The sudden passing of Tony Greig is a massive shock. The reality is that we all knew he was ill but somehow he always seemed bullet-proof. He had faced many challenges in his life and always attacked them head on in his bullish inimitable style and generally surfaced victorious. This was considered just another challenge for Tony. Or that was what he said. He is now gone and cricket is poorer.
He may not have been everyone’s cup of tea but Tony was certainly dedicated to his sport. He was a pioneer for the game in many ways and regularly filled our lounge rooms as his unique voice boomed from the television. He was an entertainer. Tony and summer were synonymous. There is one thing about Tony that could never be debated. He was enormous value for any broadcaster. His enthusiastic and wholehearted approach to any job satisfied many.
I worked regularly with Tony over the last few years while on duty with Ten Sports. It was often that Tony and myself were anchoring long days of studio presentations in Dubai that ultimately wound up with a glass of quality red and Greigy regaling numerous fireside stories with his trusty cigar in hand.
There was one yarn in particular from his younger days that he favoured and I have heard him tell it many times to any gathered audience. I thought it appropriate to share that with you. It details the first time he ‘met’ Sir Donald Bradman.
The following is as told by Tony while we were both working in Sri Lanka to respected cricket commentator and Tony’s friend, Premasara Epasinghe. Premasara, in turn, wrote about it in The Island newspaper.
"I was brought up by a Scotsman who worshipped the Don and when my opportunity came to visit the shores of Australia for the first time, my father’s final pep talk included lengthy advice that I should listen to every word spoken by the man behind the tour, who just happened to be Sir Don Bradman.
Bradman had been bred into my system from a very early age and I think he even topped Vera Lynn in my father’s estimation. The only times that silence was ever demanded in our Queenstown home, were when Vera Lynn was singing, the BBC World Service was crackling a Glasgow Rangers soccer commentary on radio, or dad was talking about Don Bradman.
I had never met Bradman and it was difficult to imagine his features from the faded photographs I had seen of him. It was a pleasure I was looking forward to as we flew towards Australia.
The first stop was Perth, where Hylton Ackerman and I were met by a group of local cricket lovers’ society. It was midnight, but they took us to the airport buffet for coffee and a chat, which made us feel flattered.
By the time we reached Adelaide, we were both itching to catch a glimpse of the real Australia and the little man in dark glasses and cardigan who approached us as we entered the Transit Lounge looked just the sort we had been hoping to avoid.
Sure enough, he came out with the predictable lines, welcoming us to Australia and asking us to join him for a coffee. We were just not in the mood for another cricket lover’s ritual, so we gave the little man our bags and slipped into the toilet to think of a way out.
Fortunately, as it transpired, we decided not to be rude and rejoined our friend for the walk to the coffee bar. Two other guys were sitting at the table which he had led us to, but their names meant nothing to us and as the ‘Little Chap’ had only mumbled his name by way of introduction, I didn’t have a clue who he might be. Cricket chat developed in the expected fashion as we drank coffee and the trio certainly seemed to know a thing or two.
Turning to the cardigan-clad man on my right, I politely enquired if he had anything to do with cricket in the area.
With a smile that must have hidden a playful laugh, he replied that the three of them ran the local scene. Still it all meant nothing to me. They might after all have been talking about the Airport Cricket Club.
At about that point Gary Sobers bounded through the swing doors and headed straight towards the ‘Little Chap’.
“How are you, Sir Donald?” he enquired and I don’t think I have ever felt more foolish in my life.
Hylton Ackerman had at least shown enough sense to remain reasonably silent during the chat.
I had made an ass of myself. Yet Bradman took it all with a laugh.
When we arrived in Melbourne, I gave the story to the pressmen who met us. The next morning, I easily conjured up a mental picture of my father, up early collecting the papers to see how his boy had fared on arrival in Australia, only to be stunned by the ‘Greig snubs Bradman’ headlines. Fortunately he saw the funny side."