Keith Miller: the Life of a Great All-rounder by Roland Perry

Fault lines in a hero's tale

David Frith
David Frith reviews Keith Miller: the Life of a Great All-rounder by Roland Perry

A friend of mine declared himself "shattered" by this book. With millions of others, he had long worshipped Keith Miller, the dashing and debonair Australian cricketer. War service was the additional source of admiration. But now, having read of his serial philandering and the walk-out on his wife of half a century, my pal felt sick.

Disillusionment with a hero hurts. Miller could be extraordinarily considerate to friends and strangers alike, the legacy of a tough upbringing, an innate egalitarianism and probably the keen need to be loved - absurd as that may seem for one who came across as charming and captivating to all except the batsmen who had to face his ferocious bowling.

There was an inner tension that shaped his extrovert behaviour. He also endured survivor's guilt far beyond the war. The philosophical will shrug and say that the extra dimensions simply make him more interesting, if self-indulgent.

England was Keith Miller's natural home, from the wartime aerodromes, via his affairs with streams of women and his love of Lord's, to his countless friendships: Princess Margaret (discretion ruled here, but the speculation is compelling), jockeys, gatekeepers, film stars, musicians, politicians (for which he might need further forgiveness) and even a big name at Scotland Yard who helped him out of a tight spot late in life.

His Test figures barely do him justice but anybody who watched him (and that unfortunately precludes the author) would testify to Miller's talent on the field and to his supreme charisma, evident even when he was just standing at slip, flannels flapping against those long legs, abundant black hair glistening in the sunlight, or signing his name afterwards, chatting amiably. For some years after the war he was the world's top allrounder. Few would have believed that as an under-sized boy, an academic failure, he had been nicknamed "Weedy".

The rich, complex material of Miller's life is therefore an author's dream, matchless against anything a latter-day cricketer could offer. Unfortunately, Roland Perry's work here is anything but confidence-inspiring. He is an opportunist author, Don Bradman, Shane Warne and Steve Waugh being among his previous subjects, together with a book on Australia's captains which gave the world nothing that the painstaking Ray Robinson had not already dealt with, apart from the update. Two earlier biographies of Miller and his autobiographical jottings have been milked dry, which is fine. But the book is strewn with errors that undermine confidence in the work as a whole. Keith Johnson was not Ian's father; Army cricketer JWA Stephenson was not the beloved colonel who became MCC secretary; when Cyril Washbrook took a run after being hit on the head it was not a "bye"; George Tribe was not a "legspinner" and Alf Gover was not a "medium-pacer"; Wally Hammond was not dropped for the final Test of 1946-47 (he had fibrositis).

Again Charles Bray was a journalist, not the "owner" of the Daily Herald; Bradman scored 107, not 81, in his final innings at Worcester; at Adelaide in 1951 Miller was not dismissed on 99 by a fast leg-break from Doug Wright (it was a googly, and Miller's chopping bat and the ball laughably hit the off stump simultaneously); Gubby Allen, not Hammond, skippered England in the 1936-37 Ashes series; the English racecourse is Newmarket, not Newlands; it was Arthur, not Alan, Chipperfield; and if GF Watts's portrayal of a lefthander was based on Frank Woolley, he was an even greater artist than is generally held, for Woolley did not make his debut until two years after Watts's death.

I could go on but some years ago I was cautioned always to hold something in reserve. My advisor? A chap called Keith Ross Miller.

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