Keith Miller, 1919-2004

Keith Miller is dead.

One of the the greatest cricketers of all time is dead. He could bat, bowl, field like the devil, play brilliant cricket while completely hungover, and charm the crowd whether he scored a century, got five wickets, or out for a duck.

He was unbelievably physically gifted (he also played Aussie Rules brilliantly), gorgeous, funny, charming, and rebellious. He had Elvis hair that flopped across his forehead when he bowled, causing women (and, I imagine, not a few men) to sigh. He was tall (188cm) and built. The adjectives most frequently used about him are dashing, larrikin, and swashbuckling. Everything I’ve ever read about the man, makes me suspect that those writing about Miller were either in love with him or wanted to be him. His playing career was over long before I was born and yet I’m not sure which of those two camps I fall into. Probably both.

Miller had been a World War II fighter pilot. When asked about dealing with the pressure of playing international cricket he laughed. That’s not pressure, “pressure is a Messerschmitt up your arse.”

Some say he was the best captain New South Wales ever had. He was never given the Australian captaincy because he had not mastered the art of sucking up to the cricketing establishment, and they took a dim view of how much fun he had on and off the field. (Bastards.) Ashley Mallet wrote of him that, “He loved tradition, but hated convention.”

Here’s the cleanest of my favourite Keith Miller stories. It dates from when he was captain of the New South Wales side. I have no idea if it’s true or not (for starters Harvey debuted with Victoria, not NSW):

Neil Harvey is playing in his first match, very young, very excited, very nervous. New South Wales is fielding. The team is walking out onto the oval when young Harvey notices there are twelve men. In cricket only eleven of the twelve play, the twelfth man is a glorifed fetcher-of-things. Tentatively Harvey points this out to his captain pretty sure that he’ll be the one demoted, “Er, excuse me, sir. But there’s, ah, twelve of us out here.” Keith Miller looks around, verifies the number of men, shakes his head, and yells out so everyone can hear, “Will one of you lads bugger off?”

He will be missed.

New York City, 11 October 2004