Sydney: South African-born former England captain and cricket commentator Tony Greig died Saturday of a heart attack at the age of 66 as he battled what appeared to be incurable lung cancer.
The Sydney-based Greig was initially diagnosed with bronchitis in May, but the condition lingered and in October he had tests that revealed a small lesion at the base of his right lung.
On Saturday, he suffered a heart attack at his Sydney home.
“He was rushed into St Vincent’s Hospital. The staff of the emergency department worked on Mr. Greig to no avail.” hospital spokesman David Faktort said.
Upon his return to Australia from the World Twenty20 tournament in Sri Lanka, he had fluid removed from the right lung and testing revealed the cancer.
“It’s not good,” Greig said after the surgery. “The truth is I’ve got lung cancer. Now it’s a case of what they can do.”
His wife, Vivian, said Saturday: “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 confident and occasionally abrasive character, Greig reveled in the on-field contest and at times stirring up crowds, such as during the 1974-75 Ashes series.
Standing 1.96 meters (6-foot-6) with a shock of blond hair, Greig was an imposing and charismatic figure whose strong performances and ability to bond the team earned him the England captaincy. He 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.
Greig was a key figure in recruiting international players for Australian millionaire Kerry Packer’s anti-establishment World Series Cricket which began in 1977, abruptly ending his England test career.
In the 1980s Greig became a high-profile member of the commentary team for Australia’s Nine Network and his decades behind the microphone made him an institution in Australia’s sporting life.
Nine described Greig as a “beloved” figure.
“Tony Greig is a name synonymous with Australian cricket — from his playing days as the English captain we loved to hate, to his senior role in the revolution of World Series Cricket, his infamous car keys in the pitch reports and more than three decades of colorful and expert commentary,” Nine said.
Greig’s involvement in WSC caused an abrupt end to his international cricket career.
“When the enterprise was made public, his stocks plummeted,” cricket writer Gideon Haigh wrote on the cricinfo website.
“He lost not just England’s captaincy, but what would have been a record-breaking benefit.
“He was diminished, too, by his indifferent on-field performances in World Series Cricket, where he seemed to cast himself as pantomime villain.
“Nonetheless, subsequent generations of professional cricketers owe him a debt of gratitude.”
Born and raised in Queenstown, South Africa, Greig qualified to play cricket for England because of his Scottish parents. He trialed for Sussex in 1965 as a teenager and set himself the goal of representing England.
He made his test debut against Australia at Old Trafford in 1972, making half-centuries in both innings and taking five wickets for the game. He first captained England in a test against Australia in 1975.
Tributes began appearing on social media almost immediately.
Current Australia coach, South African Mickey Arthur, said on Twitter: “RIP-Tony Greig.A very good man!”
England wicketkeeper Matt Prior said: “Can’t believe one of my heroes Tony Greig has passed away. One of the greatest voices in cricket and will be sorely missed.”
Pakistan coach Dav Whatmore, a former Australian test batsman, said: “Just landed in chennai and learnt of Tony Greig’s passing. Deepest sympathies to his family. Great man, great career. He will be missed.”
Australia Prime Minister Julia Gillard said in a statement that “Greig was a wonderful example of someone who came to Australia from somewhere else in the world and embraced his adopted country as his own ... his life in cricket wasn’t always without controversy, but no one could doubt his passion and commitment to the sport he loved.”