Sportstar Archives: Neil Harvey - A giant of yesteryear looks back

Neil Harvey opines that Sachin Tendulkar is the best batsman in the world today and would end up with more runs than anyone else.

Richie Benaud and Neil Harvey in 1961.   -  The Hindu Archives

Was it coincidental or part of a commemoration, one doesn't know. But this year happens to be the 50th anniversary of 'Bradman's Invincibles' team - the all-conquering 1948 Australian side of which Robert Neil Harvey was the youngest member.

One was thus thrilled to see Harvey, one of the greatest left-handers the game has seen, witnessing the Chennai Test, the first of the three-Test Pepsi series between India and Australia. Also, it was against India in Australia way back in 1947-48, that Harvey had made his debut in the fourth Test under Sir Donald George Bradman.

In the fifth and final Test, Harvey scored 153. In a career spanning over 15 years (1947-63), Harvey scored 6194 runs in 79 Tests at a remarkable average of 48.41 with 21 centuries.

An insight into the person and his cricket would best be provided by Richie Benaud. Wrote the former Australian captain, who played along with Harvey for quite many years, in The World of Cricket: "The last thing Harvey was interested in was statistics. Tell him that he was 0.2 behind the tour averages and he would look at you in amazement … provide a challenge for him with the bat and he would accept it faster that you could sight his twinkling feet dancing down the pitch."

During the course of a conversation with Sportstar, Harvey, while opining that Sachin Tendulkar is the best batsman in the world today and would end up with more runs than anyone else, spoke at length about his playing days.

In a career spanning over 15 years (1947-63), Harvey scored 6194 runs in 79 Tests at a remarkable average of 48.41 with 21 centuries.   -  The Hindu Archives

 

Excerpts…

What was the feeling to be picked on Bradman's side in only the second series the Australians played after the War? To a young left-hander like you then, what did the name Bradman signify?

The ambition of every young cricketer in Australia then was to play along with Bradman. I had the privilege to do so. He was a very reserved person. He would not tell you anything. There was this interesting incident on the 1948 tour of England, which was my first experience of the seaming conditions out there. I was doing badly in the tour games. I was so overawed by the great man that I could not get myself to go up to him and ask for advice.

My roommate, Sam Loxton, knew Bradman well. So he went and put my plight to Bradman. The great man's advice through Loxton was, “Keep the ball on the ground and you will get the runs.”

Your relationship with Miller on the 1948 tour of England? There was an onslaught by Miller on Laker. Was it to keep you away from Laker?

I walked in at the score of 68 for three. This was in the fourth Test and my first against England. Bradman had just got out, when Laker came on to bowl. Miller told me he would handle Laker. Off the third ball that Laker bowled. Miller hit him for a straight six. Another six followed, soaring right over my head. Looking back, I think I could not have batted with a better partner. I was a youngster then and he gave me a lot of confidence. I scored a century (112). Miller is a great cricketer and a wonderful person.

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You toured West Indies under lan Johnson in 1954-55. What was your first experience of the West Indies, the quality of cricket they play? Then there was this great partnership between Depeiza and Atkinson.

I was in very good form in the West Indies. I scored two hundreds and a double hundred. Cavalier is how best I can put their style of cricket. They were entertainers. Weekes, Worrell and Walcott were superb cricketers. That partnership was in the Barbados Test. We had their top order for nothing and were cruising along to what we thought would be an easy victory. But Atkinson (219) and Depeiza (122) had other ideas. They came up with 348 runs for the seventh wicket. We just couldn't get them out.

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Your reminiscences about playing against South Africa?

I would rate the 151 against South Africa in 1949-50 as the best I have played. They were real good cricketers. I had turned 21 when we arrived in Durban. What a close match this one turned out to be. South Africa's bowling was McCarthy, Watkins and, of course, Hugh Tayfield, who I think is among the best off-spinners of all time. He is the kind who will bowl successfully anywhere. The pitch, here, was uncovered. They won the toss, opted to bat and scored 311. We were bowled out for 75 with Tayfield taking seven for 23. We got them for 99 in the second innings. Tayfield and left-arm spinner Mann were unplayable on that pock-marked wicket. But we won by five wickets with 25 minutes to spare.

What about Laker's 19-wicket haul at Old Trafford in 1956?

Laker and Lock were a great combination on wickets that were doing something. The last three pitches (Headingley, Old Trafford and Kennington Oval) in that series were specially prepared for them. The first Test at Trent Bridge was drawn and we won the second at Lord's.

England won the third at Headingley. So we arrived at Old Trafford. It was like playing on the beach with dust everywhere. We lost the toss. I still maintain that Lock bowled extremely well, but finished with just one wicket. He must have been tearing his head. I got a pair of ducks in that game.

Memories of the 1956 and 1959 tours of India?

I remember the century I got against Gupte on my first tour. The articles in the papers had quoted Gupte as saying that he will bowl us out with ease and things like that. We were staying in the Brabourne Stadium. I found a cutting of the newspaper on my breakfast plate, which Benaud had obviously left. So I decided that it was either Gupte or myself. I scored 140. And it felt good. I got two centuries on the '59 tour.

You were tipped to be the cap-tain against Peter May's England in 1959. Were you disappointed when not announced so? Is it true that you were able to overcome the disappointment owing to the great relationship you shared with Benaud?

I felt real bad, for I thought I should have been the captain. I was leading Victoria when this was announced. I had been by-passed in 1958 too by I.D. Craig. I congratulated Benaud and told him that he had my full support and that of the boys. For it is cricket that is important.

Comments on the Brisbane tied Test? Could you describe the tense moments and the catch by Sobers in the leg-slip to dismiss you?

The final moments were thrilling and got over fast. Davidson and Benaud came up with a superb partnership in the second innings after O'Neill had scored a splendid century in the first. And Joe Solomon's throw, from an angle at which only one stump could be seen, was spectacular. I think one of the reasons why we could not win was that the grass had not been mowed on the final day morning. The growth was fast and hence the outfield was very slow. I still believe Sobers grassed my catch in the second innings after which Alexander, a veterinary surgeon, fixed up his dislocated finger.

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Your memories of the match at Lord's in 1961 when you led in place of Benaud, who was indisposed? You had Davidson, of course, but a rookie in McKenzie. What is the story about the ridge at Lord's? And Lawry's century in that match under adverse circumstances?

That match is known as the 'Battle of the Ridge.' A drain pipe which went across the good length spot on one side caused a lump. When you bowled on that spot the ball either came to your throat or rushed below your knee. In the first innings I had 'Davo' operating at that side and he took five wickets. In the second innings I told 'Davo', 'You got to do me a favour. I want you to bowl into the good end as I want McKenzie, who was playing his first Test, to bowl into the ridge side. McKenzie got five wickets for 37. I probably made him. Lawry's innings was a great exhibition of courage and skill. He got hit so many times but just didn't flinch. Their attack consisted of Trueman and Statham. His knock was just brilliant.

Among the bowlers you faced, who would you consider top quality? Of them who gave you the most problems?

There were many top-quality bowlers. Among them I felt Alex Bedser was the best for he could bowl well under any conditions. He was good in England, Australia. Trueman and Hall were real quick. Among the slow bowlers. Laker and Lock in England. Gupte was a tremendous leg-spinner. I played him in India.

The South African Adcock was real quick. He had the ability and had tremendous lift owing to his height. He loved to hit the batsman. Gibbs was another great spinner too.

Do you believe because they play alternative sport that the Australians have an edge? You were a very good fielder.

Yes. And that could be because we are on the field for 12 months in a year as baseball is a winter game.

Richie Benaud (left), captain of the Australian cricket team, and vice captain Neil Harvey read the sports page of a British newspaper on board the liner Himalaya at Tilbury Docks, Essex on April 21, 1961.   -  The Hindu Archives

 

Your views on the Australian Cricket Academy? Especially as Australia has never had any problems in producing good cricketers?

Australia has never really had problems in producing good cricketers, though we did not have junior representative cricket in those days. But the ACA is a good concept. The boys are given the best of infrastructure and knowledge.

Who was the Australian cricketer you admired the most? Miller?

Apart from Bradman of course, I think Miller was the best all-round cricketer Australia had produced during my time. He could do anything. Bat brilliantly, bowl real quick when he wanted. He was a superb fielder. He had the ability to turn a match single-handedly. He was a great character, a real man's man. It was a pleasure playing with him.

How would you compare Tayfield, Laker and Gibbs?

Conditions matter greatly while comparing these excellent bowlers. I did not have any trouble against Laker while playing him in Australia. But he was unplayable in England. The other two bowled well in all conditions. It is very difficult to rate them. My choice would be Gibbs, followed by Tayfield and then Laker.

Valentine, Lock, Wardle and Mankad?

Four very fine bowlers they were. Valentine was a big spinner of the ball. Wardle, on the other hand, did not turn much but had a good Chinaman. Lock was flat and quick, unplayable in England. You could not get down the wicket to him. But Mankad could tease you in the air too. He was a great bowler.

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Benaud and Gupte?

Of the two Gupte spun the ball more. Benaud was the first in my time to develop the flipper. He was accurate but had some problems when bowling in England. Gupte had a teasing flight and variety and stood better chances of getting you out.

Your views on Sir Gary Sobers?

Oh. He was tremendously gifted. The best all-rounder I've seen. He could bat, bowl and field like a king. He could do anything.

Is it true that you never played cricket with perfect eyesight?

It was on the tour of South Africa in 1957-58 that I came to know about it. We were in Johannesburg when an optician friend of ours (Benaud's, Davidson's and mine), who was a cricket fanatic, invited us to check our eyesight. He called me again the next day and prescribed me a pair of glasses. I could see the ball better when I looked through them, though I did not wear them while playing.

How did you get the pet name 'Nina'?

I had it since I was a kid. Lots of people still call me 'Nina'. I don't really know how I got that name. I think my parents gave me that name. Or were it my brothers? I'm not sure, but it just stuck on.

The top five batsmen of your time?

Well, I will give it to you country-wise. From England it will be Hutton, Compton and May, from the West Indies it will be Sobers, Weekes, Worrell, Walcott and Kanhai; Bradman, Hassett, Morris and later the Chappell brothers (lan and Greg, whom I've watched closely) from Australia and Lala Amamath and Vijay Hazare from India.

How do you rate Shane Warne?

Warne is probably the best leg-spinner of the post-War era. He is a very big turner of the ball. I can only compare him to Bill O'Reilly, whom Bradman rates as the best leg-spinner he has seen. It would only be apt to end with a tribute from A.G. Moyes: “Harvey created a pile of figures by stroke-making which was varied, fluent, powerful and artistic. He was a batsman, not a mere gatherer of runs ... he may easily rank among the immortals both as a batsman and fieldsman.”

(This article was first published in the Sportstar magazine on May 16, 1998)

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