CRICKETER OF THE YEAR - 1949

Don Tallon

The unobtrusive way in which DONALD TALLON keeps wicket causes much of his skilled work to go unappreciated, but critics and those who play with and against him recognise a man worthy of following such renowned Australians as Blackham, Kelly, Carter and Oldfield.

From his earliest days Tallon, born at Bundaberg, on the Queensland coast, on February 17, 1916, was helped by a cricket-loving father, himself a good slow bowler in Inter-City games. William, another of the four Tallon sons, shared Donald's intense enthusiasm and the two boys practised regularly on the turf pitch prepared by their father in the back-yard. So keen were the brothers they would continue playing till day became night. Then, should their parents have taken an evening out, kitchen furniture would be moved to allow the game to go on till the time drew near for mother and father to return. Frequent practice at keeping wicket to his brother's leg-breaks laid the foundation of Donald's ability in taking slow bowling. Apparently William also benefited for he, too, became a Queensland cricketer of distinction.

Donald learned more about wicket-keeping when he attended North Bundaberg State School where the boys received coaching from Mr. Tom O'Shea, one of the teachers and an Inter-State wicket-keeper of note. At the tender age of seven and when little more than stump high the tiny Donald began to keep wicket for the school team, and when at 13 he captained Queensland Schoolboys his prowess amazed those seeing him for the first time. He played in Grade A cricket at 14, and when 16 he enjoyed the great thrill of appearing in the Queensland Country XII against the M. C. C. of 1932-33. In M. C. C.'s innings of 376 Tallon conceded only five byes and in the happiest day of his life he stumped Sutcliffe. Before this he had been to Brisbane for the Country week and created a big impression by the certainty and nonchalance with which he took the bowling of Gilbert, the aboriginal fast bowler who was afterwards no-balled for throwing. Not until he played for Queensland at 17 against Victoria in December 1933 did Tallon see a State Match. He conceded only six byes in an innings of 542 and generally gave a fine performance, but the Queensland officials did not consider it advisable to take one so young on the Southern tour of Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales. Tallon resumed his place on the side's return and has been first choice for Queensland ever since. So soon as his fourth match he revealed batting powers with innings of 58 and 86 against South Australia, including C. V. Grimmett.

When 19 Tallon was top Queensland batsman with 503 runs, average 55.88. He enjoyed a highly successful match when he hit 193, the highest score of his career, and dismissed five Victoria batsmen in an innings. As he maintained his fine work both as batsman and wicket-keeper in the following seasons his omission from the side which toured England in 1938 became a mystery which after events did nothing to solve. Those who criticised his absence received further justification for their arguments in Australia's next home season when Tallon reached peak form and equalled two world records. Against New South Wales he dismissed twelve batsmen, six in each innings, a feat performed only once before, by Pooley of Surrey in 1868. A few weeks afterwards Tallon joined three other wicket-keepers by disposing of seven Victorian batsmen in one innings and in the score of 348 he did not concede a bye.

But for the intervention of war Tallon undoubtedly would have been included in the team which would have visited England in 1942 and his first big chance did not come till the unofficial Test with New Zealand in the 1945-46 season. Next year in his first Test series, against Hammond's team, Tallon broke all existing records by helping in the fall of 20 batsmen. Moreover, his batting average of 29.00 surpassed that of the English captain. Few people who saw his 92 in the Third Test at Melbourne will forget the power of his driving during a hurricane partnership with Lindwall. Tallon played in all five Tests against M. C. C. and in the five with India next season, but through injury he missed the Fourth at Leeds in 1948. He was troubled by another knock on the finger which was dislocated during the second Test of the 1946-47 series.

Tallon's modest part as a batsman on the English tour puzzled Australians accustomed to his deeds in State cricket. Usually, however, no great necessity existed for him to make runs in such a powerful batting side but, when the occasion demanded, he showed his batting qualities, especially in his 53 in the Lord's Test and at Bradford where he helped materially to pull Australia through their most anxious match.

As with his predecessor, W. A. Oldfield, from whom he received many useful hints, the 5ft. 10½ in. Tallon introduces no flourish or flamboyance into his play. When the bowler begins his run-up he folds himself nearly double and does not move again till he has seen all that he needs to know from the flight, length and spin of the ball. For over after over his wicket-keeping will be unnoticed. Then comes the chance of a stumping and the bails are off in a flash; or a batsman snicks a ball on the leg side and Tallon dives across for a catch that brings the crowd rising to its feet. His dismissal of Hutton in the Oval Test was considered the catch of the season, but such acrobatics are reserved for urgent occasions. Usually neat, clean taking on the leg side marks his work.

Also Tallon possesses the virtue of inspiring a bowler credited with a success he did not expect, but brought about by the wicket-keeper's brilliant deed. Strong driving and desire to score rapidly make Tallon's quick-footed batting very attractive to watch.

His hands bear little evidence of long years as a wicket-keeper and they could be mistaken for those of a pianist. Tallon married a girl from his Bundaberg home town.

© John Wisden & Co