My mate Tangles

Looking back at the wit and bowling of Max Walker

Ashley Mallett
Ashley Mallett
Walker and the Queen have a word about the weather  •  Getty Images

Walker and the Queen have a word about the weather  •  Getty Images

In my mind's eye I see him. Boldly he approaches, arms and legs flailing, his body jerking madly to and fro like a human pinball machine. Then the strength through the crease and his trademark "right arm over left ear hole" delivery. They called him Tanglefloot, Tangles or Tang. No ordinary bloke commands three nicknames.
Time stood still when I heard the sad news of Max Walker's passing. Some people seem bulletproof, invincible.
Tangles, who had successful Test cricket and VFL football careers, then a lengthy spell on television, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Richie Benaud, Ian Chappell, Bill Lawry and Tony Grieg, was a man who reinvented himself through his career.
He was born in West Hobart, Tasmania on September 12, 1948. At Hobart High School he opened the batting, once hitting a century for Tasmania Colts.
I played in Tangles' debut big game, the second Test against Pakistan at the MCG in December 1972. Despite his gangly action, he was strong at delivery, and his powerful hand whipped down the right side of the ball to deliver legcutters that tended to move in towards the right-hander and then cut away to telling effect.
He had to bowl a good deal on that placid MCG pitch. Pakistan amassed 574 for 8 before mercifully declaring. After 24 overs Tangles had to settle for a modest return of 2 for 112. He bowled beautifully in the second innings, taking 3 for 39 off 14 overs. In the wake of their three run-outs and Walker's haul, Pakistan fell for exactly 200 - a 92-run loss. Next day the local paper ran the banner heading across the top of its back page: "PANIKSTAN."
In the next match, the third in the series, Pakistan needed 159 for a victory. Max bowled with the hostility of a fast bowler and the guile of a class spinner to destroy the visitors, taking 6 for 15 off 16 overs, and the game went to the Australians.
A great tour of West Indies followed, where he took 26 wickets at 20.
During the first Test of that series, at Sabina Park in Kingston, Lawrence Rowe was giving the Australians a pasting. At one point he hooked Dennis Lillee high to fine leg, where Max ran in in his ungainly way, arms and legs all over the place, until he got to the stage where he had to dive in the general direction of where he thought the ball might land. Thereupon he brought off a near-impossible catch, rolled over gleefully, jumped to his feet and held the ball aloft to the rum-soaked section of the crowd he had been entertaining all morning. His great moment was shattered when Ian Chappell yelled, "Tangles, throw the ball back. It's a no-ball - they've already run three."
I was also in the side the day Tangles took a career-best 8 for 143 for Australia, against England at the MCG in 1974-75. Two incidents stand out. One memory is of how he brilliantly caught and bowled England captain Mike Denness. And the other is of him bursting out laughing when the pop singer Shirley Bassey came into the Australian dressing room, sat down with the players and joyfully announced, "Glad to see you chaps are winning." There was silence before the famous singer's confidant whispered, "Ma'am, I don't think we are in the England dressing room."
We won that Ashes series 4-1. The MCG Test was the one that got away.
Tangles played a big part in the next series, against West Indies again, helping Australia beat Clive Lloyd's men 5-1, though he only played in three of the five Tests.
He turned out for Australia in 34 Tests in all, and perhaps his finest period on the big stage was as back-up to Lillee and Jeff Thomson during the 1974-75 summer.
Tangles had a "Roman" nose, big moustache and infectious smile. He was always telling stories, and was known to embellish them in such a way that the most mundane tale suddenly developed a life of its own. Even the Queen couldn't help but grin when she met Max on the field during the afternoon interval on the penultimate day of the 1977 Centenary Test match at Tangles' beloved MCG. As he shook hands with Her Majesty, he replied to her general enquiry as to how he was feeling in the heat and with England piling up the runs: "Geez, ma'am, I'm bloody hot!" The Queen was introduced to the side in alphabetical order, and she had already faced a delivery from Dennis Lillee further back in the line, who had produced an autograph book when Greg Chappell introduced him. "Not now," the Queen smiled graciously.
In 1975, Tangles accompanied Ross Edwards and yours truly to a dinner at John Arlott's Southampton home. Arlott battled to get a word in. Max had arrived with an avalanche of stories and he intended to deliver them - all of them. The great English raconteur did manage to wax lyrical about the virtues of SF Barnes, but the only time there was silence was when a small woman tripped into the room, said nothing, sat at the end of the table and lit up a corncob pipe. That was the only occasion I ever saw Tangles lost for words.
After cricket, he worked tirelessly on radio and television. He was ever on the lookout to create and earn. Opportunities were there for the taking. Once, he offered advice about getting on the public speaking circuit: "Rowd, don't wait for the phone to ring. It never will. Be proactive." Be it bowling, writing or speaking, he made things happen. He had a winning formula.
Up on high, Tangles will bowl to Trumper and Bradman, talk architecture with Christopher Wren, and no doubt catch up with fellow TV commentators Benaud and Grieg
He wrote over a dozen books, including How to Hypnotise Chooks, The Wit of Walker and How to Puzzle a Python. Collectively they sold in excess of a million copies. Tangles self-published and promoted them personally, loading up his car with copies of his latest title and taking off to all parts of Australia, including little country towns, selling his books in the wake of brilliant after-dinner talks.
He did a number of memorable ads, including one for Aerogard, an insect repellent. In the ad, his co-star, a little boy, asked: "What annoys you most as a bowler?"
"Batsmen… and flies," Max answered.
At the end of the ad the little boy uttered a line that pretty much became part of folklore in the 1980s: "'Aveagoodweekend, Mr Walker."
Max made many televisions ads, often in league with the legendary Doug Walters. In one, they sat drinking cans of Tooheys low-strength beer in the middle of a lake. The idea was, the boat would capsize. Doug thought trick photography was the way to go, and when he mentioned that to the film crew, Tangles winked. Next thing, Doug was floundering about in the icy water, with Tangles roaring his delight. After a thorough drenching, Walters was looking for more than a "Tooheys or two".
Back in 1985 I asked Sir Donald Bradman if he would launch a book for me at the SCG. Sir Donald wasn't available, but he later said: "I think you have made a good choice in having Max Walker launch your book on Victor Trumper. He is a real humorist and presents a happy medium between the conservatives and the Chappells."
Up on high, Tangles will bowl to Trumper and Bradman, talk architecture with Christopher Wren, and no doubt catch up with fellow TV commentators Benaud and Grieg.
God love him. We are going to miss him.

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