Les Favell © Getty Images
Les Favell © Getty Images

It was at Sydney in the year 1930, that one Talbot Smith donated £100 to the South Australia Cricket Association (SACA) to endow an annual fielding trophy. The final choice of the winner was to be based on votes awarded by umpires for performances in First-Grade matches. Smith added a further £100 in 1962 so that the value of the trophy could be enhanced. It came to be known as the Talbot Smith Medal, and was awarded to the most outstanding fieldsmen (excluding the wicketkeeper) in the First-Grade competition. Going through the list of the winners of this medal, one notices an entry for 1952-53 with the name of an East Torrens player, one Les Favell. Interestingly, the winner for 1984-85, also representing East Torrens, was Alan Favell, son of Les.

Leslie Ernest Favell was born October 6, 1929 at Arncliffe, Sydney, the second child of Ernest Hastings Favell, postal assistant, and his wife Amelia Doris née Saunderson, both born in Sydney. According to the biography of Favell by Bernard Whimpress, Les attended local schools and played his early cricket in the AW Green and Poidevin-Gray Shield competitions. At 18 he began his first-grade career with the St George District Cricket Club. In 1951 Favell moved to South Australia and joined the East Torrens team.

A right-hand batsman, Favell was a right-hand bat who had a First-Class span from 1951-52 to 1969-70. He played 202 First-Class matches, mainly for South Australia, scoring 12,379 runs. His highest score was 190, and he averaged 36.62. He had 27 centuries and 67 fifties, and held 110 catches.

Favell played 19 Tests for Australia, scoring 757 runs from his 31 innings, with a top score of 101, and an average of 27.03. Apart from his only century, he had 5 fifties, and held 9 catches.

He made quite an impact in his debut First-Class game, for South Australia against New South Wales (NSW), at Adelaide, in 1951-52. The home team, under Phil Ridings, batted first, and were immediately in trouble, the first wicket falling at the team score of 1. In walked their debutant at No. 3. When he was sixth out at the total of 166, Favell had scored 86 in his first First-Class innings. The team mustered 217, with the debutant easily the top-scorer. For NSW, opening bowler Tom Brooks, later to become a highly respected umpire, took 5 for 54.

NSW, under Sid Barnes, replied with 280, Richie Benaud scoring a century (117) from the middle order. South Australia declared on 343 for 9 in their second innings. The first wicket again fell early, and again it was the debutant to the rescue, scoring 164 and sharing a third-wicket stand of 213 with Lance Duldig (67). NSW finished with 267 for 5 in the time remaining in a drawn game.

The next century was in the corresponding game against NSW in the next season, when Favell scored 21 and 105. Thereafter, Favell seemed to develop a special liking for the NSW bowling, as his scores in the next few seasons show: 50 and 88 in 1953, and 71 and 40 in 1954.

Popularly referred to as Favelli, Favell had a very simple philosophy at the batting crease: he believed that the ball was there to be hit and he hit it hard and often and with the minimum fuss. When he was opening the innings, he would frequently delight in hitting the first ball for four to set up a team score of 300 by the end of the day. He loved the hook and the cut, in short, any stroke that would produce the best returns for the shot in the shortest time. Nobody could tie him down as he went about his batting in his inimitable and outrageous style, as Wes Hall, Frank Tyson, and Tony Lock, to name but three, found out to their chagrin. Favell had a habit, extremely irritating for his opponents, of singing “Happy birthday to me” at the top of his voice while sending the ball scurrying to all parts of the outfield.

It was a remarkable relationship that Favell had with Don Bradman, both being born in NSW, both having played for St George’s District Club in Sydney Grade cricket, and then both having later moved to South Australia to further their cricket careers.

Over the years, Bradman became a good friend and admirer of the spirit of Favell, and this is what he wrote in the forward to Favell’s book By Hook or By Cut: “Throughout his long career, Les set an example as a player and as an individual which can only be the envy of others. His vast accumulation of runs in First-Class cricket (is) a record of his prowess, but they do not tell of the personality and character which were stamped on those performances. He never scorned a challenge, rather did he welcome it. The most frequent criticism heard of Les during his career was that his batting was too risky. What a pity all players didn’t have the same fault.”

1954 saw Favell make his Test debut for Australia under Ian Johnson, in the first Test against England at The Gabba in 1954-55. Len Hutton sent Australia in, a decision he was to regret soon. Fortune certainly did not smile on England, Godfrey Evans suffering from sunstroke and being unable to play the Test and Denis Compton breaking a bone at the back of his left hand on the first morning while chasing a ball to the boundary and crashing into the wooden fence.

As if to underscore the visitors’ woes, England allowed twelve possible chances to pass them by in the Australia first innings, including one to debutant wicketkeeper Keith Andrew (standing in for Evans) from Arthur Morris in the third over of the match, and before Morris had opened his account, off an Alec Bedser delivery.

Opening batting with Morris, Favell scored 23 in the only innings Australia batted. Morris (154) and Neil Harvey (162), sharing a third-wicket stand of 202, carried Australia to 601 for 8 declared against an unusually lop-sided attack comprising Bedser, Brian Statham, Tyson, Trevor Bailey, and Bill Edrich — all quick bowlers. The other England debutant, Colin Cowdrey, held the catches to dismiss both the Australian openers, Favell and Morris.

England were dismissed for 190, Bailey top-scoring with 88. Following his injury, Compton batted at No. 11, remaining not out on 2. Following on, England managed 257 in the second innings, Edrich top-scoring this time with 88. Australia won the match by an innings and 154 runs at 10 minutes past 4 PM on the fifth afternoon, with more than a day of the scheduled 6-day match to spare. It was a chastening experience for the England team in general, and particularly for Hutton, the skipper.

The next Test made Tyson a household name in England and other parts of the cricket-playing world. Tyson was primarily responsible for England squaring the series with a win by 38 runs at 12 minutes past 3 PM on the fifth afternoon with one day to spare.

Morris, captaining at Sydney for the second Test, put the visitors in. England’s first-innings total was 154, with Johnny Wardle, rather surprisingly, top-scoring with 35. Favell scored 26 at the top of the order in a first-innings team total of 228, with 49 by Ron Archer, being the top score. Bailey (4 for 59) and Tyson (4 for 45) were the principal wicket-takers.

England’s second-innings total of 296 was built around a strokeful 104 from Peter May, his first Test century against Australia. Australia were then simply blown away by Tyson (6 for 85) and Statham (3 for 45). It was a signal personal triumph for Tyson, who had been temporarily knocked out by a bouncer to the back of his head from Ray Lindwall just before lunch on the fourth day. The ‘Typhoon’ epic had been launched.

In the third Test at Melbourne, although Favell had moderate success with scores of 25 and 30 (the highest individual score in a second-innings total of 111), a superlative century by Cowdrey (102), playing in only his third Test, and masterly bowling from Statham (5 for 60 and 2 for 38) and Tyson (2 for 68 and 7 for 27) ensured an England victory by 128 runs. The Tyson legend was gathering momentum at a rapid rate.

The fifth Test of the series, at Sydney, degenerated into a draw with the first three days lost to unseasonal and torrential rain. Continuing the trend of the series, Johnson won the toss and put England in, the dismal weather factor coming into play. Play got underway in the afternoon of the fourth day.

England declared on 371 for 7 declared in the first innings with 111 from Tom Graveney in his somewhat unaccustomed position of opener. May (79), Compton (84) and Bailey (72) ensured that the innings was, as the saying goes, “thick in the middle.” In this run melee, Cowdrey collected a golden duck. Lindwall collected his 100th Test wicket in this match.

The innings contained a small particle of cricket history for debutant Peter Burge. The scorecard reads a prosaic “L Hutton c Burge b Lindwall 6”. As always, there was a story behind even this very humdrum entry. Let us hear it from Wisden: “The first time Burge touched the ball in Test cricket he caught Hutton at leg slip. He knew it was coming, too. As the players walked out on the field, Lindwall told him to watch for the fourth ball. Lindwall gave Hutton three out-swingers. The fourth was an in-swinger and Hutton edged it to Burge who just managed to hold the ball at the second attempt.”

That brings us to another story — that of the other two to take a catch with the very first touch of the ball in Test cricket, as follows:’

– Old Trafford, 1952: Vinoo Mankad c Tony Lock b Alec Bedser 4. Now, here is what Wisden said: “A magnificent catch at short-leg by Lock when he touched the ball for the first time in a Test match helped Bedser to (take) Mankad’s wicket.”

– Lord’s, 2015: Adam Lyth c Peter Nevill b Mitchell Starc 0. In the England first innings, Nevill, making his Test debut, touched the ball for the first time off the second ball of the innings, taking a catch to dismiss Lyth off the bowling of Starc.

Coming back to the Test under discussion, we find Australia being dismissed for 221 in the first innings, Colin McDonald’s 72 from the top of the order sounding like a plaintive cry in the wilderness. Wardle took 5 for 79.

Australia followed on and were 118 for 6 when the match ended. Favell’s contributions in the match were 1 and 9. So ended Favell’s debut Test series, with him making a steady statement of intent against the old enemy. In between his Test appearances, Favell had a good match against Victoria, another heavyweight team, scoring 56 and 160 from the top of the innings at Melbourne.

From left: Ian Johnson, Ron Archer, Jim Burke, Arthur James (masseur), Bill Johnston, Les Favell, Graeme Hole © Getty Images
From left: Ian Johnson, Ron Archer, Jim Burke, Arthur James (masseur), Bill Johnston, Les Favell, Graeme Hole © Getty Images

Following the end of the domestic season, Australia were off to West Indies for an international tour, Favell finding himself “in that number” of the saints going marching in, as they say. The pitches, the bowling, the total ambience and the Caribbean philosophy of cricket seemed to appeal to Favell as he scored 71 and 2 against Trinidad, 18 against British Guiana, and 49 and 22 against a fairly strong Barbados team. All this led up to the Tests.

Selected for the fourth Test at Kensington Oval, Favell opened the innings, sharing opening stands of 108 and 71 with McDonald, and himself scoring 72 and 53. This drawn Test is enshrined in cricket history for the 347-run sixth-wicket stand between West Indies captain Denis Atkinson (219) and wicketkeeper “Leaning Tower” Clairmonte Depeiaza (122).

In the fifth Test at Sabina Park, Favell was the only one to miss out on a run feast, scoring a duck in an Australian first-innings total of 758 for 8, with five centurions: McDonald (127), Harvey (204), Miller (109), Archer (128) and Benaud (121).

It was back to domestic cricket again, but the 1956 Ashes tour to England passed him by. Indeed, he was never to tour England in his career, a grave omission from his otherwise exemplary cricketing career.

In his 54th match, against his favourite opponents NSW at Sydney in 1956-57, Favell had a century in each innings (112 and 114) in a drawn game. Later that season Favell played 3 representative games in New Zealand, none of which were awarded Test status. He had 23 and 26 at Christchurch, 62 and 36 at Wellington, and 65 and 1* at Auckland.

Although Favell was in the Australian team that toured South Africa in 1957-58, he did not play in any of the Tests. He did, however, get his highest First-Class score in his 72nd game, against Griqualand West at Kimberley in Feb/1958, scoring 190, opening the innings and sharing a second-wicket stand of 283 with Bobby Simpson (150 not out), out of a total of 371 for 2 declared.

Back home, he scored a century in each innings against Western Australia at Adelaide in November 1958, with scores of 104 and 145, sharing a second-wicket stand of 207 with Neil “Nodda” Dansie (101).

The 3 Tests in Pakistan in 1959-60 were not very productive for Favell. His only Test century came in the fourth Test against India at Madras that season, an unusually restrained innings, under unfamiliar conditions of pitch and weather.

Australia ended Day One on 183 for 3 with Favell batting on 100 not out with 10 fours. When Favell was fourth out at 197, he had scored 101 of the runs. Australia, under Benaud, won the match by an innings and 55 runs. In the drawn fifth Test at Calcutta, Favell had scores of 26 and 62*. This was the series in which Jasu Patel had taken 9 for 69 in the Australian first innings of 219 in the second Test at Kanpur, though Favell did not play in that match.

It was 1960-61, and the visit of the West Indies team under Frank Worrell was being eagerly looked forward to by one and all. Under the dynamic leadership of Richie Benaud, Australia were ready for the challenge. The 5-Test series turned out to be not only a treat for connoisseurs of cricket, but the positive style of play from both sides came as a watershed in the annals of Test cricket. Let us pick up the story from the 1st Test at The Gabba.

As is well chronicled in history, the Brisbane Test ended in an unprecedented tie, after sterling performances from Garry Sobers (132), Alan Davidson (5 for 135 and 6 for 87, 44 and 80), Bobby Simpson (92), Norman O’Neill (181), Hall (4 for 140), Frank Worrell (65 and 65), and Hall again (5 for 63) bowling the pulsating and heart-stopping last over of the game that ended in so magical a fashion. In all this mayhem, Favell, batting in the middle-order now, was run out for 45 in the first innings and was dismissed by Hall for 7 in the second.

The scene shifted to Melbourne for the second Test, and Australia won the toss and batted first, scoring 348. When Favell was the fifth out at 189, he had scored 51 very positive runs from 87 balls with 5 fours. A ninth-wicket stand of 97 between Ken Mackay (74) and debutant left-arm spinner Johnny Martin (55) carried the day for the home team. Hall (what a champion!) took 4 for 51.

After the first two West Indian wickets had fallen on the team total of 1, Seymour Nurse (70) and Rohan Kanhai (84) had a third-wicket stand of 123 runs. Unfortunately for West Indies, they were the only two men in double figures, and the innings folded for 181. Opening bowlers Davidson (6 for 53) and debutant Frank Misson (2 for 36) were mainly responsible for the sorry state of the innings.

West Indies followed on, and despite a fighting 110 from opener Conrad Hunte and 72 from wicketkeeper Gerry Alexander, could manage only 233. Martin struck two vital blows by dismissing both Sobers and Worrell for ducks.

Needing only 67 to win the game, Australia lost their first 2 wickets for 27, and when the third fell at 30, there were still 37 runs to get. In parentheses, it should be stated that both Harvey and O’Neill were dismissed for ducks. Simpson (27*) and Favell (24*), kept their heads and guided the team home by 7 wickets.

The seesaw battle continued in the third Test at Sydney. Batting first, West Indies scored 339, Sobers (168). Davidson (5 for 80) and Benaud (4 for 86) took most of the wickets. Australia were dismissed for 202, with a top-score of 71 from O’Neill. For the visitors, Alf Valentine took 4 for 67.

West Indies scored 326 in the second innings with Alexander scoring 108 from No. 8, his only Test century. Worrell chipped in with 82. The wickets were shared by Davidson (3 for 33), Mackay (3 for 75) and Benaud (4 for 113).

Australia were set 464, but it proved to be a bridge too far, and the home team succumbed for 241, undone by Lance Gibbs (5 for 66) and Valentine (4 for 86) to lose the match by 222 runs. Favell contributed 16 and 2.

It was on to Adelaide for the fourth Test. The Test is remembered for the epic last-wicket stand between MacKay and Lindsay Kline, who survived 109 runs to pull off a spectacular draw.

Favell was to play on his home ground. In a drawn game with Kanhai scoring 117 and 115, and Benaud taking the bowling honours in the West Indies first innings of 393, with 5 for 96, and Gibbs repaying the compliment with 5 for 97 in the Australia first innings of 366, all that the man playing on his home ground could contribute was 1 for 4, opening the innings each time.

This was Favell’s swansong as far as Test cricket was concerned. There was a perception that he was not very comfortable against the pace of Hall at this stage of his career.

In the meanwhile Favell had become the captain of South Australia in 1959, continuing in this role till his retirement in 1970, and went on to lead the team for a record 95 matches, winning the Sheffield Shield in 1963-64 and 1968-69. For South Australia alone, Favell played 143 First-Class matches, scoring 9,656 runs at 38.16. He scored 23 centuries and 51 fifties, and held 75 catches.

Under the façade of his bonhomie, and despite his avant-garde theory of all-out attack when batting, Favell was a shrewd leader of men, as testified to by the numerous players who have played under him. He inculcated a sense of fair play among his team members, and often goaded them into performing far above their potential.

Favell married Berry Clare Shepley, a florist, on September 24, 1955 at Burnside Christian Church. They had two children, a son, Alan, referred to above in the list of the Talbot Smith Medal winners, and a daughter, Jane.

In early 1967, Favell had the honour of touring New Zealand as captain of the Australian Second XI team, playing 4 representative matches against New Zealand.

In his 176th match, again against his preferred opponents NSW, at Adelaide in 1967-68, he scored 149 in a first-innings total of 588 for 7 declared, with centuries also from John Causby (137, sharing an opening stand of 281 with Favell), and Ian Chappell (128). Favell passed the landmark of 10,000 First-Class runs in this match, which South Australia won by an innings and 56 runs. Favell was particularly severe on the opening bowlers Grahame Corling (1 for 115) and Dave Renneberg (1 for 100).

Appropriately enough, Favell played his last First-Class game against NSW at Adelaide in February 1970, scoring 55 in the only innings he batted.

When the final curtain had been run down on the cricketing career of Favell, he had scored 12,379 First-Class runs in all, the highest number of runs by any Australian player who had never toured England.

On retirement from cricket, Favell became a columnist and radio commentator, and took an active part in cricket administration with South Australia. He was a South Australia selector and was awarded an MBE. In 1953 and 1954, Favell had made the All-Australian baseball team. For many years he conducted coaching clinics for junior cricketers and footballers in South Australia.

When it was discovered that Favell was suffering from cancer, SACA, in a gesture of respect and support, arranged for a Testimonial match for him at the Adelaide Oval. One of the most enthusiastic supporters of the idea was Bradman, his long-time friend. Several former and current greats of the game, like Keith Miller, Harvey, Barry Richards, and Davidson (after whom Favell’s son is named) made it a point to play in the game that was organised into two teams led by Sir Don and Favelli himself, both playing as non-playing captains.

Let us hear the story of this sentimental game from Ashley Mallett: “As if by some unseen divine hand, the sun shone brightly and the crowd turned up in their droves. Everyone knew it was Les’ last hurrah in public, but they put on — as indeed did he — a brave face. His doctor, Dr Donald Beard, a legend in Australian army and cricket circles, helped Les through the day. Favell wore his state blazer and Bradman an Australia blazer loaned to him by Ian McLachlan, the man who drove the day.”

Wisden had this to add to the scene: “Sitting beside Keith Miller, Favell said, after watching Neil Harvey (then 58) skip down the pitch to launch an exquisite cover-drive: “Now I can retire happy.”

Les Favell passed away on June 14, 1987 at his Magill residence in Adelaide, aged only 57, and was cremated. He was survived by his wife and children. The Les Favell Foundation was established next year with the support of SACA to create opportunities for talented young players from country areas. In 1998 the indoor cricket centre at Adelaide Oval was named after him and his old friend and comrade at the top of the South Australian batting order, Neil ‘Nodda’ Dansie.

(Pradip Dhole is a retired medical practitioner with a life-long interest in cricket history and statistics)