Tony Greig, who died yesterday aged 66, has been credited with revolutionising the game of cricket.
Greig, a right-handed middle-order batsman and medium-fast seamer, passed away at his home in Sydney on Saturday morning after suffering a heart attack. He had been fighting lung cancer for more than two months. He replaced Mike Denness as England captain in the summer of 1975 and led the national team from 1975-77 before defecting to be one of the spearheads of Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket.
Nasser Hussain, who captained England between 1999 and 2003, hailed Greig for ushering in a new era of “dramatic” cricket. South Africa-born Greig’s decision to join Packer's World Series Cricket may have been controversial in some quarters, but Hussain believes its popularity shaped the development of the modern game.
He told Sky Sports News: “It was huge. It was an amateur game before with players just playing for the love of the game. But because of Tony Greig and Kerry Packer and the World Series, suddenly the world realised that they had to start paying their cricketers.
“One-day cricket became much more dramatic with the coloured clothing and the white balls and another form of cricket was invented. In those Packer years the cricketing world was in absolute uproar and no-one really knew where to turn and luckily everyone bought into this new form of the game. “Television became very interested because the cricket they saw was much more exciting than some of the cricket that went on before.”
Ex-England bowler and current commentator Bob Willis admitted he had not originally been onside with the Packer project but soon changed his mind. Also speaking to Sky Sports News, he said: “It was a torrid time back in 1977. People took very entrenched positions and it wasn't very pleasant being a Packer player in county cricket.
“But I think some of us realised our mistakes in taking up those positions and we knew that we would be much stronger for the introduction of World Series Cricket.”
When asked if agreed with Hussain’s assessment that Greig had revolutionised the game, Willis was quick to concur. “Very much so,” he added. “He had a tremendous effect on my own career. He persuaded me to get really, really fit with long-distance running and that totally revolutionised my career.
“I never had another injury and went on to take over 300 Test wickets. It’s a very, very sad day for cricket. Sixty-six is no sort of innings.” All-rounder and former Test captain Sir Ian Botham added: “He was my first-ever captain for England. I’m very sad and very emotional. He was flamboyant and extroverted, faster than light and he made things happen. He was an amazing guy and so full of energy.
“He changed cricket for everybody as we know it now. The game suddenly leaped forward and players started to paid more substantial amounts. He revolutionised the game and it had to be done. The players of today have a lot to be thankful for in Tony and Kerry Packer.”
Initially diagnosed with bronchitis in May, the condition lingered and, by the time of the ICC World Twenty20 - which finished in Sri Lanka in October - tests that revealed a small lesion at the base of his right lung. On his return to Australia, he had fluid removed from the right lung. Testing revealed he had lung cancer.
Tributes poured in from across Australia and around the world. Australia captain Michael Clarke was among the first to express his sadness. He said on www.cricket.com.au: “I was only speaking with Tony a couple of days ago so news of his passing is absolutely devastating.” Former Australia paceman Glenn McGrath also took to Twitter to express his sadness, writing: “My thoughts are with Tony Greig’s family today. RIP Tony Greig.”
Greig’s wife Vivian said in a statement: “Our family wants to extend our gratitude for the support and condolences we have received and would ask for privacy at this very sad time.” A silent tribute was held at the WACA in Perth before today’s Big Bash encounter between Perth Scorchers and Melbourne Renegades.