Keith Miller

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The Independent Online

They say you should never meet your heroes; sometimes they're wrong, writes Graeme Wright [further to the obituary by David Frith, 12 October].

They say you should never meet your heroes; sometimes they're wrong, writes Graeme Wright [further to the obituary by David Frith, 12 October].

Sometimes you get a glimpse of the qualities that made them heroes, not just in their own time but for all time. And that's how it was with Keith Miller.

I never saw him bat or bowl, except on grainy newsreel film, but as a backyard batter and fast bowler I'd read books by and about him, and in my imagination he was larger than life. But life, and living it as he did, had caught up with him by the time I first met him in a hospitality box at Lord's in the 1980s. He looked suspiciously like the other old cricketers telling their stories about other times.

A mild-mannered man in his sixties, obviously not an old cricketer, was taken across to meet him. There was an exchange of names and the man, the bursar at a public school, said as Miller shook his hand, "I flew Mosquitoes in..." and he mentioned a squadron number. Miller dropped his hand and wrapped an arm around the man's shoulder. "These guys'll talk about cricket all day," he said. "We're going to have a drink."

I mentioned the incident to Miller a few years ago and was fixed with a look you wouldn't want from 22 yards, let alone a few feet. "Yes," he said with a rasp, for he was frail by now, "he'd have known what life was about."

So did Miller. Wartime, flying Mosquitoes over German- occupied Europe, shaped him early on. He made mates easily and many of those mates died. Afterwards, whether it was batting and bowling, horses or Haydn, women and wine, Keith Ross Miller embraced life wholly but always chivalrously and with respect. He didn't abuse his gifts, and in postwar cricket he gave of them gloriously. He was always the charmer, receiving in return the crowd's warmth. Neville Cardus wrote that he was "a young eagle among crows and daws" - and this when his contemporaries were such giants as Bradman and Lindwall, Hutton, Edrich and Compton, each capable of filling a ground on his own.

When, in 1953, Miller achieved the Test double of 2,000 runs and 100 wickets, only one man, Wilfred Rhodes, had done so before him. That's knowing you're on the mountain. But, like Everest, the slopes are more easily scaled these days. As many as 19 players claim that mark today, not all of whom you'd automatically mark as a bona fide all-rounder. Just the other day Shane Warne topped the wicket-taking table with his 533rd Test wicket, yet he also has 2,362 runs to his name. OK, he has played twice as many Tests as Miller, and it would be a brave man who compared him as an all-rounder. But he has the stats and the status: crowd-pleaser, match-winner, hero.

Hero? Hero for his time, maybe: a public image, and sometime johnny rotten. To borrow from Thomas Carlyle, "the hero can be what you will, according to the kind of world he finds himself born into". Miller, born after one world war, emerged from the second knowing that life was a privilege. And Warne? As the French lady said, "No man is a hero to his valet", and to some extent we have clothed Warne according to our times.

We hailed him as the saviour of spin bowling, the larrikin with the leggie who breathed fresh life into cricket. Hanging on salvation's coat-tails came the bung from the bookie that earned a fine, the lewd phone calls that cost him Australia's vice-captaincy, and the one-year ban after failing a drugs test. Not so much a hero, mate, as a headline for our times. Give me the six-hitting, bumper-bowling Mosquito pilot any day.