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Remembering David Hookes

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Roar Guru
4th May, 2022
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1047 Reads

Tuesday, 3 May, was David Hookes’s birthday, and it prompted me to reminisce about the legendary South Australian.

When I was first getting into cricket, David Hookes was one of the most enigmatic Australian players, which, considering it was the early 1980s, is saying something. I first became aware of him in the 1982-83 summer, when he had his one truly extended run in the national side.

He was a schoolyard favourite, with his swashbuckling walk, moustache, cap and (seemingly) devil-may-care attitude. He would, as they say, flash his blade, and he stood out in a batting line-up of Allan Border, Kepler Wessels, John Dyson and Greg Chappell. Only Kim Hughes, with his golden locks and dancing feet, could match Hookes for glamour.

Yet even at eight years of age I sensed there was something unreliable about David Hookes. Sure, it was exciting to watch him bat, but he never seemed to go on with the job, even that summer. He would get a sparky half-century then get out, as his Test average of 34 and conversion rate of one Test century for eight 50s indicates. You could never count on him as blue-chip batting stock the way you could, say, Chappell, Border or even Wessels. Indeed part of the excitement of Hookes’s batting was the constant feeling he could get out at any moment.

When a player is renowned or notorious for unfulfilled potential – as Hookes was at international level (all his obituaries referred to it) – one has a tendency to look back and wonder ‘if only’. Hookes himself did this in his memoir.

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So in honour of his birthday and with nothing but respect and affection, I look back on the top ten ‘if onlys’ of David Hookes’s career.

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1. If only he hadn’t turned down a scholarship to Prince

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Hookes was a working-class kid but was offered a scholarship to Adelaide’s posh Prince Alfred College, whose alumni included the Chappell brothers. Hookes turned down the opportunity and later said he regretted it, wondering if the coaching could have given him that extra skills set he needed.

I don’t think this was that much of a mistake. Going to Prince Alfred College didn’t help Trevor Chappell at the top level. And Hookes might’ve fallen in with the wrong crowd and wound up selling insurance or real estate or something.

2. If only he hadn’t hit five boundaries in a row in the 1977 Centenary Test

Midway through the 1976-77 summer Hookes wasn’t on too many short lists for the 1977 Ashes. Names like Graham Yallop, Martin Kent, Rob Langer and especially Kim Hughes – who was chosen to tour New Zealand – were far more bandied about. But then Hookes struck the purplest of patches, scoring five Sheffield Shield centuries from six innings, including centuries in both innings in consecutive games.

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For the Centenary Test in 1977 the national selectors dropped Alan Turner (remember him?) and pushed up Rick McCosker to opener, and Hookes snuck past Hughes into the side as the new batter.

Of the many romantic stories from that game – McCosker’s broken jaw, Dennis Lillee on the rampage, Rod Marsh recalling Derek Randall et cetera – the one with the most ‘we’re at the cusp of a new era’ vibe was that of Hookes, who scored 56 in the second innings. It isn’t one of the bigger totals, but it included five consecutive boundaries off Tony Greig.

That, combined with the occasion, the fact it was a debut, and Hookes’s sledging of Greig, has led this to become perhaps the best-known innings of 56 in Test match history. Ian Davis made 68 in the same innings, but who remembers that?

That one innings unleashed Hookes mania. He was young, flashy, talented – the most exciting batting prospect in the country. Perhaps he was too exciting. It created an aura of expectation that would be impossible to live up to. People began being disappointed by Hookes almost immediately on the subsequent 1977 Ashes, where he made 283 runs at 31.44, which was okay but certainly was no five boundaries in a row off Tony Greig.

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Greg Chappell later argued if Hookes had been allowed to be “one of the young players” on that tour and not thrust high into the batting order, he might have been judged differently. But that’s what can happen when your debut is so exciting.

3. If only he hadn’t gone to World Series Cricket

Hookes was a big admirer/worshipper/imitator of Ian Chappell, so it was no surprise that the young man enthusiastically signed with Kerry Packer to play World Series Cricket. However, during the 1977 Ashes series Hookes began to have second thoughts – there were financial inducements, not to mention the possibility of the Australian Test captaincy – and he tried to get out of his contract. Packer refused. Hookes was the one young sexy batter he had and thus was central to Packer’s promotional plans. The die was cast.

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How would Hookes have faired had he stayed with the establishment? The batter himself always felt his game suffered by not having the chance to play a bunch of Tests against India at home in 1977-78 and abroad in 1979.

My guess – and this is of course a pointless exercise, impossible to prove, but still fun – is Hookes would’ve had an establishment career analogous to fellow 1977 tourist Craig Serjeant, who did turn down a Packer offer, incidentally. That is, he would have been promoted to vice-captain against India with the requisite experience and experienced some success but a lot of failure against said Indians (Hookes was never good against spin) followed by an erratic tour of West Indies (where Hookes never thrived, in 1979 or 1984).

Staying with the establishment didn’t particularly help Craig Serjean, who later admitted he regretted not taking Packer’s money, and I’m not sure it would’ve helped Hookes. He mightn’t have even been picked on the 1979 India tour – Peter Toohey and Craig Serjeant weren’t. I think he just liked to use it as an excuse.

4. If only he hadn’t broken his jaw during World Series Cricket

I’ve read a few times Hookes was never the same batter after Andy Roberts broke his jaw in the second WSC supertest in 1977-78.

“I’m not sure he ever fully recovered from that,” argued Greg Chappell. “It really pegged his international career back a bit.”

“I think his footwork went after he’d been cleaned up by an Andy Roberts bouncer,“ added Dean Jones.

Even Hookes said he thought he’d come back too early from his broken jaw, having lost two stone in the interim.

Maybe. But also maybe not.

Hookes started World Series Cricket strongly. In the first supertest he was the top scorer in Australia’s second innings, with 63. The next highest score was 28. In the second supertest he was on 81 – Australia’s top score for the game – when his jaw encountered that Roberts bouncer.

Hookes returned to the side for the sixth supertest in February 1978, making twin 50s against the World XI in a narrow Australian victory. His second innings of 53 was especially crucial as he came to the wicket with Australia at 4-34 and took them to a competitive total – no other batter scored more than 26 – enabling Australia to win by 41 runs. This was off an attack that included Andy Roberts, Imran Khan and Joel Garner.

The second summer of World Series Cricket, 1978-79, went even better for Hookes. After a quiet first supertest, he made 116 and 56 against the West Indies in the second, then 69 in the semi-final against the West Indies, helping rescue Australia from 3-17, ensuring once again we put on a competitive total and won the game. In the final against the World XI, which Australia lost, Hookes made 33 and 96 against an attack that included – get this – Garth le Roux, Imran Khan, Clive Rice, Mike Procter and Derek Underwood. This was outstanding stuff.

The summer of 1982-83 is commonly held up to be Hookes’s best season at international level, but I actually think it was the 1978-79 World Series Cricket summer at home, the one after his jaw was broken. The quality of bowling was far, far superior.

Admittedly, Hookes struggled on the 1979 West Indies tour, not passing 28 in any of the five supertests – though he did make two half-centuries in the one-dayers – but his overall World Series Cricket supertest aggregate of 771 runs at 38.50 made him Australia’s third-highest scorer after the Chappell brothers.

“World Series Cricket probably came a bit too soon for him,” argued Greg Chappell later. “He was perhaps a bit ill at ease at that level.”

I don’t think that’s true at all. He was totally at home.

5. If only he had scored a Test century at home in 1982-83

Hookes was picked for one Test in 1979-80, did okay (37 and 43) but got injured and made it to the Pakistan tour in 1980, where he famously scored ten first-class over six innings (“It was a most traumatic tour”, he admitted). Then back home Hookes batted so badly – 21, 6, 17, 0, 35, 17, 9, 4, 0 – that he was dropped from South Australia in December 1980. This was big news at the time. “From a Goliath to merely another David” said one headline in The Age.

There was a comeback: Hookes was appointed state captain in 1981-82 and took the team to a Sheffield Shield title that summer – John Inverarity helped a lot – plus he scored 703 first-class runs at 43.9 and earnt a recall to the Australian ODI team.

Although overlooked for the 1982 tour of Pakistan – memories of 1980 were presumably still strong – things went even better in 1982-83. Hookes scored the fastest first-class century of all time in a Shield game, made 1424 first-class runs at 64.72 and was a regular in the Test and ODI teams.

The tests were an Ashes series, where Hookes scored 344 runs at 49.14, including a knock of 66 in the second innings of the second Test, guiding Australia from a tricky 3-83 to a seven-wicket victory. He also won man-of-the-match awards in consecutive ODI games against England and New Zealand and was Australia’s top-scoring batter in the World Series Cup, with 391 runs at 44.

However, Hookes could never get a Test century. I know centuries aren’t the be-all and end-all, but getting big scores is important. That famous fourth Test at the MCG, the one where Border and Jeff Thomson almost chased down the winning runs only to be thwarted at the last moment – Hookes had made 53 and 68. If he’d pushed on in either innings, when very set, Australia would’ve easily won.

And people noticed. If you’re good enough to make 1424 first-class runs in an Australian summer, you should also be getting big scores in the Tests.

Now, it’s true that Hookes finally broke through against Sri Lanka in April 1983, scoring 143 (a century in a session), but Sri Lanka were a very raw team at the time, and in the same game Kepler Wessels also scored a century and Graham Yallop made 98.

Centuries aren’t everything. But surely it’s significant that although Hookes scored eight Test half-centuries, five saw him dismissed in the 50s, two in the 60s and only one in the 80s (85 against England in 1977). Throw in all those 30s and 40s he made and it’s hard to escape the feeling that his main issue was psychological.

6. If only he had moved to Victoria in 1983

Still, in mid-1983 Hookes’s status was at an all-time high. He’d even captain Australia in an ODI at the 1983 World Cup. Victoria were dead keen to poach him as a captain, and Hookes was interested but was enticed back to South Australia in part by the involvement of the South Australian premier, John Bannon.

What would’ve happened had Hookes made the move to Melbourne? Would his runs have been treated with more respect than ‘oh he just gets them at the Adelaide Oval’? I’m not sure. National selectors don’t seem to respect Victoria batters that much more than South Australian ones – take Brad Hodge and Glenn Maxwell as examples.

I actually think Hookes should’ve moved, but to Queensland or Western Australia. His brash nature would’ve done well in both states, which hated NSW as much as Hookes did. I think Queensland would’ve been a particularly good fit. He averaged 56 at the Gabba, even more than he did at the Adelaide Oval (52).

Mind you, he did eventually make the transition to Victoria as coach and was part of the changes that made that state the powerhouse it is today.

(Photo by Getty Images)

7. If only he hadn’t criticised Kim Hughes’s captaincy in 1983

Hookes did this in an interview following Australia’s unsuccessful World Cup campaign in 1983. It stung because Hookes had been Hughes’s vice-captain on that tour and because, well, it seemed like Hookes was joining in on the Chappell-Marsh-Lillee pile-on of Hughes, with the added tang that Hookes wasn’t in the Chappell-Marsh-Lillee quality as a player.

Hookes was omitted from the 1983-84 series against Pakistan and later wrote he wondered if his anti-Hughes comments had something to do with that. Maybe they did. Hookes’s Test average at the time was 42. Mind you, Graham Yallop was playing so well and was recognised as probably Australia’s best player of spin bowling. Ot wasn’t that surprising he was picked over Hookes. Who else would’ve made way for him? Border? Hughes? Chappell?

It wasn’t that much of an injustice, and the selectors kept Hookes in the ODI side and put him straight back into the team for the 1984 West Indies tour.

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8. If only he had been appointed Australian captain in 1984-85

Hookes played all five Tests in the West Indies. He did well in the tour games (563 runs at 46.91) but in the Tests never made more than 51 despite getting starts. Six times he made at least 20.

I think this series is what did it for Hooks at international level. It was a tough task, playing the world’s best team in their own backyard, and all the batters failed except for Allan Border and Wayne Phillips. But the selectors would’ve noticed the failure to convert starts thing and the fact Hookes did not do well despite having previously toured in 1979.

So Hookes wasn’t in the home Test team for the 1984-85 summer, when Kim Hughes resigned the captaincy in tears. Nonetheless, there was still a push among some, including Tony Greig, for Hookes to be selected as Australia’s Test captain. He had done well for South Australia, after all, and Border was reluctant to take the job. And maybe it was discussed. But the summer coincided with another lousy run of form: Hookes’ 84-85 return of 613 first-class runs at 34.05 was his worst Australian summer in the 1980s apart from 1980-81. Every other season he’d averaged at least 42.

It’s interesting to imagine how Hookes would’ve gone as Australian captain. He would’ve been better than Border in the short term but he was no miracle worker. After the triumph in 1981-82 Hookes led South Australia to a Shield final only once, in 1988-89, which they lost to WA. And would his batting form have held up?

(Photo by S&G/PA Images via Getty Images)

9. If only he’d been persisted with more in 1985-86

Hookes got back in the Test team in 1985-86 in part because Australia’s batting had been bad in England in 1985 and also to provide some extra support for Border. Hookes later said Greg Chappell, then a selector, told him, ”We need you to show us you can make a hundred in four or five hours, not just in two hours.” Hookes claims this unsettled him as a player. Chappell has a different recollection of what was said.

Hookes’s recall started very well with a victory against New Zealand. His second innings of 36 was crucial to navigating another tricky second-innings chase and helping Australia to a rare win. After that it was less happy: 14 and seven in a defeat to New Zealand in Perth, 34 against the Indians in Adelaide, and 42 and zero against India at the MCG.

Hookes was also dropped from the ODI team (replaced by Glenn Trimble, incidentally), and said later that of all the times he’d been dropped, this was the only one he didn’t expect. He hadn’t been around at the right time to carry a Test slump.

I feel Hookes deserved another Test, but I can understand why the selectors lost patience with him. It was the same old story of getting starts and not going on with them.

His card was marked permanently. Hookes’s first-class form remained strong – in 1987-88 he made 1149 runs at 60.47 – but he was never called on again. There were too many other exciting options. When he retired from first-class cricket in 1992 he was the highest runscorer in Australian domestic cricket: 12,671 at 43.99, 32 tons with a top score of 206.

Yet the aura of unfulfilled potential hangs about him, which in a way made him a more interesting and legendary player than one of those ‘got every ounce out of his ability’ types.

Hookes made people excited.

He made people dream.

10. If only he’d not gone out for a drink at the Beaconsfield Hotel that night

The only one on this list that really matters.

Rest in peace, Hookesy.

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