Catching up with Bruce Laird, the ex-Aussie opener, who stopped playing due to poor financial rewards
Perth: There’s a lot of money in cricket nowadays and the big players make it even larger. But four decades ago, the gentleman’s game was not as lucrative. More so for players, who were not consistently in the team for a long period of time. Ask Bruce Laird, the former Australian opener, who probably has one of the highest aggregates in a Test without scoring a century – 92 and 75 on debut against West Indies at Brisbane in December 1979.
Former Australia opening batsman Bruce Laird at a park in Ardross Street, Applecross in suburban Perth. Pic/Ashwin Ferro. inset: Bruce Laird in his playing days. pic courtesy Australian Cricket Yearbook 1977
The gutsy former opener revealed that he was forced to retire just three years after his Test debut because players like him, who were in and out of the national team, weren’t paid enough by the Australian cricket authorities.
The fit 64-year-old however has no regrets about his short and sweet career of 21 Tests and 23 one-day internationals. He is one of rare cricketers who joined Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket before playing a Test match.
Are you involved in cricket now?
Not at all. I was a Western Australia selector four years ago when Tom Moody was coach, but now I’m semi-retired. It means I’m still working part-time and looking forward to earning enough money to retire. I work for Elders, an agriculture company here in Applecross.
You mean money was a problem despite you being an international cricketer?
Well, back in 1982-83, after I returned with the Test team from Pakistan, I lost my place in the side to Wayne Phillips who was picked ahead of me and went on to score a century (on debut against Pakistan at Perth).
But I fought back, had a good shield season and was to go to tour the West Indies in 1984, but decided to retire because in those days, we weren’t professional.
I was just 33 then and would have played longer, but we didn’t even have contracts. You only got paid for the games you played. You didn’t even get a call from the selectors to tell you that you weren’t playing. You found that out from the radio.
In the Sheffield Shield, we got AUD 100 a day, so AUD 400 a game, which was okay, but in the national team, you were paid AUD 50,000 for the season but only if you played all the games.
If you missed a game, they wouldn’t pay you. I had three kids and a family to support, and I was in and out of the team, so I had to get on with my life.
You made your Test debut only in 1979 because you joined World Series Cricket (WSC). Why did you take
I had some reasonably good domestic seasons in 1976 and 1977, but wasn’t in the Test team. I was 26 and had a family so the Packer decision came down to being a financial one. And as it turned out, it was the right one because anyway there are no guarantees that you would get into the Australian Test side back then.
You got 92 and 75 on Test debut against a West Indies attack that comprised Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner and Colin Croft. What was the experience like?
It was very exciting because I was playing my first Test. I had played a lot against the West Indies in WSC the previous two years, so that became a bit of an advantage for me. They were great bowlers — all tough to play against. Roberts was the one, who got me out more often. He bowled fast outswingers just like (Dennis) Lillee and (Dale) Steyn, while Garner was the toughest to score against. Holding was the fastest of the lot, and Croft was difficult because he used to bowl from wide of the crease and angled it in with bounce. It was an intense series and both teams were charged up, but no player said a word against each other. That was the level of discipline maintained by the captains, Clive Lloyd and Greg Chappell.
You were considered a tough opening batsman...
Coming from Perth, we grew up on fast wickets. It’s a dry climate and our wickets are very hard and bouncy, so as a kid I grew up playing on fast, bouncy tracks. That made me tough. Just like Indian players grow up on turning tracks back home. I was not very good on turning strips though.
After you made an against-the-odds century at Trinidad against the Windies in the WSC in 1979, WI’s Roy Fredericks told Rodney Marsh after the day’s play, ‘Tell Stumpy (Laird), I wish I’d played that innings.’ Was that one of the best compliments you received?
In those days, we would get together for a couple of beers after the day’s play. Roy came into our dressing room and he was normally a very quiet. But he came over to me and ‘well played’. That was nice to come from a guy like him, who doesn’t talk much and who was a tough opening batsman. I saw him get hit a couple of times on the head without a helmet and he didn’t flinch.
Does it still rankle you that you couldn’t get a Test ton?
Oh yes it does. And more so because when I got the 92 on debut, I didn’t nick it. I played inside it off the back foot and it clipped my thigh. Joel Garner was the bowler and he didn’t go up after Deryck Murray (wicketkeeper) caught it. But the rest appealed. I looked up and I was given out. I thought to myself ‘never mind 92 is just fine. I’ll get a 100 the next time’. But I never did.
You were part of the Australian team that lost 0-3 to Pak in 1982-83. Was the spin of Qadir too hard to handle?
I think Greg (Chappell) didn’t go on that tour and so did Dennis Lillee but Qadir was too good. He bowled brilliantly and the home conditions suited him perfectly. Pakistan had some great players in Javed (Miandad), Imran (Khan). We had a couple of spinners too in Peter Sleep and Bruce Yardley but just couldn’t get them out twice. We played badly.
You didn’t play Test cricket after that...
Oh yes... as I said, they picked Wayne Phillips and he got a century and then I decided to retire. I couldn’t afford to be in and out of the Test team.
Are you watching the World Cup so far, who do you think will win it?
Australia and India are playing really well. When India played at the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground against South Africa) last, there was a crowd of almost 90,000. So the best thing that can happen for the game will be an India-Australia in Melbourne.
Bruce Laird square drives against England during the Birmingham ODI in 1980. Pic/Getty Images
You were picked for the 1975 Ashes tour to England under Ian Chappell, but didn’t play any of the Tests. Was that disappointing?
I had played only 10 first-class games when I was picked and to be honest I wasn’t even aware that there was an Ashes tour coming up. We won the Sheffield Shield that year and I had only played that one season. Then, the late Norman O’Neil (former Australia batsman) who used to coach at the WACA, one day told me that I’m probably going to the Ashes tour, and he knew because he was a friend of Neil Harvey, who was a selector. I was taken aback because it had never entered my mind that this could happen. So just to just get on the trip was huge for me.
There’s an image of you in Fire in Babylon (film on West Indies cricket) wincing in pain. Do you remember that injury?
That was in my debut match. I was hit in the chest or the rib cage area I think. In fact, I got hit a lot in the match but I ended up okay. Every batsman got hit there at some stage by the Windies. You only hoped they didn't break you ribs.
How did the nickname Stumpy come about?
When I got first picked for Western Australia, in 1974, I was opening the batting with Ric Charlesworth. Now, Ric’s nickname was 'Grumpy' because the guys reckoned he as always grumpy by nature. Both of us were not very tall. So, the guys called us the two dwarfs and decided to give us rhyming names and I became Stumpy. Till date, a lot of the guys refer to me as Stumps or Stump.