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A certain Australian allrounder seems to get unfairly overlooked when talk turns to the greatest of that breed
March 1, 2013
I recently had an email from an Australian reader, Steve Chaddock, asking why Alan Davidson never seemed to feature in discussions about cricket's great allrounders. And when you look at the figures, you have to admit he has a point: Davidson took 186 wickets in 44 Tests, at the excellent average of 20.53 - that's lower than anyone else with more than 100 wickets who played after the First World War, apart from the England slow left-armer Johnny Wardle (102 at 20.39).
Davidson also averaged 24 with the bat, usually coming in low down in a strong batting side: he was the first man to achieve the double of 100 runs and ten wickets in the same Test, and chose a pretty good one to do it in - the famous tie against West Indies in Brisbane in 1960-61. And he was also a superb close fielder, known as "The Claw" when he wasn't plain old "Davo".
So just why is Davidson rarely spoken of when the bar-room discussion turns to great allrounders? My theory, for what it's worth, is that he was generally overshadowed by larger-than-life team-mates or other events. On his first two Ashes tours, in the 1950s, the focus was mostly on the legendary new-ball pairing of Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller. In 1958-59, with the charismatic Miller retired and Lindwall absent at first, Davidson took 24 wickets at 19 as Australia trounced much-fancied England 4-0... but the first thing that usually comes to mind about that series now is the dodgy bent-armed actions of the other fast bowlers, Ian Meckiff (who took 17 wickets) and Gordon Rorke (eight).
After that, Davidson took 29 wickets at 14.86 in India in 1959-60 and, the following season, 33 in four Tests against West Indies. But even then he was overshadowed by the general euphoria surrounding that calypso summer. His charismatic skipper, Richie Benaud, attracted a lot of the headlines, especially by bowling Australia to an unlikely victory at Old Trafford in 1961 - but Davo took 23 wickets in that Ashes series, and 24 at 20 in the next one, in 1962-63, after which he retired, still only 33. Since becoming Australia's undisputed fast-bowling spearhead, in South Africa in 1957-58, he'd taken 170 Test wickets at 19.25.
It probably didn't help his cause that this was a vintage time for Aussie allrounders: Miller, Benaud and Davidson were joined for a while by Ron Archer and the inelegant but effective Ken Mackay. In almost 50 years since, Australia haven't really had a genuine Test allrounder.
But don't just take my word for Davidson's place in the pantheon. Richie Benaud told me: "When I first met him we played against one another. We were both spin bowlers, attacking batsmen and keen in the field. Davo was a left-arm spinner - not orthodox but over the wrist. He was very good but had to give that away when the skipper of the Gosford area team found his opening bowler hadn't arrived, and gave the new ball to Alan."
Grainy black-and-white films of those 1960s Test series show Davidson, greying but well-built, loping in to deliver his left-arm swinging deliveries at a high pace. Ted Dexter, England's captain in the 1962-63 Ashes, dissected his technique perfectly for me: "Unlike the moderns who rush through the crease, Davo made a full turn, getting his front foot close to the stumps and then making a full body rotation. Swing and cut were a natural result. So he had good control, which accounts for his excellent career stats - details of which he always has readily available for anyone willing to listen. And he could have been a Test batsman alone, because he had all the strokes and good technique - not the man you wanted to see coming in at No. 8 when the bowlers are tired."
Davidson was teased in his time for his habit of complaining about aches and pains: "A martyr to injuries real and imagined," writes Gideon Haigh on Davidson's ESPNcricinfo player page. But like Gordon Greenidge later on, Davo often seemed to perform better when limping or grumbling: Benaud often had to cajole his ailing go-to man into an extra over or six. Still, says Dexter, "Davo was a fine athlete - at least when he wasn't complaining about an ache here and an ache there. He was an excellent competitor who had no need to scowl and sledge."
But the last word must go to Benaud, his long-time friend and captain: "There is no question Alan Davidson was one of the greatest allrounders in the history of the game." And I wouldn't dare argue with that.
Steven Lynch is the editor of the Wisden Guide to International Cricket 2013Feeds: Steven Lynch
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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