Tony Greig (Associated Press/B.K. Bangash)
SYDNEY (AP) — Tony Greig, the South Africa-born cricketer who became England captain and later continued to make his mark on the game as a revered commentator in Australia, died Saturday of a heart attack as he battled what appeared to be incurable lung cancer.
The Sydney-based Greig, 66, 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.
"He was a giant of a man who played a major role in the changing face of cricket during the 1970s," said David Collier, the chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board. "He will be much missed in cricketing circles both in this country and around the world and we send our sympathies and condolences to Vivian and his family."
Australia test captain Michael Clarke said the news was difficult for the team as it prepares for next week's third test against Sri Lanka.
"I was only speaking with Tony a couple of days ago so news of his passing is absolutely devastating," Clarke said. "Personally, he has also been a great mentor for me, providing great advice through the good times and the bad."
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.
Former Australia captain Bill Lawry was well known for his on-air banter with Greig, and their fame as a commentary pairing perhaps even eclipsed their on-field achievements.
"My wife and I are absolutely shattered and we really feel for Vivian and his four children today," Lawry said. "I have missed him terribly this year, not knowing how sick he was."
Lawry said he regularly dined with Greig after a day's commentary and a phone call from Greig never failed to secure a table at a popular restaurant, even if it was fully booked.
"He was a wonderful entertainer when we all went to Sydney, not only for the Channel Nine team but for the umpires and the opposing players and officials," Lawry said.
"Kerry Packer and Greigy got World Series Cricket but he is the guy who had the most to lose. He was prepared to give up the captaincy of England because he could see world cricket needed a change. He has become a great Australian, a nationalized Australian, a proud Australian and a wonderful ambassador for the game of cricket."
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 in 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.
International Cricket Council chief executive David Richardson said his death was sad news for the game.
"Tony played a significant part in shaping modern cricket as a player in the 1970s and then provided millions of cricket lovers with a unique insight as a thoughtful and knowledgeable commentator," Richardson said. "I am sure that I will not be alone in saying that he and his wise words will be missed by cricketers, administrators and spectators around the world."
Tributes began appearing on social media almost immediately upon news of Greig's passing.
Current Australia coach 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."
Current South Africa allrounder Jacques Kallis, test captain Graeme Smith and batsman JP Duminy were some of the many people to pay tribute to Greig in his country of birth.
"RIP Tony Greig," Kallis wrote on Twitter. "Very sad news."
Although Greig's reputation was undoubtedly forged in England and Australia, South Africans still consider him one of their own. He represented South African Schools and played first-class provincial cricket for Border and Eastern Province before seeking success in England and — eventually — Australia.
"Greig's death came as a huge shock to his many friends and admirers in South Africa," Cricket South Africa chief executive Jacques Faul said.
"On behalf of the CSA family and all South African cricket fans I extend our deepest condolences to his family, friends and colleagues," Faul said in the tribute from the country's cricket body. "It is a sad day for the world of cricket."
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