'I left cricket far too early'

Ian Davis, one of the casualties of the freeze after World Series Cricket, looks back at the troubled late '70s, the advent of protective gear, and Packer

Ken Piesse  |  
Davis with his wife Libby

Davis with his wife Libby © Ken Piesse

Knowing that you genuinely belonged was really important for me.

Helmets have to be the best-ever invention, especially for opening batsmen. In the first year of World Series Cricket, we played on sub-standard grounds and even poorer wickets. The Windies were bowling six bouncers an over. It was ridiculous. Majid Khan had his eye socket smashed, Doug Walters and [Ian] Chappelli had their thumbs smashed. Up to 40 blokes were hit. That's when Dennis Amiss came up with the idea of a motorcycle helmet to better protect us. [Tony] Greigy started using one too, and in most matches Fot [Dennis Lillee] did his best to knock it off.

I was a country kid from Shoalhaven on the [New South Wales] south coast. There are 11,000 people there and no one has ever played for Australia before or since. The Shoalhaven kids couldn't win a game, so Dad and four or five other seniors started running these weekend clinics. I'd grab a bat and start batting as the others were arriving, and soon I was playing in the Under-12s and getting some scores.

The Australian Cricket Board spoke to me, [David] Hookesy and Mick Malone and wanted us to break our contracts [with World Series Cricket]. I'd known [senior board official] Tim Caldwell for years. He told me how they'd meet our legal fees and back us all the way. Packer found out about it all and gave us one helluva serve at the Dorchester. He basically told us that we were contracted to him and no one breaks a contract with Kerry Packer. Boy, was he full-on. I felt he was looking straight at me the whole time. I felt like sliding down in my chair with my arm up saying, "Yes, Mr Packer, sir, I'll play." He had that sort of effect on people.

Hookesy was cocky. Parts of him I didn't like and parts of him I did. Hookesy idolised Chappelli, who could get away with being ruthless. And David tried to do the same sorts of things. He'd barge into the Australian rooms like he owned them. But we got on fine.

I bought a house with the [WSC] money. I got $22,500 each year for three years, even though we played only two. Packer even paid a fourth lot of $22,500 as a thank you to making myself available again for first-class cricket from 1979.

I was 20 when I first played for Australia. The others had toured England the year before and were all around 30. Ray Bright and I were the young ones who went to New Zealand [in 1973-74]. I'd taken the place of Ian Redpath, one of the most loved of all the leading players. Chappelli and the others were great but I felt that they still wanted Redders in the side.

"Packer basically told us that we were contracted to him and no one breaks a contract with Kerry Packer. Boy, was he full-on. I felt he was looking straight at me the whole time. I felt like sliding down in my chair with my arm up saying, 'Yes, Mr Packer, sir, I'll play'"

One year in the juniors, I averaged 315. They only got me out once.

None of the [WSC] players knew they were going to be outlawed and ostracised the way we were, unable to play nor even practise with our grade clubs. At the time we felt they were signing for three months of TV cricket. John Cornell told me that Chappelli wanted me in the team, and that's all that mattered to me. The money was secondary.

I answer to Wiz or Wizard more than I do Ian. On my first trip away with NSW, Dougie Walters and Brian Taber gave me the nickname after the comic-strip hero of the time.

Even after my 68 in the the Centenary Test, I was dropped from the next match, the first Test of the 1977 tour of England. Richie Robinson, who didn't even open for Victoria, took my place. I resented that.

I shifted [Sydney] clubs several times. Bankstown couldn't guarantee me a first-grade spot. I felt I needed to play at that level if I wanted to play at what I targeted as the next level, the Australian Under-19s.

I sometimes let things get to me when they shouldn't have. I allowed my emotions to take over.

I worked at the Commonwealth Bank in Sydney. Alan Davidson arranged the job for me. The bank even sent me to England in 1977 on full pay. They'd always been very generous and accommodating, but on our return the mood change was palpable. They questioned me about signing with Packer and basically said I had to pick one or the other. Suddenly I was out of work. Packer heard about it and immediately took all his money out of the bank. "Stuff you," he said. The boss of the bank even rang and asked if I could talk to him. "No way," I said. "What do you reckon Kerry would have said to me!"

Once, big Joel [Garner] struck me on the helmet and almost caved it in. He was ferociously fast.

I work in cricket every day with Spartan Sports. Michael Clarke uses our bats. He'd been with me too all the way through when I was at Slazenger.

There was no tougher game than the Centenary Test. It was my first time against England in a Test match. They were very competitive. I was surprised how quick Bob Willis was. I'd seen him bowl but never faced him previously. He had genuine pace and bounce. Before we batted a second time, [Rod] Marshy came up and said today was the day I needed to really stand up. Rick McCosker had had his jaw broken in the first innings and I went out with Skully [O'Keeffe]. It meant a lot to me to make 68 when it really counted. It helped us to set up a good score, which England only just failed to run down.

I inherited my love of cricket from my father and grandfather.

Dressed for battle in WSC

Dressed for battle in WSC © Getty Images

I left cricket far too early. But at 28 I felt I was going nowhere. I was pissed off with people's attitudes. We had a lot to offer. I thought we were coming back on equal terms but I never felt we truly were accepted. People like Kerry O'Keeffe and Gary Gilmour hardly represented New South Wales again. When I came back to play first-class cricket I could still feel the resentment. It took me until Christmas time [1979] to get back into NSW's side. Half the Shield season was already over. I got 100 against Tasmania and Richard Hadlee in Launceston and they made me 12th man the very next match. I have no proof [of victimisation] but that's just the way I felt.

I got a hundred in a hurry against Carl Rackemann and Queensland one day. Something really clicked. I played great that day.

Pup's mental capacity, dedication and discipline never cease to amaze me. He really looks after himself in every direction, from eating the right foods to icing down. When we played, the only ice we used was to keep the grog cold.

A year after playing my last game [in 1983] I thought about making a comeback. Dirk Wellham rang me and said, "If you want to play, you should. I can't guarantee a spot, but make a comeback and we can go from there." I'd broken Archie Jackson's 70-year runs record at Balmain [with 884 runs in 1983-84] and was playing better than I ever had before. But I never did get over the feeling of alienation.

Meeting Don Bradman was a real highlight. [At Slazenger] we developed a range of Bradman bats which also included a limited-edition personally signed model. I took a prototype across to show the Don and he hated it. "I don't like the handles, Ian," he told me. "I always used an oval handle." "Are you serious?" I said. I had this big order of Bradman bats coming from India and we had to put new handles on them all. They proved to be a great success and we were to raise a lot of money for his trust.

I was 23 when I signed with Packer. I was one of those in the rooms who got "theatre tickets" from Austin Robertson [Packer's key recruiter] during the Centenary Test. Inside my envelope was a cheque for eight and a half thousand dollars. We'd been playing for 50 bucks a day.

I might have been more consistent had I served a longer apprenticeship [rather than first playing Test cricket after five Shield games with NSW]. Even Dougie Walters had three seasons in the NSW team before playing for Australia. Greg Chappell had four with South Australia, plus several county seasons with Somerset. More recently, Mike Hussey kept making triple-centuries in England before finally getting into the Australian side. It hardens you up. Had I had even a second year with NSW, it would have helped. My form was so up and down. I got it back together and made three or four tons in my third year. Then WSC came along.

We were playing under lights at places like Lismore with a dog track going around the perimeter. At Mildura, [John] Snowy smashed two of my fingers on a greentop. The wickets were ordinary and the cricket very, very tough. I found the biggest thigh pads I could and strapped one on my thigh and another around my chest. With my forearm guard and everything else, I was dressed for battle.

"Thommo was the fastest bowler of my time. We faced him in Brisbane in 1976, when he was at his absolute peak. I was scared stiff. Never had I been more grateful to be caught in the gully"

I got bitter, which was a shame. That overtook everything else.

At Mt Smart, we were playing on an aluminium wicket covered with coir matting once. I was next man in and had to go the toilet, which is hard to do when you've got all your gear on. Next minute, Mick Malone stuck a heap of penny bungers under the door and basically blew up the whole cubicle. My pads were ruined. The boys loved it.

From 13 I was playing in the lower grades at Bankstown. It was an eight-hour return trip, which was often agony as I tended to get car-sick. It made for many an unscheduled stop. But we did it every weekend.

Thommo was the fastest bowler of my time, ahead of any of the West Indian expresses. We faced him in [a Shield game in] Brisbane in 1976, when he was at his absolute peak. It was beginning to drizzle and he was frighteningly quick. I was scared stiff. Never had I been more grateful to be caught in the gully.

I rate my 105 against the Pakistanis the day after Christmas, 1976, as my best Test innings. I went from 94 to 100 with a six from Saleem Altaf, which sailed over the Vic Richardson Gates.

It's my personality to be impulsive. If the ball was there to hit early on, when I felt the bowlers were getting warmed up, I'd look to hit them. It didn't always work, unfortunately.

The Don [Bradman] saw everything as either black or white. He was a hard man. But he loved cricket. As long as the game benefited, that was all he worried about.

Having missed out on the first Test [in England, 1977], they picked me for Old Trafford and I batted through the first session for 34, only to be given out caught behind when I wasn't. At Trent Bridge, when Ian Botham debuted, I'd been hit in the nets by Mick Malone the day before the Test and had eight stitches. My face blew up but I wanted to play, and I got another 30. At Headingley I was fired out, caught off my pads down the leg side. As a team our performances were deteriorating by the day. There was so much friction. In the bar, no one was getting on. We should have gone home.

Cricket writer and commentator Ken Piesse runs a new and secondhand cricket books website