October 28, 1999

Healy hangs up the gloves

It was one of the stranger ways to go out. Yesterday, an announcement that he was stepping down as state captain, no great surprise to anyone. As it happened, it was just a morsel in preparation for a much bigger announcement which came today.

Ian Healy, the most successful wicketkeeper in the history of international cricket, today announced his retirement from all levels of the game, effective immediately. Queensland selectors had just yesterday named him in the team to play Pakistan beginning this Saturday, however he has now withdrawn from this game as a result.

While there had been speculation over Healy's future, due to his increased proneness to injury and his declining form with the bat, it was generally believed that he would play out the coming Test season against Pakistan and India.

Thirty-five year-old Ian Healy has taken more dismissals than any other wicketkeeper in the international game. A shock selection when first chosen for Australia for the 1988/89 tour of Pakistan, he played in 119 Tests, missing just one in eleven years. He took 366 catches and effected 29 stumpings in his Test career, his final total just falling five short of the magical 400 mark.

Healy also appeared in 168 one-day internationals until being controversially dumped in 1997 as part of the Australian selectors' "separate Test/ODI team" policy. This policy led eventually to Australia's victory in the 1999 World Cup. Whether Australia would have won the cup with Healy in the team instead of his successor, Adam Gilchrist, is something that will always be open to debate. Healy claimed a total of 234 dismissals in limited-over internationals - 195 catches and 39 stumpings.

Healy was a surprise choice when first picked in the Australian team, having made a handful of appearances for Queensland and not even being firmly established as his state's number one keeper (competing at the time with Peter Anderson). There was those also who felt that Western Australian keeper Tim Zoehrer should have been restored to the Australian job after NSW's Greg Dyer was discarded. He did, however, repay the selectors' faith with a quality of performance that did nothing but grow over the years.

His ability to keep wicket to both the best Australian fast bowlers of the day and to the greatest slow bowler of the era, Shane Warne. "Bowling Shaaaane" is probably the most oft-heard phrase on the field during Australian Test matches over the past seven years.

The "c Healy b McGrath" combination has been the most frequent in Healy's career, producing 58 Tests dismissals. The next most successful bowlers to have given dismissals to Healy have been Craig McDermott (55), Shane Warne (49), Merv Hughes (46) and Bruce Reid (22). Fifteen of Healy's 29 stumpings were off the bowling of Shane Warne (one of the 29 being off the bowling of Mark Taylor!)

Healy's batting at number seven has also been a strength for Australia in the middle order, often rescuing his country from early collapse, and often in tandem with Steve Waugh. The highest of his four Test centuries was 161 not out against the West Indies in 1996. Perhaps his most memorable batting moment was, however, the lofted six over mid-wicket to win the Port Elizabeth Test against South Africa in 1997, Australia winning by two wickets in difficult circumstances.

Healy scored 4356 runs in Tests at an average of 27.39. In one-day internationals his 1764 runs, generally scored in the slog overs, gave him an average of 21.00.

In 231 first-class appearances Healy scored 8341 runs at 30.22. He did not score a single century outside of the Test arena. He held 696 catches and 69 stumpings. A Queenslander through and through, and following in the wicketkeeping tradition of Don Tallon and Wally Grout, Australian tour commitments meant that he was absent for Queensland's two greatest cricketing moments, the Sheffield Shield Final victories of 1995 and 1997.

He was considered by some a leading contender for the Australian captaincy when Allan Border retired in 1994, though the job went to Mark Taylor and, as they say, the rest is history. Healy was vice-captain following the retirement of David Boon in 1996 until replaced in that role by Steve Waugh on the 1997 Ashes tour. He did lead Australia in one-day internationals, including the 1996/97 Singer Cup in Sri Lanka.

With Healy's retirement, the obvious successor to the Australian Test team is the current one-day wicketkeeper, Western Australia's Adam Gilchrist, though many would put forward the claims of his Queensland understudy, Wade Seccombe. While Gilchrist is one of the outstanding batsmen in the limited-overs world, his keeping ability in the long-form game would not, at this stage, match that of Healy's.

In a year when many sportspersons around the world have gone for the big, sentimental farewell, Healy's departure resembles that of another Queensland sporting legend earlier this year, rugby league player Allan "Alfie" Langer, who was chosen on the Tuesday in his team's game the following weekend, only to call it quits on the Wednesday. Langer has, however, chosen a comeback on a lucrative contract in England. Healy, though, with a growing number of business interests outside the game, is much less likely to turn up behind the stumps for an English club or county.

Healy said today, in a statement released by the Australian Cricket Board, "It's always a sad time when something you love doing comes to an end but I can reflect on a career that has been satisfying and hugely enjoyable. I've been lucky enough to play in a great side with a great bunch of players and the memories from my time in that group will stay with me forever. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all my team-mates and supporters down the years who have helped make my time with the Australian team so good."