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Monday, Jan 17, 2022
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Eulogy

The Other Keith Miller

Len Hutton once famously said that Miller and Denis Compton were the two cricketers he would bequeath to schoolboys yet unborn.

The Other Keith Miller
The Other Keith Miller
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+05:53

When Neville Cardus called Keith Miller "A young eagle among crows and daws", he was not a champion playing out of his class. Len Hutton once famously said that Miller and Denis Compton were the two cricketers he would bequeath to schoolboys yet unborn. Ray Robinson was no less effusive in his praise. "To young eyes, quickest to perceive the things that make cricket, Miller is an Olympian god among mortals," said the great Australian cricket writer. "Miller was one of the most volatile cricketers of any age. He would have been a far better player had he curbed his propensity and shown more judgement in his hitting. In 1948 he was the best second slip in the world," said Don Bradman.

There was an interesting anecdote related to Miller in the benefit match for Cyril Washbrook in which the all-conquering Australians took on Lancashire on a "suspect" wicket of Old Trafford in 1948. The Lancashire batsmen had a torrid time against the rampaging Aussie bowlers. But Jack Ikin struggled bravely and stubbornly, irrespective of taking many blows on his body, and built the Lancashire innings. When he reached 99, the new ball became due, and Bradman immediately threw it to Miller. But Miller, who had clashed with Bradman on more than one occasion on the tour, tossed it back to his captain. "That guy deserves a century. I don’t want to be responsible for getting him out now," said the handsome allrounder.

Bradman called up his another trump-card, Ray Lindwall. Lindwall did not show any respect for Ikin’s gallantry and promptly consumed him on the same score and deprived him of a deserving hundred. It may be recalled that out of his 170 Test wickets, no less than 100 were batsmen ranked one to five in order. He did not believe in knocking over the tail-enders unless they happened to threaten Australia’s control. No wonder he took five or more wickets in a Test innings on only seven occasions.

There is another incident that revealed Miller’s happy-go-lucky nature. He had moved from Melbourne to Sydney, a ground he loved as much as Lord’s, and was appointed captain of New South Wales. In a game at Sydney, he was late arriving, so late that he was still tucking in his shirt as he led his team out into the field. He was halfway to the middle when he was reminded by a colleague that he had not nominated a 12th man and there were actually 11 players following him out! "All right, one of you guys disappear," he called out without a pause in his stride.

Miller, whose appeal was his personal magnetism, who, according to Bradman, was "altogether a crowd-pleasing personality of the Jack Gregory type", had a special bond with the English crowds in general and those who flocked at Lord’s in particular. In 1945, he scored three centuries at Lord’s alone, the first for The Dominions against England, the other two in the Victory Test series. In fact, he seldom failed at Lord’s after that, scoring his truly vintage Test hundred (109) there in 1953.

Miller, who piloted Mosquitoes as a flying officer and whose wartime service in England from 1942 to 1945, flying with the Royal Australian Air Force, seemed to have a strong affection for many things British, including classical music and poetry.  The friendships he made as a player lasted for life. Compton, Bill Edrich and Godfrey Evans were three of his closest cricketing friends, although he never had any qualms about dishing out bouncers to them, even encouraging his partner Lindwall to do the same. Like Miller, the three also had a passion for horse racing, which explained why the Aussie adored them as friends.

The Aussie could be generous to a fault at times. He covered England’s 1967-68 tour of the West Indies as a newspaper correspondent. The ferocious Charlie Griffith was coming towards the end of his career, struggling to make any impact during the first Test in Trinidad. In his report, Miller came down heavily on Griffith. After finishing his report, he went to the bar at Queen’s Park Oval, where Griffith was also having a drink. "Charlie, don’t read me in the papers tomorrow," said Miller, putting a warm arm round Griffith.

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