Bob Simpson – Returns from Retirement After 10 Years to Lead Australia

The calendar persists with its untiring part in the career of Bob Simpson in first-class cricket. The pattern began in 1952 and made him the second-youngest player for New South Wales, a week before he turned 17. It asserted itself through 1964, when in 14 Tests he totaled 1381 runs (a calendar year record since lifted by Vivian Richards to 1710 in 11 Tests).
Ten years after Simpson’s retirement in 1968, his second comeback was crowned by a Test series win against India on his 42nd birthday. Notifying his availability to tour the West Indies, he said he felt there was a need for him to complete the job of rebuilding the Australian team. He added: ‘The players have privately urged me to go.’ Robert Baddeley Simpson will end the tour as Australia’s oldest regular Test captain, until now Syd Gregory, 42, in England in 1912.
As for extending his comeback to England’s Tests next season, Bob’s outlook before each stage has been a non-committal `Let it roll along’ until decision time. New South Wales’ approaches for several years did not tempt him to come back until World Series Cricket’s rivalry created a challenging situation. An Adelaide meeting by Australian Cricket Board members Tim Caldwell, Sir Donald Bradman, and Phil Ridings (selection chairman) prompted a positive response. Having Simpson ready, willing, and able to remold a Test XI was the Board’s greatest slice of fortune since Jeff Thomson’s radio contract brought him back from the World Series camp.
The selectors made the unprecedented move of appointing Bob Simpson as captain for the whole series before a ball was bowled. In nine years since he retired for business reasons at 32, the 5ft 10in, 13-stone skipper of Western Suburbs had headed first-grade scoring in four seasons. He was widely regarded as NSW’s most consistent and fittest batsman. Even for a restless run-getter, Nature’s muscular marvel at 41, it took courage to undertake the steep step from grade games to five-day tests. As a good-luck charm, while batting, he wears a ring that his wife Meg gave him almost 20 years ago.
A season at Accrington in 1959 and two years in Perth contributed to batsmanship notable, especially for nimble certainty against spin bowling. Tightening his game, he discarded a long-handle 2 lb., 3 oz. bat for a heavier short-handle one to restrict his backswing. When he succeeded Richie Benaud as captain at 27 in 1964, Bob Simpson had yet to make a Test hundred. It came in his 52nd innings, 311 at Old Trafford, the highest score by any man captaining an international side and the longest innings against England.
In his comeback, he was firmly against reappearing as an opening batsman, his position in 39 of his last 46 Tests before retirement. It took five Tests against India to find a satisfactory opening pair. Two centuries against India helped bring him the most runs in the series, 539, and the top average, 53.
Coping with clever spinners brought more padding to his work. In stroke play, he is now more dependent on placing than power and on receiving a larger issue of amenable balls than when, at 31, he had whipped up 106 in a two-hour session against Queensland. Tenacity in Bob Simpson’s make-up once kept him batting for 3 1/2 hours on an empty stomach (except for anti-nausea doses) after an overnight illness in his 225 in an Adelaide Test.
His fortitude brought an equalizing win against Mike Smith’s English XI. A broken left little finger affected his grip in the last Test against India, yet he scored 100 and 51. The break occurred when he dropped a high catch at mid-off in the preceding test. The only reservations about Simpson’s batting concerned the adequacy of his technique against flying balls and its possible psychological effect on his players.
When career-long problems with bouncers recurred, he commented: ‘I’ve heard of batsmen who were said to like fast bowling but I never met one.’ Uneasy swaybacks from bouncers tended to draw fire, yet Bob Simpson could land in the West Indies, pointing to justifying 4670 runs in 57 Tests, an average of 49. The hostility of Andy Roberts, Colin Croft, and Joel Garner caused anxious weavings and anguished expressions, scarcely reassuring partners in a team up against the most formidable speed attack until the World Series Cricket contingent’s departure eased pressure in the third Test.
Others had changed the outlook on helmets since Bob’s previous captaincy there, when Charlie Griffith once gave him five bouncers in six balls. When Sydney fans air-freighted helmets to Trinidad, Simpson left them uncollected, as if wearing them would be unmanly. This time Graham Yallop and Gary Cosier wore helmets at the wicket and Gary Coiser at close-leg. Australia’s salvage at Bourda, Guyana, caused Simpson to envisage winning the series from behind.
As an ace slip fielder, he no doubt expected to hold more than six out of nine chances against India. His fame owes much to exceptional gifts of sight and touch. His reflexes are so quick that he can catch flies on the wing with either hand. Having batsmen hit catches firmly to him at close range made the most of these attributes. Innovations in his slip fielding include solving the problem of the chest area by letting the ball thud against him and hugging it there.
Bob Simpson passed 100 catches in many fewer Tests than such renowned catchers as Walter Hammond, Colin Cowdrey, Ian Chappell, and Sir Garry Sobers. No cash inducement to come back was held out beyond Test and Sheffield Shield fees, about $13,000, the West Indian tour rate of $6900, captain’s allowance, and a share in the sponsor’s prize money. He hired a TV publicist to join his wife in managing Bob Simpson Promotions Pty Ltd, which he estimated stood to lose $20,000 to $30,000 in his absence.
Sir Donald Bradman appeared in the TV feature “This Is Your Life to Thank Simpson” for his response to Australian cricket’s hour of need. Of Australians, only Bradman and Neil Harvey have made more runs and centuries than the 20,883 Simpson reached with his 60th hundred, 102 against Barbados. As captain, Bob Simpson carries on the Test-eve dinner meetings of players founded by Richie Benaud. In the dressing room, there is no perceptible generation gap, as might be implied by one pair of jockey-style underpants amid a set of colored briefs.
Bob Simpson’s approach emphasizes his doctrine that, through thorough-going fitness and application, a player can drill himself to succeed. In his words: ‘Runs are a habit, and if you get into the habit, you should be able to score them in grade, shields, or Tests.’ Risks taken in his policy of stealing singles to put pressure on the fielding side require his partners to be alert for sudden calls. Occasionally, risks are too perilous to be called calculated, and survival depends on shies failing to peg the stumps. Passing Ian Chappell’s captaincy in 30 Tests (15 wins), Simpson has now led Australia most times.
Bobby Simpson former Australian captain born February 3rd 1936 Copy
Bob Simpson returns from Retirement After 10 Years to Lead Australia
Source: Ray Robinson