YARDLEY, BRUCE, died on March 27, aged 71. Late bloomer Bruce Yardley made his Test debut at 30, one of several tried as replacements for the players signed by Kerry Packer for World Series Cricket. Unlike many of the newcomers, Yardley prospered after peace was brokered, and was Australia's International Cricketer of the Year in 1981-82. He bowled off breaks with an unusual grip from a longish run, a relic of his days as a seamer. "He had been a good baseball pitcher," remembered former team-mate John Inverarity. "He developed a very effective 'drop ball' by placing it between his index and middle fingers, and spinning it hard. By imparting high revs he gained drop, bounce and turn." His brisk deliveries often jumped at unsuspecting batsmen, and he finished with 126 wickets in 33 Tests.
Yardley was also an attacking batsman, whose antics enraged the West Indians in Bridgetown in 1977-78, and earned a beamer from the usually placid Joel Garner. Yardley cut the next ball for six, which worried his batting partner even more. "Take it easy, mate," said Steve Rixon. "You'll get us all killed!" But Yardley careered on, reaching his half-century with another six, from just 29 balls - the fastest in Tests by an Australian until David Warner got there in 23 in January 2017 - and eventually perished for a Test-best 74. His team-mates remained in awe. "I just blocked and blocked," remembered last man Jim Higgs, "and he was trying to hit Colin Croft over cover."
To complete the set, Yardley was an athletic close fielder, especially in the gully, where he took a screamer off a Gordon Greenidge square-drive at Sydney in 1981-82. His personality led to the nickname "Roo": he could not be tied down for long. The historian Warwick Franks summed up: "In an era when Australian cricketers seemed to regard Test cricket as trench warfare with a reduced ration of mustard gas, he managed to convey a sense of enjoying the game with relish."
Yardley started with the Midland-Guildford club in Perth, where the first-team captain was the uncompromising Englishman Tony Lock. He made his debut for Western Australia in 1966-67, taking one wicket in an innings victory, but did not feature for another four years. Eventually his club coach Keith Slater, a former Test player, suggested he try off-spin. It worked. In 1977-78, as the selectors cast around in the wake of the Packer signings, Yardley was called up after taking seven for 44 - which remained a career-best - for WA against South Australia at Adelaide. His Test debut, also at Adelaide, was the final act of an exciting series against India. Despite injuring a finger in the nets just before the start, Yardley took four second-innings wickets, including top-scorers Mohinder Amarnath and Dilip Vengsarkar, and made 48 runs in a match Australia won by 47, to pinch the series 3-2.
It earned him a trip to the West Indies, where he took 41 wickets, 15 in the Tests. He was, out of the blue, called for throwing in a tour game against Jamaica by Douglas Sang Hue, West Indies' leading umpire but a World Series Cricket employee; the tourists, led by the veteran Bob Simpson, suspected a conspiracy, as they had reservations about the legality of a couple of the West Indian bowlers. Yardley's action was never queried again, but some wondered whether lingering doubts might have been behind his omission from the 1981 Ashes tour. However, he had also lost form, playing only two of the six Tests in the preceding Australian summer.
Yardley bounced back in 1981-82. He took seven for 187 from a marathon 66 overs as Pakistan reached 500 at the MCG, then improved his Test-best with seven for 98 - and ten in the match - against West Indies at Sydney a few weeks later. In all, he collected 38 wickets at 22 that season, to earn his player of the year award. The following summer he took 22 wickets as the Ashes were won, but announced his retirement shortly after being overlooked for the 1983 World Cup in England (oddly, for such an attacking player, he won only seven one-day caps). Yardley put his retirement down to his age - 36 - but made a surprise return to first-class cricket seven seasons later, playing five matches for WA,before bowing out for good when he was unavailable because of a prearranged TV commentary stint. Then came a coaching career: Yardley took charge of Sri Lanka for a while, his work interrupted by an operation in 1997 to remove his left eye, which had a cancerous growth behind it. He seemed to recover, but later faced further problems with cancer.
"He had the ability to settle everyone down in a pressure situation," remembered teammate Geoff Marsh. "He was a very funny man, and had a real passion for the game."