One and Done

Australia's forgotten prodigy

Les Joslin was expected to become a premier Australian batsman along the lines of Neil Harvey. But he only played one Test

Brydon Coverdale |

"I don't go around broadcasting that I played Test cricket. Every now and then someone will recognise my name, but they usually have to be 60-plus" Brydon Coverdale / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

At 18, Les Joslin became the youngest Victorian ever to score a Sheffield Shield century. At 20, he debuted for Australia and most observers expected it to be the first of many Tests. By 22, Joslin's first-class career was over. By 23, he was a sub-district player, all but finished with Melbourne's first-grade cricket. He had gone from wunderkind to wondering what went wrong.

It was always going to be hard for Joslin to live up to the expectations placed on him at a young age. As a child he learnt the game from George Tribe, the former Test cricketer and a family friend, and throughout his teens Joslin was always a boy playing against men. A classy left-hand batsman, he was compared to Victorian predecessors such as Neil Harvey and Bob Cowper.

He also had one big fan on Australia's selection panel, former Test captain Jack Ryder. A fellow Victorian, Ryder was nearly 80 but liked the young batsman's style, the way he played his shots but didn't slog. Once, after he failed in his efforts to have Joslin named in a squad to tour New Zealand, Ryder was asked by the ACB board secretary what he would have to drink. "Poison," Ryder replied.

But Joslin was picked for a Test against India at the SCG in January 1968, and for the Ashes tour of England that followed later that year. He wasn't much of a success in either, though, and within two years he was no longer part of the Victoria side. It is the sort of downward curve that could leave a bloke disillusioned and in the decades since then, Joslin has become a classic case of "whatever happened to?"

And it is true that Joslin has had no involvement in cricket for nearly 30 years. He doesn't attend club functions, and has moved on from that part of his life. But don't let that fool you. Australia's 245th Test cricketer remains proud of having worn the baggy green, even it was just once, nearly 48 years ago. Even if he never quite met the expectations of those who considered him a batting prodigy.

Now 68, Joslin watches a bit of cricket on TV these days, but that's it. His focus is on his current work in the harness-racing industry. Still, all the memorabilia, the baggy greens, the blazers, they are safely tucked away, looked after by his adult daughters. His grandson has taken a baggy green to school, proud to boast of his granddad the Test cricketer. For Joslin, it all seems like a lifetime ago.

"I think a lot of blokes are like that, Joslin says. "It's part of your life and then you move on to the next part of your life. I don't go around broadcasting that I played Test cricket. I keep it pretty quiet. Every now and then someone will recognise my name, but they usually have to be 60-plus."

Joslin, who batted well against pace, struggled when facing India's spinners in his only Test

Joslin, who batted well against pace, struggled when facing India's spinners in his only Test © PA Photos

Plenty of people knew Joslin's name back in the late 1960s, when he emerged with 126 in his third first-class match, at the age of 18 against Western Australia at the MCG. Just over a year later Joslin found out - from a reporter, of course, rather than a selector - that he had been picked for the fourth Test against India in Sydney. Trouble was, Joslin's strength was against fast bowling. But spinners? At the SCG?

"I had Bishan Bedi and Prasanna bowling to me," Joslin says. "Our guys made a few runs before me, then I came in and the ball's turning. I remember sweeping [in the second innings] and there was this little guy called Abid Ali. He was only a little guy. Somehow he jumped six foot on the fence and caught it as it was going over. Anybody else would have caught it comfortably.

"You'd like your time over again, straight afterwards. The legs were a bit heavy, being the first Test I'd played. And I was the youngest one by a long way. I didn't know what missing out meant. Not trying to be smart, you miss out a few times but I was always confident that the next time I went out to bat I'd make runs."

Confounded by India's spinners, Joslin made 7 and 2. His mother, girlfriend and brother Graeme - also a talented cricketer who captained the Australia Under-19s, and was later a VFL footballer for Footscray - were at the SCG to see Joslin's big match. His father Ron stayed at home in Yarraville, in Melbourne's inner western suburbs, to run his butcher's shop.

Yarraville was also George Tribe territory; as a young boy, Joslin used to fetch the balls at the local cricket club, where Tribe coached. By 13, Joslin was playing in the firsts for Yarraville in Melbourne's sub-district competition. Rarely did he play against kids his own age. Everything Joslin learnt came from Tribe: play along the ground and find the gaps, don't slog it but keep the score moving.

"He said: 'This is a game between you and the bloke up the other end, no one else,'" Joslin says. "He said: 'He doesn't dominate you, you dominate him.'"

After Yarraville came the Footscray Cricket Club in Melbourne's first-grade competition. While still a teenager Joslin used to catch a ride with team-mate Ken Eastwood, then in his early 30s, to Footscray's matches. Little did they know they would both become one-Test players. Most surprisingly, Joslin played for Australia three years before Eastwood, despite being 12 years younger.

Joslin (fourth from right) in London with the 1968 Ashes squad

Joslin (fourth from right) in London with the 1968 Ashes squad © PA Photos

After his Test against India, Joslin was not confident of being chosen for the 1968 Ashes tour. But a couple of decent scores at the end of the Sheffield Shield season got him on the trip. A particularly wet English summer limited his opportunities in the tour matches, but when Bill Lawry was injured for the fourth Test in Leeds, Joslin was a chance to be picked. Instead, John Inverarity got the nod due to his experience as an opener.

"I was virtually a tourist," Joslin says. "I had a slow start, then I had a lot of innings between 20 and 50 when I got a hit. I think a lot of it was because I wasn't doing much in between. You couldn't even practise. I was like the ball boy. But I was thrilled to bits to be there. It was very special."

Unfortunately, that was the extent of Joslin's international career. When he returned to Victoria he never quite regained the touch that had led to his Test selection, and knee problems did not help his cause in the coming years. In the 1968-69 and 1969-70 summers he averaged less than 20, and was eventually omitted by his state. Australia - and Victoria - had no shortage of high-class batsmen.

"You can't really complain when you know the players around you," Joslin says. "To squeeze in when you've got Cowper, Redpath, Sheahan, Stackpole, Lawry, Watson as an allrounder - you can't complain when you're trying to squeeze one of them out.

"It is what it is at the time. If I was good enough I would have been good enough. I think you've got to look back on it as an achievement, not a negative. It's just that I've moved on, I've pocketed that part of my life. In two years' time I'll probably move on to a retirement way of looking at things. Three stages and that'll do me."

When we meet at a café in Melbourne, Joslin is in a reflective mood, and asks about others in the One and Done series - including his old Foostcray colleague, Eastwood. How did they view their one-off chances? Did they think they should have got another go? "I was pretty happy to get one!" Joslin says.

After cricket he worked in the tobacco industry, and now works for a stud-breeding operation in harness-racing. Occasionally people recognise the name but unlike Eastwood, who still umpires local cricket at the age of 80, Joslin's cricket days are well behind him. Still, he is pleased they happened, proud of being Australia's 245th Test cricketer, and of the opportunities that it brought him.

"I met prime ministers and royalty, met the Queen a couple of times," he says. "At Clarence House I met the Queen Mother and the Queen, Princess Margaret. They all had a glass of scotch in their hand. That's like a side issue that rounds you off as a person as well, meeting all these people and having the opportunity of sitting down and talking to them. It's something to reflect back on every now and then."

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale

 

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