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May 3, 2004
Wally Langdon, an early giant of West Australian cricket and one of the unluckiest batsmen never to play for Australia, has died in Perth at the age of 81.
A classy left-hander, Langdon was judged by the legendary Test opener Arthur Morris to possess "an ideal temperament for big cricket". He hailed from the gold-mining town of Boulder, and stockpiled his runs most effectively in the summer of 1952-53, when centuries against Queensland and the touring South Africans were not enough to win him Test selection.
WA fans, suspecting yet another eastern-states conspiracy, were miffed. Their sense of injustice rankled further when Langdon missed out on Lindsay Hassett's 1953 Ashes squad behind Graeme Hole, from South Australia, and the New South Welshman Jimmy de Courcy - "and Wally Langdon," his old team-mate Ken Meuleman noted last night, "was a long way better than Jimmy de Courcy."
Meuleman told The West Australian newspaper: "There is no question that had he played for Victoria or New South Wales he would have played Test cricket. If he had played today he would be the equal of Justin Langer or Damien Martyn."
Langdon's lack of baggy-green recognition did little to diminish his legend in WA. He was an integral member of their inaugural Sheffield Shield-winning side of 1947-48 when WA, to widespread bewilderment, pilfered the prize at their first attempt. Twenty years went by before they repeated the feat, in 1967-68 - and Langdon was again at the forefront, this time as coach.
A schoolteacher by profession, Langdon went to war in 1944, flying over Germany in a Lancaster Bomber. Returning home, he was 25 and considered an automatic selection when WA were at last granted Shield status. He starred against Don Bradman's 1948 Invincibles when they detoured to the WACA en route to England, hitting 112 - and so impressing The Don that he was invited to play in Bradman's testimonial match the following season.
Batting in front of around 60,000 people, hordes undreamed of by a young man from the WA bush, Langdon distinguished himself with 60 and 42. He went to India in 1949-50 as part of the Commonwealth team led by Jock Livingston, playing in two of the five unofficial Tests. In 1952-53 he was put in charge of the WA side, despite never having captained even his club team. Alan Edwards, another Langdon contemporary, described him last night as "a helluva fighter".
Despite his latish entry to first-class cricket, Langdon scored five hundreds for WA and averaged in the mid-thirties. A useful left-arm medium-pacer, he also played two seasons in England for Burnley in the Lancashire League. For more than a decade he commentated for ABC Radio, cementing his household status among Sandgropers. He cut a dapper and familiar figure around the WACA right up to his death.
It was Langdon who brought a young Barry Shepherd to the big smoke, luring him from the small country town of Donnybrook to play grade cricket in Perth. Shepherd eventually went on to become the first WA-born batsman to represent Australia. Of his own failure to achieve that mantle, Langdon did not like to grumble. But Anthony Barker, in his book The WACA: An Australian Cricket Success Story, wrote: "He was devoid enough of false modesty to believe that he was at least as good as one or two of the batsmen who toured in Hassett's Ashes-surrendering team of 1953."
Langdon had suffered from kidney problems in recent times, and passed away on Sunday night. He is survived by five members of WA's shock all-conquerors of '47-48.
Christian Ryan is the Australasian editor of Wisden Cricinfo.
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