When Keith Miller bowled bouncers to his war-time service mate

There was something transcendent about the way Miller effectuated his sport. His lethal bowling was replete with pace, he trod with a distinct flair. Picture courtesy: PA Photos

First class Cricket in Australia and England was shut down by the war in the year 1941. Keith Miller, a stalwart Victorian, joined the war service and succoured as a night fighter pilot in the later years. A ginormous entertainer on the Cricket field with his powerful hitting, he would couch his power and grace into the sweep shot, a drive or a late cut full of animation. Miller scored a couple of tons in the fourteen first-class matches that he appeared in before the war had disrupted the Cricket scene. Who would later pioneer his bowling skills was yet to discover that part of his genius. It came around as an eventuality during the post-war Victory Tests when he started taking wickets.

Keith Miller made his Test debut in a one-off match against New Zealand a season prior to his Ashes debut, albeit in the same year of 1946. Just one year into his Test career, Miller had evolved into a top-notch bowler which stunned his generation. Although primarily a fast bowler, Miller hardly adhered to it and was quite often seen to send down off-break and leg-break shifting from his regular fast-bumpers. Perhaps, Miller was reckoned as the best all-rounder of his time.

The last of the pre-war era Test matches played in Australia was hosted at The MCG in the year 1937. The home team were able to retain the Ashes as they’d defeated the touring Englishmen by a 3-2 margin, as the latter fell short by an innings and 200 runs in the decider.

Miller’s Ashes debut

After a nine-year hiatus, on 29th November 1946 witnessed the renascence of Test cricket in Australia. The Gabba embraced the two teams that had returned to battle in the first Test match of the 1946-47 Ashes series. Each of the five Test matches consisted of six days of play and unlike the pre-war Tests in Australia, a restriction of five hours of play per day was introduced. The Australian team was led by the greatest ever Don Bradman, whose side had drawn the Victory Tests 2-2 against a compeer English side skippered by Wally Hammond in 1945. Bradman’s was a fresh team with eight Ashes debutants which included Keith Miller, Ray Lindwall, Ian Johnson, Ernie Toshack, Arthur Morris who would become prominent names in the days to come. The touring team was a rather experienced side with the likes of Len Hutton, Denis Compton and the skipper himself.

Miller made his Ashes debut in Brisbane, playing the role of a top-order batsman and also opened the bowling with Lindwall.

Bradman chose to bat first after winning the toss. Batting at No. 5, Miller scored a quick fifty which included a massive six that flew all the way onto the roof. Miller’s final contribution in Australia’s first innings was 79 in a total of 645 runs. He opened the bowling attack with Lindwall and claimed his first Ashes wicket by dismissing Len Hutton. A heavy tropical storm followed, leaving the pitch sticky. Batting for England was Miller’s war-time service mate, Bill Edrich. And as British journalist Sir Michael Parkinson pointed out, it was skipper Don Bradman who instructed Miller to bowl bouncers to the batsman.

‘Don’t slow down, Keith. Bowl quicker.’
-Bradman’s instruction to Miller.

What would deeply affect Miller later on and make things bitter between the captain and him, fetched him seven wickets as England were bowled out for 141. Miller finished the match with bowling figures of 9/77, dismissing Len Hutton twice, as England lost by an innings and 334 runs.

Miller who was both a warrior and a victim of the war believed in the spirit of Test Cricket. He was probably one of those who returned from the war to seek solace in the game. But the no show of mercy from his captain Don Bradman opened Miller’s eyes to a bigger truth. His anger might have been justified, but decades later, even today Test Cricket is the most competitive form of Cricket. The greatest Cricketer of all time, Sir Donald Bradman was playing it the right way.

(An engineering graduate Sritama Panda tends to spend a major part of the day talking, watching and writing about cricket. She Tweets here and can be contacted via Facebook.)