A touch of Bradman
Doug Walters was more than a fabulous batsman of the 1970s. There was a touch of genius about him.
He played a number of Bradman-like innings. He was one of the best players of offspin I have seen. In Port-of-Spain in March 1973, Doug belted 112, getting his century in the middle session when he took Lance Gibbs apart on a turning wicket. His bat came at you on an angle, and the more the ball turned the more it was likely to find the middle. Even Erapalli Prasanna, arguably the best offie of them all, struggled to defeat Walters.
In Port-of-Spain, Greg Chappell had departed for 56 right on lunch, with Walters to come in next. Then against England at the WACA in December 1974, Chappell was dismissed just before tea and as they passed in the field, Greg said: "Douglas, this time I've given you a bit of a sighter."
"Right from the start I middled the ball and felt in total control," Doug recalled of that innings. "I'd look about the field and visualise gaps, then I found myself playing the ball almost in perfection."
To fully appreciate what he was saying you need to know that he is the most self-effacing cricketer on the planet. He never brags and rarely talks about himself, so his clear concept of his batting domination that day speaks volumes.
"Round about the time I had scored 60 I thought I had a realistic chance of scoring a hundred in a session. I was seeing the ball that well. I felt so good, so confident, that I believed I could make somewhere in the vicinity of 130 in the session. I was in the 60s when drinks were taken."
At drinks, Australia's captain, Ian Chappell, said to our 12th man, Terry Jenner, "TJ, check with the little fella and see what his chances are."
When TJ handed Doug a drink, he asked, "How's it going?"
Doug smiled, "I think I've got a chance."
But although he was in the best batting form of his career, Doug was feeling frustrated out in the middle, the reason being his batting partner, Ross Edwards.
"Rosco was trying to give me most of the strike, but the more he tried, the more he grabbed the strike for himself. A century in a session was very much on my mind. My form was too good to miss this chance. I felt I had played only one false shot in the entire knock and that was in the last over of the day, when I was on 93. I needed ten runs, so if [Bob] Willis was going to bounce me I was going to hook.
"I hooked the first bouncer and I got a glove, the ball careering over Alan Knott's head for four. It was the only ball I played in that session which missed the middle of my bat. I guess I was feeling like Don Bradman must have felt when he played that great innings at Lord's in 1930."
Indeed Don Bradman hit a classic 254 at Lord's in 1930 and described it thus when we were discussing Walters' batting technique in Adelaide one July day in 1991: "Every ball I faced in that innings I played exactly as I wanted. It was the nearest I had ever come to batting perfection. Even the ball Percy Chapman stood on his ear to catch me off [Jack] White at cover I had hit sweetly and it was only an inch or so off the ground."
While Doug was hell-bent upon scoring the required ten off Willis' last over, Edwards, at the non-striker's end, was getting uptight. He thought Doug should put up the shutters and live to fight another day and went down the wicket to give him that sage advice. Doug nodded slowly and ambled back to take strike at the Pavilion End.
Moments later came a mistimed hook off the glove and a near miss over Knott's head: the one indiscreet stroke of his innings. Edwards remembers it well: "For a number of balls I had been walking down the pitch swearing at him. I had virtually given up trying to talk some sense into him. I ended up yelling out, swearing, calling him an idiot."
As he tapped his bat to face Willis' last ball, Doug's score stood at 97. Given that he was 3 not out when play for the final session began, he knew he had to hit the final ball for six to get what he had set his mind upon achieving.
He gambled on the last ball being dropped short. As Willis got into his delivery stride, Doug was well and truly back and across. If the delivery was directed at him, he'd hit it over square leg; anything wide of off stump he'd uppercut over third man.
Doug recalls: "Willis dropped short all right and I was already in position to pull the ball. How sweet the feel and sound of my bat striking that short Willis delivery. It was one of those times when the bat hits the ball at precisely the right moment. I hit it right in the screws. The ball sailed away, nearly bisecting the two guys at backward square, and thudded over the boundary line. Six! You bloody beauty."
Doug walked from the ground to a standing ovation. We in the dressing room, still trying to come to terms with what we had just witnessed, decided to duck back into the showers at the back of the room. We were all out of sight when he entered the dressing room. A look of mild surprise momentarily swept over his face, but he did as he usually did, whether he scored a duck or hit a century, and slowly removed his baggy-green cap and his gloves. He sat on the bench and lit a cigarette. Then he looked about him. There was a long period of silence. Then we all rushed from behind the shower door and there were plenty of handshakes all round and even more cans of beer for this little genius.
It is a pity England never saw Doug at his best. He so often fell to the medium and medium-fast bowlers on the slower, grassier English wickets. I had a theory that Doug's reflexes were so swift that he actually adjusted to any seam away and was able to "catch up with the ball" - only to edge it to slip or gully. However, on the flint-hard tracks of Australia any seam away would miss the edge simply because it happened much faster. I ran that theory past Sir Don, who dismissed it straight away, but Doug said that was, in fact, why he failed so often on the slower English wickets.
One of the reasons Doug was so popular with his team-mates was his dry humour.
In the Australia v World XI Test in Perth* in 1971, on one of the days, Doug's mate and former Test keeper Brian Taber was in town and he planned to take Doug to a dinner party, a quiet meal and a few beers.
Chappelli got wind of the plan and told Taber, "Now Tabsy, look after our little mate. He might have to bat tomorrow." Well, Tabsy forgot all about taking care of Dougie and he left the party round 3am. Doug was still there, enjoying a cold one or two. When the host decided it was time to draw stumps, he accompanied Doug outside. They were greeted by bright sunlight.
"Gee, it's still light. I guess I'd better get back to the pub and some sleep, I've got to bat tomorrow."
"No, Doug," the host corrected him, "You've got to bat today!"
Doug got back to his hotel around 8am. He sidled up to the receptionist and said, "Can I have an early call for 8.30, please?"
"Oh, that will be 8.30 tonight, sir?"
"No, young lady, I mean 8.30 this morning. I have to play cricket later today and you don't want me to turn up to the game without having had any sleep, do you?"
There was one time when that famous humour backfired. A few days before the Brisbane Test against West Indies in November 1968, Doug had to undergo a fitness test. He had strained a hamstring in a lead-up match for New South Wales, but as it was only a slight strain he was confident he'd be right for the big game.
"For my fitness test I spent at least three hours on the track, batting, bowling and fielding. When a doctor came up to me after training and asked how things were going, I felt really good, but I made the fatal mistake of saying, 'Well, so long as I don't have to open the bowling for Australia I'll be right for the Test match.' The old doctor smiled."
Next thing Doug heard the doctor had rung the NSW Cricket Association and told them that Walters indicated that he was not fit enough to open the bowling. "I cannot pass him fit to play."
Doug hit 76 in the second Test at the MCG and went on to score a Bradman-like 699 runs at 116.50 in the four games he played in the series. In the final Test, in in Sydney, he scored 242 and 103, but he might not have played had he told the administrators of a bad fall he sustained when he fell over backwards down a flight of stairs at home on the eve of the match, badly bruising his lower back and backside.
Ian Chappell always gives thanks that the Test tours he went on were so much the better for Doug Walters being a part of them. Bill Lawry won't forget the training day at the Wanderers in Johannesburg when he hit high catches to those of us dotted about the boundary line. The Phantom had taken great pains to inform us that the rarefied atmosphere in Johannesburg (some 6000 feet above sea level) made the ball travel much further than elsewhere, saying that we needed to learn how to judge high catches. Doug walked in from the boundary, allowing the ball to land behind him.
"You are right, Phanto," Doug yelled, his face deadpan, "the ball does travel a lot further here in Jo'burg."
On four occasions Doug hit a century in a session in first-class cricket. Mere statistics don't do the man justice. He got runs when they were needed and when on song there was a touch of genius about him, sometimes even a touch of Bradman.
*September 15, 08:56GMT: The incident happened in Perth, not Melbourne as was previously mentioned
Ashley Mallett took 132 wickets in 38 Tests for Australia. He has written biographies of Clarrie Grimmett, Doug Walters, Jeff Thomson, Ian Chappell, and most recently of Dr Donald Beard, The Diggers' Doctor