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Vol. XXIX No. 19, January 15-31, 2020

When Keith Miller Played at Chepauk

by Partab Ramchand

Page 8-1Keith Miller – the dynamic

Before Garfield Sobers took over the title in the sixties, it was Keith Ross Miller who was acknowledged as the greatest all rounder of all time. With an enviable record of 2,958 runs with seven centuries at an average of 36.97 and 170 wickets at 22.97 apiece with seven five wicket hauls and one ten wicket haul in 55 Tests the sobriquet certainly fitted the Australian. The finest series of his Test career which stretched from 1946 to 1956 was the one in the West Indies in 1955 when he got three hundreds in the five Tests besides picking up 20 wickets. Only Sobers has notched up a similar feat.

As Richie Benaud said in his tribute when Miller passed away in 2004 “Miller was a one-off cricketer. They don’t come like him anymore.” When it came to changing the course of a match in about half an hour by scoring a breezy 50 or taking three quick wickets – the hallmark of the dynamic all rounder – Miller had few peers.

So much for facts and figures. Now to the man himself. Has cricket seen a more dynamic or charismatic personality who had a way with the crowds? Tall, handsome with a generous lock of thick black hair that used to cover part of his eye after he had delivered his thunderbolts and which he would put back into place with an imperious flick of his forefinger Miller was an engaging, gregarious personality who loved the good things of life. Wisden in its tribute when he passed away noted: “Little wonder women wanted to be with him and men wanted to be him.”

Syed Mushtaq Ali himself a handsome personality with a swashbuckling game to match and with an inimitable hold over the crowds wrote highly of Miller’s multi faceted personality in his autobiography Cricket Delightful. The two played against each other during the visit of the Australian Services team to India in 1945 and Mushtaq notes: “The match was memorable for me since here I first met Keith Miller and took a fancy for him immediately.

His cricket, his personality, his gait, his stance, his run up, his throw and release of the ball and his beaming face – all had tremendous appeal. Later we became good friends and he remains one of my favourite cricketers.” Miller in fact wrote the foreword to the book that was released in 1967.

Cricket fans in Madras were fortunate to see Miller in action in two matches towards the end of the tour – against South Zone and in the third and final ‘Test’. Miller did not set Chepauk afire in either game. In the first match he was out for 0 and 8 and picked up one for eight and three for 19 and in the unofficial ‘Test’ which India won by six wickets he was out for 2 and 7 and had figures of two for 60 and no wicket for 11. And cricket fans in India were unlucky in that they just missed seeing Miller in action in an official Test.

Arriving in the sub continent following their tour of England in 1956 the Australians played a one-off Test against Pakistan in Karachi which Miller played. It proved to be his last Test. Two days after the match ended the Australians were playing the first Test of the 1956-57 series against India in Madras. But Miller was missing from the line-up having already announced his retirement.

Old timers who had the good fortune of seeing Miller at Chepauk even if for a very short time often recalled for years with a glint in their eye their association with the debonair personality who bestrode the cricketing stage like a colossus for a decade. The handsome tributes paid to him on his death in 2004 brought out both the great sportsman and the colourful character.

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