Les Favell September 6, 2012

Attack and revel

Les Favell didn't play for numbers or records but to entertain; and he lived his life that way as well

Fearlessly Les Favell hooked the Wes Hall thunderbolt off his head, and before the ball cleared the fence he yelled to his partner, Neil Dansie, "That's six. Get in fer yer chop, Nodda!"

Favell's batting was always outrageous. He hooked and cut his way through 202 first-class matches for 12,379 runs at 36.62, with 27 hundreds and 67 half-centuries. In 19 Tests his record was modest - 757 runs at 27.03, with one century, against India in Madras in 1959.

He hailed from St George in Sydney but decided to transfer to South Australia to get a game. In his first match, against New South Wales at the Adelaide Oval, the 22-year-old Favell scored 86 and 164. Some debut.

It wasn't the runs he scored that made Favell my favourite cricketer. It was the way he made them. All-out attack was his motto, and no one could bowl a hoop downhill - not to Favelli, they couldn't. Not Wes Hall, not Frank Tyson, not Tony Lock.

His total disdain for any type of bowler most definitely ate into his average, but Favell wasn't interested in averages. Once in Melbourne, Favell was not out at tea on the last day. SA were five down, and we had an excellent chance of denying Victoria victory. There he was, padded up, cup of tea in hand, speaking in turn to the remaining batsmen in the shed. "Keep your head down, son, I'll be there at stumps," was the theme.

But when the ebullient Johnny Grant bounded in to bowl the first ball after tea, Favell was down the track, his bat raised a la Victor Trumper. The outcome was as inevitable as our laughter when we witnessed all three stumps scattered to the four winds. We were all out within half an hour from the interval.

In the first over of a match against NSW in Adelaide once, he cut Dave Renneberg's first four deliveries to the point boundary. The fifth ball was almost out of reach but Favell managed to get the toe of his bat to it, and keeper Brian Taber took the catch between third and fourth slip. After five balls, SA were 16 for 1. Favell c Taber b Renneberg 16. Favell walked forlornly from the arena and quietly sat down in the dressing room. "Jesus Christ, seeing 'em like a football," he said.

Favell loved his players and South Australia, but had also an abiding sense of fair play and respect for the game of cricket.

In 1969, SA were in a commanding position to bowl NSW out a second time to secure the Sheffield Shield. NSW had scored 173 for 5 in their second innings when a Kevin McCarthy bouncer struck John Wilson on the forehead. Blood began to gush, and the stricken batsman fell over his stumps. The umpire raised his index finger in the wake of a lone appeal. Wilson was out hit-wicket, bowled by McCarthy for a duck.

Having been dismissed for 110 when they batted first, NSW were still 24 short of the SA total of 307. An outright victory was on the cards for South Australia, yet as Wilson was being taken by stretcher from the field, Favell sidled up to the umpires and said: "We withdraw the appeal. If Wilson is fit enough to return later, I'd like to see him bat on." Wilson returned all right. He scored 114 - the only century he ever scored in 12 first-class matches for NSW. His side scored 335, and SA had to bat frantically to win the match and secure the Shield. The greatest winner of them all was Favell. It was a shining example of sportsmanship of the highest order.

It wasn't the runs he scored that made Favell my favourite cricketer. It was the way he made them. All-out attack was his motto, and no one could bowl a hoop downhill to Favelli: not Wes Hall, not Frank Tyson not Tony Lock

Whenever old cricketing mates of Favell meet up, there is invariably a round of "Favell stories".

The devil's number in Australia is 87 (13 short of a century). One day Favell had reached that figure at the SCG when NSW's Norm O'Neill said: "Hey, Favelli, you're on 87!" Favell laughed it off but was out next ball. When Favell walked out to open the batting in the second innings, Normie said: "Hey, Favelli, you're still on 87!" Favell was out for nought. So he had been dismissed twice for a total of 87.

He loved to give a running commentary when he batted. When he was extremely confident, Favell would sing "Happy Birthday", presumably to himself but always within earshot of his enraged opponents. One day in Perth, WA captain Barry Shepherd threw the ball to young leggie Terry Jenner. As Shepherd set the field, Favell, at the batting end, began to sing "Happy birthday to me". First ball, Favelli charged down the wicket, met the ball on the full and sent it one bounce over the cover boundary.

Shepherd immediately put John Parker on the cover fence. Second ball, still singing at the top of his voice, Favell charged down the track, again meeting the ball on the full. This time the ball went one bounce to Parker on the fence. Non-striker Ian Chappell rushed through to complete the run, but Favell, with his back turned to him, hadn't budged. "Piss off Chappelli, it's my birthday, not yours," he said.

In the nets one afternoon, after a run of outs which would have broken a lesser man, Favell hit the first ball he faced off the middle of his bat. "I'm back!" he beamed. And he was back. A day later, after being dropped at mid-on by Graham Corling when on nought, Favell scored 149 in an outstanding opening partnership of 281 with John Causby. In the next match Favell dropped himself down the batting order.

I have a vision of him down on his knees late in the day at the MCG trying to swat a Keith Kirby long hop before it bounced a third time, succeeding only in hitting the ball high to Ian Redpath at mid-on.

And I remember Favell playing alongside kids in callipers at the annual crippled children's cricket day. He was always giving of himself.

In the 1950s and 1960s he was South Australia's Mr Cricket. He had a newspaper column, and when he retired he became an expert commentator for ABC Radio: always forthright and honest.

When we heard the sad news that Les had contracted cancer of the liver, a condition that was considered terminal, the South Australia Cricket Association decided to hold a testimonial match in his honour. Sir Donald Bradman led the ex-players there on the day, along with a whole list of former and current greats, including Keith Miller, Barry Richards, Neil Harvey and Alan Davidson, a long-time mate of Favell's.

As if by some unseen divine hand, the sun shone brightly and the crowd turned up in their droves. Everyone knew it was Les' last hurrah in public, but they put on - as indeed did he - a brave face. His doctor, Dr Donald Beard, a legend in Australian army and cricket circles, helped Les through the day. Favell wore his state blazer and Bradman an Australia blazer loaned to him by Ian McLachlan, the man who drove the day.

I found Favell to be a terrific captain and a wonderful friend. When I first came to SA in 1967, he was like a father to me. With his delightful wife, Berry, Favell had two children, Alan and Jane.

Les Favell played cricket hard but fair. His sportsmanship was like no other in the modern era. Among all the celebrated cricketers who have walked the first-class stage, perhaps only Victor Trumper stands beside Favell as a man who gave of himself on and off the field of play without fear or contradiction and never expecting anything in return. As a cricketer, Leslie Ernest Favell stands tall. As a man he is among the immortals.

Ashley Mallett took 132 Tests wickets in 38 Tests for Australia. An author of over 25 books, he has written biographies of Clarrie Grimmett, Doug Walters, Jeff Thomson and Ian Chappell

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