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Keith Miller: The Golden Nugget

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Keith_Miller_Australia_CricketOne Sunday, a 23-year old went to Dulwich to play cricket. When he returned to Bournemouth, he found that the town had suffered a German raid. It had been bombed and eight of his mates were killed. Cricket saved the young man. He paid back to the game in every possible way. And went on to become Australia’s greatest all-rounder.

Keith Ross Miller, nicknamed Nugget in cricketing circles, was named after aviator brothers Keith and Ross Smith. He was good at soccer and cricket from a very young age. In cricket, he had only one hero; the heavy-scoring Bill Ponsford. He read Monty Noble’s “The Game’s the Thing”, cover to cover, and his desire to play cricket at the highest level only grew.

War intervened. He survived, against all odds, and made his Test debut in 1946.

He represented Australia for a decade, and it is the span of his career that Jim Kilburn has called the “Cricket Decade” in his book with the same title.

Here are some anecdotes which perhaps give a fair idea about Keith Miller, the man.

One of you bugger off and all that...

Miller was never chosen as the captain of Australia as he never had a very cordial relationship with Don Bradman, the man at the helm of Australian cricket in the 1950s. He didn’t help himself when he criticised Lindsay Hassett before the 1953 Ashes series. He was the vice-captain at the time, but was swiftly replaced by Arthur Morris.

But he did lead his state team New South Wales in the Sheffield Shield. According to many of his teammates, he was an inspirational captain, with a touch of eccentricity.

Bill Watson once narrated a story which gives some idea about the kind of captain Miller was.

When Miller was leading his team onto the field, Watson said, “Hey, Nugget, we have twelve players on the field.”

Without turning his head, Miller said, “One of you bugger off and the rest scatter!”

A hit with the ladies

Apart from Bradman, no other cricketer was as recognisable as Miller was in Great Britain. He was a celebrity in England even in the 1950s. In 1956, he sponsored a British emigrant under the ‘Bring Out a Briton’ scheme in Australia. The beneficiary was the receptionist at the hotel where the Australians had stayed. A year later she arrived in Sydney and it was Miller who arranged a flat for her there.

On every tour, he was bombarded with love letters from young women and the 1956 tour was no different. In an interview to The Argus, he said, ‘I get all kinds of stuff. You know the sort of thing: “Keith, I adore you…. Keith, I must see you….” All that sort of caper. Some of them send me photographs, others send trinkets, lucky charms, cuff links, and things. It’s a bit embarrassing at times, too. The other day my picture was published in a paper alongside an Australian girl. So, I quickly called the missus in Sydney and asked her if she had seen the paper.

“Yes, dear,” she said.
“With a girl?”
“Yes dear.”
“She was only an Australian model.”
“Yes dear. And if that’s your story, dear, you stick to it, dear.”’

The outspoken pressman

Miller came out with quite a few cricket books. Most of them came out in the 1950s and almost all of them were ghost-written. Some of them landed him in trouble. His honest opinions were often disliked by the men who mattered. But that would not prevent Miller from speaking his mind. He couldn’t quite stand ‘safe and hence boring’ cricket, which once led him to call for the end of The Ashes.

In South Africa, following the team’s fortunes in the 1969-70 season, it was a difficult tour for Australia, both on and off the field. Miller was quite scathing in his articles about the Aussie side.

One evening, during their game against Natal, Miller found Stackpole and Sheahan in the lobby of the hotel.

He asked, “So how’d you boys get on today?”
“We did pretty well, thanks. Didn’t you go?” replied Sheahan.
“No, I went to the races.”
“Did you write a copy?” asked Stackpole, implying that Miller had written a critical article without actually watching the game.
“Course I did.”, answered Miller. Then, noticing the rather amused expressions on the players’ faces, he added, “You boys don’t bother paying any attention to that stuff, do you?”

That ‘87’ nonsense

87 is often considered an unlucky number for Australian cricket. The explanation from commentators is often the rather lame “87 is 100-13” spiel. About 25 years ago, Keith Miller explained all to David Frith, then the editor of Wisden Cricket Monthly.

Miller said that as a ten-year old, he went to see a New South Wales v Victoria match at the MCG. Bradman was at his usual best and raced off to 87 when ‘Bull’ Alexander dismissed him bowled. That 87 remained in his mind. Some of his teammates in New South Wales picked it up from him in the 1950s and it has stayed ever since. Years later, Miller found out that Bradman was dismissed for 89 and not 87.

Not everything in this story is true but if someone had pointed that out to Miller, he would have hardly cared. He would have simply said, “Bugger off!”

Bibliography:

The Summer Game by Gideon Haigh
Keith Miller: A Cricketing Biography by Mihir Bose
Wisden Cricket Monthly

 

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