Len Darling

Len Darling

LEN DARLING, one of only five survivors among the Australians who withstood the deadly Bodyline attack of 1932-33, died in Adelaide in June, after a short illness. He was 82. A left-hand middle-order batsman, he played in 12 Tests, touring England (1934) and South Africa (1935-36), and registering his top score, 85, in the final Test of the 1932-33 series, at Sydney. He had made his Test debut in the previous match, at Brisbane, scoring 17 and 39 (top score, run-out), and was considered by contemporary observers to have survived the campaign with less aversion to bouncers than any of his team-mates apart from McCabe.

Darling's batting was always positive as well as selfless. Born in South Yarra on Aug 14, 1909, he shone as a colt, without creating a stream of huge scores, and was first chosen for Victoria in 1926-27, when only 17. Intermittent appearances followed. A 96 helped salvage a draw at Sydney after Bradman's 340 not out had taken NSW to 713 for 6, and a 60 against Queensland and 87 against the strong 1928-29 MCC bowling raised his prospects. Two years later he made 83 for Victoria against the West Indians, and in the following season, 1931-32, his unbeaten 111 against NSW at Melbourne, which saw his side to an amazing victory when their target was 434, persuaded the Test selectors to make him 12th man for the final Test. Another Shield century followed, and in his first State match next season he made 185 at Brisbane, putting on a record 301 for the fourth wicket with fellow left-hander Leo O'Brien. At Adelaide came 150 in 3 ½ hours (a record 281 for the third wicket with Keith Rigg), then 128 at home against Queensland. Australia, battered by Larwood and Voce, were ready to call Darling up for the fourth Test. His success at Brisbane and in the fifth Test, followed by a century for Victoria against the Englishmen, sealed his reputation.

Len Darling: Bodyline batsman

His career-highest came next season, 188 in five hours against Queensland at Brisbane, followed by a couple of nineties, and he was on the ship to England for the 1934 tour. Darling played no great part in Australia's regaining of the Ashes. His four Test appearances returned him only 77 runs at 12.83, with 37 at Old Trafford his best effort. In the Lord's debacle ( Verity 15 for 104) he was found wanting, like most of his team-mates, by movement of the ball on an off-stump line.

There were brighter moments, though, with 98 at Cambridge, 100 at Oxford, 96 against Hampshire, 79 at Taunton, and 117 against Sussex at Hove, where he and Kippax (250) had a stand of 215 which had Tate holding his brow. Darling finished the tour with 1022 runs at 34.07, but in that strong batting line-up this gave him no better than eighth place.

Three Shield centuries, all made briskly, in the 1934-35 season ensured him of a place on Vic Richardson's Australian tour of South Africa the following season, and he contributed steadily with two sixties and smart fielding as Australia, with their mighty spin attack, forged to a 4-0 victory. Darling's 711 tour runs (47.40) included centuries against Rhodesia and Transvaal, and he was McCabe's partner during that batsman's sensational innings at Johannesburg when the South Africans appealed against the light in self-defence.

The 1936-37 season back home was Darling's last, but it embraced three fine achievements at the MCG: centuries in the South Australia and Queensland matches, and a recall for the third Test match, in which Australia began their fightback after losses in the first two Tests. Here, he scored 20 in a tense hour before being caught high at mid-off by Allen off Verity. By contrast, in the second innings, when Australia's tailenders had been sent in early on a wet pitch, Darling found himself going in No. 9 with 511 on the board and his side 635 ahead. Allen bowled him - played on - first ball. Darling's mark had been made on his final Test, however, with three catches in England's first innings, two of them at short leg quite startling.

Three weeks later his last first-class innings brought him 62 for Victoria at Sydney, and then marriage took him to Adelaide, where he spent the rest of his days. Leonard Stuart Darling played in 100 first-class matches and scored 5780 runs at 42.50, with 16 centuries. He held 59 catches and took 32 wickets at 47.00 with unremarkable medium-pace. In Tests he scored 474 runs at 27.88. An athletically-built 5ft 9ins, he had played club cricket for South Melbourne and Melbourne, working for the latter club as an office clerk.

© John Wisden & Co