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Opinion

The next Keith Miller: The history of Australia’s search for an all-rounder (Part 1)

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Roar Guru
22nd December, 2020
55

Cameron Green’s emergence on the national stage has left many Australian cricket fans very excited about the future and what he can achieve as a pace-bowling batsman.

The great Keith Miller – him of the “pressure is having a Messerschmitt up your arse” fame – was Australia’s last genuine all-rounder.

As well as being a WWII fighter pilot, national sex symbol, and an Australian rules player in the VFL for St Kilda, Miller was a fixture in Australia’s XI from 1946-56.

With his ability to bowl with genuine pace and bounce, as well as bat high up the order when the situation required it, Miller possessed the rarest of cricketing combinations: the capacity to be picked in Australia’s best XI on the strength of one of his skills alone.

Keith Miller

(Photo by Topical Press/Getty Images)

Since his time, the Australian selectors have periodically tried to unearth the next great all-rounder, to varying degrees of success.

Here are some of the most notable attempts. With the focus on Green, I have excluded spinning all-rounders such as Richie Benaud and Greg Matthews.

Alan Davidson (New South Wales)
1328 runs at 24.59, 186 wickets at 20.53

Alan Davidson’s hard hitting down the order, and his ability to swing the ball late as a left-armer, meant that he was a valuable commodity in the Australian side.

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Kept out of the News South Wales side by Miller and Ray Lindwall early in his career, Davidson – a strapping young lad from Lisarow – eventually forced his way into the side off the back of his performances in the 1952-53 Sheffield Shield season.

On his first tour of England in 1953, Davidson showed signs of promise, taking eight wickets at 26. Over the next three years, though, he struggled with injuries and only played seven Tests, picking up eight wickets in that time.

With the retirement of Miller and the dropping of Ray Lindwall in 1956, Davidson seized his chance to cement his place in the Australian line-up. As the most experienced bowler on the youthful 1957-58 tour of South Africa, Davidson flourished, picking up 25 wickets at 17.00.

After this performance, Davidson became a regular in the Australian line-up until his retirement in 1963. His most notable performance was in the 1960-61 series against the West Indies, where he scored 212 runs at 30.28 and took 33 wickets at 18.55.

A famous knock of 80 in the second innings of the Tied Test at Brisbane, where Australia just failed to get over the line, was his highest Test score.

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Davidson never quite reached the full batting potential that his first-class average of 32.86 might suggest. Despite scoring nine hundreds for New South Wales and Australia in tour games, his 80 in the tied Test was his highest in Test cricket.

Verdict: He couldn’t convert his Shield batting form to Test cricket.

Eric Freeman (South Australia)
11 Tests, 345 runs at 19.16, 34 wickets at 33.17

With his untimely death this month, Eric Freeman came back to the forefront of the minds of Australian cricket fans.

As a player, the South Australian had been an enterprising all-rounder. He opened the bowling for Australia as a fast-medium pacer, and hit the ball hard as a lower-order batsman.

Freeman first came into the side in the 1967-68 series against India in Australia. His first scoring shot in Test cricket was a six in the third Test of that series at the Gabba.

Despite a solid performance with the ball in that series, Freeman never quite managed to secure a long-term spot in the side.

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He bowled solidly at Edgbaston in the only Test he played in the 1968 Ashes and had his best run in the side during the 1968-69 series against the West Indies, where he took 13 wickets and scored 180 runs.

His best innings was 76 runs off just 89 balls in 1969 at the SCG, with three sixes. He was dropped after a diabolical series for the Australian team in 1969-70 against South Africa.

Verdict: His batting was not up to Test standard.

Generic cricket ball

(Steven Paston – EMPICS/Getty Images)

Gary Gilmour (New South Wales)
15 Tests, 483 runs at 21, 54 wickets at 24.03

A man who really should have played more Test cricket, Gary Gilmour was a stocky left-arm swing bowler and hard-hitting batsman from Newcastle.
Best remembered these days for his performance in the 1975 World Cup semi-final, where he took 6-14 against England on a sticky wicket at Edgbaston, Gilmour is sadly less recognised than he should be for a man of his many talents.

After impressing in the 1972-73 Sheffield Shield season, and following that up in the lead-up New Zealand’s first visit in 1973, Gilmour took to Test cricket like a duck to water.

In his first Test, he took four wickets and made a 50 against the Black Caps, impressing despite having been told by Don Bradman: “If I was a selector you’d never play for Australia. You eat too many potatoes.”

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Picked for the return series in New Zealand, Gilmour took 5-64 and 2-62 to help Australia avoid an embarrassing series loss.

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Picked only three times in England in 1975, he took nine wickets in the abandoned Test at Leeds, and 11 wickets in the World Cup knock-out games.

Later, he impressed on the 1975-76 series against the West Indies, taking 20 wickets at 20.3 in the famous 5-1 series win over Clive Lloyd’s side.

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Gilmour’s loss of form with the ball following a bone injury meant he was dropped from the Test side in the 1977 Centenary Test.

His swansong was on the 1976-77 tour of New Zealand where he scored his only Test century, a swashbuckling 101 at Christchurch, followed up with 64 at Eden Park.

Verdict: He was an impressive talent, and should have played more.

Simon O’Donnell (Victoria)
Six Tests, 206 runs at 29.42, six wickets at 84.00

A noted one-day specialist, Simon O’Donnell enjoyed a brief spell in the Test team as a pace-bowling all-rounder, batting at number eight.

Picked during a turbulent time in Australian cricket, O’Donnell never really found Test cricket to his liking.

O’Donnell was picked for the 1985 Ashes after an exceptional Sheffield Shield in 1984-85 with the bat, hitting 528 runs at 66.00 for Victoria and taking 15 wickets at 38.23 with his consistent medium pace.

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He came into contention for a place in the first Test after scoring a hundred against the MCC in a lead-up game, mauling ex-England spinner Derek Underwood.

Although he scored useful runs, the English batting dominated O’Donnell’s bowling. A bowling average of 81.15 in that series highlighted his ineffectiveness at Test level.

After being left out of the side for Greg Matthews, O’Donnell played only one Test on home soil, hitting the winning runs against New Zealand at the SCG and never playing again.

Verdict: He was a Test failure as a bowler. He should have batted higher up the order.