Australia cricket January 23, 2012

George Bailey: charm and larrikin in one genuine package

The first time I met George Bailey, I had this premonition that he would one day captain Australia. And so it has come to pass

Some things are meant to be. Some leaders are born that way. The first time I met George Bailey, I had this premonition that he would one day captain Australia. And so it has come to pass.

Bailey will break a long tradition in Australian cricket, captaining his country on international debut. Apart from in the very first Test that Australia played in the late 19th century, has there has never been another cricketer who has made his international debut as skipper?

Lee Germon captained in his first Test for New Zealand, but he had played an ODI before that. Naturally, any country playing their first ever international match, or their first match after a hiatus, will have a captain making his debut, but for an established team, can anyone think of another debutant skipper?

To George Bailey then - what do we know of him? Decent cricketer of course, not in the best form of his life but that can soon change in Twenty20 cricket; an excellent fielder (who isn't these days amongst Australian batsmen?) and clearly rated as an astute tactician. Many cricketers could lay claim to these qualities of course so George has no absolute monopoly in this regard. What struck me when I first met him as a young man attending the Centre of Excellence in Brisbane were his standout leadership qualities. I had never seen him hit a cricket ball at this point but something about the easy manners and friendly nature of this young man just stood out.

Decent cricketer? Well, clearly he was at the Centre of Excellence so that much was assumed, but it was the decency of his character that really shone through within the first few minutes of making his acquaintance.

Make no mistake: the lad was a rascal and a larrikin but in the old-fashioned sense of the word. In my role as Head of College at the accommodation facility where the cricketers were housed, there was mischief aplenty and George Bailey was more often than not at the very heart of it. But it was harmless stuff and his disarming smile and cheerful honesty ensured that most minor escapades remained exactly that; nothing to warrant much more than a quiet word, a wink and a nod.

As a fellow resident of a university campus village of more than 900 residents, male and female, George was the first one to breach defences and make friendships across the cricketer/student divide. His popularity was genuine rather than sinister or contrived, equally at ease with other cricketers as with the university undergraduate who had no interest in cricket whatsoever. His ego did not need cricket to sustain it. Such things stick in my memory, watching the way he interacted with people from different backgrounds and cultures. His leadership stood out even then, acting as a bridge between two groups of 'students' who sometimes didn't quite understand each others' talents.

His character was such that on the rare occasion when more serious mischiefs had to be investigated, I felt utterly confident that there was no need to look in the direction of chaps like Bailey, Adam Voges and Callum Ferguson. Perhaps not coincidentally, these gentlemen have all had leadership credentials attributed to them. Some qualities are just evident at an early age and stay with a man all his life. I suspect that if Bailey was not a cricketer of some note, he would be a luminary in some other sphere of activity.

Twenty20 cricket is probably a good fit for Australia's newest captain. He is enough of a gentleman to do justice to the prestige of the role, and yet his impish smile and twinkling eyes convey a sense of irreverence that befits the shortest form of the game. He will acquit himself admirably overseas and show the world what a true blue Aussie is really like, charm and larrikin in one genuine package. I haven't seen much of the lad since those days at the Centre of Excellence but I daresay not much has changed. In another era, Rudyard Kipling's famous poem, If, may well have been written about a boy like this: a cricketer for the old-timers, captaining a format of the game that is all about the young 'uns. He'll walk that fine line with easy grace.

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane