For those who come from Non-Cricketing countries (the poorer world), the Captain of the Australian Cricket Team holds a position of greater respect and influence than any Australian Prime Minister who has held office in history. The Australian Cricket Selectors choose that Captain. This is the first of an occasional series written specifically for the Cricket Tragics of the world.
The newly appointed full-time selector for the Australian Cricket Team, John Inverarity is uniquely placed to hold the position. Playing 223 Sheffield Shield games from 1962 to 1985 and fitting in half a dozen Tests was quite an achievement back in the days of the virtually amateur players. He was a member of a talented family of athletes. Inverarity’s father was a first-class cricketer between the wars, and his daughter Alison was an Olympic high-jumper.
Throughout his long career John Inverarity was not only a good batsman, but a great captain and theorist. In five years as captain of Western Australia he won the Sheffield Shield four times. When schoolteaching took him from Perth to Adelaide he just kept on playing, being seen as something of a freak in Australian first-class cricket as he continued, grey-haired and ghostly, into his forties. South Australia duly won the Shield in 1981-82, with Inverarity contributing 348 runs and 30 wickets. By the time he finally retired, in 1985, he had crept past Don Bradman’s Shield-record run-aggregate.
Being a fellow Western Australian, albeit eleven months younger, I followed him as a cricketing hero. There were three major incidents which I will always remember. ABC Radio was responsible for me hearing two of those three incidents as they happened. The third, I saw.
In a Sheffield Shield match at Adelaide in 1969, while still playing for Western Australia Inverarity was not yet off the mark when a Greg Chappell delivery completely changed direction in mid-air, suddenly nose-diving to flatten the stumps. Bewildered, Inverarity looked to the heavens and trudged off. The new batsman was almost at the crease when the umpire Colin Egar signalled dead ball. A swallow, now also dead and lying some yards behind the wicket, was revealed as the cause and Inverarity was recalled, going on to make 89. The sparrow was later taxidermied and put on display in the Adelaide Cricket Museum.
On the Ashes tour of England in 1968, Invers played his second Test at the Oval.
Opening the batting with Bill Lawry, he was out for just one run in his first Test innings. However, in his second innings he almost gained a place in the records book. No Australian opener had carried his bat since W.A. Brown in 1938 at Lords. Listening to the commentary from the BBC, there being no television coverage in those days, I heard him continue to bat as five, six, seven wickets fell at the other end. Derek Underwood was starring with the ball. Invers made his fifty as eight and nine fell. Just as we were beginning to think that a Draw was possible Underwood struck again, only this time it was the opener who was adjudged LBW! So no good thing happened. England won by 226 runs with six minutes to spare and Invers did not make the record book. I’m not sure which disappointed me most.
Now for my first ever sight of Invers. A bit of background first. I was working at the University of Western Australia at the time and riding a hot little red Lambretta scooter. Finishing work at 5pm I was able to scoot into Perth and down to the WACA to watch the last half hour of play in the Shield matches. Not that I would go into the ground. At the Causeway end, there was a chain-link fence and a viewing area of about ten feet. Up to fifty of us would gather there to see a little of the play. This gathering was stopped with the building of the Lillee-Marsh Stand.
WA was playing Queensland who had contracted the fastest bowler in the world, West Indian Wes Hall, to play for them that season. This particular day, I was there just after lunch on the final day (19th Feb, 1963) as Western Australia was approaching its second win of the season. With seven wickets in hand and just two runs needed for victory, the skinny, tall 18 year old newcomer was due to face the last few balls of the match. Wes Hall grabbed the ball and, after glaring at Inverarity, marched towards the Members and began measuring out his run.
Having been facing the gentle and innocuous leggies of Colin Westaway, Invers was surprised. No! He was shocked! From our vantage point we could see his legs literally shaking as he watched the menacing West Indian preparing to bowl. Taking a nervous guard, Invers looked up and saw a big white-toothed grin in Wes’ black face. Hall threw the ball to his skipper, John McLaughlin, a very occasional offie and the match ended two off-breaks later.
In defence of the young Inverarity, the Fremantle Doctor was in and his whites were probably flapping in the wind. Yet I much prefer the thought of his knees knocking as Hall was preparing to bowl.