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Len Maddocks counts his blessings

He may not have played with the Invincibles but Australia's second-oldest living Test cricketer has plenty to be grateful for

Brydon Coverdale

April 26, 2012

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Len Maddocks holds up a photograph of himself as a youngster
The way we were: Maddocks holds up a photograph of himself as a youngster Brydon Coverdale / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd
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Len Maddocks is Australia's second-oldest living Test cricketer.

He nearly wasn't.

"About 12 years ago I died from a heart attack," Maddocks says. "I was sitting here at home on my own, my wife was away, and I raced out to the kitchen and grabbed the phone and rang 000. In about three minutes the ambulance pulled up in our drive, grabbed me and stuck me on a trolley, stuck me in the ambulance and headed for Box Hill hospital. I carked it on the way. They zapped me back to life.

"I've been one of the few who have seen the other side. I think I saw a white light but I'm not sure. The first thing I remember of it was waking up at Box Hill hospital with my daughter and her eldest daughter sitting there. I remember opening my eyes and looking up and seeing a window and blue sky and I realised I was still alive."

Every day since then has been a bonus for Maddocks, who is now 85. A small, slight man with a voice that would suit a jockey, Maddocks sits at the kitchen table in his home in Melbourne's eastern suburbs, surrounded by photos of his family. He knows he is lucky; his younger brother Dick, who was a talented batsman for Victoria in the 1950s, suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of 40.

Maddocks is now afflicted by skin cancers, a result of playing cricket for three decades in an era when "if you put on sunscreen people thought you were a sissy". He estimates he has had about 30 cancerous growths removed so far.

"Still, I can't complain," he says. "I'm the second-oldest living Test cricketer [from Australia]. Artie Morris has got me done though."

Morris, 90, became Australia's oldest living Test cricketer when Sam Loxton died last December. As members of the 1948 Invincibles, they were household names. Maddocks, by comparison, is something of a forgotten man, a wicketkeeper who was second in line to Gil Langley during the mid-1950s and went on numerous tours but played only seven Tests.

As a player, he will go down in history as the man Jim Laker trapped lbw in Manchester in 1956 to wrap up his 19-wicket Test. Off the field, he will be remembered as the Australian team manager on the 1977 Ashes tour, when the World Series Cricket split came to light.

Despite these legacies, Maddocks is content with his place in Australia's cricketing landscape. He is philosophical when remembering the WSC rebellion - "somebody had to [be the manager], and all you can do is your best" - and he is happy to have played for Australia in an era when the country was blessed with great wicketkeeping depth.

"Don Tallon was the best keeper I've ever seen," he says. "He was much bigger than the rest of us. His footwork was perfect. I can remember going to the MCG for any match he was playing, just to watch him. He was magic as a keeper. Footwork is the most important thing for a wicketkeeper. If your feet are right, everything moves with it."

Remarkably for a man who kept wicket for 30 years at club, state or international level, Maddocks only once broke a digit, the little finger on his right hand. Some glovemen end their careers with fingers gnarled and bent in unnatural directions. Maddocks' hands look perfectly normal, a testament to his skill and judgement behind the stumps.

He considers Ian Healy the best of the modern wicketkeepers and believes Matthew Wade, the first Victoria player to keep wicket for Australia in a Test since Maddocks, is a "good player who will become a very good player". Unlike some former cricketers of his generation, Maddocks has few gripes about the current state of the game, although the ongoing encroachment of the boundary rope further and further in from the fence does bother him.

"I don't think the players have changed that much," he says. "I watch the players going on the ground and coming off more closely than most people. You can see they are friendly, which is what we were. Of course, we couldn't help being friendly with our opponents because Keith Miller was always getting sozzled with them!"

Maddocks regards Miller as the most memorable character he ever played with. Even now, he cannot comprehend the effect Miller had on women. Tales of Miller's conquests are told with a conspiratorial preface - "You can't print this!" - but it was as a player that the great allrounder most amazed Maddocks.

 
 
"We were just unbelievable. We played cricket Saturday morning in one competition, Saturday afternoon in another, Sunday morning in a third competition and Sunday afternoon in a fourth"
 

"He was interesting in everything that he did," Maddocks says. "When he batted he was different, when he bowled he was different, fielding he was different. Ian Johnson, for example, always stood behind me at first slip, so the ball couldn't go to his left hand. He couldn't catch left-handed. When Miller was at first slip he used to stand yards away and he'd be diving all over the place."

Like Miller, Maddocks was a talented Australian Rules footballer. He was on North Melbourne's list in the 1940s, but unlike his brother Dick, did not win a senior game with the club. He did, however, play baseball for Victoria as a teenager, and whatever sport was on the agenda, his parents were behind him and his two brothers all the way.

"In hindsight, we were just unbelievable," he says. "We played cricket Saturday morning in one competition, Saturday afternoon in another, Sunday morning in a third competition and Sunday afternoon in a fourth. After each day's play, dad would discuss with us the things that had happened, where other kids had made mistakes and where we could have done better."

"Mum used to go to all of our cricket, all of our football, all of our baseball. We'd set out from home at Newport with the old man out front on his bike, then my older brother Alan, then me, then Dick on our three bikes. Behind us came Mum, and the old man had built a little platform thing on her bike so that she could carry the soft drinks and the afternoon tea and the scorebooks. She had to score. I remember saying to her later in life, 'how did you put up with us Mum?' She said, 'if I hadn't put up with you and gone with you, I would never have seen any of you!' They were great days."

The drive and determination that Maddocks showed in his early cricketing days propelled him into the Victoria team, and ultimately to Test cricket. All the while, he was working as an accountant for Australian Paper Manufacturers, where he had started work as a 16-year-old.

A transfer to the company's Hobart office allowed him to captain Tasmania for seven years, during which time the state played regularly against the other states and touring sides - though they were not part of the Sheffield Shield. When he became an ACB board member after his retirement, Maddocks chaired an ACB sub-committee on Tasmania's push to enter the Shield.

"We put it all together and said, 'There's your deal,'" he says. "The other states unanimously agreed, some of them with a bit of doubt at first. Tasmania have done well. They've turned out some good cricketers."

Maddocks considers helping Tasmania break into the mainstream of Australian cricket to be one of his finest achievements. But it was playing the game that brought him the greatest joy. His love of the game kept him playing club cricket for North Melbourne until he was 46.

His association with the club has been as close to lifelong as is possible. His father signed him up as a junior member with the North Melbourne Football club as in 1932, when he was six. In February of this year, Maddocks was back at North Melbourne for a cricket club reunion, 80 years since he first set foot in the team's Arden Street headquarters.

Now that six-year-old from the depression era sits at his kitchen table with a Macbook plugged in and ready to use. Maddocks and his wife Heather use Skype to keep in touch with their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

He knows that every chance he's had to see his family in the past 12 years has been a blessing. Everything else is secondary.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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Posted by gudolerhum on (April 26, 2012, 23:11 GMT)

Great interview! I remember Len Maddocks when he toured with the Australian team in the Caribbean in 1954/55. I watched that Test and enjoyed it tremendously. It was probably only the third Test I had ever seen. I remember Keith Miller being very much the character he evidently was, a great figure to watch in action. Ray Lindwall bowling was so smooth and easy. Thanks for this article which has rekindled memories of those days long ago.

Posted by Meety on (April 26, 2012, 7:33 GMT)

Top article! Keith Miller is certainly a player I'd of loved to have seen at his peak.

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Brydon CoverdaleClose
Brydon Coverdale Assistant Editor Possibly the only person to win a headline-writing award for a title with the word "heifers" in it, Brydon decided agricultural journalism wasn't for him when he took up his position with ESPNcricinfo in Melbourne. His cricketing career peaked with an unbeaten 85 in the seconds for a small team in rural Victoria on a day when they could not scrounge up 11 players and Brydon, tragically, ran out of partners to help him reach his century. He is also a compulsive TV game-show contestant and has appeared on half a dozen shows in Australia.

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