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'It was a privilege to bowl up the hill into the breeze'

Max Walker: the architect who bowled "right-arm over left earhole" Getty Images

I was the son of a publican and a master builder. He ran the Empire Hotel in North Hobart. His name was Max, too. Big Max.

I was good at football and cricket at school. My dad said, son, be an architect, and I came to Melbourne passionate about becoming an architect.

Norm Smith personally came and signed me up to the Melbourne Football Club. The fact that I then played cricket for Melbourne Cricket Club - the footy club didn't like it that much.

I thought I could bat. My last two knocks for the North Hobart Cricket Club were 117 and 119, batting at three, at about the age of 17. The footy club brought me across and Melbourne Cricket Club had about six Sheffield Shield batsmen, guys like Paul Sheahan and Graeme Watson, so I batted 10 in my first district match. I barely got a hit at the Albert Ground. We were four or five down for about 380 every Saturday afternoon. But they didn't have a bowler. I had this weird action where I was able to winkle a few guys out.

I bowled right-arm over left earhole, legs crossed at the point of delivery.

My first baggy green came to the MCG in a parcel, prior to the Pakistan match in '72-73. This parcel had a blazer, a tie, two jumpers and a cap in it. When I came back to the dressing room, all my gear had been moved. Dougie Walters was playing cards and smoking a cigarette, and I said, "Dougie, where's my gear?" He said, "How many Test matches have you played for Australia?" I said this one would be my first. He said, "Well, I've been using that locker now for a couple of series, it's mine." I said, "But still, where's my gear?" He said, "Well, you can start by having a look in the dunny."

In 1973, I was the only bloke in the team in the West Indies with a camera. That was a legacy from studying architecture. I love photography. When I went to India last time, I took 3900 shots over three cameras in 14 days.

It was a privilege to bowl up the hill, into the breeze, with an old ball on a flat wicket, after Lillee and Thommo. The batsmen had a sense of relief that it's been 160kph, now it's down to 140kph. There were no helmets, and at 160kph Thommo had no idea where they were going, so what chance did a batsman have?

It wasn't a conscious decision to give up footy. It evolved that way. My three-prong attack was to study architecture at RMIT, play footy and cricket. My final-year architecture thesis was due when I got back from a tour of the West Indies. I wanted to qualify, so I shelved footy at the ripe old age of 22 and never got back.

We used to have to get special leave without pay in order to go away on cricket tours. Everyone got paid for Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year's Day, but because I was playing two Test matches and I applied for leave, I got docked for all those days. My colleagues were down on the fence, getting paid to sit there and watch me! We were only getting $400 to play in the match. I smile now when I look at those numbers.

I practised as an architect for 10 years. I qualified in 1973 with a fellowship diploma of architecture. World Series Cricket gave me the freedom to go out and pursue architecture.

It would have been nice to play Sheffield Shield for Tasmania. But Tasmania didn't have a Shield team at the time. It's all very well now. The last few years, I jokingly say my little brother Ricky was captain of Australia. But back then when I did it, there was a psychological brick wall, almost, in the middle of Bass Strait. Almost like, how dare you think you can go to the mainland and do well? Now there are some fabulous success stories out of Tasmania.

The big inswinger was my staple. They perhaps don't swing it as much these days because they play so much of the condensed version, and you can go for a wide very easily if the ball swings more than a little bit. They take the risk out, go across the seam and are more likely to change up and down in pace.

In England the cat-gut is about half a gauge heavier than it is here in Australia, so in the first two weeks over there you'd lose a lot of skin off the fingers. You'd have to dip them in friar's balsam to try and heal it. It was not a good look, this tacky brown liquid. I remember shaking hands with the Queen at Lord's and she had the white silk gloves on, and I almost dragged the glove off her hand when I let go.

Are we just, by sheer emphasis, killing off Test cricket? Maybe Test cricket needs to be shaped from a financial template. Why not bring it in to four days? You could have the same number of overs and then have a daytime session and a night-time session, like the tennis.

"We were the best team in the world for a period, under Ian Chappell. Thommo and Lillee and Marsh and Walters and the two Chappells, Ian Redpath, Stackpole, Mallett - gee whiz. For a Tasmanian to sit in the dressing room and look around at that - wow"

I didn't learn to bowl an outswinger until I was about 27. There were no coaching manuals around. I only bowled the outswinger for show. It wasn't to take wickets - just to show that I could. It was a bit like the knuckle ball. The first time I bowled the knuckle ball, which I learnt from a baseball player, I got hit for six. What I didn't realise was that you've got to be able to bowl a 140kph bouncer with the same grip.

Alan Connolly was a great mentor. He introduced me to reverse-swing before the 1973 series. They talk about Imran Khan and others, but Alan Connolly, almost by default, became aware of reverse-swing with Ray Jordon behind the stumps one day in a Shield match. He said to load up one side with perspiration and saliva, and once the ball was porous, like a rag doll, it becomes heavier. I had great success in the West Indies on the back of that information. I took 26 wickets there, which stood for nearly 30 years as a record, until McGrath broke it.

Of the best batsmen I bowled to, Viv Richards stood out. He hit the ball so hard, and images of him dancing down the wicket, hitting Jeff Thomson through the covers on a half-volley - you're not allowed to be able to do that stuff! Greg Chappell hit him in the head once and we all knew where the next one was going, it didn't matter where Greg bowled it. And it did, it went about 30 rows back over deep midwicket. He was incredible.

I loved the Centenary Test match. It was like a soap opera over five days. We were bowled out for 138, [Rick] McCosker's jaw got broken, and then we bowled them out for 95 the next day. I got four, and I was certain I was going to get five. I got Tony Greig's wicket, middle and leg stump, through the gate.

Against a good player, you might only get one or two chances in an innings. Once you've shown him what you're going to do, it's all over, you have to come up with something else.

All of the talent base was walking out the back door, symbolically speaking, to sign up with Kerry Packer. We were just asking for a rise in pay. The attitude from the incumbent board then was: there are 50 or 60 other guys who would give their right arm to play for Australia. It's just that they weren't as good as Lillee and Marsh and Chappell. The amount of emotion that charged that time was quite tumultuous.

We were the best team in the world for a period, under Ian Chappell. Thommo and Lillee and Marsh and Walters and the two Chappells, Ian Redpath, Stackpole, Mallett - gee whiz. For a Tasmanian to sit in the dressing room and look around at that - wow.

When I played against Lawrence Rowe for the first time, it was Jamaica v Australia, and this bloke had made 200 and 100 in his first Test. He had some trouble with his eyes later on, but at that stage he was the best player I'd ever seen. He made a hundred against us in that match. He batted off stump and was just a very elegant player.

I think Australia's fast-bowling stocks are still pretty low, for what they could be. I don't know what the reason is there, whether there was a sense of vulnerability from the selection table down. Perhaps the bowlers didn't feel secure and they were always going to be playing for their next game instead of trying to do strategically the best thing for the team, and they were trying to bowl wicket balls all the time.

There were so many great moments in the Centenary match. [Rod] Marshy scored a hundred and I was in the middle when he scored it. Kerry O'Keeffe opened in the second innings, Hookesy's five fours, we met the Queen, and then to match the history of Charlie Bannerman's team a century earlier, winning by 45 runs. And then there was Walters trying to make McCosker laugh with a mouthful of piano wire while he was drinking champagne through a straw out of a beer glass. That was a great match.

There's a lot of insight being tabled at the moment about the game in this country, because of performances, and rightly so. But if it is all revealed by players and ex-players and administrators then I think we miss an opportunity. I would like to see more minds that aren't cricketers. There's a tendency to think, he's a legend, and he's a legend, so they ought to know. But that's not necessarily the case in life.

If a ten-year-old kid today grows up and in eight years' time believes, wham, bam, thank you very much, you've got to score off every ball, and you've got to hit across the line - not everyone is going to be Adam Gilchrist.

The MCG has been the axle of my life now for 40-plus years. I started life as an apprentice painter, as a student of architecture, and painted the 40,000 seats there and worked in the old scoreboard, which is now the Jack Fingleton scoreboard at Manuka Oval. I ran the total on that, painted the seats, then was a commentator on cricket and football on TV and radio.

I go to the MCG so much even these days, to speak at conferences or launches. It's great to be able to look out the window and unlock a filing cabinet of memories.