LINDSAY HASSETT was an Australian cricketer beloved by cricket followers all over the world. He was a cartoonist's delight with his deadpan features and lack of height, but his dry wit was what appealed to all within earshot, and his batsmanship was recognised as being of a very high calibre, from the dashing days at Geelong College right through to the careworn responsibility that cloaked him as captain in England in 1953, when it was his misfortune to relinquish the Ashes after Australia had held them since 1934. He was now 40, and had held the reins for four years since Sir Donald Bradman's retirement. The powerful 1948 combination was slowly breaking up, and there was little that Hassett could do about it.
England might have sealed victory in Coronation year somewhat earlier had Hassett not moved up the order, scoring fighting centuries in the first two (drawn) Tests, at Trent Bridge and Lord's, in the latter as opener. In this, his final series he topped Australia's batting, just ahead of Neil Harvey and Arthur Morris. He further endeared himself to English cricket- lovers with a short speech of farewell from the Oval balcony, though the wall-clock wrecked in collision with an empty champagne bottle in the dressing-room festivities some time later remained a diplomatic secret for some years.
One of nine children, the diminutive Hassett was only 17 when he took 147 off the West Indian attack when the 1930-31 tourists played a Country XI at Geelong. Joining South Melbourne, a club which has produced six Australian Test captains, he first played for Victoria at 19. Seven consecutive half-centuries in 1936-37 set him up for selection for the 1938 English tour, and his 33 in the Leeds Test secured the match and the Ashes. Ever the prankster, he planted a rain-sodden stray goat in a teammate's hotel room during the Derbyshire match.
Ten years later, having served in Australia's Ack-Ack Regiment in the Middle East and captained the Services cricket team in England and India, Hassett was a key member of Bradman's formidable 1948 team which remained unbeaten in England. As vice-captain, Hassett's 1,563 tour runs (at an average of 74.42) included seven centuries, the biggest being 200 not out at Lord's against Gentlemen of England. He scored 137 in the opening Test, at Trent Bridge, and is remembered for dropping two boundary catches at Old Trafford, covering his embarrassment by borrowing a policeman's helmet in preparation for another possible catch. When bowled by Norman Yardley first ball in the Lord's Test, he marched back into the dressing-room to find the score still deuce in the same game in the Falkenburg- Bromwich men's singles final at Wimbledon.
Hassett's intelligent technique brought a profusion of runs during his long career. His chopped late-cut was a marvel, as was his calm, swivelled hook against the short stuff of bowlers who were always towering above him. He mastered - and teased - the best bowler of his era, Bill O'Reilly, lofting him straight. He scored 122 in each innings in an interstate match at Sydney in January 1940, causing his fellow 'Irishman' to explode: 'The little bastard's not even good-looking]'
Having led Australia in South Africa, at home against England in a memorable series against 'John Bull' Freddie Brown's team in 1950-51, equally successfully against West Indies and in a drawn series against South Africa in the seasons following, Hassett embarked on that final mission to England in 1953, conceding finally to Len Hutton's team entirely without bitterness. Thereafter he dabbled in writing and broadcasting, eventually to retire to the New South Wales coast to indulge his passions of fishing, gardening and golf.
If one tale is to typify him, while dining in a Park Lane hotel during the 1953 tour, he had a dish spilt over his jacket. Handing it to the head waiter for cleaning, he then took off his trousers: 'These could do with a clean and press too,' he said in his unexpectedly deep voice, resuming his seat in shirt, tie and underpants.
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