-day matches with pace and skill and drama.
He died on Saturday morning from a heart attack after cancer and I am one of the many who heard the news with a sudden surge of sadness. I am sad not just because a friend has left the planet but just as much because I know people in England who still call Greig a traitor because he left orthodox, what-was-good-enough-for-WG Grace-is-good-enough-still to produce a vibrant, colourful, driven limited overs game fit for the man on the terraces as well as kings at Lord’s.
It is also sad that he died unfulfilled. Twenty years after his defection to Packer, Greigy — he was never called anything else within the game — was still hoping for a reconciliation.
Every time we spoke — particularly in England’s days of misery in the 1990s — he would ask me: “Do you think there is any chance I might be recalled — as chairman of selectors for instance. I think I might be good at that.”
He had proved the point during the 1975 tour by Australia when he was England captain. He rang every knowledgeable cricket man and asked: “Who do you find it most difficult to get out in county cricket?” The answer was immediate. “Boycott first – and David Steele next.”
He asked for Steele, a work-a-day county batsman, and Steele’s mixture of bloody-minded defence and refusal to bow before Lillee and Co changed the series.
That was one of Greig’s strengths. Whether he was asking for an opinion on the game or how to clean his spectacles, he drew in everyone: the nearest cricketer, the messenger boy in the comm box, a pretty girl, another commentator — he shared a birthday with Richie Benaud — or his producer.
Not only did he measure more than anyone else but he saw the bigger picture. He was the driving force behind the success of the first overseas cricket telecasts from West Indies in 1990, he persuaded Channel Nine they should encourage women to watch the game; and I was witness to Greigy watching a little lad trying to capture his giant image on a child’s camera.
“No, stop,” he boomed. “Now come here. I’m going to stand here, you stand there and between us we will get a picture you’ll be able to show all your buddies.”
That was Greigy, the natural leader, always in charge. He left South Africa to play for Sussex, batted in the middle order for England, bowled out a powerful West Indies side with his loopy off spin, led England to victory in India and was ready for a long career — despite a life time’s affliction from epilepsy — when Packer, another big, big man — tempted him with an offer he could not refuse.
In between he had been chased by controversy. He threatened to make West Indies “grovel” which came ill from a South African still governed by apartheid. He ran out Alvin Kallicharran when most players thought the ball was dead.
Kallicharran was allowed to bat on after a huge row but Greigy once whispered to me: “Kalli hardly made a run in that series afterwards.”
I have kept that remark quiet until now and it will not endear him to his English detractors but, like those who knew him best, I loved the big man. In every sense he was generous, kindly and cared not who you were but what you contributed to the team effort. He was a true sportsman and the game will miss him.