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Obituaries

Alan Davidson

One of Australia's last genuine all-rounders

Alan Davidson bowls in the nets at Lord's ahead of the second Test  •  PA Photos

Alan Davidson bowls in the nets at Lord's ahead of the second Test  •  PA Photos

DAVIDSON, ALAN KEITH, AM, MBE, who died on October 30, aged 92, was - with his long-time friend and captain Richie Benaud - one of Australia's last genuine all-rounders. A hard-hitting left-hander and an excellent close fielder nicknamed "The Claw", Davidson was also a versatile left-arm bowler, who pounded in off an economical run-up: his autobiography was called Fifteen Paces. Once he established himself as Australia's new-ball spearhead, in 1957-58 - more than four years after his Test debut - he took 170 wickets at 19. And in the historic tie against West Indies at Brisbane in 1960-61, he became the first to score 100 runs and take ten wickets in the same Test. "He could have been a Test batsman alone, because he had all the strokes and good technique," said Ted Dexter. "Not the man you wanted to see coming in at No. 8 when the bowlers were tired."
Davidson personified one of Australia's favourite stories, the boy from the bush made good. He grew up among the orange trees of Gosford, 50 miles north of Sydney, and in school cricket had his first jousts with Benaud, who recalled: "We were both spin bowlers, attacking batsmen and keen in the field. Davo was a left-arm spinner - not orthodox but over the wrist. He was very good, but had to give that away when the skipper of the Gosford area team found his opening bowler hadn't arrived, and gave the new ball to Alan."
The 20-year-old Davidson was tipped for stardom after a promising debut season for New South Wales in 1949-50 brought him 26 wickets, and a trip with an Australia B-Team to New Zealand, where he took all ten Wairarapa wickets for 29, then smashed 157 not out. But he faced a battle at NSW: Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller shared the new ball when not terrorising Test opponents, and Bill Johnston was also an Australian regular. To complicate matters, Queenslander Ron Archer had emerged as a promising all-rounder: he, Davidson and Benaud all toured England in 1953. Davidson played in each of the five Tests, hitting a bright 76 at Lord's, but an injury (and selectorial dithering as Frank Tyson sliced through the batting) restricted him to three appearances in the 1954-55 Ashes; he then sprained an ankle early on a tour of the West Indies.
In England in 1956, he broke his thumb against MCC at Lord's, before chipping a bone in his ankle in the First Test. On that tour, with Lindwall and Miller still ruling the roost, Davidson often bowled left-arm spin, including 44 overs in an innings against Surrey. When Australia arrived in South Africa in 1957-58, he had a modest record from 12 Tests: 317 runs at 18, and 16 wickets at 34. But now, usually opening the bowling, he turned the corner dramatically. Swinging the ball both ways, often late, he took 72 wickets on the tour, 25 in the Tests. His batting developed too: he hit four centuries in all games, and an important 62 in the Fourth Test at Johannesburg. "On the sun-drenched veld, I became a matured Test cricketer," he wrote.
England arrived for the 1958-59 Ashes with what looked an excellent side. But Australia, now captained by Benaud, upset them 4-0. Davidson and Ian Meckiff - a more controversial left-armer, with a dubious action - harried the tourists from the start. Davidson's second over in the Second Test at Melbourne was a devastating demonstration of new-ball virtuosity: Peter Richardson nibbled outside off, then Willie Watson and Tom Graveney were beaten for pace. Davidson also had his first brushes with the man who would captain England on the next tour. Dexter analysed him in typically forensic fashion: "Unlike the moderns who rush through the crease, Davo made a full turn, getting his front foot close to the stumps and then making a full body rotation. Swing and cut were a natural result. So he had good control, which accounts for his excellent career stats - details of which he always had readily available for anyone willing to listen."
Davidson's purple patch continued in the subcontinent in 1959-60. He got through 393 overs in the eight Tests (only Benaud bowled more), and reverted to brisk left-arm spin against India at Kanpur, where he took seven for 93. Then, at Brisbane in 1960, against Frank Worrell's West Indians, he followed 11 wickets with a commanding 80, which took Australia to the brink of victory, only to be run out after what he thought was a poor call from Benaud. The match ended in Test cricket's first tie.
A regular sight around this time was Davidson rubbing ruefully away at a niggle, and Benaud imploring his old mate for one more over. He usually responded. "We never knew if his injuries were imaginary or real," recalled team-mate Ken Mackay. "He would look and act as if he was dead on his feet, then bowl some unsuspecting batsman with a purler." Despite missing the Fourth Test with hamstring trouble, Davidson finished that 1960-61 series with 33 wickets, then undertook a third tour of England, where he turned the tide - and helped seal the Ashes - in the Fourth Test at Old Trafford. He hit a defiant undefeated 77, mostly in a last-wicket stand of 98 with Graham McKenzie that included 20 in an over of David Allen's off-spin. "These were not a wild slogger's swings," observed John Arlott, "but superbly made, measured strokes of immense power and timing."
He was named as one of Wisden's Five Cricketers of the Year, with the accompanying essay written by Benaud, who was also chosen. Davidson called a halt after one more Ashes series, in 1962-63, signing off with 24 wickets at 20, including one (Alan Smith) with his final delivery in Test and first-class cricket. Though greying at the temples, he was only 33, and still a considerable force. "His inswinger was often so pronounced as to be in the cartwheel category, and he retained the ability to slant the ball across," wrote local journalist Tom Goodman. "In a deadly spell in the Third Test in Sydney, Davidson resorted to fast-medium leg-cutters, and was well-nigh unplayable."
He became a respected administrator, a frequent sight at the SCG, with several trips to Lord's thrown in. In 1970, he started a 33-year stint as president of the New South Wales Cricket Association, an honorary post which involved criss-crossing the state promoting the game with unquenched enthusiasm; he was a Test selector from 1979 to 1984. His name was attached to NSW's schools' knockout competition. Lee Germon, the former New Zealand captain who is now chief executive of the NSWCA, paid tribute: "He was a wonderful player, administrator, mentor and benefactor, but most of all he was a gentleman of the game." A few years before, Benaud had pronounced: "There is no question Alan Davidson was one of the greatest all-rounders in history."