If the sole criterion of a genuine all-rounder were glamour, Keith Miller might have come out number one. He did the things that make cricket most interesting to the masses, and he bowled fast. His ability to hit the ball from huge distances held stunning reflex catches. To add to the charm, he also possesses Hollywood looks and an unquenchable sense of fun.
Keith Miller was born on November 28, 1919, in Sunshine, Melbourne, Victoria. He was called the “Golden Boy of Cricket” and nicknamed “Nugget”. Having survived Second World War service as a fighter pilot of the Royal Australian Air Force, a media personality, and a raconteur He wasn’t prepared to take anything too seriously. That only served to imbue his cricket with even more zest.
Alan Davidson is a fine all-rounder in his own right and is among a generation of Australian players who idolized Miller. He rated him along with Garry Sobers as the best all-rounder who ever lived, and he is certainly Australia’s best. He was a powerful striker batsman, varying his bowling speed to the mystified batsman.
Keith Ross Miller could turn a match with an impromptu passage of star-sprinkled play. Such as when he bowled out South Australia for 27 after arriving late at the ground as the players were taking the field. He took seven for 12. The bare statistics of the game, though, meant little to him. And he scarcely did justice to his natural talents, but his figures were nevertheless hugely impressive.
Keith Miller was a successful Australian Rules footballer, playing 50 games for St Kilda and scoring eight goals in one game against North Melbourne in 1941. His father was a local cricketer and advised their children to play with classical techniques and solid defense.
Keith Miller was the second all-rounder after Wilfred Rhodes to complete the Test double of 2,000 runs and 100 wickets. It was a rare feat, so much harder to do in those days when there was less Test cricket available to the player. Also, the difference between his batting average (36.97) and bowling average (22.97) was significantly in credit, to an extent matched only by Garry Sobers, Jacques Kallis, and Imran Khan.
Miller’s fast-bowling partnership with Ray Lindwall ranks among the game’s most iconic. They were the scourge of England’s batsmen in the immediate postwar period. On their credit, there were 34 wickets between them in 1947–48, another 40 in 1948, and 32 in 1950–51. Therefore, all three series were emphatically won by Australia. Although England then won the next three series, the two of them remained potent weapons.
England’s legendary batsman, Denis Compton, said their bowling at Lord’s in 1953 was the fastest he faced. They were said to be still very quick when Australia toured the Caribbean in 1955. Miller had left England in 1953 with predictions that he was finished as a fast bowler ringing in his ears. But he enjoyed his biggest haul of 21 wickets.
Further, when he returned for his final tour of England in 1956, there were a few other highlights for the Australians, as Jim Laker made fools of them, no one more so than Miller himself (he was out to Laker six times). Keith Miller was 37 on the final tour of England; he and Lindwall pulled a sensational victory at Lord’s in the 2nd Test match. Miller took responsibility in the absence of Pat Crawford, burdening the bowling attack with 34.1 overs in the first inning and 36 overs in the second inning. And he took five wickets in both innings to give a great victory to Australia.
Moreover, the fielding sides were entitled to a new ball much earlier in those days. Amazingly, after just 55 overs in 1948, which only played into the hands of this formidable pairing, they induced just as much trepidation on other sides, especially Miller. Who stood more upright in his action than Ray Lindwall and could make the ball lift alarmingly?
Keith Miller was not averse to making liberal use of the short ball and attracted plenty of criticism as a result. He was once roundly booed by the Nottingham crowd for subjecting Len Hutton to one such barrage. The following day, he knocked Denis Compton, a kindred spirit and good friend, back onto his stumps to end a fighting inning of 184. However, he possessed charm enough to ensure that the hostility did not last.
His bowling, in any case, was not unrelentingly hostile. He would vary the searing pace with an assortment of leg breaks, off-breaks, or googlies. Which broke the boredom and often caught an unwitting batsman. Miller was a substantial batsman, good enough to play most of his Test innings at numbers 3, 4, or 5, higher than most genuine all-rounders would be capable of doing.
He scored four of his seven hundred against the West Indies, who were an emergent force in the early 1950s. And whose tour of Australia in 1951–52 was given world championship billing? Miller significantly contributed 362 runs and 20 wickets to that series.
Therefore, he came up with great success in the 1955 series by scoring 439 runs and 20 wickets in the Caribbean. Perhaps his finest innings was the century he scored at Lord’s in 1953. That created the opportunity for an Australian win so famously thwarted by Willie Watson and Trevor Bailey on the last day.
England ultimately won that series. But English satisfaction in the discovery of a fast bowler of their own in Fred Trueman was tempered by the mauling Trueman received at Miller’s hands in the final match of the tour. Keith Miller scored 262 in a day. Miller, who loved to gamble on the horses and life in general. He was not inclined to take the safe course, and in political terms, this might have cost him dear.
He was never made Australia captain, even though he successfully led New South Wales. He was a natural leader of men. and was the most obvious to take over from Lindsay Hassett in 1953. For this, Don Bradmanwas widely held to be responsible, and Miller certainly didn’t share ‘Don’s ruthlessly unsentimental approach to playing the game.
Don Bradman was reportedly unimpressed by Miller’s decision to give his wicket away from the first ball during the Australian massacre of Essex’s bowling at Southend in 1948, when they racked up 721 in a day. Shortly after the tour, Miller bowled bouncers at the great man during Bradman’s testimonial match.
Bradman was also reckoned to have used his influence as an Australian board member to expedite Miller’s omission from a tour of South Africa. Hence, an injury to another player meant that in the end, Miller did go (fully justifying his presence with 246 runs and 17 wickets in the Tests).
All this only added to the impression of Miller as a cricketing rebel. The shiniest of loose cannons, Miller made a mark in state cricket before the outbreak of war; he scored 181 for Victoria against Tasmania on his debut at the age of 18 in Melbourne in 1937–38. But he was effectively denied a start to his cricketing career proper until the age of 25.
He kept his cricket going between sorties during the war, though, and was perhaps the outstanding star of the Australian Services side. That entertained crowds in England and India in 1945. In one match at Lord’s, he hit a six onto the top tier of the pavilion. The brand of cricket he played in the ‘Victory Tests’ against England was the brand he stuck to, and it won him the hearts of millions.
Overall, Keith Miller played 55 Tests for Australia and scored 2,958 runs at an average of 36.97, with seven hundred and thirteen fifties, with the best of 147 and 38 catches. He was a fine acrobatic slip fielder. Miller scored three centuries against England and four against the powerful West Indies side. In the bowling department, he took 170 wickets at 22.97, with a career-best 7 for 60 among his seven five wicket hauls and one time 10 wickets in a match.
In first-class cricket, he played 226 matches and scored 14,183 runs at 48.90, with the best of 281*, including 41 hundred, 63 fifties, and 136 catches. He sent down 28070 balls in 326 innings and took 497 wickets at 22.30 with the best of 7 for 12, including 16 times five wickets and one time ten wickets in a match.
In the 1950s, West Indies captain John Goddard said, “Give us Keith Miller and we would beat the world”. Indeed, that was huge applause for him. After retirement, he was a key public figure, having an affair with Princess Margaret. He was a columnist and journalist for the Daily Express. He had suffered three hip operations, cancer, and a stroke, which badly affected his health. His records would have been more impressive if the Second World War hadn’t damaged his prime time.
Keith Ross Miller died on October 11, 2004, at Mornington Peninsula, Melbourne, Victoria, at the age of 84. More than 1,000 mourners said farewell to the Australian finest all-rounder at St. Paul Cathedral. Keith Miller’s name will live if cricket exists. The ladies of their generation loved him; even every man wanted to be like him.
Some of the memorable awards!
1954: Wisden Cricketer of the Year
1956: Awarded the MBE in the Year
1996: Included in the Australian Cricket Hall of Fame