For a nation that doesn't often miss a chance to boast about how well its famous sportspeople are faring overseas, Australians are also curiously prone to forgetting about them entirely once they have faded from view. This is most certainly the case of post-war star Ken Grieves, whose Boy's Own Annual dual-sport career is all but unknown in his native country.

Grieves remains one of the great oddities of Ashes cricket for the fact that he was playing against, not with, his countrymen when he figured in four separate Australian tours of the British Isles. During the 1953, 1956, 1961 and 1964 series he featured in the tour matches of his adopted county, Lancashire, and in '64 he achieved the additional distinction of leading a first-class cricket side against the country of his birth.

Grieves could do it all, combining a long career as a goalkeeper in top-flight English football with a two-decade stint as a swashbuckling mainstay of the county game. Born in Sydney suburb Burwood in 1925, he had already made his New South Wales Sheffield Shield debut a few months after his 20th birthday, slotting in seamlessly alongside the likes of his Petersham club team-mates Sid Barnes, Ray Lindwall and Bill O'Reilly. In that game he produced 68 runs and an impressive five outfield catches as his side posted an innings victory over South Australia. A month after that he took an undefeated century off Lindsay Hassett's Services XI, a side containing Keith Miller.

Nine games and barely a year later he was gone from the Australian game for good. Contrary to some accounts that he had set off to England with football in mind, cricket historian David Frith noted that Grieves' 1947 departure was actually at the behest of Lancashire League cricket club Rawtenstall, who had had to scramble for a replacement overseas pro when pressure from Don Bradman and administrators had forced Keith Miller to renege on a two-year contract.

Confusion about the purpose of Grieves' relocation probably arises from the fact that upon arrival and before he had even hit a ball in anger, he was already in goal for Bury in a Lancashire Cup tie against Liverpool. In the decade of winters that followed, he also turned out for Bolton Wanderers, Stockport County and Wigan Athletic.

That he remains a marginal historical figure in Australia is a shame, though you'd guess that most Australians at the time would barely have known of Grieves' feats; as now, most were strangers to English domestic cricket results, and there was an active hostility towards round-ball football, seen chiefly as the pursuit of post-war European migrants, and which self-interested rival codes had long sought to kill off as a popular pursuit.

A pair of colour photos from Bolton's 1954 clash with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge are the most evocative remnants of Grieves' football career currently online. In the first one (see above) the keeper, sleeves rolled up and arms stretching to the heavens, collects the ball in front of packed stands. In the other he applies a firm hip and shoulder to Chelsea's Roy Bentley, and there's a pleasing contrast between the regal, neatly pressed attire of his opponent and the Australian's more rugged green jersey and messily laced boots.

To say those sharp reflexes and safe hands served him well in his 16-year stint at Lancashire would be a severe understatement; after joining the county in 1949, Grieves reeled in 555 catches (608 in all first-class games) and established himself as one of the greatest outfielders of his generation, perhaps one of the most gifted to never feature in internationals. He was lethal in close, and in the four seasons between 1950 and 1953 took a mind-boggling 205 catches, including a record eight in a game against Sussex in '51. Four stumpings suggest he was also partial to taking the wicketkeeping gloves when the situation demanded it.

Grieves was an attacking batsman who favoured the cut shot to a fault. A Wisden obituary when he died suddenly in 1992 called him "the epitome of the Australian professional, ferociously hard on the field, delightfully charming off it" - demeanour that made him an ideal candidate to captain Lancashire in 1963 and 1964, when he returned from a year in retirement, though dissent within the ranks and an upheaval within the club eventually put paid to that.

Could Grieves have risen to Australian cricket ranks had he stayed put, playing a local football code instead of catching a round ball? It wouldn't have been out of the question. Against Worrell's 1963 West Indies squad he made 97 out of 171 while facing the likes of Wes Hall, Lance Gibbs and Garry Sobers, an innings in which no other player passed 21. Following this, he promptly belted 123 in the second innings.

Other tourists felt his wrath too. During his 2253-run annus mirabilis of 1959, Grieves also took the Indians for 202. The 1949 New Zealand tourists may not have been world-beaters but against them at Old Trafford, Grieves clattered 14 fours and four sixes on his way to 128 and then ran through the Kiwi top order with his legspin, claiming 5 for 64. That season alone brought 1407 runs and 63 wickets, and he might have done the "double" had a temporary falling out with captain Nigel Howard not reduced his allocation of overs in the second half of the season.

In his games against the Australian Ashes tourists of '53, '56, '61 and '64 he was a little less successful - though he managed 80 and 36 against Miller, Davidson and Lindwall in '53 and certainly never looked out of his depth.

As a boy Ken Grieves had sat on the famous SCG hill as Wally Hammond scored his colossal and undefeated 231 to almost singlehandedly best the Australians. Grieves' own mark on the sporting landscape might not be quite as easily recalled but it's certainly a story worth knowing.

Russell Jackson is a cricket lover who blogs about sport in the present and nostalgic tense for the Guardian Australia and Wasted Afternoons. @rustyjacko