Thursday, January 19, 2012

My Favourite Cricketer: Ray Bright, by Dan Lonergan of the ABC

In sport I’ve always admired the underdog. That’s probably why I follow the Western Bulldogs in the AFL, who will always be the underdogs. I will admit I do support Manchester United in the English Premier League, but I started following them in the mid-1980s when they weren’t the club they are today.

In cricket, Greg Chappell was a hero of mine. Growing up, my first real memory of the game was as a six and seven year old watching the 1975/76 West Indies series where he plundered 829 runs including 3 centuries. I loved the way he played.

I also liked left handed opener Alan Turner, who obviously wasn’t in the same league as Chappell but played some good innings in that series. However, a Test average of 29 isn’t going to put him in the "All-Time Great" category. I suppose I admired the fact he was limited, but playing a role in a strong team that contained some of the best cricketers Australia has produced.

But a left-arm spinner from the same era was my favourite cricketer growing up - Victoria and Australia tweaker Ray Bright. I will admit my interest in him almost got to fanatical levels. The reasons for it are not very clear, but again I admired the fact that he got the most out of himself; in fact in my opinion his bowling stats are an example of statistics and numbers lying. He was from Victoria, which helped, and played District Cricket with the Aussie Rules team I barracked for, Footscray. I was happy with that.

He took over 400 First Class wickets at more than 32 and played 25 Tests, picking up 53 wickets at over 40. The Test figures are not impressive, but if you break it down and look at the number of overs he bowled and how economical he was - generally conceding about 2 runs an over, while holding up an end "containing" greats like Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge and Sunil Gavaskar - he just about ranks as one of Australia's more effective spinners, an Ashley Giles prototype.

Courtesy: ESPN Cricinfo
I took a real shine to Bright in the 1976-77 season after the twin retirements of South Australian and Australian spinners Ashley Mallett and Terry Jenner. Bright took 5 wickets in an innings against a powerful WA team in Perth to put himself in contention to play in the Test series against Pakistan and I got really excited.

He wasn’t selected as Kerry O’Keeffe chosen after his fine start to that summer. Bright though was 12th man for the Third test in Sydney and later went to New Zealand.  As an 8 year old, I was so impressed with him that I demanded his selection in the team for that two-Test series by writing a letter to selector Sam Loxton.

Incredibly, he replied and I still have it somewhere. He was actually candid and told me that Ray was close, but the New Zealand pitches didn’t really suit playing two spinners and O’Keeffe had cemented his spot with good performances. He was right, but I was still disappointed.

Before writing this article, I looked up the scorecards of the Tour matches of that New Zealand Tour and on performance, Bright should have been selected. He took wickets regularly and was handy as usual down the order with the bat.

Ironically, Alan Turner was out of form and should have been left out as Ian Davis and Rick McCosker could have opened and all-rounder Gary Gilmour was capable enough to bat at six. Anyway, it didn’t happen, but I saw my hero field as a sub in the Centenary Test after McCosker had his jaw broken, but sadly he didn’t touch the ball.

Bright finally made his Test debut in that disappointing Ashes series in 1977 and played three Tests before enhancing his growing reputation in World Series Cricket. Unfortunately these records are discounted, but he was a permanent member of the Australian team during those two seasons and took the second most Supertest wickets after Lilliee.

The great players he came up against during WSC learnt to sit on him, so when he returned to the establishment in 1979, he had become a containment bowler moreso than a wicket taker. Greg Chappell always rated him highly, saying his change of pace, flight and dip were impressive weapons.

There were some moments in the sun, when he was unexpectedly chosen on numerous tours after hardly playing a Test in that Australian summer. He took seven wickets in an innings in Pakistan in 1980 and five during that famous Ian Botham Ashes domination a year later.

He was sometimes described by fellow cricketers as an accidental tourist after his first tour as a teenager to New Zealand in 1974. On that tour was another of my underdog heroes, South Australian opening bat Ashley Woodcock, who played one Test.

However, anyone who makes his first class debut at 18 and keeps his spot for the next 16 years can play. I obviously thought he should have played more Test cricket and, despite thinking his international career was over in the early 1980s, he was chosen out of nowhere as Australia's Vice Captain against New Zealand and India.  He subsequently starred in the 1986 tied Test in India, taking
five wickets in India’s second Innings.

That year, he also captained his country in a One Day match in Sharjah. Not many players can say they achieved that honour.

After his retirement, I got to know Ray Bright and am pleased to say he's a lovely bloke; a guy who got the most out of his career. I still believe he was one of the greats. Not many agree, but as legendary Rugby League figure Arthur Beetson used to say, opinions are like backsides - we all have one!

He still remains my favourite player, but David Boon pushed him close. Like my beloved Western Bulldogs, I used to get when they would play poorly, but bask in the glory of their good moments.

Well Played Spotty!

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