Giants leave a void

Tony Greig was such a giant that he was able to carry off being seriously ill throughout his life. Only the inside circle knew how ill he was. Those in the know would realise that all he could do was go home and sleep off his latest attack. By Ted Corbett.

The year of farewells — that is how we will remember the last 12 months or so. Not just for the deaths of Nelson Mandela and Margaret Thatcher, the resignation of a Pope, but for a whole bunch of big personalities riding into the sunset.

The first two to leave us were literally big men. Tony Greig stood 6ft 7in which enabled him to bowl medium pace off spin with bounce and to score fluent centuries from the all-rounder’s position. He was so big that when he was captain he never had to tell anyone to watch him. Anywhere you looked Greigy was in your eyeline.

He was large in another sense; he never carried a grudge. He said what he thought and then forgot there had ever been an argument. Of course, he was a man’s man who never quite understood why anyone should take offence at his words.

He was such a giant that he was able to carry off being seriously ill throughout his life. Only the inside circle knew how ill he was. Those in the know would realise that all he could do was go home and sleep off his latest attack.

It was impossible not to like this genial man. Like most great men he wanted to pass on his knowledge, he appreciated those who worked around him and he repeatedly let them know that part of his fame was in their hands.

We crossed the playing field at Port of Spain one afternoon. England had a small fourth innings total to collect but we knew, although England hoped West Indies did not know, that Graham Gooch, the captain was too badly injured to bat long against one of the most fearsome bunch of fast bowlers who ever drew on sweaters.

“Do you know what is going on in that England dressing room at this moment,” he asked, knowing I probably did not. Without a pause he told me. “The word will be going round — don’t leave these runs to someone else. Head for fifty from the moment you get out there. None of this ‘if I get 20 someone else can finish the job.’”

He was a good man, with the courage to do what he thought was right and what’s more to finish the job himself.

The second big man to die this year was Christopher Martin-Jenkins, 6ft 3in of cricket writer and broadcaster, superb after-dinner speaker and mimic. (His Imran Khan voice was better than the original and could deceive those who had known Imran for years).

CMJ, as he was universally called, loved old-fashioned, traditional cricket. For all his undoubted sense of humour he could not see the benefits of the Greig change from MCC to Kerry Packer. He and I had one of many rows on that subject; my upbringing in the slums of Tyneside was never going to jell with his public school background of privilege and a pocketful of silver; although, oddly enough, I often wished it might.

Like Greig, CMJ suffered an annoying illness throughout his career and trips to the sub-continent were agony whether as the cricket correspondent of various papers, lead commentator on BBC or man about the game. He wrote spare, orthodox , occasionally pompous English; his radio work was infinitely better. Naturally, he relished the fact that his son Robin played for Sussex and might, with luck, have played for England.

He had to be content with the knowledge that in an era when television ruled the air waves, he was a recognised radio force although he never had the impact that was reserved for the English presenter, commentator and organiser David Coleman who died recently.

Coleman had one stamp of greatness. He knew the value of the short, snappy sentence. The first goal of a match invariably brought the same response. “One-nil” Coleman would shout and it was at one and the same time perfect in timing and an announcement that he was in charge.

Historically, the most important moment of the year brought the retirement of Sachin Tendulkar. Never doubt his greatness, even though he lacked Don Bradman’s consistency, Viv Richards’ power or, as a small batsman the beauty of stroke of a Gower.

He stands shoulder to shoulder with Bradman and Richards; Bradman praised his skills but, to his immense credit in an era when bad behaviour is more in evidence than at any time since Tests began, only Mike Denness, who also died this year, ever found fault with his behaviour on a cricket field.

The Era of England Invincibility came to an end dramatically across 38 days this winter giving us to wonder if we had dreamed that time since 2005 when the giant first awoke.

It began with the departure of Jonathan Trott, whose stress-related illness followed a run of small scores and, is continuing with five Test defeats and the retirement of Graeme Swann, one of the main architects of England’s triumphs.

I think this closure a shame. We had grown tired of Australian domination and boasting; too much modesty for the same amount of power came as a relief. Now the Aussies ready to compete with South Africa for a place at the top of the world; sadly Jacques Kallis, a batsman with an excess of both runs and a lack of self-promotion has also departed.

Kallis was the finest all-round cricketer; better or at least as good as Imran, Wally Hammond, Ian Botham, Keith Miller and that ilk.

What wouldn’t we give to see new versions of these heroes in the next year.