CRICKETER OF THE YEAR 1973

Keith Stackpole

If we are to believe the simple argument that the purpose of cricketers walking on to the field is to entertain, then no one more deserves the honour of being named one of the Five Cricketers of the Year than Keith Raymond Stackpole, the Australian opening batsman, born at Collingwood, a suburb of Melbourne on July 10, 1940.

There were some, the England players included, who believed by the time the 1972 Test series was over that Stackpole was batting with a magic wand rather than an ordinary sliver of willow. Every so often he managed to get an outside edge to an attempted cut or drive and, in more cases than not, the ball flew clear of the field. Some of the opposition regarded this as lucky, but I think it would be true to say the spectators watching the game at the ground or on television may well have thought themselves to be the fortunate ones instead of Stackpole. Anyone paying his money to watch a game of cricket would always forgive a little bit of luck going the way of the man who continually tries to entertain.

Stackpole was thirty-one years of age when he made his first tour of England -- perhaps a little late for a man to take his first tilt at England's top bowlers on their own pitches. But he had been in the Australian side since 1965, when he played against M. J. K. Smith's team in Adelaide, and had steadily matured, first of all as a middle order batsman and then as a dashing opener.

Certainly if family ties have anything to do with success in cricket, Stackpole was destined to have a sound future in the game. His father, also Keith Stackpole, was very much of the build and attacking disposition of his son, who later was to go further in the game than did his mentor. Keith senior was a top line player in Victoria, where he played in the Sheffield Shield team at a time when it was very strong, and both father and son batted in much the same vein, concentrating mainly on cutting and hooking. In recent times, the younger Stackpole has matured his game and become a very strong driver, playing much more off the front foot than he did when he first came into the Australian side.

As a boy he attended St. John's Clifton Hill Primary School and then moved on to the Christian Brothers'College, Clifton Hill, where he began to excel at the game. Having seen his father play in first-class cricket, and now his father having the privilege of watching his son play for Australia, there is no doubt that the younger Stackpole has modelled himself on Keith senior.

At Collingwood, his Melbourne club, he came under the eagle eye of Jack Ryder, Victorian and Australian selector and former Australian captain, who was one of the strongest drivers the game has known. Jack, a most astute judge of a cricketer, was always keen to see a batsman standing upright and hitting the ball straight down the ground off either back or front foot, but he wasn't able to instil in Stackpole the overwhelming desire to play this stroke. Instead, when Stackpole made his debut for Victoria against South Australia in the 1962-63 Australian season, his reputation listed him as being a very strong player off the back foot, round about the point and square leg area, and a more than useful change bowler as well as a good slip field.

There is a touch of irony about the fact that, when he made his debut, Stackpole came into the Victorian side as an opener, playing against a front line attack of Gary Sobers, Neil Hawke and Alan Brooks -- more than useful in the Sheffield Shield at that time. When Bill Lawry returned to the Victorian side for the next game against Western Australia, Stackpole was dropped to number three where he failed in both innings -- and Lawry himself made nought in the first innings.

Stackpole's cricket about this time was running on parallel lines with that of another promising young cricketer, Ian Chappell of South Australia, who later was to lead Australia in the 1972 tour of England, with Stackpole vice-captain. In 1965-66 in Australia, the home side was in great trouble against M. J. K. Smith's team after England had won the Third Test match in Sydney by an innings and 93 runs. The Australian selectors' answer to this was to make four changes for the Fourth Test match in Adelaide, two of which involved bringing in Stackpole for Peter Philpott and Chappell for the left-hand spinner, David Sincock. The game was a triumph for the Australian selectors and the players, Australia turning the tables on England and winning by an innings and nine runs in only four days. Stackpole, with 43 in the Australian innings, and no wicket for 30 and two for 33, more than justified his selection.

He came down to earth a little in the final Test match, making only nine runs in the match and failing to take a wicket, but had shown the Australian selectors enough in the season to be chosen to go with the side to South Africa for the 1966-67 tour. Despite some mixed performances on the tour, it was here that Stackpole began to mature as a Test cricketer and it was during this tour that he hit his first century for Australia, 134 against South Africa in the Cape Town Test. He regards this, from a personal point of view, as the most memorable game he has played in, because of his maiden century and the fact that it enabled Bob Simpson's side to square the series with South Africa after receiving a drubbing in the first game at Johannesburg. On that tour he was often dismissed on the hook shot by bowlers feeding him with a short-pitched delivery. But that is an aspect of his cricket which has improved over the last two or three seasons. Certainly he is always keen to accept any challenge from the fast bowler and the balance sheet leans a little his way these days.

At the age of thirty-two he was one of the oldest players in the Australian side last year but he has plenty of cricket left in him, both for Australia and Victoria. What looks from the grandstand a fairly open batting method proved successful enough on English pitches, despite a school of thought that Stackpole may have had some difficulty because of his concentration on back foot strokes. He says, "I didn't make any real change in my batting technique in England, but I suppose a season in the Lancashire League had given me some idea of what to expect. I think these days I probably look much harder at the ball as it is leaving the bowler's hand and after experience in England, I'm always aware now of the possibility of movement off the pitch."

Stacky, as he is known to team mates and cricket followers in Australia, speaks with tremendous enthusiasm of the 1972 tour and the emergence of some of the Australians as outstanding international cricketers. He lists Greg Chappell, Dennis Lillee, Bob Massie and Rod Marsh as the players who will keep Australia right at the top for several years yet and, at the same time, modestly dismisses his own part in the success of the tour with, "Well, I had my share of luck, was taught a lot about the game and I enjoyed the matches tremendously."

Whilst the Lord's Test match and the final victory at The Oval rate highly with him as pleasant points of the tour, he is in no doubt as to the most unpleasant section of the tour--the Headingley Test. "Easily the most depressing night of my life, that Saturday in Leeds," he said. "To know that we couldn't win the series was quite a blow after the fight back we had made at Lord's and the way the boys had pulled together throughout the tour."

Although Stackpole is the essence of modesty about his own performances, he is correctly regarded by team mates and cricket followers as being as close to an ideal member of a touring team as one could find. He is very helpful with young players -- has the fierce will to win so necessary in international cricket, and is one of the most regular workers in the practice nets. He topped the Australian batting aggregate on the England tour, hit five half-centuries and one century and, as well, made most runs on the tour in first-class matches, being beaten in the averages only by Greg Chappell.

Few people enjoy playing cricket more than Stackpole, and only one aspect of the game causes him concern these days. "I am afraid I am rather disillusioned about one-day cricket," he said. "I know it is extremely popular in England and is definitely part of the game there, and it is our job to play the matches which are put on the programme. To me though, one-day knock-out cricket should be attractive and yet most of it seems to be played in defensive vein. The one thing I would like to see happen in the game is that some way should be found to have these one-day fixtures played in an attacking manner."

He is able to speak from strength on that issue, for few more attacking cricketers have appeared at international level in the past twenty-five years. -- R.B.

© John Wisden & Co