Alan McGilvray

McGILVRAY, ALAN DAVID, AM, MBE, who died on July 16, 1996, aged 86, was the voice of Australian cricket. He first commentated on an Ashes series in 1938, sitting in Sydney and interpreting cables from England accompanied by sound effects such as a pencil on the tabletop to simulate bat on ball. He retired at the Oval in 1985, after 225 Tests, including more than a hundred between Australia and England. His popularity was such that in the midst of the schism between Kerry Packer and official cricket, the ABC advertised traditional cricket with a jingle. The Game Is Not the Same Without McGilvray.

Alan McGilvray was a fine left-hand batsman and sturdy right-arm medium-pacer himself, playing 18 games for New South Wales. In 13 of those games he was captain, starting in only his third match in February 1934. He took over again when Bert Oldfield was with Australia in South Africa in 1935-36, and continued when Stan McCabe was playing against England the following year. However, when New South Wales dropped him, he changed direction and became the exemplar of the Australian style of radio commentary: precise, factual and statistically oriented with only faint traces of humour.

In England, amid the sometimes irreverent hilarity of the BBC commentary box, he could sound a rather po-faced, disapproving, guest and he often saved his best anecdotes for the evenings. The nearest thing he had to a catchphrase was a firm: "That's by the by, as Lillee [or whoever] comes in to bowl..." ... His greatest professional disaster was when he flew home early from the Tied Test at Brisbane in 1960-61, believing Australia were certain to lose. It was an aberration. His professional standards were exceptionally high. He expected the same of the game he loved, and was often appalled by sloppy dress or bad behaviour.

But he still had Australian tastes. There is a story that during a one-day international in 1983, a brewery donated two dozen cans of beer to the ABC commentary team, who agreed to save them until after the match. No one remembered to tell McGilvray, though. He drank 23 of the cans - and never slurred a word. "His presence and style were what we all aspired to," said his fellow-commentator Neville Oliver.

© John Wisden & Co