Bob Massie

CRICKETER OF THE YEAR 1973

Bob Massie

It needed no crystal ball to deduce that the greatest cricket match in Bob Massie's life was the Lord's Test in 1972 when his own personal contribution of 16 wickets gave Australia a magnificent victory and squared the series at that point. It was a doubly pleasant experience for Massie, for it was his first Test match and only Jim Laker and the great S.F. Barnes had ever taken more wickets in a Test against any country. Two or three years before, he had been rejected by Northamptonshire after he had been offered a trial at a time when he was playing as a professional in the Scottish League with Kilmarnock. Who knows? Had Northamptonshire recognised the talent in Massie and taken him on a three-year contract, Australia might well have been two down after that Lord's Test. Certainly it was an extraordinary match in what turned out later to be one of the best Test series ever played between England and Australia.

Massie is remarkably similar in technique and bowling action to that very fine Western Australian of the 1950's Ray Strauss, who turned in some splendid performances for his State in the Sheffield Shield and against touring sides. Strauss's first match for Western Australia was against South Africa in Perth in 1953, when he took seven for 75 in the second innings against the Springboks. He, too, was a swing bowler, who, additionally, was able to move the ball either way off the pitch and, at a distance, he must have had some influence on Bob Massie in the late 1950's.

In the Massie family, Christian names are the vogue - Bob's father is Arnold Joseph George William Massie. A Perth chiropodist, he and his wife Barbara called their son born on April 14, 1947, ROBERT ARNOLD LOCKYER MASSIE. The younger Massie began playing cricket when he was ten at the Bedford Park Youth Club, when he was attending the Hill Crest Primary School. Later he was to go to Mount Lawley Senior High School in the years from 1959 to1963 and he joined Bassendean-Bayswater as his first step into Western Australian club cricket. To his team mates he is known as "Fergie", a shortening of Massey-Ferguson, the tractor people, and the "Fergie" comes from the second part of the name - all very complicated but it passes the time in the dressing-room!

Massie rolled over the England batsmen in that Lord's Test match almost as though he was using a tractor rather than a sphere of hard red leather. Although that game rates definitely as the most memorable match in which he has ever played - his first Test - he doesn't list it as necessarily his best bowling. Rather he inclines to the game between Australia and the Rest of the World in Sydney in the 1971-72 season, when he believes he got himself a trip to England by taking seven for 76 in 20.6 overs. It was just prior to this that Gary Sobers had played his astonishing innings of 254 in the third international in Melbourne, a match in which Dennis Lillee took eight wickets and Massie himself took three. He believes that it was important that he came back in the next fixture to grab those seven wickets, one of which was Sobers', dismissed by a perfectly pitched offcutter that moved away from the left-hander.

Most pictures of Bob Massie in action show him with his index and second finger behind the ball in delivery, emphasising that, for much of the time, he is technically doing the right things as regards swing bowling. But, like Dennis Lillee, his Western Australian and Australian bowling partner, Massie pays full tribute to the experience he gained in English conditions, which he believes helped him to any success he had on the 1972 tour. "There's no question that, for my style of bowling in England, line and length is the absolute key. I found when I got over there against the top class players that, as soon as you drop the ball anywhere near short of a good length, they put it away either through the cover point area or tuck it away off their pads. I think that is the main thing I learned from the tour, you have to select a spot on the pitch where you want the ball to land and aim at it constantly.

My time with Kilmarnock helped me enormously to adjust to English conditions on the Australian tour and it could hardly have been better experience than to play on the soft wickets in the Scottish League".

Only two bowlers on the 1972 tour of England bowled over 400 overs, Lillee and Mallett, and Massie bowled 382 in all first-class matches, reaching his 50th wicket at the end of the tour. In Tests he took 23 wickets at an average of 17, twice taking five in an innings and once ten in a match - those figures relate to the extraordinary performance at Lord's.

Cricket followers should keep Massie's Lord's performance in perspective, however, and not expect too much too soon from him. He made his debut for Western Australia against South Australia in 1965-66 when M.J.K. Smith's team was in Australia, and it took him some time to gain the maturity necessary to his bowling to become a medium pacer for his country. In his debut he made a duck in the first innings for Australia and took no wickets in either innings at a total cost of 81 runs off only 16 overs. It wasn't what you would call an outstanding start to a career and it didn't preface the taking of 16 wickets in his first Test match. Nor did he play again for Western Australia that year and, with Kilmarnock intervening, it wasn't until the State side went on its Eastern tour in 1969 that Massie regained his place. He started off well there by taking two for 34 and two for 41 in the match, including amongst his victims the opening batsman Galloway, as well as the experienced South Australian captain, Les Favell.

A good performance against Queensland in Perth followed this match but, in that 1969-70 Australian season, he was not even able to get into the Australian averages, where the qualification was only 15 wickets. When M.C.C. played Western Australia, prior to the Second Test at Perth in 1970, Massie failed to take a wicket in that match and, with McKenzie back on the scene and Lillee bowling well, his opportunities were again restricted. He was fortunate enough to miss the match where Barry Richards made his 356, but, when given his opportunity in the following month against Queensland on the lively Perth pitch, he made no mistake. Four for 33 from 15 overs and four for 62 from 22 overs, plus a Western Australian win by eight wickets, ensured that Massie would be able to keep his name in front of his State selectors, certainly when some of the more important members of the side were on Test duty.

Australian selectors are generally very astute people and, with Dennis Lillee bowling extremely well in this Australian season, it was interesting, and perhaps surprising, to hear on the grapevine that the three men who would be looking to the future requirements of Australia's pace bowling department also had their eyes on this young medium pacer from Western Australia. He did nothing really sensational at the start of the 1971-72 Australian season but he did enough to give the selectors an opportunity to play him in the Melbourne match against the Rest of the World and then came the success in the following contest in Sydney.

Success, in fact, has come very quickly for Bob Massie, and it would be unwise, apart from applauding, to pay too much attention to his one sensational performance in that Lord's Test. He is basically a good young bowler, and one who will get better and better as he gains in experience, and the most important part of his tour of England was not that he took 16 wickets in a Test but that he fulfilled the selectors' hopes in that he improved steadily and went back to Australia a better bowler. He knows quite well that there is lot of hard "slog" ahead of him but he is a very hard worker and a deep thinker on bowling. His idea of bowling round the wicket to the England batsmen in the Lord's Test was devised at Old Trafford where, for hours each day, he bowled in that style to his team mate Ross Edwards in the nets at the back of the ground.

It could well be that Massie needs the experience of another tour to the West Indies where line and length will play such a big part in his bowling and it will not be surprising if he is not really at his peak until the England side comes to Australia on the next occasion. - RB

© John Wisden & Co
 
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