John Wesley Martin
July 28, 1931, Wingham, New South Wales
July 15, 1992, Burrell Creek, New South Wales, (aged 60y 353d)
Left hand Bat
Slow Left arm Orthodox, Left arm Wrist spin
One of the last of a now all but extinct breed, Johnny Martin bowled unorthodox low left-arm in eight Tests for Australia during the 1960s, and was, when his aggressive batting was taken into account, as great an entertainment package as almost any cricketer to come out of NSW.
Small and unceasingly chirpy, he grew up on the central coast, near Taree, one of 10 children of the manager of Burrell Creek's post office and general store, which Johnny himself ended up managing. He died on July 15 after a heart attack, having survived one 20 years earlier, and had bypass surgery in 1984. He was 60.
Born in Wingham of July 28, 1931, John Wesley Martin (whose mother was related to 1890s Surrey and England fast bowler Tom Richardson) first went down to Sydney at 15, and saw Bradman and Barnes score 234 each against England in December 1946. His imagination was fired. Over the next few years his local reputation spread, and in 1953-54 he joined Sydney grade club Petersham, catching the overnight train to the match each Saturday and returning home that evening. Buzzing his curving chinaman (googly), appealing alternately softly and urgently, bustling quickly back for the next one, and batting with great vigour (he hit 166 sixes for his grade club), Martin was eventually chosen for NSW in 1956-57. A promising Rugby League career was shelved.
He was to play through to 1967-68, trying his luck in one season ( 1958-59) with South Australia, for whom he took 7 for 110 against Peter May's MCC side without earning Test selection. Lindsay Kline, the Victorian of similar style, was preferred.
He had toured New Zealand with the young 1956-57 Australian (non-Test) side, returning there three years later, again under Ian Craig's captaincy, and in . 1961 his travels were extended with a season at Colne, in Lancashire, where he took 70 wickets at 12 and hit 706 runs at 35.
By now he had become a Test cricketer, having played in three of the exciting 1960-61 Tests against West Indies (and substituted in the field in the tied Test at Brisbane), his first, at Melbourne, being the 500th Test match, and bringing him poignantly what were to remain best batting and bowling performances in an eight-Test career. Going in at No. 10, he raced to 55 off the bowling of Hall, Watson, Worrell (whom he hit for six) and Ramadhin, before Valentine bowled him as he went for another big hit. He and MacKay put on 97 in 72 minutes, extending Australia's total to 348, which proved enough for a seven-wicket victory after West Indies failed to avoid the follow-on.
Martin's greatest achievement came in West Indies' second innings. They were 97 for 2, still 70 behind, when he bagged three of the most illustrious wickets Test cricket has ever had on offer in the space of only four balls. Kanhai made a mess of an attempted pull and was caught; resuming next over, Martin found the edge as a languid Sobers propped forward, to be caught by Simpson at slip; and after playing the hat-trick ball, Worrell was also caught by Simpson, completing a `pair'. These were the only wickets Martin took in the match, but his allround contributions would probably have earned him the Man of the Match award had such been on offer in those days.
He failed to take a wicket at Sydney in the next Test, and helped Gibbs to a reciprocal three wickets in four balls by falling to the first he received. Dropped for the Adelaide Test, he returned for the final contest, at Melbourne, where 90,800 attended on the second day, and though he did little of note, he was with MacKay at the end as Australia scraped in by two wickets.
`Little Fav' (he seemed everybody's favourite, with his bouncy, cheerful disposition) had to wait three years before his next Test appearance, though he continued to bamboozle many a batsman in domestic cricket. In 1962-63 he took a career-best 8 for 97 for NSW v Victoria at Sydney. Next season, when he made his sole first-class century (101 against WA at Perth), he played in the Second Test against South Africa, at Melbourne, and took four wickets. Disappointment at further omission was offset by selection to tour England in 1964, though he played in none of the Tests, and was troubled by a recurring shoulder injury. His 35 tour wickets came at 32.40, and he averaged 19 with the bat, his top-score 70 coming at Taunton.
Martin played in two Tests in India and one in Pakistan on the way home, in front of massive crowds, picking up eight further wickets and playing a few useful tailend innings; but there was only one Test appearance to come, and that was at Port Elizabeth on the 1966-67 tour, the final Test, after Martin had taken 11 wickets in the Griqualand West match and six in the South African XI match at Pietermaritzburg preceding the Test. A duck (his third in Tests) and 20, and no wickets in 22 overs came as a muted farewell, even if all in attendance had Graeme Pollock's three-hour century to remember the match by.
Johnny Martin, the ideal tourist, had gone on the Cavaliers' tour of India and South Africa in 1962-63. When he retired in 1968, he had spun out 445 batsmen at 31.17, 17 times taking five or more wickets in an innings. His 17 Test wickets had cost almost 50 apiece, though he had not been an extravagance, conceding no more than 2.7 runs per six-ball over. His 3970 - mainly breezy - first-class runs had come at 23.77. So much for figures. He was one of cricket's precious characters, whose skill was rare and whose attitude was just what the game has always needed.
David Frith, Wisden Cricketers' Almanack
Batting & Fielding