Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Excerpts from Indra Vikram Singh's book 'Don's Century' ..... 15 - Chapter 7 : PEERLESS RUNGETTER AND OTHER MASTERS OF THE WILLOW (17. Australian left-hander Neil Harvey)

In Bradman’s penultimate Test series against India in 1947-48, a short-statured brilliant left-handed batsman, Neil Harvey, made his debut. At 19 years he became Australia’s youngest Test player as well as centurion. He went on to notch up the highest aggregate as well as centuries for the country - after Bradman, that is - 6149 runs (average 48.41) and 21 hundreds in 79 Tests. Statistics, though, neither interested him unduly, nor told his real tale.

Not surprisingly for a small man, Harvey was quick on his feet, at the crease as well as in the field. He would regularly skip down the wicket to the spinners, and these attributes made him a wonderful player on turning tracks. He was not loath to advance forward at times even to the pacemen. A terrific strokeplayer on the off-side, Harvey was not one to leave alone too many deliveries outside his off-stump. To short-pitched bowling, he employed the Bradman method of Bodyline vintage, of stepping away, allowing himself a free swing of his arms and smashing the ball through the covers.

Doubtlessly a joy to behold, Harvey was extremely swift between the wickets and in the covers. He prowled around a vast expanse of turf, darting to the ball and making lightning right-handed returns bang on top of the stumps. During the later stages he excelled in the slips. Neil Harvey was a thrilling sight on the field.

So abundantly talented was he, that he scored a century in his first club match, first outing for Victoria and second Test, a brilliant 153 at Melbourne. On the 1948 Invincibles tour, Harvey got his chance only in the fourth Test at Leeds after Sidney Barnes dropped out due to injury. The youngster promptly hit up a hundred on first appearance against England. With Australia reeling at 68 for three, Bradman having been dismissed for 33, Harvey and Miller launched a terrific counter-attack on the English bowling. Harvey scored 112, and never looked back thereafter.

Harvey’s best, though, came in two Test series against South Africa. In 1949-50 he hit up 660 runs at an average of 132, with 4 hundreds. He was even more prolific when the South Africans made a return visit three years later. Amassing 834 runs at an average of 92.66, Harvey again logged up four centuries, including his top Test score of 205 at Melbourne. Only Bradman had hit four hundreds in a series thrice. Clyde Walcott became the lone batsman to slam five tons in a rubber in 1954-55, a series in which Harvey too thrived. Herbert Sutcliffe and Sunil Gavaskar are the only other batsmen to score four hundreds in a series twice. Harvey’s aggregate of 834 in 1952-53 was the third-highest ever after Bradman’s 974 in 1930 and Hammond’s 905 in 1928-29. Australia’s Mark Taylor amassed 839 in the 1989 Ashes series.

When Frank “Typhoon” Tyson decimated Australia in 1954-55, Harvey was one batsman who stood up to the frightening pace. He scored a superb 162 at Brisbane, and then in the Sydney Test battled for four-and-a-half hours in adversity, grinding out a courageous and skillful 92, rated as one of his best knocks.

The tour to the Caribbean islands that followed would then have been a big relief. Harvey scored 650 runs at an average of 108.33, with 2 centuries and a double century as Australia continued their dominance of the West Indies.

Like Everton Weekes, Harvey was rarely at his best when facing England, barring the flying start in 1948 and the gutsy displays against Tyson. In 37 Tests over 15 years, he never scored more than one hundred in any of his eight series against the Old Enemy. As if to emphasise the point, Jim Laker handed him a pair in that famous Test at Old Trafford in 1956. Neil Harvey, nevertheless, was one of the most delightful left-handers the game has seen. 

(Author Indra Vikram Singh can be contacted on email singh_iv@hotmail.com).

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