Massie retraces steps of cricket history

Anniversary waltz through the England batting: Memories of a magical Test at Lord's
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Whole weeks have passed when not a single person from anywhere in the world has asked Bob Massie about his match. But they have been neither often nor many. Massie's performance was the sort that comes along once a generation, if the generation gets lucky, and its memory is utterly imperishable.

It will be a quarter of a century next week since he appeared at Lord's for his first appearance for Australia in a Test match and took 16 wickets, eight in each innings, for 137 runs. Australia won by eight wickets. Only two bowlers in history, Sydney Barnes in 1913 and Jim Laker in 1956, have taken more wickets in a Test. Only one has had a better return on debut, the Indian leg-spinner Narendra Hirwani who, in 1987, also took 16 wickets for one run fewer.

But this was at Lord's, the greatest ground in the world, the headquarters of the game. For four days, Massie was as daunted by this as he would have been by bowling in his back yard back home in Perth. The ball swung both ways both prodigiously and late and anybody who was good enough to get a touch was usually making the long walk back through the Long Room.

"Everything that could have gone right did," Massie said last week, when asked to reflect once more on the historic exhibition, which lent a new dimension to the proposition of any sportsman swinging a contest.

"Dennis Lillee was bowling much of the time at the other end and it could have been him. It was humid for a lot of the time and I was bowling pretty well. I'd spent three years playing in Scotland so I knew a little about softer pitches.

"The occasion didn't get to me that much. Obviously, the fact that it was at Lord's was a huge thing but it didn't feel like my debut because I'd played for Australia against a World XI the previous winter. In my first game Gary Sobers got 254 while I took 1 for 90-odd but in my second I took 7 for 76. So I wasn't exactly a complete stranger to international cricket."

Two of his unprecedented haul - and English mutterings about the use of lip salve on the ball never were substantiated - gave Massie particular pleasure. The wicket of Geoff Boycott was as valued then as it was throughout most of the Yorkshire opening batsman's career and Massie bowled him in England's first innings. "It wasn't a very good ball but it got through when he played across the line;" a point about which Boycott may not like to be reminded. "Then I also got Ray Illingworth, the captain and a tough player I greatly admired. He was digging in when I had him lbw with an inswinger."

Only Brian Luckhurst eluded him in both innings and he fell cheaply to Lillee. As Luckhurst recounted last week, it was an unreal sort of match.

"We didn't really have time to think about what was going on at the time. He was coming over and round the wicket and we just knew it was one of those unfortunate days when we all nicked it. I always say that it was Lillee who was a handful for me; Massie was no problem."

M J K Smith was the only England player to score 30 or more in each innings and Massie got him both times. "I remember he played really well, really straight, getting behind everything, concentrating," Massie said. Smith, having been recalled at 38, was to play only one more Test. Massie, who seemed to have a golden career at his feet, played just five more times for Australia.

"I went on the tour of West Indies the following winter and Lillee had back trouble. I tried to change action to bowl a bit quicker on their different pitches but it didn't quite work. When I reverted I found I couldn't bowl the outswinger anymore. It never came back." By 1975 he was out of the game. He already had a job with the Commonwealth Bank in Perth and, now 50, has just celebrated his 25th anniversary there.

It is another quarter of a century milestone - and it has never been a millstone for this modest man - about which he will be reminded again and again this week. Massie will be at Lord's on Thursday, somewhere at the Nursery End, wearing a grey suit, slightly wider of girth now. You may not recognise him but if the ball starts veering away ridiculously late and dangerously you know his outswinger has returned.