Miller, 'invincible' who defied Messerschmitts, dies in Melbourne at 84

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The Independent Online

Keith Miller, who died yesterday in Melbourne at the age of 84, was the most charismatic Australian cricketer of his generation, with film-star looks and talent to envy. He played the game in the manner it was intended to be played and was as renowned for his bonhomie off the field as his swashbuckling performances on it.

Keith Miller, who died yesterday in Melbourne at the age of 84, was the most charismatic Australian cricketer of his generation, with film-star looks and talent to envy. He played the game in the manner it was intended to be played and was as renowned for his bonhomie off the field as his swashbuckling performances on it.

When I first met him in the mid-Nineties at Sir Paul Getty's cricket ground in Oxfordshire his good looks had been faded by the harsh Australian sun but the mischievous sparkle in his eye remained, especially when a glamorous woman walked by.

Getty loved having the former all-rounder present and paid for him to visit England each summer. The pair used to sit in front of the thatched roof pavilion at Wormsley exchanging stories, laughing and watching the cricket.

Miller had plenty to talk about and his approach to cricket, as well as life, was shaped during the Second World War, when he flew fighter planes over Britain for the Royal Australian Air Force. Having come through such a terrifying experience it is easy to understand why he felt there was more to life than cricket. Indeed, when asked to compare the pressures of playing cricket with the war, he said: "Pressure, I'll tell you what pressure is. Pressure is a Messerschmitt up your arse, playing is not."

Miller may have enjoyed life to the full off the field, but during the hours of play he was a fiercely competitive and highly talented cricketer. The right-handed batsman and fast bowler was born in Sunshine, Melbourne. He made his first-class debut, before becoming a pilot, in 1937 and showed his ability by scoring 181 for Victoria against Tasmania. After the war he returned to cricket and went on to represent Australia with distinction on 55 occasions between 1946 and 1956.

As a batsman Miller's aggressive style changed the course of many a match. It brought him 2,958 runs at an average of 36.98. But it was his new ball partnership with Ray Lindwall that he will be remembered for most. The pair made their Test debuts in the same match against New Zealand in Wellington and went on to torment batsmen from all over the world.

Don Bradman, the Australian captain, saw Miller more as a great natural bowler than a batsman and used him to spearhead his team's attack - along with Lindwall - in the team known as 'the Invincibles' against England in 1948. Miller took only 13 wickets in the series but the plan worked - Australia won the series 4-0. He returned to England in 1953 and again in 1956, when he claimed his only 10-wicket haul in Test cricket. With Lindwall injured, Miller took 10 for 152 during Australia's 185-run victory over England at Lord's.

Miller's bowling action was a model of co-ordination and his arm was classically high. He enjoyed bowling bouncers and if the crowd jeered he doubled the ration. His attitude did not always warm him to Bradman. On his Ashes debut, in 1946-47, Miller refused to follow his captain's instructions to bowl bouncers at England's Bill Edrich. "I'd just fought a war with this bloke," he said. "I wasn't going to knock his head off."

Bill Brown, Australia's oldest living cricketer, captained Miller on his Test debut. "He was the finest all-rounder I came into contact with," the 92-year-old said. "He could bat, bowl, field and he could fly an airplane."

Bob Merriman, the chairman of Cricket Australia, was also full of praise. "Keith was a genuine legend," he said. "His dashing approach helped cricket regain its place in the public affection after the dark years of Second World War.

"But more important, he understood that the game, great as it is, is just a game, and he played it that way. Australian cricket mourns the loss of one of its brightest sons."

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