Tony Greig - Sri Lanka’s biggest overseas fan


by Rex Clementine

What’s your Tony Greig moment? ‘These Sri Lankans are giving the Aussies a real hiding’ (’96 World Cup final), ‘These Sri Lankans are very, very good, they catch everything. (’95 Benson and Hedges Series), ‘Little Kalu has smashed that for four and the Sri Lankans are loving it’ (’95 Benson and Hedges Series).

At a time when Sri Lankan cricket was no body in the mid-90s, Tony Greig was a dear friend. During that acrimonious tour of Australia in 1995 and the World Cup that followed Greig came up with several gems supporting Sri Lanka. Here are some of those.

"They have come such a long way in such a short period of time and here they are taking away the ultimate cricket trophy."

It was only fitting that Greig was doing commentaries with Sri Lanka on the brink of winning the World Cup. As Arjuna Ranatunga scored the winning runs, Greig said, ‘This is a little fairytale. The thing that I like about these guys is that they not only win, but they win in style. It is only a small place Sri Lanka. And what a moment this is for Sri Lankan people.’

Greig first caught the imagination of Sri Lankan fans during the tour of Australia in 1995. In a very pro Australian commentary team, Greig’s role was crucial as whatever he said helped form public opinion and won Sri Lanka admirers among Australian public. One such Greig comment during the chucking controversy was, ‘I have got to say that I have sympathy with the Sri Lankans here. They had enough,’ he said as Arjuna Rantunga took the team off.

There are some commentators who you love to listen to. Benaud, Chappell, David Lloyd and Greig fed us with so much of information, both technical stuff and some terrific moments in the past. But what made Greig such a popular personality was his love for Sri Lanka. Greig not only kept our cricketers in a high pedestal but told everyone that our pineapple was the tastiest in the world and that our crab is the best in the world.

Once during a match some cricket fans put out a banner which said, ‘Tony Greig – Born in South Africa, played for England, lives in Australia and supports Sri Lanka’. When cameras showed the banner, Greig had a laugh and said, ‘oh boy, these blokes are going to get me into trouble.’

Greig is known for his banter as a player and a commentator. Once in the late 1970s during a game at the P. Sara Oval when Greig called Sri Lankan cheerleader Percy Abeysekara ‘a black b——-‘, Percy sledged him. ‘Hey Greigy, you’ve got your height, I have got my might. I will send you up like a kite if the air is right and I will have you for bite especially if I am tight’. Since that day Percy and Greig have been great pals.

Greig hosted Sri Lankan cricketers for dinner when they were playing in Sydney, his adopted home. And when he came to Sri Lanka he went out with current and ex-cricketers and Galle seemed to be his preferred destination.

His last commentary stint happened to be in Sri Lanka during the World T-20. He was struggling with bronchitis and when he underwent tests it was revealed that he had damaged his right lung. Upon returning to Australia he was diagnosed with cancer.

The Sri Lankan fans were shaken by the news and conducted Bodhi Poojas hoping for his speedy recovery. Star cricketers Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and several others attended the religious ceremony.

It was a heart attack that claimed him at about 1:45 pm, the day after the Sri Lankans had suffered a massive innings and 201-run defeat inside three days at MCG. He was 66.

Born in South Africa, Greig came to England and went on to play 58 Tests, some of them as captain. Since abandoning England captaincy and joining Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket, he remained loyal to Packer’s Nine Network.

"You’ve no idea how much one misses getting to the cricket on a day like today. When you’ve been doing it for 33 years it’s absolutely unbelievable. Even my little bloke who came home from school today was almost ‘dad what are you doing at home, you shouldn’t be here’, so it takes a little bit of getting used to, and I’m sure it’s going to get worse as this Test Match goes on," Greig told his Nine Commentary colleagues during the first Test between South Africa and Australia at the Gabba, where the traditional first Test of the Australian summer is played and Greig had not missed a game there for 33 years.

He was hoping to return to work for the Sydney Test involving Sri Lanka that gets underway on the 3rd of January.

Greig was the ultimate Sri Lankan fan. He loved Sri Lankan cricket more than some of our own cricketers do.

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