Neil Harvey

'I'm for fair play and good behaviour'

An Invincible on captaining Australia, asking Bradman for advice, and 1948

Interview by Nagraj Gollapudi  |  

Harvey at the Invincibles press conference in Sydney in 2005 © Getty Images

I was seven years younger than anybody else in the 1948 Invincibles side. After each day's play I just sat in the corner, said nothing, and listened to all these experienced guys who had played a lot. That's how I learned to play the game.

Cricket taught me how to talk to people, how to behave myself.

My first Test in England was at Leeds. The night before we batted, it rained, so the wicket was wet and a bit greasy. Dick Pollard got [Lindsay] Hassett first and then knocked [Don] Bradman's off stump over. I went in at 3 for 68. [Keith] Miller came up to me. I said to him, "Hey, Nugget, what's going on? Let's get stuck in." He said, "You get up the other end and I'll take the bowling for a while." I said, "That'll do, mate". [Jim] Laker was brought on to bowl and on his third ball Keith planted one foot down the wicket and whacked it. The ball disappeared over my head for six. I thought to myself, "Gee, that's pretty good." Two balls later, the same thing. I thought, "Can't be such a tough game after all." It did a lot for my confidence and we put on a century stand.

The qualities of a great batsman? Dedication, footwork, picking the line and length quickly, being able to play back as well as forward.

I was born and bred in the industrial suburb of Fitzroy in Melbourne - very inner-city, unlike the trendy outlook of today. I was one of seven children. It was a close-knit cricketing family, led by our father, who played cricket for Broken Hill. There was this one game where three of us brothers - Mervyn, Clary and myself - played for Victoria against New South Wales: perhaps the only instance three brothers played in the same game.

I was lucky. There weren't many left-hand batsmen in my time.

The Leeds Test, like Bradman maintained, was Australia's greatest Test victory. On the final day we needed 404 in a little under six hours. I witnessed one of the best partnerships - between [Arthur] Morris and Bradman. I went in with four to win and I hit Kenny Cranston to the midwicket boundary and we won with 20 minutes spare. I still remember Bradman rushing past me, saying, "Come on, son, let's get outta here," as the crowds rushed into the ground.

I treated bowlers on the basis of their ability to bowl anywhere in the world. Alec Bedser was the best bowler I ever faced. He continues to be a very good mate of mine.

Most batsmen today are front-foot players. Bradman was a back-foot player.

Baseball was a great asset for my fielding. It is good for the reflexes to field at second base because you are always in the game. A lot of ground balls are hit at you and a lot of them come very quickly and you've got to anticipate. And when you get to throw from first base, you need to have an accurate throw.

The reason Shane Warne was so successful was because not many people attacked him.

On my debut tour of England I failed initially on the greentops, where you couldn't tell the square from the outfield and the ball moved as it never did in Australia. After four matches I had an average of 7. Sammy Loxton was my room-mate and a good mate of Bradman, whom he called George, which was Bradman's second name. So I said to Sam after having those few failures, "Would you go and ask the boss what I'm doing wrong?" So he toddled up to Bradman and said, "Hey, George, my little mate's got a problem. He's not making any runs. Can you help him?" He said to Sam, "You go back and tell your little mate the only thing I can tell him is, if he keeps the ball on the ground he can't get out."

Lord's remains my favourite cricket ground.

The three things that haven't changed in the game are the length of the pitch, the stumps and the ball. Everything else has changed.

One of my best innings came on the 1959-60 tour of Pakistan, when I made 96 in Dhaka on a coir mat. I hadn't played on a coir mat since I was a kid. We didn't know if they would leave it loose or pull it tight and if it would deviate, but I still made those runs. I became a front-foot player in that particular innings. I felt I had to do it as the ball was rising only calf-high and it was moving.

I'm for fair play, good behaviour. If a batsman makes a hundred, go and shake his hand. When Bradman went out to bat before his famous duck, all the England boys came around, took their caps off and gave him three cheers.

Laker was brought on to bowl and on his third ball Miller planted one foot down the wicket and whacked it. The ball disappeared over my head for six. I thought to myself, "Gee, that's pretty good." Two balls later, the same thing. I thought, "Can't be such a tough game after all"

I led Australia only one time, in 1961 at Lord's. Richie Benaud had a bad shoulder and he couldn't play, so he came on the morning of the match and said, "You're captain today." I said, "Okay, is there anything specific that you want done?" He said, "No, do what you like." In the first innings Davo [Alan Davidson] got five wickets. We got a first-innings lead. In the second innings Graham McKenzie - it was his debut game - had blokes like Cowdrey and Dexter in trouble and ended with a five-for. Bill Lawry made 130 in the first innings - the best he played, according to me, even if he disagrees. He had bruises all over and showed a hell of a lot of guts. It was a match-winning innings. When Peter Burge went in to bat in the fourth innings, I asked him to beat the hell out of them. He hooked Brian Statham to the fence to seal the victory. I retired with a 100% record as Test captain.

[Kerry] Packer did change cricket. It was sad, the Packer affair. I was the chairman of selectors then and never thought it would work and said so in the press. The next thing I know, I get a knock on the front door with a couple of blokes standing there, 9 o'clock in the morning. "Mr Harvey, there's a writ for you: shut up or else." I never met Packer in my life, never spoke a word to him.

Lindsay Hassett was the best captain I played under. I played under five - Bradman, Hassett, Ian Johnston, Ian Craig and Benaud. Hassett was a bit of a gambler. He made declarations a lot of people wouldn't make, and made things happen. He made a declaration in 1950 against England at 7 for 32, and then we bowled them out for 122 to win the game.

I got a pair in the Test in which Laker got his ten - the only pair I ever made in my life. It remains my biggest regret.

People blamed me for Bradman not ending with an average of 100, because if he had hit that winning boundary at Leeds instead of me, he would have got that average of 100. I accept the blame.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo. A version of this interview was published in the June 2008 issue of the Wisden Cricketer