'Invincible' bowler Johnston dies at 85
Bill Johnston, the versatile left-arm fast-medium bowler who was a key member of Australia's 1948 Invincibles squad, has died in Sydney at the age of 85. Johnston's death means there are now five surviving players from that touring party: Arthur Morris, Neil Harvey, Sam Loxton, Bill Brown and Ron Hamence.
Johnston was an often under-rated member of the Australian side in the decade after World War II, playing 40 Tests and taking 160 wickets at 23.91 until a knee injury forced his retirement. He was one of the best performers on the 1948 tour and he equalled Ray Lindwall as Australia's top wicket-taker in the Tests, with 27 victims at 23.33.
His efforts earned him a Wisden Cricketer of the Year title in 1949 and the Almanack reported that "no Australian made a greater personal contribution to the playing success of the 1948 side" than Johnston. Across the whole tour, he collected 102 wickets at 16.8 and he pounded down 84 overs in the first Test at Trent Bridge for match figures of 9 for 183.
Prior to the war Johnston was a slow-medium and spin bowler but he developed his quicker pace and proved a dangerous ally to Lindwall and Keith Miller. His Victorian and Australian team-mate, Ian Johnson, once wrote of Johnston: "He was not quite as fast [as Lindwall and Miller] but fast enough and he had the ability to make a bumper fly from a really awkward length".
However, Johnston still sometimes reverted to slower bowling and his finger-spin remained useful. When he claimed his 100th Test victim, the four years it took him to achieve the mark was a record. He was an important part of a successful side, and Australia won 25 of the 40 Tests he played.
Johnston, who was born at Beeac in country Victoria in 1922, toured South Africa, England and West Indies in a Test career that lasted until 1954-55. His debut was in the home series against India in 1947-48, and he wasted no time making an impact: he played in four of the five Tests and harvested 16 wickets at 11.37.
His best innings figures came at Johannesburg in 1949-50, when he took 6 for 44. It was another successful trip for Johnston, who managed 23 victims at 17.04. Although he was a genuine No. 11, his finest hour with the bat was in the fourth Test against West Indies at Melbourne in 1951-52, when he and Doug Ring added 38 in a last-wicket stand that earned Australia an unlikely victory.
Bob Merriman, the president of Cricket Victoria, said Johnston's efforts deserved to rank alongside those of his better-known colleagues. "Although he possessed a mean bouncer, he was one of the game's gentlemen and a man of generous humour," Merriman said.
Creagh O'Connor, Cricket Australia's chairman, said Johnston would leave a valuable legacy. "To cricket fans he will always be remembered, rightly, as a member of Sir Donald Bradman's legendary Invincibles, and as a left-armer who took a lot of wickets quickly and economically when bowling in the company of fellow greats such as Lindwall and Miller," O'Connor said.