Big-hearted, broad-shouldered Davo

Former Australia allrounder Alan Davidson was a devastating fast bowler and a generous batsman, who has spent his life serving Australian sport in various capacities

Ashley Mallett
Ashley Mallett
Alan Davidson shouldered the Australian pace attack for ten years  •  Getty Images

Alan Davidson shouldered the Australian pace attack for ten years  •  Getty Images

A left-arm fast bowler with a classical side-on, rhythmic action Alan Davidson usually bowled fast-medium, but when riled he was as swift as anyone.
Garry Sobers told me that Davo was "lightning fast when the mood took him". Keith Miller described Davo's bowling as "deadly and devastating", and said he "went after the wickets, but he was never run-hungry as a batsman. He merely batted according to the tempo of the game."
Davidson the cricketer was a big man with broad shoulders, and he needed them, because for years he carried the Australian pace attack. With his baggy green pulled down at a rakish angle over his curly hair, Davidson moved fast in the field. A superb catcher in almost any position, he held on to some breathtaking catches. No wonder they called him the "Claw".
Some have compared his bowling to the great Pakistani left-arm bowler Wasim Akram. Davo was just as good, and he made greater use of his lead arm than Wasim, and also got the ball to swing late to the right-handers.
Davidson played 44 Tests, scoring 1328 runs at 24.59 with five fifties, and took 186 wickets at 20.53 with 14 bags of five wickets in an innings and two match hauls of ten or more wickets.
He bowled against some of the greatest batsmen to play the game: men of the calibre of England's Len Hutton, Denis Compton and Peter May; and West Indians Sobers, Frank Worrell, Everton Weekes and Clyde Walcott. That is why Davidson must be rated as being among the greatest fast bowlers - of any era.
He was born in the small country town of Lisagow near Gosford, New South Wales on June 14, 1929. He learned to bowl on a pitch he burrowed out of the side of a hill on the family property. "Although it proved to be a good, flat surface, when I missed the stumps I had to chase the ball down the hill," he said of it, laughing.
The young Davidson began his cricket as a hard-hitting down-the-list batsman and a left-arm orthodox spinner, but when his uncle wanted a pace bowler for the Gosford team, he volunteered to do the job. Davo rarely bowled spin again.
Also a fine rugby league player, he turned out for the Gosford High School cricket and football teams. Then he progressed to the NSW Combined High Schools teams.
In 1947, he found work as a teller with the Commonwealth Bank and moved to Sydney to give himself a better chance of winning state selection.
Cracking the NSW team was made easier with the side's two leading fast bowlers, Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller, away touring South Africa, and old hand Ernie Toshack injured and out of contention.
Davo grabbed his chance, getting Bob McLean with his second ball on his Sheffield Shield debut against South Australia, finishing with 4 for 32. At the season's end, Davo's form was rewarded with selection in the Australian Second Xl tour of New Zealand, under the leadership of Bill Brown. Against Wairarapa in Masterton, Davidson gave notice of his all-round power by taking 10 for 29 and hitting an unconquered 157.
In the only international fixture, Davo took 4 for 24 in New Zealand's second dig, including the wicket of Test great Bert Sutcliffe. New Zealand were tottering at 76 for 9, just eight runs ahead when time ran out for a result.
His Test debut came against England in 1953. That Trent Bridge Test was drawn, but Davo could never forget his first victim: Hutton (43), caught by Benaud in the gully. In 15 overs Davidson took 2 for 22.
Davo married Betty McKinley in 1952 and their first-born, Neil, arrived on the first day of the Leeds Test of the following year. "Early that day an envelope was pushed under my door and it read: 'Betty and baby well.' But I didn't know whether it was a boy or a girl. Later that day I saw one of those grainy radio photographs and that's the first time I saw Neil, named after his godfather, Neil Harvey." Their second child, Ian, arrived while Davo was on tour in the West Indies.
Early on each day before a Shield or Test match in Adelaide, Davidson helped Colin Hayes, a champion trainer, with his racehorses. Even on Test match days there was Davo at the crack of dawn, helping wash and groom the racehorses after their dawn run along Semaphore Beach.
"I loved working with Colin's horses," Davo recalled. "It was in the days before he moved to Lindsay Park in the Barossa Valley, and no, I didn't let Sir Donald [Bradman] know… because he was then chairman of selectors. Imagine if I got kicked by a horse one morning and as a result I couldn't bowl for the last two days of a Test match."
Davo's love of horses stemmed from his work on the family's rural property at Lisagow. He was naturally fit through hard work, chopping wood and carting hay. When he wasn't working on the farm he was playing football or cricket.
He admires cricketers before and during his era, men such as Bradman, Harvey, Benaud, Hutton, Compton, Frank Tyson, Sobers, Wes Hall and a host of others. He also loves the modern players. "You know, I reckon, to watch half an hour of Mark Waugh at his best was the best batting you could see in terms of grace and style."
Davidson batted against Tyson, who he described as "mighty quick". "But I've seen all the fast bowlers since the war," he added, "and Jeff Thomson, before he injured his shoulder, was 5 to 10kph faster than anyone.
"I saw Thommo as a 17-year-old bowling for Bankstown against Billy Watson and Warren Saunders. Watson was a great hooker. He belted Tyson all over the place when he scored a century against MCC in 1954-55, but this day against Thommo he struggled to get the bat up in time to fend off the ball. It was embarrassing to watch these blokes trying to survive."
Davo didn't aim to hit batsmen in the upper body with short-pitched deliveries; he knew if he could land a blow on the inner thigh it would count: "There's not much padding in that area and if I could hit the fast bowlers there, they really did struggle to get into good rhythm when their time came to bowl."
He reached his all-round peak during the 1960-61 home series against West Indies and was regarded as the key player in Australia's victory. In the first Test, in Brisbane, despite a broken finger in his bowling hand, he became the first player to take ten wickets and accumulate more than a hundred runs in a match.
He took 5 for 135 and 6 for 87, and, after scoring 44 in the first innings, made 80 in a counter-attacking seventh-wicket partnership of 134 with captain Richie Benaud as Australia sought victory in the chase. Davidson was run out and Australia lost their way with Lindsay Kline and Ian Meckiff failing to complete the winning run, causing the first tied Test in history.
From 1970 to 2003, he was president of the NSW Cricket Association, during which time he delighted guests with his luncheon addresses. Soon after his talk he would pick up a bread roll and demonstrate to whoever was sitting beside him how he swung the ball in and took it away.
A national selector for five years, Davidson has held numerous positions on a variety of boards, including Surf Life Saving Australia, ANZAC Health and Research Foundation, the Rothmans National Sports Foundation, and the NSW Olympic Council. He also has had a number of suburban sporting grounds named after him in Wyoming and on the central coast in NSW.
He was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1988, the Australian Cricket Hall of Fame in 2004, and the ICC Hall of Fame in 2011.
A likeable bloke with sparking eyes, Davo won the hearts of all cricket lovers when he appeared recently in a TV commercial for the Commonwealth Bank. In the ad, a young boy bowls at a set of stumps in a park when along comes Davo walking a little dog. On the third attempt the boy hits the stumps and Davo says, "Well done, well done." Knowing him, you just knew he wanted to say more, but he had to stick to the script.
A great cricketer, family man and loyal friend, Alan Davidson is a national treasure.

Ashley Mallett took 132 wickets in 38 Tests for Australia. He has written biographies of Clarrie Grimmett, Doug Walters, Jeff Thomson, Ian Chappell, and most recently of Dr Donald Beard, The Diggers' Doctor