Tony Greig was a larger than life character who was hard to miss. Standing nearly 2 metres tall, blonde, confident and gregarious, he stood out in most groups.
Mind you, most of the South Africans that I knew at the time we met were pretty confident.
I first met Tony when we were playing County cricket. My team, Somerset, was playing Tony’s team, Sussex, at the County Ground at Hove in August 1968. We were both young and trying to make our way as professional cricketers.
Tony had opted to leave his native South Africa to forge a name for himself in England. This was possible because his father was a Scot by birth. As it turned out, South Africa was soon banned from playing Test cricket so Tony had pulled the right rein at precisely the right time.
In a rain affected game, I was dismissed for 10 in the first innings in which Somerset declared at 229 for 6. Chasing quick runs, Sussex was soon in trouble until Tony Greig strode to the crease to join former England captain Ted Dexter.
They combined in a swashbuckling partnership of 149 of which Tony scored 71. Greigy did not look out of place alongside the more urbane and imperious Dexter, scoring his runs mainly with cuts and drives through the off-side.
I retired hurt for seven in the second innings after being hit in the face by John Snow the England fast bowler. Snow had bowled me a bouncer that I attempted to hook. The ball held up on the rain-affected wicket and I completed the shot early, only for the ball to ricochet from the back of my bat into my right eye socket.
As I staggered away from the pitch I was literally caught by Tony who was fielding in the gully. It was our first official meeting and here I was, in his arms without having been formally introduced; but that was the least of my problems at the time.
The next thing I remember hearing was the sound of the ambulance arriving at the County Ground to take me to the local hospital where I remained overnight for observation. Apart from a few stitches and a concussion I was almost brand new in a day or so.
This was the first of many encounters Tony and I had over the years. Ironically, his first international cricket was as a member of the 1971/72 World XI that was hastily organised to replace the South African team that had just been banned from playing Test cricket.
It was during this tour that Greigy made one of his greatest gaffes. As the World XI arrived in Adelaide, they were met by some officials from the South Australian Cricket Association. One of the officials, a man, short in stature and in his mid-sixties, helped the visitors with their bags and then offered to drive a few of the tourists to their hotel in the city.
Greigy, never one to need to be asked twice, was the first to accept a lift. On the drive, by way of polite conversation, Tony asked the man if he had played any cricket. The gentleman replied with a chuckle that he had played ‘a little bit’.
He certainly had played a little bit, and pretty darned well. The local official was none other than Don Bradman who was then President of the South Australian Cricket Association and Chairman of the Australian Cricket Board.
Most people would have been mortified by a mistake of this magnitude, but I doubt Greigy lost a moments sleep over the incident. Sir Donald generously took it in his stride.
I was involved in the match at Old Trafford that was Tony’s Test debut. It was the first Test of Australia’s tour of England in 1972. It was quite a start for the big blonde as he made two scores of fifty and took four wickets in the second innings with his seamers.
Fortunately, I was not one of his victims with the ball, but he did catch me (the ball this time) in the gully from the bowling of John Snow in the first innings. I got some retribution in the second innings when I was able to knock Greigy’s middle stump out of the ground.
Sadly, it did not save us from a disappointing loss.
As captains we duelled on a few occasions. The most celebrated of these matches was the Centenary Test played at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in March 1977. After a hard-fought game, Australia managed to win the game by 45 runs; exactly the same margin as the first ever Test between the two nations.
Soon after the Centenary Test, Tony signed on with Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket which was to change his life and the game of cricket irrevocably. Tony was sacked as England captain on his signing and never played Test cricket again after our series in England later in 1977.
Greigy was a competitive individual who played it hard on the field, but was generous and friendly off it. His family and many friends around the world will be saddened by the loss, but will be sustained by the wonderful memories that he provided in a full, enthusiastic and memorable life.