Ian Chappell

When Colin Milburn went berserk at the Gabba

Remembering an astonishing session of batting at a Shield game in 1968-69

Ian Chappell
Ian Chappell
Floats like a butterfly, swings like a beast: Colin Milburn hits his stride  •  PA Photos

Floats like a butterfly, swings like a beast: Colin Milburn hits his stride  •  PA Photos

In these sport-less days it's timely to ask: "Is this the best batting in a session ever?"
No, I'm not talking about Sir Donald Bradman's 309 in a day at Headingley in 1930, where he scored a century in each of the first two sessions.
I'm not reminiscing about the carnage Virender Sehwag caused at Brabourne Stadium in 2009-10 when he broke his own record for the fastest Test 250, coming off just 207 balls.
And I'm not paying tribute to Barry Richards' 325 in 330 minutes when he pulverised a Western Australia Shield attack in Perth that included great Australian speedsters Dennis Lillee and Graham McKenzie. If you're looking for a clue to the innings I'm referring to, think about Richards' opponents that day and you're getting warm.
It was a pulsating innings in 1968 by Englishman Colin "Ollie" Milburn when he was playing Shield cricket for WA against Queensland at the Gabba.
On a steaming hot day Milburn opened with Derek Chadwick and moved rather sedately to 61 by lunch, with WA a secure 0 for 92. In those days the only way to obtain Shield scores - other than the stumps radio summary - was by calling a dedicated telecom number.
I had called at lunch and when I phoned again in the tea break the recorded message said; "WA 0 for 327, Milburn 242 and Chadwick 76."
"The commentator's drunk," I thought, "nobody scores 181 in a session." That's a mammoth output for a team never mind an individual.
However when I heard the stumps summary, Ollie had indeed scored 181 on his own. His voluminous tally had been garnered off just 131 balls and was by some margin the most runs scored in an Australian session.
His innings is best summed up by Rod Marsh, who was also playing for WA. "Ollie hit every shot in that session hard enough to reach the boundary," claimed Marsh, "it's just that they managed to stop a few."
What makes the innings even more memorable is the comment the rotund Milburn made in the lunch break. Spying a fellow cricketer with a thirst, the freely perspiring Milburn looked across the dressing room at Marsh and said: "F*** me, Rodney, it's hot out there - I won't be roonin' too many after lunch."
Milburn hit 38 fours and four sixes in his extravaganza - he was a man of his word. One six was a pull shot smashed straight at an unfortunate Geoff Gray fielding on the boundary. Such was the power of the shot that the ball burst through Gray's hands, hit him in the chest and continued on over the boundary while the fielder was almost impaled on the pickets.
Gray received a memento from Milburn's innings - a lifelong scar where the stitches were inserted.
Knowing Milburn and his thirst, he would have scorned rehydration in an ice bath that night, rather he would have drunk what was on ice.
Milburn only played nine Tests prior to a career-ending accident because of the conservative nature of England's selections in those days. He blazed his way to a century in his last Test innings and just as he appeared set to establish a permanent place in the England side, he tragically lost an eye in a car accident.
I played two Tests against Milburn in the 1968 Ashes series. He scored a memorable 83 at Lord's that included two sixes. I don't recall the second but I'll never forget the first.
It hit the grandstand scoreboard with such force that some of the numbers flew off their hinges and rained down on the spectators.
Appropriately, the last time I saw Ollie was in a Manchester bar during the 1989 Ashes series. Sadly it wasn't long after that night out that Ollie died of a heart attack, aged only 48. A mate of mine rang to tell me the bad news: "Ollie died in the car park of the Britannia pub."
"Was he going in or coming out?" I asked.
"Apparently he was coming out," was the response.
"That's good," I said, "he would've died happy."
And I'll bet the reported 2038 patrons at the Gabba on November 22, 1968, go to their grave believing they witnessed the best ever batting in one session.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is a columnist