Lindsay Hassett, born on August 28, 1913, was one of the greatest Australian batsmen. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the career of the man who defied the concept of the archetypical Australian.
It would be wrong to think that Arthur Lindsay Hassett did not want to win. Of course he did; everyone playing any sport at any level does; he was as much a professional as any of his colleagues. The War heroes — Denis Compton, Keith Miller, Godfrey Evans, Hassett — had also probably seen death too closely to give a sport a larger-than-life image.
Few cricketers have matched Hassett’s skills as a batsman. Despite the fact that he had played in the golden era (well, a golden era) of Australian cricket alongside a few Who’s Who of the sport he managed to create a niche of his own. He was one of those batsmen who made strokeplay look incredibly easy: “his [Hassett’s] superb timing, nimble footwork and strong wrists enabled him to make batting look a simple matter,” wrote Wisden. “A master of nearly every stroke,” added the almanac.
There was another Hassett as well – the quintessential team-man. Don Bradman mentioned that Hassett was “capable of taking charge at critical moments and always willing to risk his wicket his wicket in the interests of the match.” The great man was also impressed by Hassett’s technique, mentioning that “a sound defence made him [Hassett] at home under any conditions.”
When it came to facing quality spin Hassett has been one of the greatest batsmen Australia has produced, being one of the few men in the history of the sport who could face Bill O’Reilly confidently. The wily leg-spinner had admitted that few batsmen had mastered him the way Hassett had: he could always read O’Reilly’s googlies, and stepped out to hit them over leg. O’Reilly wrote of Hassett: “nobody has kept me out like that little bastard [Hassett].”
Ray Robinson wrote in On Top Down Under about the rather amusing spectacle of watching the two great men of contrasting structure pitted against each other. He wrote that the huge O’Reilly “towered nine inches above him [Hassett]; it would have looked more apt for Hassett to sell him a newspaper than contend with his bowling.”
It was O’Reilly who brought the best out of Hassett. He was also probably the only batsman to needle the great leg-spinner on a consistent basis. When O’Reilly found Hassett’s edge consistently in a match the leg-spinner asked the batsman whether his bat contained a middle. Hassett’s response was spontaneous: “I don’t need one with you.”
Then there was Hassett’s fielding capabilities with equally capable in the outfield and at short-leg (with Sid Barnes, or when the latter wasn’t playing). Additionally, he was a shrewd reader of the match. “His [Hassett’s] knowledge of the game and views on tactics [were] extremely sound,” Bradman mentioned.
Of his fielding and (limited) bowling The Canberra Times wrote: “To see [Lindsay] Hassett field was to see balanced crispness; not for him the goalkeeper’s dive with flannels at the end of the day looking like camouflage trousers. He was known to bowl, approaching the wicket with small measured steps, his hands clasping the ball as a mouse grasps a piece of cheese.”
Hassett had acted as Bradman’s deputy for three series and eventually succeeded him as the national captain. As a leader he was the complete antithesis; no longer was Australia was led by a man who sent out a message of incessant ruthlessness to the opposition. Hassett was typically expressionless with the faintest hint of smile; the opposition never had any idea of what was going through his mind.
He was the perfect ambassador for his country, playing a role more than the average player’s on overseas tour, often emerging as the most knowledgeable one on the tour. His dry sense of humour won him many an admirer overseas. Neville Cardus wrote of him: “Australia has sent to these shores no captain of cricket who shared [Lindsay] Hassett’s secret into our English ways, knowing it without any surrender of Australia’s own related yet not entirely similar ways.” Evan Gray remarked that he “always had a twinkle in his eye, he cast a shadow little longer than his bat, and he was a true sportsman.”
With a jovial attitude and commendable diplomatic skills Hassett emerged as an excellent leader of men. Following Bradman at the helm was no mean feat (one must keep in mind that this also meant that the captain would be left without Bradman the batsman), but Hassett did not disgrace himself or his country at any point of time, emerging as one of the most successful Australian captains.
Most successful Australian captains (Qualification: 20 matches):
In 43 Tests Hassett scored 3,073 runs at 46.56 with 10 hundreds and 11 fifties, which gave him a 47.6 per cent conversion rate. Among Australians with over 10 hundreds he comes next to only Bradman (obviously), Matthew Hayden, and Arthur Morris. In all First-Class cricket, Hassett had 16,890 runs from 216 matches at 58.24 with 59 hundreds.
Hassett ranks fourth among all Australians and fifth among all non-Indians in terms of batting average, the other four being Bradman, George Headley, Bill Ponsford, and Bill Woodfull (it is to be noted that with a 50-innings cut-off 11 of the top 16 are Indians, which includes five current cricketers).
Lindsay Hassett grew up in a family of enthusiastic budding cricketers at Geelong. Edward, his father, was a competent club cricketer. Lindsay was the youngest of nine children, and had grown up playing three-a-side cricket with his five brothers in their backyard.
Lindsay’s brother Richard went on to play for Victoria; another brother VX Hassett played for Victoria County; their nephew John Shaw also played for Victoria as well, while a grandnephew Richard Xavier played for Victoria Second XI. Lindsay was, however, the best of the crop.
Hassett studied at Geelong College like his brothers, and was considered a prodigious sportsperson right from his college days: he captained his college in cricket, football, and tennis, and set up a record aggregate for Victoria Schools and won the Victoria Public Schools Combined Tennis Championship. Later he also went on to become, to quote Wisden, “a golfer of considerable ability”.
At college he was coached by the grade player PL Williams who had also coached Ross Gregory and Ian Johnson. At 17 he scored a brilliant 147 against the visiting West Indians. The innings, however, went largely unnoticed as Wisden called him Bassett.
In the early 1930s, Hassett ran into a terrible run, scoring seven consecutive ducks for South Melbourne. On his eighth outing he was out plumb leg-before (but not given) and was dropped twice on nought; he went on to score 150. When Douglas Jardine’s men were pelting the Australians with the red ball, Hassett made his debut against South Australia at MCG scoring four and nine. He failed against Tasmania as well and was shelved for three years.
He exploded a year after his comeback scoring seven consecutive fifties. Despite not scoring a single hundred he scored 503 at 71.85 that season as Victoria won the Sheffield Shield. The elusive century came next year, when Hassett scored 127 not out against the visiting New Zealanders at MCG. He ended the season with 693 runs at 53.30 and was selected for the Ashes tour that summer.
The first Ashes
Hassett startled everybody on his first Ashes tour with a deluge of runs in May. He began the tour with 43 against Worcestershire at New Road; this was followed by 146 against Oxford University, 148 against Leicestershire at Aylestone Road, 220 not out against Cambridge University, 57 against MCC at Lord’s, and 98 against Surrey at The Oval.
Suddenly, with two matches to go, Hassett stood on 712 runs — 288 short of reaching a thousand by May. Against Hampshire at Southampton, however, Australia scored 320 for one as rain ruled out the first day’s play (Bradman did reach a thousand that match), but Hassett did not get a chance to bat. In the last match before the turn of the month Hassett scored 27 against Middlesex at Lord’s, once again in a rain-affected match (Bill Edrich reached a thousand here).
His stupendous form meant that he could not be kept out of the side for long: he failed on debut, scoring one and two at Trent Bridge as Australia managed to save the Test despite following-on. It helped that Bradman was in extraordinary form (even by his standards) as he would score six hundreds in six Tests (he wouldn’t bat in the seventh, and then score two more in the next two).
Bradman kept faith in him, especially after his 118 against Lancashire at Old Trafford, 94 against Yorkshire at Bramall Lane, and 124 against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge. In the next Test at Lord’s, Hassett came to his elements: as Bill Brown famously carried his bat Hassett scored a 99-ball 56 to help him add 124.
It was in the second innings, however, that Hassett announced himself to the world: Wally Hammond set Australia 315, and they were soon reduced to 111 for three. Hassett walked out to join Bradman. In an exhilarating display of strokeplay, Hassett scored 42 in 45 balls, hitting seven fours and a six, outscoring Bradman heavily in a 64-run partnership. The innings showed the class of Hassett, and prepared the world for many more to come.
After the third Test at Old Trafford was washed off, Australia ran into England on a turning track at Headingley. O’Reilly’s 10-wicket haul allowed Australia a target of only 105. The tourists seemed to be cruising at 50 for two when Hammond brought on Doug Wright. The erratic Kent leg-spinner struck almost immediately, removing Bradman and Stan McCabe in quick succession.
It was anybody’s match from there. The ball was turning viciously, and despite Wright striking twice England had in their ranks a champion in Hedley Verity. Bradman described the panic that had set in the Australian dressing-room:
“O’Reilly sat with his pads on, hoping and praying he would not be needed, was walking up and down on one side of the centre-table. On the other side I was doing the same, but, to prevent my teeth chattering in the excitement, was consuming copious amounts of bread and jam augmented by a liberal quantity of tea. We relied upon our colleagues to give us a running commentary of the play.”
Hassett, however, kept his cool, and used his nimble footwork to counter-attack against Hedley Verity and Wright on a dangerous pitch. Five times the ball reached the boundary, and he eventually scored 33 in 36 balls. Eye-witnesses rank it among the greatest innings played by the Victorian.
Bradman wrote of the innings: “The imperturbable Victorian midget, who in a crisis has always been such a masterful player, lofted his drives and threw caution to the winds in a race to beat the weather.”
Australia sunk in the last Test at The Oval by an innings and 579 runs. Hassett scored a breezy 41-ball 42 with five fours, but it was a too one-sided a contest as England, despite unable to regain the Ashes, managed to level the series.
Hassett finished the series with 199 runs at 24.87 (though he scored heavily in the tour games, finishing with 1,589 runs at 54.79) — but he had showed what he was capable of. It was not the greatest of starts, but he showed he had the talent and that rare ability to win Tests. What he lacked in was patience. That would come with time.
Wisden wrote: “He never quite fulfilled the promise of a sensational start… He appeared to make his strokes very late and, although adopting almost a two-eyed stance, had, so far as could be seen, no technical faults… there was a good deal of surprise that he did not come off in the big matches although it must not be forgotten that his second innings at Leeds counted a lot in Australia’s victory.”
It was in this tour that Hassett’s image as a prankster first surfaced: Australian camps would never be the same. Hassett somehow managed to acquire a “wet, muddy, and complaining” mountain goat from the Grindleford Hills of Derbyshire and sneaked it into McCabe’s room (some sources suggest that he even put a waistcoat on the goat).
Albany Advertiser (Western Australia) wrote: “The goat, with a goat’s extraordinary taste in food, reduced McCabe’s bedroom to a remarkable condition, much to the delight of the rascal Hassett.” Jack Fingleton, in Cricket Crisis, had more to add: “The next night everybody locked their doors, which was just as well because Hassett found a hedgehog.”
He was 25 then. Thanks to the warmongers he would not play another Test till he would turn 32.
The War and beyond
Hassett had three domestic seasons before World War II broke out: in these three seasons he scored 2,248 runs at 70.25 with nine hundreds from 20 matches. It was evident that he was approaching his prime. In January 1940, Hassett scored 122 in each innings against New South Wales at SCG. In the process he became the only batsman to score two hundreds in the same match against O’Reilly, as mentioned by Jack McHarg in Lindsay Hassett – One of a Kind.
Hassett joined the Second Australian Imperial Force, and was posted at Haifa in the British Mandate of Palestine (now Israel). His amicable nature meant that he remained a very popular character in the army. He kept on playing cricket, leading AIF teams in Egypt and Palestine before he was sent to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea to fight the Japanese Army.
After the War was over the Australian Services visited England for a hard-fought tour. It was a welcome break after the War and the cricket played was also of a more positive nature than the 1938 Ashes. There were survivors of the War on either side. Hassett later wrote: “These games have shown that international cricket can be played as between real friends — so let’s have no more talk of ‘war’ in cricket”.
An India tour followed: though Australian Services did not have a great time, Hassett found his old touch with the bat, scoring 187 and 124 not out against Prince’s XI (which was almost the Indian XI) at Delhi. The match against East Zone at Eden Gardens saw a riot break out.
As the men approached the pitch Denis Compton pointed them to Hassett, mentioning that the fielding captain controlled proceedings. When the rioters approached him, the calm Hassett asked their leader: “You wouldn’t happen to have a cigarette, would you, old boy?” The match got under way.
Though the tourists did not win a single match, Hassett finished the tour with 769 runs at 85.44 with four hundreds and followed it with a 57 against Ceylon at Colombo.
Australia resumed post-War international cricket with a one-off Test against New Zealand at Wellington. Hassett was overlooked as captain and Brown led Australia in Bradman’s absence (Hassett was not even vice-captain; the role went to O’Reilly). The tourists romped to an innings victory, bowling out the hosts for 42 and 54.
The second Ashes
Hassett was appointed the Victorian captain the next season and looked in fine form against MCC at MCG, scoring 57 in each innings. Bradman defied medical advice to return to Test cricket. With Brown injured and O’Reilly having retired, Hassett was named deputy to Bradman for the Ashes.
The first Test at The Gabba saw a completely modified Hassett: gone was the carefree strokeplayer of the yesteryears; Hassett’s focus had now shifted to long innings. Coming out at 46 for two he added 276 with Bradman and 106 more with Miller before falling for a 395-minute 128 with ten fours and a six.
It was a completely metamorphosed Hassett — the sort the pre-War spectators had never thought of witnessing. Not everyone was impressed with the dismissal of the carefree Hassett; RC Robertson-Glasgow complained that his new approach was a “narcotic prudence begotten of the solemn occasion.”Harvey.
He recalled the pace of his innings in a typical Hassett fashion: “It fell on the day that one of my brothers got married. I was at 92 and he was due at the church for the ceremony, but thought he would wait a minute or two for the other eight runs. After 10 minutes I got four runs, so he rushed away and duly got married. When he arrived home he turned on the wireless and heard I was at 97. I can assure you, gentlemen, that I got my century before he went on his honeymoon.”
He played another gem at Adelaide after Australia were 18 for two following England’s 460. Coming out after Bradman had been bowled by Alec Bedser for a duck, Hassett and Arthur Morris added 189 for the third wicket, the vice-captain eventually falling for a 227-ball 78. England were duly thrashed 3-0 in the series, and the Ashes was retained.
The Indians visited Australia for the first time next season, and Hassett celebrated the occasion with a 198 not out in 305 balls. This would remain his career-best. However, despite India losing by an innings, this Test is generally remembered for Vijay Hazare’s twin hundreds on consecutive days.
The third Ashes: The Invincibles
Ten years after his debut tour Hassett was back in England as vice-captain. A tight schedule meant that the players were rotated, and Hassett ended up leading the tourists in nine matches. As things turned out, Australia remained unbeaten, but played two of their closest matches on the tour under Hassett — against Yorkshire at Bradford and against Hampshire at Southampton.
Of the second match Brown reminisced: “We couldn’t even get 200 and trailed on the first innings. Due to some very fine bowling from Big Bill Johnston we got them out again and went on to make the necessary runs. But it was tight and in the dressing-room, Lindsay [Hassett] sat down and said, ‘Thank you gentlemen, thank you. But why is it always me?’”
Hassett found form against Surrey at The Oval, scoring 110. Against a strong MCC at Lord’s, he scored a 51. Fingleton was all praise of the innings in Brightly Fades the Don: “It was the prettiest half-century we saw in the whole summer. There was no effort in his [Hassett’s] play. The ball sped quietly and quickly in all directions.”
Hassett grew in stature as the Australian juggernaut marched on: he came out to bat at 185 for four in the first Test at Trent Bridge; he scored 137 in 354 minutes with 20 fours — his first Test hundred on English soil — and helped Bradman add 120 and then went on to add 107 more with Ray Lindwall.
The Canberra Times wrote that “In that Test he [Hassett] prudently decided to get out one short of Bradman’s score of 138,” thereby pulling off a Sid Barnes in the previous Ashes.
Though he did not do too well in the next Test at Lord’s Hassett hammered Northamptonshire for 127 at Northampton and followed it up with another hundred against Surrey at The Oval, this time opening batting and scoring 139.
Hassett finished the Test series with 310 runs at 44.28. On the tour he scored 1,563 runs at 74.42 with seven hundreds from 22 matches, scoring three consecutive hundreds — 200 not out against Gentlemen of England at Lord’s, 103 against Somerset at Taunton, and 151 against South at Hastings. He was named a Wisden Cricketer of the Year.
His idiosyncrasies were in full flow. As Ian Peebles wrote in Talking of Cricket: “The clearest sidelight on his personality was his diverting behaviour on missing (unaccountably) a couple of ballooners during the Manchester Test match, a reverse which might well embitter and nonplus a man. Lindsay merely turned to the policeman behind him and asked if he might borrow his helmet for the next occasion.”
On another occasion, during a night-out (some versions said they bribed and hijacked the team coach) with Miller, Johnson, and Johnston, Hassett entered a random house in London. The window at the top floor opened and a bemused voice was heard.
Voice: What the hell are you doing?
Hassett: Just thought we’d pop in.
Voice: Are you Hassett?
Hassett: Indeed I am.
Voice: Wait there.
The quartet ended up spending two hours at the house. He also brought a toy duck to the dressing room to scare his superstitious teammates and hid the ball in sawdust to stop a tour match.
He led his side against Don Bradman’s XI in the latter’s testimonial match at MCG and top-scored with a 141-minute 102 in the second innings as the match ended in a tie (though it should have been recorded a draw as per the law changes earlier that year).
He was eventually elected to the post of the Australian captain ahead of Arthur Morris by a 7-6 margin, decided by the casting-vote by the Board Chairman Dr Allen Robertson. In the process he became only the second Catholic to lead Australia since Percy McConnell in 1888.
Captain of Australia
Hassett’s first assignment was a tour of South Africa. Other than Bradman the side also missed Barnes, Don Tallon, and Ernie Toshack, and Miller was mysteriously left out. However, Miller later joined the squad as Johnson got injured, and both of them ended up playing all five Tests.
Hassett kept the Invincibles tag going: Australia won the series 4-0 and won 14 of the 21 matches on tour. Hassett himself scored 112 at Johannesburg and 167 at St George’s Park, finishing the series with 402 runs at 67.00. On the tour he scored 889 runs at 68.38 with four hundreds.
The innings at Johannesburg deserves a special mention: with both openers gone without opening their accounts Hassett walked out. After ages the world of cricket witnessed Hassett at his best. He outscored Miller (21) in a partnership of 69 and Neil Harvey (34) in a partnership of 92. The hundred spun the match on its head before Miller and Johnston bowled out the hosts to an innings defeat.
Not only did Hassett emerge out of the tour as a champion batsman and a fine captain, he helped enhance the bonding between the two countries. Hassett’s team mixed freely with the local tribals, dancing and singing with them, and reaching out to the children. The Australian High Commission called him the most effective diplomat to have visited South Africa.
The sense of humour remained intact, though. When there were rumours that a certain teammate of Hassett’s had spent a night with three women, the captain welcomed him at the breakfast with the words: “Congratulations. You’re the only man ever to achieve a hat-trick with two balls.”
The fourth Ashes
The home Ashes began with a Test involving the strangest of scorecards at The Gabba: “On the first day at Brisbane, England surprised even themselves by dismissing Australia for 228 on a good pitch,” wrote Wisden. However, when play resumed after two days of rain England found themselves caught on a ‘sticky’.
Freddie, Brown declared at 68 for seven the next morning. Australia lost their first three wickets without a run on the board, and Hassett declared at 32 for seven with wickets falling like ninepins to make sure England batted before the conditions improved. A confused Freddie Brown rushed to Hassett.
Brown: What’s happening, old boy?
Hassett: I’m declaring.
Brown: Oh, I see, you want us in on that again.
Hassett: It’s your move, old chap!
Jack Iverson picked up four wickets Australia won the Test by 70 runs despite England reversing their batting order and Len Hutton scoring a 62 not out from number eight.
In the next at MCG, his home ground, Hassett top-scored with 52 in the first innings. Once again it was a Test-defining innings and proved crucial as Australia won by 28 runs. Australia eventually won the series 4-1; England won only the final Test of the series at MCG despite Hassett’s 92 and 48. He eventually finished with 366 runs at 40.66, finishing next to only Hutton in a low-scoring series.
It was the first Test Hassett lost as the captain of Australia after winning eight Tests and drawing one. However, the Ashes was retained thanks to Hassett’s “astute captaincy”, and more importantly, as Wisden wrote: “The friendship between the captains, Hassett and Brown, extended throughout both teams. The keenest rivalry on the field was not allowed to interfere with sincere good-fellowship. To cricketers that happy blend is the essence of the game”.
On a side note, Hassett was up against a weird experience in the farewell function at the Sydney Harbour as recalled by Eric Hill in Wisden Cricket Monthly of December 1980. Hill was in a conversation with O’Reilly and Hassett when a woman entered the scene.
Hill described her: “She was approaching 45, as Groucho once put it, from the wrong side and was dressed outrageously in a bikini and rainbow-coloured half jacket which would have delighted on a slender young gazelle.”
Woman: Are you the great Mr Hassett?
Woman: My two little boys would love your autograph.
Hassett: Have you got a pen?
Hill wrote: “All saccharin and treacle she produced the pen, as Hassett invited her to sit alongside him with an interested and growing group gathering round. Timing his moves to absolute perfection, Lindsay signed his autograph twice — one on the inside of each fat, sun-burned, overgenerous thigh of that very surprised Australian lady.”
The West Indian series at home followed next. With both sides having defeated England this series was declared as the “unofficial cricket championship of the world”.
Australia somehow managed to win the first Test at The Gabba by three wickets, followed by an emphatic seven-wicket victory at SCG, Hassett scoring 132 and 46 not out. Hassett missed the third Test at Adelaide due to a strained muscle. Morris led the Test, and in a quirky bureaucratic move Hassett was replaced by a bowler Geff Noblet. Frank Worrell bowled out Australia for 82, a blow from which they never recovered.
Hassett was back for the fourth Test at MCG: set to chase 260 Hassett was not aptly supported by his teammates, who followed one another to the pavilion against the wiles of Ramadhin and Alf Valentine. Hassett scored a marathon 323-minute 102 (nobody else scored more than 33) before being eighth out for 218. Gil Langley fell with the score on 222, leaving Doug Ring and Johnston to score 38 off the last wicket.
It was a tense 35-minute phase as the pair helped Australia inch towards the target: it is rumoured that Harvey was so transfixed by Ring and Johnston that having taken a shower immediately after his dismissal he watched the rest of the partnership in the nude from the dressing-room. The pair managed to pull it off.
An excellent performance by the Australian fast bowlers earned them a 202-run victory at SCG. The hosts won the series 4-1. Hassett finished the series with 407 runs at 57.42 with two hundreds. At this stage Hassett’s record as captain read 14 Tests, 13 won, one lost.
The decline begins
The South African tour was scheduled to be such a low-profile one against the soaring Australians that South Africa had to offer a guarantee of £10,000 in case of a loss. Things seemed fine when Australia won the first Test at The Gabba by 95 runs. The slide began after that.
The low-profile South Africans pulled off an 82-run upset victory under Jack Cheetham at MCG as Hugh Tayfield spun out the hosts with figures of 13 for 165. It was Australia’s first defeat against South Africa since their 38-run loss at Adelaide in 1911-12.
The hosts promptly regained control at SCG, Harvey scoring 190 and Lindwall taking eight wickets as Australia won by an innings. After a high-scoring draw at Adelaide (Hassett scored 163) South Africa once again beat Australia at MCG as they chased down 295 in the fourth innings. It was the first time since Bodyline that Australia had failed to win a home series.
The fifth Ashes: the surrender and the farewell
The 40-year old Hassett had declared before the 1953 Ashes that it was going to be his last series. His genial presence in this series has often been dismissed as “too soft” compared to the ruthless Hutton by contemporaries. Additionally, the squad had only two specialist openers, and following Colin McDonald’s injuries Hassett himself volunteered to open. Too soft? One wonders.
The tour set off to a poor start as Johnston broke down with a severe knee injury in Australia’s first tour match at East Molesey. Hassett did not get to the best of starts, and scored his first hundred against Sussex at Hove in his sixth match: he scored 108 not out and added an unbroken 140 with Harvey.
The first Test at Trent Bridge is usually remembered for Bedser’s 14 for 99. Hassett scored 115 out of 249 in the first innings and the match was washed off. Opening batting in the second Test at Lord’s Hassett scored 105 in another draw. Of the Lord’s innings, Cardus wrote: “four and a half hours of cricket so fashioned that the watchmaker’s eye was required to detect a loose screw or loose end here or there.”
The next two Tests at Old Trafford and Headingley did not produce a result either. In the fourth Test at Headingley, Australia needed to chase down 177 in 105 minutes and were on track from the very beginning. The match seemed to be Australia’s as Graeme Hole and Alan Davidson accelerated at a rapid pace, with only 66 required from the last 45 minutes.
Hutton then asked Bailey to bowl outside the leg-stump to cut down the tempo: the umpires did not call wide and the Australian batsmen stood helplessly as time ran out with the score on 147 for four. This led to protests from the cricket fraternity with even English wicket-keeper Evans coming to the support of the Australians.
What was more, for once Frank Chester erred in quite a few decisions that went against the Australians. Upon Hassett’s requests, however, the English cricket authorities agreed to replace Chester for the final Test.
After two more draws in the series the teams proceeded to The Oval for the final Test. Hassett scored 53, but the hosts took a vital 31-run lead and regained the Ashes for the first time since Bodyline. Hassett had left out Ring and saw helplessly as the two local spinners, Jim Laker and Tony Lock, spun out the tourists for 162 in the second innings with nine wickets between them.
Hassett, always circumspect of Lock’s action, tried to put pressure on the Surrey spinner by shouting ‘Strike One’, ‘Strike Two’, etc when Lock bowled to him. Even after the Test was over Hassett said “It wasn’t bad, considering Tony Lock chucked half the side out.”
When all seemed over with only nine runs to go, Hassett came on to bowl what turned out to be the second-last over of the Test. He later said, “England deserved to win, if not from the first ball, at least from the second-last over!”
Hassett’s post-match reaction was as quirky as things went. Gray recalled: “At the post match celebrations on the Oval balcony [Lindsay] Hassett toasted the English side with champagne, and in a never to be forgotten moment, turned round and smashed his glass on the Oval clock.”
Thereafter he was impeccable in his post-series speech. Wisden mentioned in praise: “When he finally lost the Ashes, he made a gracious and humorous speech, having been introduced as ‘The Happy Warrior’.” The Cricketer wrote: “Appropriate little speeches were made and Hassett, the chief theme, which being the excellent spirit which has prevailed between the two rival teams.”
As always, Hassett’s tour involved numerous anecdotes – this time involving a hotel. While dining at the Park Royal Hotel in London a waiter spilled Peach Melba on Hassett’s jacket. While taking it off on repeated requests by the waiter Hassett observed a small, unrelated mark on his trousers. He promptly took them off as well, and — an Australian captain went on to complete a dinner in his shirt, tie, and underpants.
Hassett signed off with a flourish, scoring 148 against Somerset at Taunton, 65 against Kent at Canterbury, 106 against South at Hastings, and 74 and 25 against TN Pearce’s XI at Scarborough. In all he finished the tour with 1,236 runs at 44.14 with five hundreds.
In his benefit match Hassett top-scored in the first innings with 126 against Arthur Morris’ XI, adding 205 with his old mate Miller. He failed in the fourth innings, his side lost by 121 wickets, but he picked up Tallon’s wicket, and more importantly, left MCG £5,503 richer.
Hassett had married Tessie Davis in 1942 and had two daughters. He had opened a sports equipments store in Melbourne after the War. After retirement he eased into the ABC commentary box and worked from 1956 to 1981. With his dry, self-deprecating humour Hassett became a very popular name in the commentary box, perhaps most remembered for his “I’m glad I wasn’t up here when I was down there.”
The Canberra Times wrote: “Reticence has always been Hassett’s way. It is said that he gave up his ABC radio cricket commentating because he became increasingly appalled at the conduct of the ugly Australians. If it is so, then he gave little indication of his distaste on the air. The listener skilled in interpreting the nuances of Hassett’s oblique comments might have discerned an occasional pursing of the lips at what Australia’s best cricketers of their generation were doing, but compared to Alan McGilvray’s Laudator temporis acti act, (combined with a dash of O tempora, or mores!) Hassett was akin to a mute.”
Hassett also worked on the Anti-Cancer Council of Victoria with Laurie Nash and lost when he contested for the post of South Melbourne’s delegate to the VCA election in 1953. In his last days, he moved to Batehaven in the New South Wales coast to give in to his lifelong love of fishing.
Lindsay Hassett passed away on June 16, 1993.
Miller wrote that Harvey made “more genuine friends in all walks of life than any other cricketer.”
Richie Benaud wrote in Hassett’s Wisden obituary: “There are others who have made more runs and taken more wickets, but very few have ever got more out of a lifetime.”
Hassett was among the few who had realised that.
(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)