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It was Jeff Thomson’s birthday recently – the legendary Thommo, pig shooter, fisherman, gardener, after dinner speaker and at one stage the fastest bowler in the world (true: they did a competition for it and everything).
A lot has been written about Thommo’s bowling and for good reason – who else has smashed David Lloyd’s box, Tony Greig’s toes and trained for international cricket by running after wild pigs – but in the interests of doing something different, I thought I’d shed a little light on his batting.
Thommo isn’t particularly known for his ability with the willow, as 679 test runs at an average of 13 would attest, but he’s done better than you might think. By way of tribute to everyone’s favourite Punchbowl High-educated Queenslander, I offer this list of his top ten batting performances.
The 1974-75 Ashes is remembered as being an English massacre, which in the end it was, but it didn’t start off that way. On day two of the first test, Australia were 9-257, which wasn’t that awesome, when Thommo came to the wicket with Max Walker. The two men put on 52 crucial runs, getting that all important “3” in front of the first innings total, and irritating the English as only a last-wicket stand of more than fifty runs by two tailenders can.
Thommo then took 3 wickets in England’s first innings and 6-46 in the second and we were off to the races: the massacre had started. Like Mitchell Johnson, nothing seemed to get Thommo in better bowling form than handy lower order runs.
A little-remembered incredible all-round game from Thommo at the end of the summer. In a must-win-by-a-lot-to-get-the-Shield match for Queensland, Victoria made 6-325 declared and at one stage had Queensland 6-226. Thommo came in, scored 61, taking the the total to 8-328. Queensland eventually got 357, then Thommo took 6-17 with the ball and Queensland won by ten wickets. This still wasn’t enough for Queensland to win the Shield, though -like I say, they had to win by a lot. This game was to be the first in a long (long, long, long) line of heartbreaking end-of-season matches for Queensland that Thommo played in. That 61 remained his highest first class form, incidentally.
One of the first great ODIs. Australia had to chase 291 and it seemed all was lost at 8-231 when Thommo came out. Soon it was 9-233, but Thommo and Dennis Lillee hit out, putting on 41 runs, and for a moment it seemed we might pull off a miracle. Eventually Thommo was run out on 21 (damn those West Indian fielding geniuses), but the margin was only 17 runs. His batting helped make it an immortal match.
Once again, Thomson’s batting helped Australia get off to a good start in a series. We were 7-286 batting first when he went to the crease. He stuck around for 49, not leaving until Australia were all out for a healthy 359 (again, good to get that “3” in front of your first innings today). Thommo took 5-38 in the second innings helping Australia to an innings victory. Once more, runs = wickets. That 49 was his highest test score – he never got a half century.
Thommo wanted to join World Series Cricket but was forced to play with the establishment by his employer, radio station 4IP. Lucky for the establishment – without Thommo I think we would’ve lost this series 4-1, instead of winning it 3-2. Anyway, first day of the first test aginst India, Australia are a dicey 8-112 when Thommo comes in and puts on 34 invaluable runs with Peter Toohey – not huge but not bad, and better than the top order, who’d struggled.
After taking three wickets in India’s first innings Thommo bats even better in his second dig, scoring 41 off 54 balls, bringing Australia from an okay 8-246 to a strong 327 (career bunny Alan Hurst mades 26!). The value of these contributions are proved when Australia win the match by 16 runs (another 4 wickets to Thommo – this was probably his best all-round game of test cricket).
Another thriller. Thommo takes six wickets but it’s his batting again that stars. Well, maybe not “stars” but definitely makes a juicy cameo. Australia need 339 to win in the second innings. It see-saws – they’re 2-172 (thank you Tony Mann), then 4-195 then 6-330 and looking like they’ve got it in the bag.
Then the two set batters, Peter Toohey and Steve Rixon, are dismissed and Australia are 8-330. Wayne Clark and Thommo at the crease… And they get the runs. Australia win by two wickets. The country’s favourite fast bowler (sorry, Dennis) has just batted Australia to vicrtory. (Think those run chases are easy? Just ask the 1981 Ashes tourists).
7. 1977-78 Australia vs Jamaica – tour game
Okay this is obscure. But cute. Thommo was appointed vice captain to Bob Simpson for the 1978 tour of the West Indies and he captained Australia in a few tour games when Simmo rested. Thommo rarely bowled himself in those matches, conserving his energy, including for this game, which was super exciting. The Jamaican team included Jeff Dujon, Lawence Rowe and Michael Holding. Australia, batting second, had to get 233 to win and collapsed from 5-214 to 8-219, with Holding leading the charge. Thommo comes to the wicket and he and Bruce Yardley got Australia home by two wickets. So there you have it – Jeff Thomson batted Australia to a victory as captain.
Thommo missed most of 1978-79 due to contractual disputes but was allowed to tour the West Indies with World Series Cricket in 1979. One of his highlights on tour was this one day game. Australia bowled first, Thommo took 5-31 with the ball, keeping the West Indies to 132. Australia’s batting wilted in response and we were 9-121 when he came to the crease and he and Max Walker saw Australia home by one wicket. Eat your heart out, Michael Bevan!
Yet again, good bowling form helps Thommo’s batting, in what is probably the greatest World Series supertest. Thommo’s 5-78 gave Australia, batting first, a small lead. We were 9-256 in the second innings when Thommo and his old mate Len Pascoe put on 26 runs (Thommo 5, Pascoe 19). These proved crucial on a thrilling last day when Australia won by 24 runs.
The one innings on this list I know everyone reading this article will remember. Thommo had helped bowl Australia to victory in the previous two tests (82-83 was his last really successful summer of international cricket) and took five wickets in this one, but the Australian batters sunk to the occasion in the chase and we were 9-218, with a target of 291. Thommo joined Allan Border – who’d been out of form through the series – at the wicket.
And dammit if we didn’t almost get them… ball by ball, run by run, in front of thousands of screaming Melbournians, with Thommo making it to 21 and Australia within one boundary of victory… before Botham finally got him. Great game, but.
Anyway, happy birthday, Thommo. Everyone remembers your feats with the ball – here’s a tip of the hat for what you did with the bat. Averages aren’t everything.