Alan McGilvray

The voice of Australian cricket

Alan McGilvray, who has died aged 86, was the voice of Australian cricket from 1934 until his retirement from the Australian Broadcasting Commission in 1985, a full half century of service.

He was born in Sydney on December 6, 1909, the son of an immigrant from Glasgow who came from a long line of shoemakers. When covering the Ashes series of 1956 McGilvray identified the grave of an ancestor on the field of Culloden. He sold the family shoe factory in Australia in 1961.

The boy was educated at Sydney Grammar School, where he shone as an all-round cricketer being a forcing batsman and a fast-medium bowler. He made the first XI while still in his second year and subsequently captained the side. His finest hour as a schoolboy was scoring 129 not out and taking seven wickets for 32 against Melbourne Grammar School.

McGilvray was soon playing for New South Wales. In his first match, against Victoria, he failed to endear himself to Bill O`Reilly by taking the single wicket that prevented the great bowler from accounting for all 10 of the opposition in an innings.

When the stars of the New South Wales team toured South Africa with the Australian team in 1935-36, McGilvray was appointed captain. But he never deceived himself about his abilities. "I was not good enough to be team-mates with Bradman, Fingleton, Kippax, Brown and the rest," he said.

His first effort at cricket commentary was an impromptu sevenminute risumi of a Sheffield Shield match in 1934. Even allowing for the poor reproduction, McGilvray`s voice sounds rather tinny in pre-war recordings, not at all like the rich and resonant tones of later years.

He and I were brought up in the school wherein the unforgivable sin was to be late on the stroke

Though McGilvray broadcast more than 200 Test matches worldwide, he never became complacent. He abhorred the slapdash and the slipshod, and even after half a century still became nervous before going on the air. McGilvray was appointed MBE in 1974 and became a member of the Order of Australia in 1980. He published three books, of which The Game Is Not the Same (1987) became a bestseller. In his last days he declared he was looking forward to crossing swords again with Bill O`Reilly, who died in 1992.

E W Swanton writes: Alan McGilvray was the most professional of commentators in that he was essentially a meticulous communicator of fact, sticking to the ground rules approved by ABC and BBC producers without much in the way of personal gloss. His commentaries were nevertheless instantly distinctive because his Australian intonations were almost whispered into the microphone, too quietly sometimes to be heard by his colleagues in the broadcasting box.

He and I were brought up in the school wherein the unforgivable sin was to be late on the stroke. The prevailing wisdom was that the listener had to be given a mental vision of the bowler`s run up, delivery and the batsman`s stroke as they happened. This gave a regular pattern to which comment was added. It might be added that the pace of commentary used to reflect the bowling of 20 overs an hour: the modern rate of 15 an hour means there is more time to be filled up.

Alan never adapted to the looser, more relaxed and often jokey style of Test Match Special, and to that extent some found him a difficult colleague. There was, for instance, little rapport between him and John Arlott. As Trevor Bailey observed: "McGilvray was a very good commentator and a very good cricketer, and it jolted."

David Rayvern Allen in his biography of Arlott quotes McGilvray: "He [Arlott] was a good commentator in his own way, but he didn`t give the score or the card. You should give the score three times in a six-ball over. He had a different technique to mine, more intimate, but he didn`t care about the Aussies not listening - a lot of what he said was way above their heads."

Alan was a firm traditionalist: the attempted takeover of international cricket by Kerry Packer was anathema to him, and he deplored the deterioration in the game`s spirit that followed

Alan was wholly reliable as regards fact, and he had the prime virtue of complete impartiality. He wanted to see and describe good cricket: but for his accent there was no telling which team was closer to his heart. Personally I found him easy to work with, and I had the greatest respect for his judgment.

Alan was a firm traditionalist: the attempted takeover of international cricket by Kerry Packer was anathema to him, and he deplored the deterioration in the game`s spirit that followed.

A man with great pride in his calling, Alan nevertheless brought upon himself a crowning disappointment to which it was unwise afterwards to refer. At Brisbane in December 1960, thinking Australia was sure to win the First Test against West Indies, he arranged the commentary periods so that he could catch an early aeroplane back to Sydney.

When he got there he heard the news that the 500th Test match had ended in the first-ever tie - a commentator`s dream that would have suited McGilvray to perfection. The final stages of the match were obviously a highly taxing exercise - so much so that the ABC commentary by the local man of the thrilling last over is never repeated.

In the 1930s, before McGilvray gave a genuine Test commentary, he was involved by a commercial company in a synthetic broadcast for listeners too far away from the cricket for the live transmitters. The exercise involved a studio, a plan of the ground, a continuous stream of cabled information and an effects man to synchronise sound noises with the commentary thus realistically manufactured. The similitude was such that the unsophisticated audience of those days thought they were listening to the real thing.

Alan McGilvray came first to England with Don Bradman`s Australian team of 1948 and thereafter followed all Australian Test tours home and away until the visit here of 1985, when David Gower`s team recovered the Ashes by three matches to one.

Source :: Electronic Telegraph (