Keith Miller retired with the best statistics of any all-rounder in cricket history    Getty Images
Keith Miller retired with the best statistics of any all-rounder in cricket history Getty Images

Keith Ross Miller, born November 28, 1919, was an Australian cricketer and a Royal Australian Air Force pilot during World War II. Widely regarded as Australia’s greatest ever all-rounder, Miller retired with the best statistics of any all-rounder in cricket history. He was a complete package; a powerful striker of the ball, an acrobatic fielder and a canny bowler. Add to it his great looks, and he no wonder was a crowd favourite. Besides cricket, Miller was also a successful Australian rules footballer and was even selected to represent the Victorian state team. On his 97th birth anniversary, Chinmay Jawalekar looks at 34 facts from the life of the golden boy” of cricket, who was the game s most glamorous player.

1. Named after aviator brothers

Miller was named after the Australian pioneer aviator brothers Keith and Ross Smith, who were half-way through their historic flight from England to Australia at the time of his birth. It was only fair considering later in his life he flew fighter jet over Germany during the World War II.

2. Dual sports

Miller s father was a successful local cricketer who taught him as well his two brothers the nuances of cricket. Being raised in a sporting atmosphere, the three Miller boys played Australian rules football in winter and cricket in summer.

3. Aspired to be a jockey for his short height

Despite being selected for an under-15 Victorian school-boys cricket team, Miller wanted to be a jockey as he was short-heighted at that point of time (he was only 4.9 ft tall.) He felt that since he appeared destined to be short, a career as a jockey was more likely than one as a cricketer or footballer.

4. Poor academic record and Woodfull as teacher

Miller attended the selective Melbourne High School, where Australian Test captain Bill Woodfull was his mathematics teacher. In 1934, Miller failed all of his subjects, scoring zero in his final exam for Woodfull’s geometry class, and was forced to repeat the year. Though he was a mediocre student, a fact that disappointed Woodfull, his cricket skills impressed the captain.

5. The unbowable

At the age of 14, Miller was selected for the school’s first XI, scoring 44 runs. His control and solidity prompted the spectators to call him The Unbowlable Woodfull’s own nickname.

6. Failed to find a club

Miller’s school team s captain Keith Truscott took him to a trial with local club side St Kilda at the start of the 1934 35 season, but Miller could not find a place in any of its five teams. Joining the local sub-district cricket club Elsternwick instead, he did not get to bat or bowl in his first match, and ironically, was dropped to the second XI for his poor fielding.

7. The silver eggcup

In March 1936, playing for South Melbourne against Carlton, Miller took the team from 6/32 to 141, putting on a stand of 65 with the last man and finishing with 61. The crowd gave Miller a standing ovation and the newspapers compared him to Bill Ponsford. The Carlton team presented him with a silver eggcup, “for sterling performance”, which Woodfull later presented to him during an algebra class.

8. Sudden growth

At 17 years of age, Miller witnessed a sudden growth spurt of 28 centimetres (11 inches) in the year, reaching to 6.1 ft in height. This thwarted his career as a jockey and blossomed as a footballer. His club coach Hughie Carroll recalled, “He was so small that you had to be careful not to tread on him, but he seemed to gain about 10 inches between seasons, and became a commanding batsman.”

9. Clerk

At the end of 1936, he somehow completed his education up to standard 10 and quit high school, taking a position as a clerk.

10. Domestic cricket

Aged 18, during the 1937-38 season, Miller made his Sheffield Shield debut for Victoria against Tasmania, scoring 181. In 1939-40, he enhanced his reputation with a century at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) against a South Australian attack headed by the great leg-spinner Clarrie Grimmett. By the end of the 1946-47 season, Miller had played 18 matches for Victoria, but then monetary need drove him to New South Wales, for which he played 50 matches until 1955-56.

11. How he became an all-rounder

At the start of his career, Miller wasn t a exactly an all-rounder. In district cricket, he had never been more than an occasional bowler but, in January 1941, playing at the MCG for Bradman’s XI against McCabe’s XI, he was asked to open the bowling in the second innings. He took one wicket for 24 in 6 overs, raising a few eyebrows with his serious pace. It was the turning point in his career.

12. Role in the World War II

During the World War II, Flight Lieutenant Miller was a pilot with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and carried out raids over Germany in Mosquito night-fighters. Alongside his military duties, Miller also played for RAAF sides in 1943 and 1944. In 1945, at Lord’s, he scored 185 in 165 minutes for the Dominions (essentially the Australian services), including 100 in 75 minutes before lunch and left an indelible impression on the British spectators.

His form for the Australian services team earned him a place on the Australian tour to New Zealand and he made his Test debut at Wellington in March 1946, which was also Australia’s first post-war match.

13. Love for music

During the World War II, Miller’s love for classical music compelled him on one mission to turn his Mosquito fighter-jet back to the war zone. After taking a slight detour, he flew over Bonn, Beethoven’s birthplace.

14. “Thank God that’s over.”

Once Don Bradman s invincibles amassed 721 in a single day which is still a record in a match against Essex in 1948. Personally, Miller wasn t impressed and he wanted no part of such carnage. When he was promoted to second wicket-down and with the score already 2 for 364, Miller showed a distaste for the slaughter, and allowed himself to be bowled first ball by Trevor Bailey. He then turned to the wicketkeeper and said: “Thank God that’s over.” “He’ll learn,” was Bradman’s response.

15. The party man

Miller was a hardcore partygoer. There s a famous legend that he once arrived to captain the New South Wales team still wearing his tux from the previous evening’s party, and set the field with a single command: “Scatter.” In the same match, he took 7 for 12 to bowl out South Australia for 27.

16. Anecdote with Bradman I

Once Bradman answered a knock on his door, only to find a dinner-suited Miller. He paid the captain Bradman a courtesy visit to say that he had been in bed at curfew, as demanded by Bradman – and was now going out.

17. Pressure is a Messerschmitt up your arse

In later years, Miller was asked by a television interviewer how he handled pressure on the cricket field. His famous dismissive reply to the reporter was: Pressure is a Messerschmitt up your arse. Playing cricket is not.”

18. The Australian in excelsis

Neville Cardus, the prince of cricket writers, called him “the Australian in excelsis”.

19. Jobs

Miller spent 20 years as a special cricket writer for the Daily Express, and then worked for Vernon’s Pools, owned appropriately by the influential horseracing figure Robert Sangster.

20. Australia s greatest all-rounder

Miller is quite easily the best all-rounder Australia have ever produced. Although never being the one to chase statistical milestones, Miller still finished with outstanding numbers a career batting average touching 37 and a bowling average of under 23. Sid Barnes, his Australian team-mate, had aptly summarised Miller’s sheer talent and his attitude to cricket: “If Keith had had the same outlook as Bradman or Ponsford, he would have made colossal scores. He could, if he desired, have become the statisticians’ greatest customer.”

21. Captaincy

Miller became captain of New South Wales in 1952-53, and the Sheffield Shield was won by his adopted state three times in the four years in which he was leader. Still he was never entrusted with the captaincy of Australia, since the Australian board preferred the “safe” captain, the establishment man, and Miller was incurably outspoken and unpredictable.

22. Partner in crime

Miller and Ray Lindwall formed a pair of fast and hostile bowlers and their new ball partnership produced 243 wickets, a combination bettered for Australia only by Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie, who together took 484 wickets in Tests.

23. The golden boy

English journalist Ian Wooldridge once called Miller “the golden boy” of cricket, leading to his being nicknamed “Nugget”. He “was more than a cricketer … he embodied the idea that there was more to life than cricket,” Wooldridge had opined.

24. Anecdote on Bradman II

On his Ashes debut at the Gabba in 1946-47, Miller raised the ire of Bradman by refusing to bowl fast and short to Bill Edrich. “I’d just fought a war with this bloke. I wasn’t going to take his head off.” He bowled cutters instead and took 7 for 60 in the first innings, which is also the greatest bowling performance of his career.

25. Footballer

Miller was an outstanding footballer who played for St Kilda from 1940-42 and again in 1946. A versatile player, he notched up 42 goals in 50 games; 8 of those came in a single game. He made his name as a full-back. Miller had first-rate kicking skills and represented Victoria at football in 1946.

26. Sorry Godfrey

Once during an Ashes Test in 1946-47, Miller bowled successive bouncers to Godfrey Evans and then later tendered an apology, saying, “Sorry, Godfrey, but I have to do it – the crowd are a bit bored at the moment.”

27. Medal for Ashes player of the series

In 2005, The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and Cricket Australia announced the Compton-Miller Medal to be awarded to the player of the series in the forthcoming Ashes. The new medal was named in honour of two of the greatest players of the post World War II era, Denis Compton and Keith Miller.

28. Book

Roland Perry authored the book on Miiler s life, titled Keith Miller: the Life of a Great All-rounder.

29. Baggy Green fetched Aus$35,000

The Baggy Green cap worn by Miller in the 1954-55 Ashes series was sold at an auction for Aus$35,000 (US$26,000) in June 2006. The successful bidder paid almost double the amount expected.

30. Personal life

Miller got married to Peggie in 1946, whom he met on his journey to Britain during the war. Shockingly, the two separated in their last days after so many years together. Peggie died in 2003, and Miller, having returned at last to Melbourne, then married a friend of long standing, Marie Challman. He was also romantically involved with Margaret Wagner. Miller had four sons with Peggie.

31. Last days

Life exacted its tolls on Miller, as in his last days he suffered cancer, had two hip replacement surgeries, part of an ear removed and was wheelchair-bound at length.

32. Death

After prolonged illness, Miller died in October 2004. The Government of Victoria gave him a state funeral which was attended by hundreds of mourners and was broadcast across the nation on ABC Radio. Players of the Australian cricket team, which was touring India back then, wore black armbands during the second Test against at Chennai, to pay their tribute to Miller.

33. Life-size bronze statue

Miller has his life-size bronze statue installed outside Melbourne High School. It has been sculpted by Linda Klarfeld.

34. Honours and awards

Miller’s achievements were recognised by a host of awards during his lifetime and after his demise. On January 2, 1956, he was knighted as the Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for his services to cricket. He was one of the ten inaugural inductees into the Australian Cricket Hall of Fame in 1996 and in 2000, he was named in the Australian Cricket Board Team of the Century as its vice-captain. In 2005, he was knighted as the Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for service to sport, particularly cricket as a player, journalist and commentator. In January 2010, Miller was inducted into the ICC Cricket Hall of Fame.

(A self-confessed cricket freak, Chinmay Jawalekar is a senior writer with CricLife and CricketCountry. When not writing or following cricket, he loves to read, eat and sleep. He can be followed here @CricfreakTweets)