FRANK AVIS continues his memories of radio and other stuff

Frank Avis by | April 24, 2010 | Cricket

This web site is clearly set up to recall my radio career but the reality is that my reporting touched on so many different areas and I obviously interviewed so many celebrities that my memories are going to leak over into other fields.

This time we'll start with cricket.

When I did my AFTRS lectures in the 80's I remember telling a group of students that they had to know about cricket because "it ran through the nation's veins". I said it was in our blood: it was part of what being an Australian was. I also remember that half a dozen girl students couldn't stop themselves from laughing out loud. They thought it was preposterous.

I spent the next half hour trying to explain to them that cricket preceded our nationhood. We were actually playing test matches against England, as Australia, before we became Australia. For many years it was virtually impossible to convince the colonies to break their ties with England. There was so much rivalry between the colonies that the idea of getting them all together to form a nation spent considerable time in the "too hard basket". But it became a bit hard to ignore once we started putting an Australian team in the field for the legendary Ashes series from the 1870's. Cricket was a critical prime mover in the successful battle to convince the colonies to become states in the Federation of Australia.

It's a bit like baseball in the United States. It's spring and you're driving near a park when you hear that iconic sound, a bat hitting a ball. It strikes a chord in most Australians.

Boy, have I interviewed a few cricketers in my time. Back in 1961 I was able to sit down and reminisce with one of the legends of Bradman's 1948 Invincibles, the great left-handed opener Arthur Morris.

Arthur was very much like Victor Trumper. You can't find anybody with a bad word to say about him.

I'm still looking at Arthur's list of the Best World Team of His Time. It's sitting in front of me in his own handwriting.

For cricket lovers here it is in batting order:

Sid Barnes, Len Hutton, Don Brandman, Neil Harvey, Gary Sobers, Rohan Kanhai, Ray Lindwall, Don Tallon, Bill O'Reilly, Alec Bedser, Sonny Ramadhin. Arthur desperately wanted to include Keith Miller but he could only get him in as 12th man. H e hated omitting Everton Weekes.

I remember sitting down with him in a 7HO studio as we went through all of these great players.

Suddenly at the end of the interview, I turned to Arthur and said, "hang on, the one player we haven't discussed in depth is the captain, Brandman!" Arthur's eyes took on a dreamlike quality as he turned to me, smiling slightly, and said, "Ah, the Don... The Don." No more was needed.

For devotees of the game I also include Don Bradman's list of the Best Australian Team, postwar, issued in 1975
He goes for Bob Simpson, Arthur Morris, Don Bradman, Neil Harvey, Ian Chapell, Greg Chappell, Keith Miller, Richie Benaud, Alan Davidson, Ray Lindwall and Don Tallon with Lindsay Hassett 12th man.

He didn't like leaving out Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh. Bill O'Reilly only played one test after the war so Brdman couldn't really fit him in. But just for the record, The Don regarded O'Reilly as the "greatest bowler he ever saw".

So now allow me to present the Frank Avis list: The Greatest Australian Team of All Time.

See what you think of this lot, again in batting order:

Victor Trumper, Bob Simpson, Don Bradman, Greg Chappell, Stan McCabe, Keith Miller, Adam Gilchrist, Ray Lindwall, Shane Warne, Dennis Lillee and Fred Spofforth. Bill O'Reilly is 12th man.

If Bradman is the greatest batsman of all, then Trumper is the most loved. He personifies cricket. In fact he probably personifies that era in Australia when we were laying down the roots of nationhood.

Leaving Trumper out of an Australian cricket team would be like talking Rugby League without Dally Messenger or Aussie Rules without Roy Cazaly. Trumper could bat anywhere in the list but I've settled on the opening spot because it allows me a certain amount of latitude in the batting order. Trumper may not have had the best average but he played on some pretty sporting pitches and is credited with some of the greatest innings played in the game. His 185* in England in 1903 is generally regarded as a masterpiece. He is the most admired player in our cricket history.

The selection of Bob Simpson as his partner will probably raise the odd eyebrow here and there but Simmo made nearly 5,000 test runs, took 71 wickets with his leggies and pocketed 110 catches. He is the best slip catcher I've ever seen. Ask Richie Benaud about a couple of catches Simpson took in the 1961 series. He'll set you straight. Can you imagine Simmo farming the strike out to Trumper while Victor pounded out a century before lunch and doing the same with Bradman in the afternoon?

Brandman obviously chooses himself as no. 3 and Captain. Enough said except that fans these days probably don't realize that he was a very good field.

I could have chosen either of the Chappell brothers to bat number 4, but who could resist the classical, upright stance of Greg caressing the ball through the covers? Handy bowler, top field.

McCabe doesn't have the most wonderful average you've ever seen but two of the greatest innings in test history have come off his bat. 187* in the Bodyline series of 1932 and his 232 in England in 1938. At one point Bradman pulled all of his players out of the dressing room and told them to watch, noting that they'd never see batting like this again. He also took 36 wickets and 41 catches.

I couldn't leave Keith Miller out of my eleven. He was an astonishing character, a superb batsman and one of the most feared bowlers in history. Both Bradman and Morris agree that for 4 or 5 overs Miller was actually faster than Lindwall, and take it from me, Lindwall was just a shade on the quick side.

Miller, when the spirit moved him, was devastating. One day he came straight from the night club to the dressing room, looking slightly the worse for wear. Bradman was not impressed. He looked at Miller whose skin colour was varying somewhere between white and green and told him that he could take the opening over. Miller produced one of the fastest spells in history, picking up 3 wickets in four overs.

One shell shocked England batsman returned to the dressing room, announcing that Miller was "bloody lethal".

Don Bradman would opt for Tallon as the keeper while modern observers might still lean to Rodney Marsh but Adam Gilchrist was a fine keeper, taking some spectacular catches off extremely demanding bowlers. He wins the spot because he is the equal of most keepers and happens to be one of the most amazing batsman of modern times. Trumper, McCabe and Miller may well have dismembered bowling attacks but Gilchrist was capable of annihilation. He drove bowlers into early retirement. Well he actually hooked and pulled a lot into early retirement if you want to be technically correct. You've heard of batsmen who changed the course of a test in a session: Gilchrist could do it in 35 minutes.

When he was hitting the ball cleanly the only man with a chance of catching him was the bloke in the grey hat, sitting in Row 38 behind midwicket. Anyone actually on the field, forget it.

Ray Lindwall is the Prince of fast bowlers. No one leaves him out of an Australian team and he was capable of pounding out a test hundred, just to sew up his spot in our best ever eleven.

Oh man I agonised over putting in Shane Warne ahead of Bill O'Reilly, regarded by Bradman as the best bowler he ever saw. But I think you'll find most critics these days agree Warne is the finest leg spinner the world has ever seen. I feel sorry that Bill is down the list, carrying the drinks, but the case for Warne is overwhelming.

Dennis Lillee comes in next and he was as fast as Lindwall. He was also mean and ornery. Ask the England tourists of 1974-75. What he and Thommo did to England that series is almost certainly banned under the Geneva convention. What would Bradman do? Open with Lindwall and Lillee or put Miller on for 4 quick overs and then bring in Dennis? What a dilemma to have!

Now we get to some real controversy because I've given the remaining spot to Fred Spofforth... The Demon. I know, I know he took just 94 test scalps at 18.4 and the less said about his batting the better.

But when you read accounts of the day he was a mixture of Lillee, Miller and Thommo. He was ferocious, absolutely menacing. Talk about changing the course of a test match. This joker wrote the book. His exploits in the Oval test of 1882 are the stuff of legend. This is the most famous Test match in history, the game that gave us "The Ashes". It was Australia's first win on English soil. Fred took 7 wickets in the first innings but Australia had a shocker in their first knock and made only 122 in the second. England was home and hosed, needing just 85 for victory. Spofforth then simply took over the match. It's not just the wickets he took but the way he imposed himself on the match. It was as if a marauding creature had been let loose. He bowled at great pace on a dubious pitch. His breakback ball which cut back sharply from off stump was unplayable.

The tension was unbearable. One man gnawed through his umbrella handle, a second died from a heart attack. And they were just the spectators .How do you think the next batsman in was feeling?

In the end Spofforth took another 7 wickets, 14 all up, and Australia got home by 7.

In England, they still talk about Fred Spofforth in whispers. So he comes into our side although where Don is going to bowl him is beyond me. Luckily I'm just a selector.

Our pace attack is composed of Lindwall, Lillee, Miller and Spofforth. Maybe we could make Spofforth first change and talk Keith into tossing down a few leg spinners, in harness with Warnie!

Can you imagine being a batsman,seeing off Lindwall, Lillee and Miller and then looking up to see The Demon Spofforth coming into bowl?

One of the other great mental exercises is to select the Best Batsman You Ever Saw.

This is the sort of stuff you dream about when you wake up at 2 O'Clock on a rainy morning.

Critics I respect keep going for Gary Sobers or Graeme Pollock. Sadly, every time I went to see them they failed. I had the same impact on my hero Norm O'Neill.

I looked closely at Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara and I still treasure a couple of 100's I saw from Ted Dexter and Colin Cowdrey in the 60's. But I'm going for a West Indies dasher, Viv Richards. Viv didn't really walk to the wicket. He sort of glided. And as he made his way to the middle he looked at the bowlers and the fielders with a quizzical glare wondering, "What are you doing here? No one's here to see you guys… They're here to see me, man... Me!" Richards had this incredible self belief and he needed it because he had to face some pretty good bowlers in his time. He was imperious. He'd pull a fast bowler from just short of a length through mid wicket and then wonder why the spectators were making such a fuss. I think that was the thing that got to the bowlers,that Viv was so dismissive. He didn't even acknowledge that he'd played a superlative shot: he just took it for granted.

One day I saw him hit Lillee for a magnificent 4 through square leg. The crowd went mad, Lillee stood midwicket with his hands on his hips glaring like a prize fighter, the slip field tried hard to gaze into the distance, hoping Lillee didn't see how much they admired the shot. But Viv didn't even look at anyone. He just stood there as if it was just an everyday shot. In fact he didn't even move to run. He just dismissed the ball and then set about chewing harder on his piece of gum. Viv Richards just owned the wicket when he was out there. The possibility that anybody else could share the spotlight simply didn't occur to him. Best batsman I've ever seen.

Look this is getting a shade embarrassing. I'm supposed to be writing about radio and here we are having long discussions about cricket and the movies. I promise It's just that honestly I can't find anything to write about. When I do you'll be the first to know.

So we'll say au revoir to this lot with the warning that one of my other specialties was VFL/AFL footy, dating back to the 1950's. I couldn't possibly let the occasion pass without some reference to Aussie Rules when we next meet.


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This is the history of radio newsman Frank Avis who worked in the Australian electronic media from 1954 to 1996.


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