Australia news November 16, 2014

Australia's Ian Craig dies aged 79

Ian Craig, Australia's youngest Test cricketer and captain, has died aged 79 in Sydney after battling cancer.

More than 47,000 spectators were present at the MCG in February 1953 to see a 17-year-old Craig debut against a South Africa touring side he had compiled 213 against for New South Wales the previous month.

That double, and a first-Test return of 53 and 47 drew headlines trumpeting a "New Bradman". However Craig would understandably struggle to live up to such expectations, and would ultimately be regarded most fondly as a leader mature beyond his years when leading Australia to South Africa in 1957-58, and also as a popular and successful captain of New South Wales.

Craig had been only 16 when he first appeared for the Blues, impressing with a neat technique that favoured onside strokes and a diminutive but lithe presence in the field. He made 91 against South Australia on his Sheffield Shield debut, and when he did the double against Jack Cheetham's South Africans at the SCG the following summer was chosen to run drinks in Adelaide and play in Melbourne.

Despite a successful debut, Craig found the going harder on the 1953 England tour, where he did not play a Test and could manage a best score of 71 not out in 27 innings - never again would he match the run-making of 1952-53, though he would fare slightly better in England in 1956, a stubborn barrier to the otherwise irresistible spin of Jim Laker at Old Trafford.

Craig was six years a first-class cricketer but still only 22 when his highly regarded stewardship of NSW led to appointment to lead the touring Australians in New Zealand and South Africa. He thus became not only the youngest player but also youngest captain for both his state and his country, a precocious record unmatched elsewhere.

Australia had not been a happy side for some years when Craig led them, but his maturity and sincerity allowed him to establish strong relationships with more senior players in the squad. In an era of skeleton support staff, Craig even managed to run the tour without the assistance of a team manager for two weeks, after the incumbent suffered a heart attack.

Aided by the incisive efforts of Richie Benaud and Alan Davidson, Craig's team returned home unbeaten. Unfortunately for Craig, the contraction of hepatitis prevented him from maintaining his place in the team's resurgence, the captaincy passing to Benaud for a 4-0 hiding of England in 1958-59 that owed much to Craig's earlier groundwork. In 48 first-class matches as a captain, he lost only twice.

Unable to replicate the scoring of his teenage years, Craig did not play another Test, and retired in 1962 aged only 26 - though he continued to play grade cricket and even faced a teenaged Jeff Thomson in his final season. He found success in business, eventually retiring as the managing director of the Australian subsidiary of the pharmaceutical giant Boots, while also serving ably on the boards of the SCG Trust and Bradman Foundation.

The Cricket Australia chairman Wally Edwards offered the following tribute to Craig. "We were very sad to learn of Ian's passing and on behalf of Cricket Australia, I extend our deepest sympathies to his family, friends and former teammates at this difficult time," Edwards said. "Ian earned a very special place in the proud history of our game as the youngest Australian to make a first-class double century, gain Test selection and captain his country.

"Beyond those remarkable achievements I will always remember him as a true gentleman. I thoroughly enjoyed his company and views on the game over many years. He will be sadly missed and will forever be remembered as one of the elite few to have captained his country in Test cricket."

John Warn, the NSW chairman, also spoke warmly of the former state captain. "Ian Craig was a childhood hero to many after becoming the youngest Australian to play for his state and county," he said. "He retained a great passion for the game long after retiring from first class cricket at the age of just 26, giving strong service as a board member of the Sydney Cricket Ground Trust and the Bradman Foundation.

"A peerless captain for NSW, he was fondly regarded by his former team mates and all those who knew him. Ian was a warm, gentle and modest man who will be greatly missed."

Craig is survived by his wife Ross and their children Andrew, Jonathan and Alex.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig

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