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A valued friend and a gentle giant

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Geoffrey Boycott

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Tony Greig remembered worldwide

Tributes continue to pour in for cricket legend Tony Greig, who died on Friday at 66.

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TONY Greig was a fearless, combative cricketer but also someone who played the game with good humour and loved a challenge. He was a competitor in every respect.

I spoke to him recently about cancer because I know how difficult it is to get your head around being diagnosed with the disease. I talked about how he had to keep his chin up and stay positive. He was upbeat and ready to do the best he could.

Over Christmas, he sent a message to friends that had been filmed in his garden. He was playing table tennis with his son and looking well. Tony was mentally ready to tackle the disease and prepared for his chemotherapy in the new year. His death has come as a huge shock.

Teammates: The England team for the fifth Test at the Oval in August 1977. Back row (from left): Derek Randall, Bob Woolmer, Mike Hendrick, Bob Willis, Graham Roope, John Lever. Front row: Derek Underwood, Geoff Boycott (circled), Mike Brearley, Tony Greig (circled), Alan Knott.

Teammates: The England team for the fifth Test at the Oval in August 1977. Back row (from left): Derek Randall, Bob Woolmer, Mike Hendrick, Bob Willis, Graham Roope, John Lever. Front row: Derek Underwood, Geoff Boycott (circled), Mike Brearley, Tony Greig (circled), Alan Knott. Photo: Getty Images

I remember him as an excellent cricketer. I don't say nice things about people just because they have passed away. I tell the truth and Tony was a far better player than many people realise.

He was also a far better player than some people want to give him credit for because even after all these years they have not forgiven him for leading the Kerry Packer revolution.

He was an imposing figure at the crease and would never shirk away from a challenge.

He was not a player who would say nasty things to opponents. He did not need to snarl to motivate himself. He was competitive with a smile on his face.

You don't laugh when you are playing fast bowling, but he approached it with humour and sometimes that would really wind up opponents.

There would be moments batting with him when he would infuriate fast bowlers. If he played one of his expansive drives, and he was a very good off-driver, and got an inside edge that luckily flew past the stumps for four or over the slips, he would express amusement.

I might think, 'Oh my, I nearly nicked that', but he laughed it off and that really got up the noses of fast bowlers.

At the end of the over, the bowler would be looking at him snorting fire, saying, 'you lucky so and so', but Tony would walk down the pitch and talk to me with a chuckle. It was clever. If you lose your cool, then you lose your discipline and Tony would win the battle.

He also loved bouncing tailenders, particularly fast bowlers, because they bounced him.

The difference was Tony knew he could play the short ball and they couldn't, so he would give them a bit back. He didn't care.

As a captain he was a leader of men. I would not say he was tactically adroit - that was not his strength - but he was an excellent man-manager. He was clever enough to realise his strengths and slight weaknesses.

He would turn to senior players such as Keith Fletcher and Alan Knott and ask their opinion and views. He tapped into their tactical nous. That is clever. It shows a man who does not let his ego get in the way of doing the job properly.

He could also lift his players. He would encourage them and coax the best out of them.

He was also a bit of an innovator. Down the years many batsmen have copied his stance. He was the first to stand at the crease with his bat raised in the air. Now it is commonplace but it came from Tony Greig.

To average 40.43 with the bat and 32.20 with the ball shows how good he was. Only Ian Botham can better his all-round record for England.

He was also the best tall slip catcher I have seen. He had huge hands and took some brilliant catches, which if they happened today would be repeated on television endlessly. But some people forget all of that because they are still angry with him over the Packer revolution.

You have to put that in the context of the era. There is money galore in cricket these days. Ordinary, average players can now earn a lot of money playing in different Twenty20 leagues around the world. They can pull in sums we could only have dreamt about in the 1970s.

Tony played in an era, like me, when we earned tuppence ha'penny playing for England. In the summer of 1977, when he signed for Packer, we played five Test matches in England against Australia for £400 a Test. That was not exactly riches, so when Mr Packer came along and offered £25,000 guaranteed each year for three winters' work, you can understand why people snatched his hands off.

Tony was a valued friend and family man and he was a gentle giant.

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