LONDON: Former England captain Tony Greig has risked fresh controversy by suggesting legendary Australia fast bowler Dennis Lillee was a “bit of a fairy” if he got hit himself.
Lillee, one of cricket’s greatest bowlers, was at the height of his powers during the 1970s when Greig was playing for England.
But the South Africa-born all-rounder was a good enough batsman to score a Test hundred against Lillee and the fearsome Jeff Thomson at Brisbane in 1974.
Greig, 64, has spent the bulk of his life since retirement in Australia, where he has carved out a lengthy career as a television cricket commentator.
Many Australia fans have accused him of bias against their side and that opinion is unlikely to be softened by an interview he gave to the BBC to coincide with the publication of a new biography, “Tony Greig: A Reappraisal of English Cricket’s Most Controversial Captain,” by David Tossell.
“If you treated the Aussies in the way they treated everyone else, they found it a little bit foreign,” Greig told the BBC.
“I think they thought they had some sort of exclusivity on it and they didn’t like it. There were people like Dennis Lillee, who was a past master at letting people have it, but he was a bit of a fairy when he got hit himself.
“I must say I got a lot of pleasure out of that. I was an all-rounder so I could afford to dish it out, because I was going to get it anyhow.
“Having come from South Africa I was brought up in the same way as the Aussies,” he explained.
However, Greig added: “Lillee was up there with the two best fast bowlers I have ever played against and Thomson was as quick as the quickest.”
Greig’s playing career contained plenty of off-field controversy.
When England captain, he infamously said before the 1976 home series against the West Indies he wanted to make Clive Lloyd’s men “grovel” — a comment which Greig has always insisted was a reference to the Windies’ supposed mental frailty in tight situations rather than a racist insult.
It was a remark Greig lived to regret in a series the tourists won 3-0.
A year later, he was stripped of the England captaincy when it was revealed he had helped recruit several of the game’s top players to take part in Australia media mogul Kerry Packer’s ‘rebel’ World Series Cricket (WSC).
Greig’s WSC role has tended to obscure his worth as a player, so much so that in some debates about England’s best all-rounders since World War II his name has been left out, even though his career averages are superior to those of Andrew Flintoff.
“It makes me laugh when they leave me out of the debate — there may be reasons for that, I have no idea,” Greig said.
Greig, in the side when England great Ian Botham made his Test debut in 1977, praised his fellow all-rounder as a “very, very good cricketer” but in ‘Freddie’s’ case said: “As far as Flintoff is concerned he is a bit of a Johnny-come-lately. I don’t think he lived up to his potential.
“I would have liked to have seen a bit more of him. Perhaps he was overused, overworked a bit, but I am perfectly happy to put my numbers up against his any time.”