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Australia

Who was their finest all rounder ?
Keith Ross Miller
A big factor in the strength of any side is the quality of the all rounder and anyone who saw Keith Miller play remarks on his great natural talent and even someone like Richie Benaud, who doesn’t get carried away, thinks that Miller was a fantastic performer.

Built like a Greek God, he was a debonair six footer with a mane of black hair which was in sharp contrast to the short back and sides of the period and in addition he was a warm and generous individual off the field and a fearsome competitor on it. He’d have nights out on the town with his great pal Denis Compton and then spend the next day trying to knock his block off. He lived life to the full and lit up the grey post war days with his dashing performances in the Victory Tests mainly at Lord’s where he scored three hundreds in 1945, 105 in May and 118 in August for the Australian Services and followed that with 185 in 165 minutes for the Dominions against England the same month.

A distinguished fighter pilot with the Royal Australian Air Force he had seen friends and colleagues die in battle and, not surprisingly, his attitude was to live life for the day and to the full. His flair and instinct caught the public’s imagination and huge crowds flocked to see him play. He was once asked about the pressure, that much over-used word, of performing in front of such huge audiences and he said: “Pressure? Pressure is having a Messerschmidt 109 up your arse, not playing cricket”. That put the world in context for him and others who lived through the war.

His sportsmanship was legendary and when the 1948 Australians were murdering a poor Essex side at Southend in May, making 721 runs in a day, he thought it was over kill and when he went out to bat, told the umpire to tell the bowler to let him have a straight one and stood aside to let the ball hit the stumps. He didn’t think much to kicking a man when he was down and Essex were one of the poorer sides in county cricket. When Yorkshire played them we only used to book in for two nights because they could be beaten in two days.

In the 1953 Test at Lord’s he hit Johnny Wardle for six into the Grandstand scoreboard but was beaten in flight by the next delivery and Wardle said that before the ball reached him he said ‘well bowled’ and was on his way virtually before the ball hit the wicket.

As a bowler he shared the new ball with Ray Lindwall and was a real handful. Batsmen never knew what was coming next, a rip roaring bouncer or a fast leg break, a yorker or a late moving outswinger. When I asked Len Hutton about these two he acknowledged that Lindy was a fine, fine bowler but of Miller he just rolled his eyes and shook his head.

His contemporaries were convinced that how he bowled depended on what sort of a night out he’d had; a fun party with the champagne flowing and he’d bowl like the wind, a dull night in and a flat performance. It was that surprise element, his non conformist attitude which made him so appealing to the public and I can only imagine if he had been playing in this time of instant heroes and non-entity celebrities what a sensation he would have been. There was a story that when Bradman imposed a curfew on the Australian team he presented himself at the captain’s door dressed in his evening clothes and said he’d been in by the appointed time and now he was going out. Bradman was not amused by Miller’s antics and they rebounded on him when Australia brought Ian Johnson out of retirment to captain them when the job should have gone to Miller who Richie Benaud said was the best skipper he ever played under when he led New South Wales.

He made his Test debut against New Zealand at Wellington in March 1946 and in his next match, against England in Brisbane in the first Test of the 1946-47 tour made 79 and took seven for 60 when England were caught on a ‘Gabba sticky dog’ after a thunderstorm and in the same series registered his first Test hundred in the fourth game in Adelaide, an unbeaten 141.

He had a lot of back trouble which later hindered his bowling but three centuries on the 1954-55 tour of the Caribbean proved none of his old magic at the crease had gone, 147 at Kingston in the first Test, 137 in Barbados in the fourth and 109 in Jamaica in the fifth.

He left an indelible mark at Lord’s, his favourite stage, with five for 72 and five for 80 in the second Test of the 1956 Ashes series, the only match the Aussies won in that Jim Laker dominated summer, and, following his 109 in 1953, is the only tourist to appear on both batting and bowling honour boards at the ground.

Although his charisma lit up the world stage in those dull days make no mistake about it this fellow was a superb cricketer.

Extract taken from The Best X1 by Geoffrey Boycott, by kind permission of Penguin Books www.penguinbooks.com <http://www.penguinbooks.com/>   The book is also on sale at The Shop