Vale – Max Walker AM

28/09/16 Category: News Posted by:

Born in Tasmania in 1948 the year of Don Bradman’s Invincible’s all-conquering Ashes Tour of Great Britain, the affable Maxwell Henry Norman Walker was one of cricket’s gentleman players in an era when such personalities were seemingly uncommon.

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Tall with a lumbering approach to the pitch and possessing generous amounts of curly hair and a substantial handlebar moustache, Max Walker was Australian cricket’s peak swing and seam bowler of the 1970’s. Coming on first change after the demolition pairing of Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson, Walker would frequently execute the coup-de-gras on traumatised batsmen with an unplayable in-swinging off-cutter. His unusual style of bowling off the wrong foot with a rapid whippy bowling action earned him the nick-name ‘Tangles’. The sight of his joyous and exuberant celebration adjacent to the shattered stumps is seared into the minds of all cricket aficionados of the time.

Walker played Test Cricket for Australia in New Zealand, West Indies and England, twice in 1975 and 1977, making friends and endearing himself to team-mates and opponents alike. In 1977 he, along with many of the national side, defected to Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket where he became a key personality for the WSC marketers along with one of the most respected players.

Cricket was not Max’s only talent. He also played VFL Australian Football for Melbourne while studying Architecture at University and is the last Australian to have played both Test Cricket and VFL. Late in his cricket career he established himself as a highly-successful author of light-hearted and humorous cricket themed books with title’s like ‘How to Kiss a Crocodile’, ‘The Wit of Walker’, ‘Tangles’ and ‘How to Tame Lions’ defined a now near-extinct genre. His books featured cheeky caricatures drawn by Walker using one of his many beloved fountain pens. He also became a trusted television cricket commentator anchoring Wide World of Sports.

In 2011 Max Walker was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia for service to cricket at a national and international level as a player and commentator, and to the community through a range of youth and social welfare organisations.

Max Walker visited the Museum repeatedly over the years and spoke more than once to enraptured audiences at the traditional Bradman Birthday Lunches in the 1990’s. His last visit was to attend the opening of the World Series Cricket Gallery in 2013. He also contributed an excellent filmed interview, currently on display.

The Bradman Foundation expresses its sincere condolences to the Walker Family and his many cricketing and footballing colleagues.

The life of Max Walker

by Rodney Cavalier

All of cricket is the poorer for the death of Max Walker. The tributes pouring in this day reveal a man regarded universally as a good bloke.

Often we will reflect on how precious to us is Neil Harvey, the last of the Invincibles. It does not do to look at the names of the 1953 Ashes squad and ponder how many remain from either side. Nor look at the toll on teams in the 1960s.

Max strikes home because he was always so effervescent on the field, indefatigable, the broadest of smiles – and because he is the same age as so many of us whose passion for this greatest of games was revived as new by the Chappell era.

My tribute below can be found on the Cricket Australia website. I pay tribute to Cricket Australia for committing itself to recognising those who wore the baggy green and the many others who have contributed to the character of the game.

After completing school in Hobart he moved to Melbourne in 1967 to undertake an architecture degree. Good in all sports Max saw his future in Australian Football. Enrolled at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, he turned out for the Melbourne Club. Training through the winter at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, summer provided cricket nets and solid practice at the same place. Finding his rhythm as a right-hand fast medium and useful bat, Max played grade for Melbourne Cricket Club. He had the measure of the batsmen.

Life was at full stretch. Graduating in architecture was his priority, his future career and livelihood. Football might provide useful earnings on the side for a decade. Cricket was his third string in a crowded life.

Football might have claimed Walker if he had not taken such pleasure in cricket and the company of cricketers. Pre-eminently a team man, devoted always to the wider cause, skippers knew they could rely on him when a game was poised. Underlying discipline mixed with good humour endeared him to all.

Although the position of his arms and upper body made him look like he was entangled in himself, his balance at the moment of delivery and control was outstanding. His nickname of “Tangles”, unlike so many cricket nicknames, required no explanation.

In February 1969 he made his first class debut for Victoria in the last game of the season in a match against Queensland at the Gabba, filling a vacancy occasioned by the absence of five Victorians on Test duty.

Opening the bowling with Alan (Froggy) Thomson he put in a solid performance with figures of 2-38 and 3-56. He was 13 not out when Victoria succumbed. His place in the side was not secure. Froggy and Alan Connolly were ranked ahead of him. Graham Watson, all-rounder, made Max’s fast medium seem surplus to requirements.

He was not selected for the season following and did not return until December 1970. Defeat in the Ashes of 1970-71 revealed deficiencies in the quick department. Dennis Lillee was just emerging. Throughout 1971-72 as the World XI toured, Walker had become a regular in the Victorian side. He was taking wickets in most innings, though not a five wicket haul. With the bat he was bagging a lot of ducks broken by scores in the 20s.

In 1972-73 Max moved out of the ruck. Over the season he captured 39 wickets at 21.38. At the Gabba in the first game he at last captured his five-for. Consistently good performances persuaded the selectors to experiment with Walker and Gary Gilmour in the Combined XI, a Test selection trial, against the touring Pakistan. His performance was again solid.

A solid performer was who the selectors were looking for. Selectors thought they had their stars: after the Ashes in England 1972 Australia believed that Lillee and Bob Massie were ensconced as the anvil of the fast attack for a generation. It did not work out that way.

Max Walker made his Test debut in the Second Test v Pakistan along with Jeff Thomson, lightning quick from NSW.

Walker was first change bowler after Lillee and Thomson. Again solid, nothing special, but five wickets in the match was sufficient to keep Walker in the side, a choice that was obvious after Thomson fell well short with no wickets and 110 runs as his return.

A comfortable victory and a series win might have caused Australia to drop a cog for the Third Test. Pakistan had the game won when it came onto the SCG for its second innings and just 158 to make. Walker was again first change. Pakistan was not permitted to settle in its run chase. Massie and Lillee took the first wickets, thereafter it was Walker in a superb spell who took 6-15. Australia was home by 52 runs.

The touring squad for the West Indies had been announced ahead of the Test. Walker had played in the knowledge the selectors had confidence in him. Selected as back up for the two champions, Walker became commander of the frontline. Massie lost form irredeemably and was to fade from cricket. Lillee sustained a crippling injury.

Australia was fine because it had Max Walker and Ian Chappell’s belief in Walker and Walker’s dutiful giving of all. Walker was magnificent. He was both spearhead of the Australian attack and its mainstay. 26 wickets fell to him at an average of only 12.73. Australia won the series without losing a Test. The bond between the Australian skipper and the unlikely hero was unbreakable.

The 1974-75 Ashes is remembered for the dangers posed to the English batsmen by the venom of Lillee and the bolts unleashed by Thomson with his sling action. The scoreline conceals how competitive England was until going under. Necessarily overshadowed in popular memory by the performances of Lillee and Thomson, in all six Tests Walker proved he was more than a bit player.

In the first England innings he took 4 wickets. (Lillee 2, Thomson 3.) He broke resistance with the wickets of Tony Greig and Alan Knott. He was solid, his characteristic since grade days when astute eyes saw a player who could go all the way. With the bat he achieved an average of 44.2 built around a string of not outs, no score below 17. Innings after innings proved crucial in the context of the final outcome.

In the sixth Test, with Thomson absent and Lillee injured early, the burden of the attack fell to Walker. The Ashes lost, England had their vengeance. They led by 355 with only four wickets in the their first and only innings when Walker broke through. In a superb spell, he surfed the over-confidence of the incoming to take 5-17 to finish the innings. His 8-143 was his best performance in first class and Test cricket.

England in 1975 and 1977 were not outstanding though he had his moments. When cricket endured its schism because of World Series, Walker was a certainty in any squad selected by Ian Chappell. In the internationals he was cast as 12th man. Rather than be idle, the architect who played two sports at the highest levels, took a camera to the matches and shot rolls of film by the score, including the riots in the West Indies.

His Test career was behind him. His moustache, prominent nose and infectious smile were a caricaturist’s delight. Show business beckoned. He was a natural, achieving success through wit and intelligence. Walker backed up a natural presence on stage with the ability to tell yarns built around sentences that ended.

Television is objectively cruel to features and voice but the cameras liked Max. He had become a celebrity with a commanding presence that made him a host of sports magazine programs when that format dominated television. He was not going to depend on his once status in cricket for his livelihood.

His way with words extended to writing. Three volumes of cricket memoirs flowed. He made a fortune by telling jokes and funny stories in books bearing titles like How to hypnotise chooks and How to kiss a crocodile.

People who had not seen Max play cricket were an ever growing part of his fan base. The darling of Bay 13 at the old MCG had become the speaker of choice at events far distant to cricket.

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