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Vale Keith Ross Miller [memorial edition]

Down through the cricketing ages, nicknames for players have been widely assigned. Most are variations of the players’ names and are rather unimaginative (eg Gillie, Marto, Lang, Both and even Braddles) and some focus on the player’s origins or some other personal detail (eg Punter, Junior, Tubby). It is rare for a nickname to bestow honour and acknowledge playing prowess – that after all, would be unAustralian: The player concerned might get a big head! I can think of one player who did receive that honour and his name was “Nugget” because he was worth his weight in gold.

Earlier this month (Monday, 11 October), Australians lost one of our greatest cricketers and almost certainly, the greatest all rounder that ever played for Australia. Keith Miller was one of the few remaining members of the 1948 “Invincibles”. He was about six weeks from his 85th birthday.

Being a young man, I never saw Miller play, save a few seconds of tantalising footage here and there. I never heard him speak, I never met him and in fact, I didn’t even lay eyes on him. Being a devout cricket follower, as well as a casual cricket historian, I have read much about cricket. And as it turns out, that, by definition, means that I have read a great deal about Keith Ross Miller. Most players like to discuss their most respected contemporaries in their auto biographies as well as their heroes. Miller is discussed by many in both capacities. I recently read Miller’s autobiography, Cricket Crossfire and that did not lessen my fascination for Miller the man or Miller the cricketer.

Miller was one of those fortunate human beings that seemed to have it all. His batting and bowling were both of Test standard. He was a big, handsome, strapping man and a magnificent athlete (and you all know that I am not gay). And he had charisma and flair in great abundance. His fielding both in the slips and in the outer was sensational. But to simply state that Miller’s skills were of Test standard does not go far enough. Without even trying, Miller possessed an aura that has not been seen before or since. His batting, while classical, was aggressive, bold and expansive, and combined power and timing. His bowling was pace bowling at it fiercest and his “devil may care” attitude endeared him to the masses, even if it did cost him at times with the authorities.

Miller also played first grade VFL for St Kilda in his younger days. Similarly, his great opening bowling partner, Ray Lindwall, also played first grade football – Rugby League with Sydney club, St George. Miller and Lindwall formed one of the greatest fast bowling partnerships of all time. They were also great friends. Of course, as careers become longer and more cricket is played, their record in volume of wickets slips further down the ladder. However, for me, the combination of Miller and Lindwall is a match made in heaven and is unsurpassable. Not only were both men bowlers of the very highest order but they were both wonderful athletes and hard hitting batsmen to be reckoned with (one should not forget that Lindwall has two Test centuries to his name).

Miller’s Test career started in 1946 against New Zealand, immediately after The War. Indeed the war almost certainly robbed Miller of a few years of Test cricket. The war cost Miller far more than that in cricketing terms. A serious back injury from crash landing his Mosquito plagued his career and one can only wonder how much better his bowling could have been. Miller played until late in 1956 and played in 55 Test. He scored 2958 runs at 36.97 (with 7 centuries) and took 170 wickets at 22.97.

To my knowledge, Miller is the only Australian to feature on the honour boards in the rooms at Lords for both batting (scoring a century) and bowling (five wickets in an innings). Miller scored 109 in 1953 and took five wickets in both innings in 1956.

I’m not going to run through Miller’s career in chronological order. Rather, I’m going to relate some of the moments that would seem to be highlights and also share some of the brief stories and quotes that I have come across that particularly appeal to me.

I am fortunate enough not to know what it is like to live through a war, let alone fight in one. Miller’s life must have been shaped by war in some of the ways that a whole generation was effected. John Arlott, Sergent of Police, poet and cricket tragic knew Miller from mid-war and is the source of some excellent Miller quotes. He said that when he met Miller in London in 1943, Miller was fighting with the RAAF, flying fighters and “was busy living life as though he were about to run out of it.”

Miller’s outlook on life and cricket would seem to have been very different to that of say, Sir Donald Bradman. I’m not suggesting that Miller has a distain for authority but perhaps a strong desire not to stand on ceremony. He said very clearly himself that he regarded cricket very much as a game and not to be taken too seriously. A couple of short stories illustrate this very well. From Miller’s own book (paraphrased):

On the 1948 tour of England, the Australians ruthlessly slaughtered English county attacks. In Miller’s opinion, far more than was necessary or even useful for the Australian team. There were times when the lower order did not get a bat and where the bowlers could have done with some practice. On one famous day, Australia scored 721 in a single day against Essex. Bradmanhimself made 187. When Miller’s turn came to bat, he took guard, took a “windy woof” at the first ball he faced, making no serious attempt to connect and over went the castle. Miller turned around, surveyed the damage and said to the ‘keeper, “Thanks God that’s over.”.

Another incident is discussed by Miller, but it is the words of Michael Parkinson (who became firm friends with Miller) that make better reading. Also paraphrased:

It was the first Test after the war in Australia in 1946-47 in Brisbane. Australia had made a monumental score on the back of centuries from Bradman and Hassett and good supporting scores from McCool and Miller himself (79) . England were now caught on a sticky wicket (for those of you who don’t know, wickets in Australia were uncovered at that time and rain turned them into a sticky quagmire – very good for the bowlers). Miller had England’s innings in a mess and eventually took 7-40. Bradman beseeched Miller to really bend his back and “give ’em a few” [short deliveries] while they were down. Miller’s perspective was that the men he was playing with had recently returned from risking their lives in a horrific war, in which he himself had served. Why should he trying killing them with a cricket ball when he bowling was proving quite effective as it was? Sir Don suggested that Miller needed to take his cricket more seriously. Miller’s famous reply was “Don, it’s a bit hard to be serious about cricket when you have had a Messerschmitt up your arse.”

Miller burst on to the scene during the “Victory Tests” played immediately after the war. These Tests were played in 1945 in the interests of boosting morale – and that they did. They were a great success and Miller was at the centre of attention, scoring two centuries (including one at Lords) and taking wickets with his express bowling. Miller returned to Lords later in the year, playing for The Dominions against England. He scored 185 at Lords in an innings that included seven sixes, one of which broke into the famous Long Room. “Plum” Warner (who among other things was England’s manager on the bodyline tour) said “In an experience of over 60 years of first class cricket, I have never seen such hitting.”

Miller captained NSW for many years, for several Shield victories. Richie Benaud idolised him and states in his auto biography that Miller was the best cricket captain ever to live, save none. It is a sad that Miller never captained his country and in truth, he probably should have taken over when Hassett retired. But instead, Ian Johnson got the job. There is much conjecture as to why Miller was overlooked but it can probably be summed up in one word: Bradman.

Miller, while openly respecting Bradman, did have his differences. In probably the biggest shock in Australian selection history, Miller was not initially selected for the 1949-50 tour of South Africa. Fortunately for all (except Bill Johnston), Miller had to replace Johnston who was injured in a car accident, and played in all of the Tests. Perhaps it is coincidence that Bradman had just joined the selection panel for the naming of that squad and that Miller had recently given him a “touch up” with a spate of bouncers during a charity match. And perhaps not.

Miller was the complete cricketer. He could do it all and most importantly, when it mattered. It seems appropriate to return to John Arlott in closing. He said, “If I had my choice of a player to win a match off the last ball, whether it required a catch, a six or a wicket, I would pick just one player – Keith Ross Miller.”

Rest in Peace.

The champagne is on ice

Or perhaps “the beer is in the esky” might be a more appropriate analogy for the Australian Cricket team.

Any way you look at it, the Indian’s goose is cooked and saving miracles of even greater proportions of 2001, within 48 hours, Australia will win back the Border Gavaskar trophy and even more monumentally, win their first series on Indian soil since 1969. I have been accused of being somewhat parochial at times in the past but the truth is, I usually try to be fairly objective. I won’t be on this occasion and for that I make no apology.

It is ironic that stand-in skipper, Adam Gilchrist, is going to have the unexpected honour and privilege of leading the team to victory. It is true that his captaincy has been criticised at times during the series, especially in the first Test as Australia ground out the final few wickets, but his skill at winning the toss has been most important. Perhaps not being a devoted punter has helped him there.

The Australian effort in this series has been magnificent, especially in this Test. The batting has showed application beyond all expectations and the bowling has been top class, supported by excellent field settings, if not excellent fielding at all times. The efforts to save the previous Test, especially from Damien Martyn were superb. That innings put Australia in a good position to win that Test. Of course, we will never know but a lot has been said about the possibilities of that final, washed out day. Perhaps Australia would only be on the verge of going 2-1 up, rather than wrapping up the series. It has been suggested that the matched was placed 50-50. I think that’s crap and Wasim Akram agrees with me. Teams don’t score more than 200 to win matches in India, especially at Chennai. True, Sehwag may have had the match won by lunch, but he was more likely to have been out for 22 – as evidenced in this Test.

And now for some kind words for Martyn. He celebrated his birthday with a very determined 104 last Test. This match he scored a scintillating 114 in the first innings and is looking good, in his forties, in the second dig. You may recall that plenty were calling for his head (myself included) before the Sri Lanka tour and there was some outcry when Katich was dropped for the first two Tests of that tour. Martyn has been suspect against spin and had not scored a century for over two years. He has now scored four centuries in six Tests on the sub-continent and has played a very important part in those Australian successes.

In an amusing twist Boof “Nostrodamus” Lehman has fulfilled his own prophecy, in a way. Almost certainly, it will be he that misses the final Test, due to a torn calf muscle. It would have been interesting to see what the selectors decided as Lehman, Katich and Clarke have all preformed well in this Test. I throw Katich in there because after the Sri Lankan events, and because he has been playing at no 3 (Ponting’s position), I could not consider him safe, even though he should be. And in a further twist, if may be that Ponting will not play in the fourth Test, in which case, Brad Hodge will get his first cap.

Australia should go on to win this match and therefore, the series, their position at the top of the ICC Test table will be strengthened as they were not defending any points for this series. Unlike most series they play, they stood only to gain. The next series is at home against NZ, starting next month. That series was drawn last time and Australia stands to further strengthen its position at the top of the table.

And beyond that, looking to 2005, I’m sure that the Englishmen will have noticed that Messrs McGrath, Warne, and Gillespie are looking rather good and quite hungry for wickets.

Round one to Australia

And that was just the toss. Gillie did a great service for his team when he won the toss and made the obvious choice to bat.

At the end of the day, Australia is well placed, but the match is in the balance. With the score at 5/316, the first session tomorrow is all important. It will see if Australia can go on to make it to 400 and beyond.

It was a day of ebbs and flows as both sides wrestled for the upper hand. A reflection of how badly Australia wants this is the care taken. For most of the day, the run rate hovered on or just under 3 runs per over. Pedestrian by the usual standards! That being said, three of the five wickets to fall were the result of batsmen going for big shots.

Australia was on the back foot in the middle session with the score at 4/149. However, Katich (81), batting at number three and Michael Clarke, making his test debut fought hard and skilfully. They shared a partnership of 107 before Kumble bowled Katich, giving Kumble is 400th Test wicket.

In the final 10.1 overs, Gilchrist and Clarke (who had been very watchful at the beginning of his innings) added 50 runs.

With Gilchrist on 35 and Clarke on 76, the fall of the first wicket is critical. The later the better for Australia.

Australia has taken three quicks and Warne into the match. The part time spin of Katich, Lehmann and Clarke will be very important backup for Warne. The quicks will find it hard going as this pitch is a dust bowl.

dongles

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Australia 1st innings R B 4 6
JL Langer b Pathan 52 126 5 0
ML Hayden c Yuvraj Singh b Harbhajan Singh 26 53 2 0
SM Katich b Kumble 81 169 8 0
DR Martyn c Chopra b Kumble 3 12 0 0
DS Lehmann c Dravid b Kumble 17 23 3 0
MJ Clarke not out 76 130 11 2
*+AC Gilchrist not out 35 34 5 0
Extras (b 4, lb 15, nb 7) 26
Total (5 wickets, 90 overs) 316

To Bat: SK Warne, JN Gillespie, MS Kasprowicz, GD McGrath.

FoW: 1-50 (Hayden, 17.3 ov), 2-124 (Langer, 38.5 ov),
3-129 (Martyn, 41.5 ov), 4-149 (Lehmann, 47.4 ov),
5-256 (Katich, 79.5 ov).

Bowling O M R W
Pathan 17 6 39 1
Khan 14 1 38 0 (1nb)
Harbhajan Singh 28 6 105 1
Kumble 24 2 86 3 (4nb)
Sehwag 5 0 26 0 (1nb)
Yuvraj Singh 2 0 3 0 (1nb)