‘Greig never forgot where he came from’
Former England captain and international cricket commentator Tony Greig – who played a significant role in the commercial revolution of cricket – never forgot his South African roots, said former cricketer Ali Bacher.
"He was proud of his upbringing and, at every opportunity, paid tribute to the excellent cricket grounding he received from Queen's College where he went to school," said Bacher on Saturday as the news broke of Greig's death.
"He passed on his love of his native South Africa to his young son Tom, who can often be seen wearing a Springbok rugby jersey or Proteas cricket shirt."
Greig, who died on Saturday at his home in Sydney, Australia, at the age of 66, was born in Queenstown, in the Eastern Cape. The 66-year-old suffered a heart attack in the midst of his battle with advanced-stage lung cancer.
Bacher, who said he was "shattered" by the news of Greig's death, held onto vivid memories of Greig being a very tough competitor.
"I only played against him in provincial cricket for about two years and what stuck in my mind was how he always gave 100 per cent.
"He never sledged and he just never stopped trying."
Bacher acknowledged Greig's key role in Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket (WSC) revolution in the late seventies which changed the future of the game.
"To emphasise the significance of Greig's role in the Packer Series, you need to put it into perspective in world-cricket terms," Bacher said.
"There have been three major crises in the history of world cricket – the 'Bodyline Series' in the thirties, the Packer revolution in the seventies and, more recently, match-fixing. His role in the WSC was hugely substantial."
Greig was a strategic figure in recruiting international players for the WSC which began in 1977, and abruptly ended his England test career.
"He suffered an enormous backlash, playing for England at the time. He didn't just join the revolution, he was a huge player in it and saw the need for it.
"It changed the face of cricket forever – for the better – primarily because, from that moment on, cricket became a strong commercial entity.
"As a result, the international cricketers and English county players, who were professional, started to receive just rewards and were better remunerated for their expertise and skills. It would never have happened without the Packer revolution."
The WSC also introduced night cricket and coloured clothing to the game.
Bacher said he was due to speak to his former provincial adversary on Saturday evening in a scheduled interview.
Writing a book with David Williams on the best allrounders produced in this country, Bacher said Tony Greig would be one of the featured cricketers.
He had played 58 tests for England - 14 as captain - and scored 3 599 runs at an average of 40.43 and took 141 wickets at 32.20.
"I spoke to him a few months ago when he had just returned from Dubai and he told me he was not so well but was going in for a lung biopsy," Bacher said.
"He was delighted about the book and we arranged that at end of November I would phone him for a detailed interview as I had a lot of questions for him. He then sent me email to say he was going in for a big op and would come back to me in ten days' time.
"That telephone interview had been arranged for tonight and then I got the sad news this morning that he had passed away."
Bacher also recalled their early playing days and an incident which, until this day, the former South African test captain had never spoken about publicly.
"In the 1970/71 season, Tony was playing for Eastern Province at the Wanderers against Transvaal. We [Transvaal] won the toss and we were batting. I was the non-facing batsman when one of their bowlers ran in from the Golf Course end and the facing batsman cut the ball to gully where Greig was fielding. He stopped the ball and then keeled over having an epileptic fit," Bacher said.
"As I was a medical practitioner, I ran and got my medical bag from the boot of my car. I gave him an intravenous shot of valium and then we rushed him to a neurologist."
The late Charles Fortune, doyen of radio broadcasting at the time, commentating on the game, said on air Greig had suffered sunstroke and kept the public in the dark about Greig's epilepsy.
Bacher said Greig had been diagnosed with the condition while still at Queen's College and, in a recent telephone conversation, told Bacher he was happy to have the truth about the incident revealed.
"He said he had never tried to conceal it and he wanted people to know and to be an inspiration to those suffering from the often-debilitating condition."