Graham Yallop © Getty Images
Graham Yallop © Getty Images

Graham Yallop, the first man to wear a helmet in international cricket, was born on October 7, 1952. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the career of the Victorian who had the misfortune of leading his country in one of their worst Ashes campaigns.

Nobody somehow seems to remember that Graham Neil Yallop had led Australia in 11 international matches. When most people discuss Australian cricket from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, his name is usually left out; nobody even seems to remember that he was a prolific batsman as well. He is, by all kinds of definitions, a forgotten man of Australian cricket.

Yallop was a quality top-order left-handed batsman, more solid than elegant. His technique was correct — especially on front-foot; his drives were powerful; and he was one of the least likely to throw his wicket away. He was also meticulous in his methods, looking for the big innings: he typically converted his fifties to hundreds.

With his grim approach and typically slow scoring rates he was not exactly the most popular batsman among the crowds. However, as Mike Brearley wrote of him, “Yallop can range from the inept to the masterly.” Whatever be the situation, Yallop typically delivered. He was also arguably the best Australian player of spin during his era.

There were, however, critics of his batting against pace and bounce. He was often accused of being late to react in case there was a fast bouncer, often falling prey to the bouncing ball. Brearley wrote that Yallop used to “slide his back foot to and fro in a grandmotherly shuffle” during the bowler’s run-up.

From 39 Tests Yallop had scored 2,756 runs at 41.13 with 8 hundreds at the impressive rate of 4.88 Tests a hundred. He had never gone for a stretch of more than six consecutive Tests without a hundred. He averaged 52.42 at No. 3, which, with a 20-innings cut-off, ranks fourth among Australians — after Don Bradman, Charlie Macartney, and Ricky Ponting.

His 164 First-Class matches earned him 11,615 runs at 45.90 with 30 hundreds. Though his style was not suited to the shorter format, Yallop managed 823 runs from 30 ODIs at a decent 39.19. A safe fielder and a reliable catcher, Yallop usually manned the slips or the gully with considerable proficiency.

Early days

Yallop was born to a castings foundry owner in Balwyn, an eastern suburb of Melbourne. He made it to the Australia Schools side that toured Ceylon in 1971-72, scoring 464 runs at 66.29. Back home, he made his First-Class debut in the Sheffield Shield match against New South Wales (NSW) at MCG, scoring 55 and 21.

He had to wait till the next season for his first hundred: on a difficult MCG track Yallop scored 100 not out against Ashley Mallett, Terry Jenner, and Gary Cosier before South Australia [SA] collapsed to 89 and eventually lost by eight wickets.

In 1974-75, Yallop scored 79 and 62 against SA at MCG and followed it with 108 not out and 95 at the same ground. On the other hand, Rick McCosker had a torrid time against West Indies in the first three Tests, scoring 42 runs at 8.40 (buoyed by a 22* in his last innings). As a result Yallop was drafted into the Test side for the fourth Test at SCG.

Test debut

Misfortune chased Yallop right from the debut. The Australians did not take the axing of their ‘mate’ McCosker very lightly, and put up a hostile attitude towards Yallop from the very beginning. Yallop later said: “I have no doubts that certain members of that team wanted me to fail.”

Greg Chappell won the toss and elected to bowl; Yallop, the only debutant of the Test, walked up to him. The following conversation followed:

Yallop: Where should I field?
Chappell: Mate, we are quite cramped in the slips. Tell you what… be in the covers.
Yallop (following Chappell): I want slips.
Chappell: Listen mate, the first time was a polite query… now go and stand in the covers.

Chappell, however, later admitted in Fierce Focus: “To be fair, I probably wasn’t as welcoming as I could have been, but Graham was a bit ahead of himself.”

West Indies put up 355 against Jeff Thomson and Max Walker (as many as three batsmen had to retire hurt) before Ian Redpath and Alan Turner walked out to bat. After Turner fell to Keith Boyce Yallop was sent to the amphitheatre against Andy Roberts and Michael Holding — ahead of the Chappells.

To his credit Yallop braved the pace for over an hour, scoring 16; then, after Thomson skittled the visitors for 128, he scored 16* and saw his side through.

The next Test at Adelaide saw Yallop score 47 and 43, and Australia won again. Australia decided to include an extra batsman for the sixth Test at MCG, which meant that McCosker played and Yallop was demoted to six. Coming out at 220 for 4 he played a characteristically dogged innings, scoring 57 before being last out.

Australia led by 191 and went for quick pursuit of runs; in the process McCosker scored 109 not out, and Greg Chappell declared the innings at 300 for 3 before Yallop got a chance. Australia won the Test comfortably by 165 runs and claimed the series 5-1. The margin would come back in Yallop’s career.

Yallop finished the series with 179 runs at 44.75 — a debut series more impressive than most batsmen. Despite that he did not play another Test in the next two years.

As Christian Ryan later pointed out in Golden Boy: Kim Hughes and the Bad Old Days of Australian Cricket, “Victorian Graham Yallop also had cause for befuddlement. Three Tests against West Indies had left him with a 44 average and a hunch that the door-bitch at the Chappells’ club was gunning for him.”

The wedding and the Second XI matches

Yallop married a Welsh woman in 1977 and played two matches for Glamorgan Second XI that season, scoring 57 and 36 against Warwickshire Second XI at Cardiff and one against Hampshire Second XI at Andover. It remained his only stint for an English County side at any level.

The comeback

When the Australian Test side was hit severely by Kerry Packer, Bobby Simpson was recalled as the Test captain against India. With the series levelled 2-2 Yallop was recalled to the side for the final Test at Adelaide. Coming to bat at No. 3 he added 120 with Peter Toohey and 104 with Simpson, and in the process scored a 227-minute 121 with 13 boundaries. His maiden Test ton played a crucial role as India were bowled out for 445 in a near-impossible chase of 493.

The helmet

After the hundred Yallop was an obvious choice for the West Indies tour that followed. It was here that Yallop used an innovation without which batting averages of the subsequent era would probably have been lower. Though Dennis Amiss was the first to use it extensively in World Series Cricket and Tony Greig had consistently mentioned that its use would encourage bouncers, Yallop became the first player to use a helmet in international cricket. “The astronaut strolling into battle in Bridgetown was actually Graham Yallop under a batting helmet, Test cricket’s first,” wrote Ryan.

Things looked terribly one-sided after Australia were bowled out for 90 in the first innings at Queen’s Park Oval and West Indies obtained a 315-run lead. Australia were routed for 209, but Yallop played a gem. His 81 in 195 minutes was scored out of 135 during his stay at the wicket. He seemed to be the only batsman who looked remotely competent to handle Roberts, Joel Garner, and Colin Croft.

The second Test at Kensington Oval began with a 92-run second-wicket stand between Graeme Wood and Yallop; Yallop scored 47 but failed in the second innings, and West Indies scampered home by 10 wickets. In the tour match against Guyana at Bourda, Yallop scored 118 without a helmet before Croft broke his jaw into two pieces.

As a result he missed the third Test at Bourda where Australia miraculously chased down 359 thanks to a 251-run fourth-wicket stand between Wood and Craig Serjeant. Back for the fourth Test at Queen’s Park Oval, Yallop top-scored with 75 in the first innings; the first three innings of the Test read 292, 290, and 290, but set 293 to win Australia collapsed to 94. As a consolation of sorts Yallop’s 18 was again the top-score.

Yallop contributed in the fifth Test at Sabina Park as well, with 57 and 23*. He came back with 317 runs at 45.28; only Wood had scored more runs in the series, and Yallop had played a Test less. He had finally established himself firmly in the Test side.

Graham Yallop was the first batsman to don a helmet in international cricket © Getty Images
Graham Yallop was the first batsman to don a helmet in international cricket © Getty Images

Lamb to the slaughter

With the World Series cricketers still unavailable and Bobby Simpson not guaranteeing that he would be able to play the entire season Yallop, with an experience of eight Tests, was suddenly appointed as captain of Australia for the upcoming Ashes. He had captained Victoria for a single season till then (though he would lead them to victory in the next two seasons).

34-year-old Western Australian John Inverarity, who had last played for Australia in 1972, was overlooked despite his reputation as an astute leader. Had he been appointed captain the course of Australian cricket in the 1980s might have taken a different course altogether, but that is another story.

The first error came as soon as he was appointed captain. Yallop predicted that Australia would win the six-Test series 6-0. The prediction went viral on media, and was taken rather seriously by Brearley and his men. That was when it had all started to go wrong.

Yallop had called his account of the series Lambs to the Slaughter; the chapters were titled Sacked, The First Killing, Skinned Alive, Slaughtered, and so on; it probably reflected the extent of the mental torment he had to undergo throughout the Ashes. It was perhaps a tad unfair on the young captain. The contest, however, was not as bad as the score-line suggested.

Things got away at The Gabba with only one Australian (Cosier) with an experience of over 10 Tests as opposed to the nine in the English side (the other two were also of high pedigree – David Gower and Graham Gooch). It was a complete mismatch.

The series did not start in the greatest of fashion. “Well, f**k me, if they want me to help Graham they could have made me captain and he could have helped me,” were Cosier’s thoughts. He added: “I was actually a bit disappointed when they announced the captaincy because I thought I could have been a better captain than Graham Yallop.” He was asked to open — an unusual position for him — and his mood was not improved when a misunderstanding had him run out for a single.

Bob Willis and Ian Botham reduced Australia to 53 for 7 before the recovered to 116. The young Australian spearheads — Alan Hurst and Rodney Hogg (on debut) — shared all 10 wickets but England acquired a 170-run lead. At 2 for 2, and later at 49 for 3, Australia looked on the verge of losing by an innings.

Yallop and Kim Hughes then got together, and the pair added 170; Yallop scored 102 and Hughes 129, but none of the other batsmen clicked; England chased down the required 170 to go up 1-0. England went up 2-0 at WACA despite a 10-for from Hogg.

At WACA, Yallop picked up multiple rifts. First, he asked Cosier to move to silly-point and sledge Geoff Boycott. Cosier did not; Yallop insisted. Cosier reached silly-point but did not sledge: “So I went up there and I hardly said boo. I’d been brought up in an era when an average player doesn’t sledge a good player.”

The relationship with Hogg had also deteriorated. During the Test, Hogg requested Cosier to ask Yallop for a leg-gully.

Cosier: You ask him. He’s just there.
Hogg: I’m not talking to that prick. You ask him.

Australia pulled back at MCG, winning by 103 runs, thanks to a hundred from Wood and another ten-wicket haul from Hogg. The Test also witnessed the debut of a 23-year-old called Allan Border. In the next Test at SCG Hurst bowled out England for 152 and Australia managed a 142-run lead. Hogg even removed Boycott with the first ball of the England innings. It could well have been Australia’s Test from there — and had it been so, the series would have been levelled 2-2.

Derek Randall, however, thought otherwise. His dour, uncharacteristic 150 gave England a 204-run lead. Then, from 38 without loss Australia inexplicably collapsed to 111 against John Emburey and Geoff Miller and England retained the Ashes.

Once again Australia had a bite at it at Adelaide when Hogg and Hurst reduced England to 27 for 5 at Adelaide, and eventually bowled them out for 169 after a Botham blitz. However, they were bowled out for 164 themselves and lost the rubber.

Yallop’s rift with Hogg continued here. As Jon Anderson wrote in the Herald Sun, “Hogg had left the ground during a drinks break on the third morning to get treatment for a groin strain, prompting a frustrated Yallop to storm into the dressing-rooms.”

What followed was a rather unusual sight. As Hogg later said: “[Yallop] wanted me straight back on the ground and I refused to move until my treatment was finished. But I did suggest we could go out the back and sort it out. Graham then left to go back on the ground and captain the team, but play had started and they wouldn’t let him through the gate until the end of the over. It was surely the only time an over has been bowled in Australia with just ten men on the field.”

When Hogg wrote his autobiography, The Whole Hogg, in 2007, he asked Yallop to be present at the launch, thereby putting an end to the feud. “Rodney rang me to say he was writing a book and that in it he was going to bag me. He then asked me would I help launch it. Here we are, 29 years later, and he’s still as mad as a cut snake,” Yallop recalled.

Yallop found himself amidst another controversy in the last Test at SCG as well. It began with him playing perhaps the innings of a lifetime. Coming out at 19 for 2 he eventually helped Australia reach 198 where nobody else had crossed 16; his 121 came off 212 balls and had included 13 boundaries. With 61.11% of the team runs he ranks 10th on the all-time list.

England obtained a 110-run lead before Emburey and Miller bowled out Australia for 143, leaving the tourists only 34 runs to win. Yallop wanted to open with spin at both ends, which was not an issue with anybody. The problem was — he wanted Bruce Yardley and Jim Higgs to start with an old ball.

Brearley, who had already walked out to the middle with Boycott, was not amused. There was a mid-pitch conference between him, Yallop, and the umpires — both Test debutants — Tony Crafter and Donald Wesser. The umpires agreed that Yallop was correct as per the laws.

By the time Doug Insole, the England manager who was convinced that Yallop was wrong, had found out that Law 5 clearly stated “Subject to agreement to the contrary, either captain may demand a new ball at the start of the innings” England had already reached 12 without loss. Insole decided not to intervene. England won comfortably by nine wickets and took the series 5-1. It remains the only occasion when England had won five Tests in an Ashes or had won by a margin of four Tests.

Inverarity said after the series: “There was no evidence at all that he was a good captain. In terms of the aggregate talent, it was not that England were better than Australia but that they were very well led and Australia were not well led.” “The only pawns Yallop moved were his slips, operating under an innovative but ill-fated rota system,” was Ryan’s assessment.

Several years after Ian Chappell wrote in Ten Turbulent Years: “Yallop and Hughes were the worst choice as leaders since Robert O’Hara Burke. Burke’s expedition with Wills was a disaster and the only difference with Yallop and Hughes is that they got away with their lives.”

Even the Englishmen went to the extent of calling Yallop ‘Banzai’ (a Japanese word for a suicide attack) for his “suicidal aggressive fields” that allowed England easy runs.

Graham Yallop: A revolutionary and unfortunate figure in Australian cricket

Graham Yallop was a quality top-order left-handed batsman, more solid than elegant © Getty Images

Relieved of duty

Yallop’s horror run continued in the second leg of the home season during the Pakistan series. There was absolutely no reason for Australia to lose the first Test at MCG after they had reached 305 for 3 chasing 382. But Sarfraz Nawaz decided to intervene with a spell of 7 for 1, and Australia were dismissed for 310.

Yallop injured his calf and withdrew from the next Test at WACA; Hughes was appointed as captain in his eleventh Test; he led Australia to a seven-wicket victory and never looked back.

Yallop was sacked in the aftermath of his performance in the home series but he retained his place in the side (other than Hughes’s nightmarish two Tests in 1984-85, Yallop was the last Australian captain to play Tests after his tenure had ended; his post-captaincy span of 24 Tests is also perhaps an Australian record).

He was having an ordinary tour of India other than top-scoring with 89 in the third Test at Kanpur — a Test that Australia lost despite securing a first-innings lead. In the fifth Test at Calcutta he was asked to open for the first time in his Test career. The move turned out to be a success. Though he lost Andrew Hilditch before a run was scored he added 97 with Border and 206 more with Hughes, before falling a 392-ball 167 with 15 fours. Australia scored 442 and the Test ended in a draw.

He was persisted with as an opener in the next Test at Bombay. After India scored 458, Yallop was the only one who stood up against Dilip Doshi and Shivlal Yadav on a turning track in the first innings, scoring 60. India, however, won by an innings and plenty, and claimed the series 2-0. Strangely, he was dropped for the series against West Indies at home that followed.

The opening experiment continued at Karachi when Yallop was recalled. On a rank turner (both Iqbal Qasim and Ray Bright took 10 wickets) Yallop failed, and was demoted to five in the next Test at Faisalabad. He redeemed himself, scoring a 447-ball 172 with 13 boundaries but the Test was drawn. Once again, rather inexplicably, he was dropped for the home series against Australia.

The 1981 Ashes

Botham’s Ashes” did not have the best of starts for Yallop. He began with 13 and six at Trent Bridge, and one and three at Lord’s. Australia still led the series 1-0 going into the third Test at Headingley, which was possibly the reason that Yallop was retained.

What happened at Headingley is quite well-documented. Yallop found some form, scoring a stubborn 58 in the first innings but hit Willis straight to Mike Gatting for a duck during the second-innings collapse. However, his discomfort against fast bowling had already been sorted out, and Botham and Willis were ready to exploit it.

Terry Alderman began Australia’s mission in fourth Test at Edgbaston on a high note, bowling out the hosts for 189. Yallop joined Hughes with the score on 115 for 4. The moment Willis saw Yallop walk out to the middle he sent down three bouncers. Hughes walked up to Yallop and announced: “I’ll take Willis.”

It was definitely a courageous decision. Geoff Lawson called it referred to the incident as “just Kim being his usual confident self.” To his credit, Hughes survived the bumper barrage, but to his folly he turned down easy singles, treating Yallop like a tail-ender. Richie Benaud called it “as curious a captaincy decision as I have ever seen.” He was perhaps understating.

To quote Christian Ryan from Golden Boy, “Yallop was first off at lunchtime, humiliated and furious.” With Dennis Lillee and Rodney Marsh also on the verge of a ‘mutiny’ things became worse for Hughes. The moods worsened when Botham pulled off another miracle to put England ahead in the series.

Set 506 for a victory and reduced to 24 for 2 at Old Trafford Yallop seemed to take out the heat on the English bowlers. He scored 114 in 125 balls over 177 minutes of rare aggression, but that, along with Border’s fighting 123 not out, were not enough to stop England from retaining the Ashes. He played in the Test at The Oval but was dropped soon afterwards, playing three Tests in the next two years.

Back to form

Yallop got going with 98 in the one-off Test against Sri Lanka at Kandy. The next season, 1982-83, Yallop scored 1,254 runs in the Sheffield Shield, going past Bill Ponsford’s 1,217 set 55 years back. The record has since been eclipsed by Matthew Elliott, Michael Bevan, and Simon Katich.

Then, when Pakistan came over for a five-Test series he began on a high note at WACA, scoring 141 and adding 259 for the second wicket with Wayne Phillips, who scored 159 on Test debut. Carl Rackemann then led Australia to an innings victory. A 33 at The Gabba was then followed by a 68 and 14 at Adelaide; both Tests were drawn.

Pakistan batted first at MCG and Mohsin Khan’s 152 took them to 470. Yallop walked out to join Phillips at 21 for 1 on the second afternoon. He batted throughout Day Three, adding 149 to his overnight tally of 24. The marathon eventually ended after 716 minutes (the second-longest innings in Australian soil after Bob Cowper’s 727 minutes).

Yallop had hit 29 fours and had finished with his First-Class best of 268. Australia almost won the Test, only to be put off by a dogged partnership between Zaheer Abbas and Imran Khan. Australia finished the series with a 10-wicket victory at SCG. Yallop’s 554 at 92.33 still remains a record series aggregate for Australia against Pakistan.

The abrupt end

West Indies came over in 1984-85 and won by an innings in the first Test at WACA. Yallop failed (he scored two and one) and Australia were bowled out for 76 and 228. It turned out to be Yallop’s last Test. Hughes, too, stood down from captaincy that series and his career met with an end subsequently.

He went on a tour of India later that year to play five ODIs in the Ranji Trophy Golden Jubilee Series. He played all five matches, scoring 96 at 48. He played Sheffield Shield till 1984-85. He scored 147 out of a team score of 259 in his last First-Class match against NSW at SCG.

South Africa

During the 1983 World Cup there were already speculations about a rebel tour of South Africa. Ali Bacher had met Kepler Wessels and Yallop after their shock defeat in their first match of the tournament against Zimbabwe. And after they were eliminated following the defeat against India at Chelmsford Yallop, Wessels, Wood, Hogg, Hookes, and Thomson met Bacher at his brother-in-law’s apartment at Mayfair.

Hughes was among the last to accept the offer (each player was handed out a contract of $200,000 for two seasons). Yallop’s international career ended when he toured South Africa as the vice-captain of Hughes’ rebel Australian side in 1985-86. He disappointed in the first season but made it big in the second (1986-87) where he scored 552 runs from eight matches at 61.33.

This included a 96 against Eastern Province at St George’s Park and a 182 not out against a South African Invitation XI at East London. The second tour also included the Bloemfontein-born Wessels, who later went on to lead South Africa in Tests.

Post-retirement

On his return Yallop could not make it to First-Class cricket and played district cricket for South Melbourne and Ringwood. He ran the indoor sports centre he used to run before the rebel tour.

He currently coaches at the Victorian Cricket School in Bogor, Indonesia. Graham Yallop Oval, Indonesia’s only turf cricket ground, has been named after him.

(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)