He is The King of the black and white years. He guzzled 44 cans of beer from Australia to London, a near lethal cocktail of beer, wine and whisky on the journey from the Caribbean to Sydney. He smoked "at least 70 cigarettes a day". And yet, from the moment he stepped on a Test pitch, spectators around the world were dazzled by his red-blooded strokes - authoritative cutting and pulling, his immaculate timing, and beyond all, his love for the game and his mates.
Doug Walters during his speech after becoming a Hall of Fame inductee
at the 2011 Allan Border Medal night in Melbourne last year. Pic/Getty
"There's never been a bad word said of him," is how good friend and biographer Ashley Mallett describes him. "He is the coolest cricketer ever," is former teammate Dennis Lillee's description. Walters (66) continues to reside in Sydney with his wife Caroline.
The batting great spoke to MiD DAY yesterday in his typically ocker accent.
Excerpts from an interview:
Are you surprised at India's disastrous performance in the Test series?
I am very surprised with the lack of discipline from the Indians. Sure, the wickets here have some more in it than what you play at home. But, I would have lot to bat on these wickets. India is always known for its batting, and have a heck of a lot of good batsmen. We don't even have half the talented batsmen that India has, so it's a big disappointment. I wish we had the same sort of batting that India does. We have some good young bowlers coming up, but hardly any batsmen.
Do you put that down to an aging Indian side? Should they make way for younger guys?
It's a combination of a lot of things. They don't seem to be in it. They will obviously have to go now because you have lost in England and Australia so badly so there's nothing else in it now. What will you play for now? Unless, it's just milestones of sorts. I am very disappointed with the Indian batsmen, especially the seniors. They need to ask themselves 'what's in it for them now?'
You never scored a Test century in your four tours to England. VVS Laxman too hasn't. Why do some batsmen struggle there?
What are you talking about? I got hundreds plenty of hundreds in England. At the golf course there (laughs). As a No 6 batsman, when I mainly scored hundreds, we had already reached 400 on the board. In England, the other batsmen had already done the job. When we were 20-4, it was tougher to score hundreds. The thing with England is that the ball seams around a bit more. Perhaps my technique wasn't suited to English conditions. I am honest enough to admit that. In general, English wickets are better than other places in the world. That's why when I didn't get picked for the 1981 Ashes in England, I decided to call it a day. With Laxman, I am not sure. I think he struggles when the ball darts around a bit. Maybe that's why he has struggled in England too.
Would you have maintained the same lifestyle if playing today? Card games, alcohol and all?
Definitely not! These days nobody could pull that off. In my playing days, I could ensure that my on-field life and off-field life were separate. I could maintain that balance.
Is cricket missing characters? These days everything's become so regimented. The likes of Andrew Symonds cannot survive in today's day and age...
Absolutely. You are not allowed to do this and that. You are not allowed to be yourself. But let me tell you - you don't have to drink a lot to be a character. And I don't know why people thought I was a character because I just drank my beer and played my cricket. It was just like a nice job to have. I got to travel the world and have a lot of fun at what I do. I hope modern-day cricketers would approach cricket like that instead of getting too intense about things.
What is it about modern-day cricket that bothers you the most?
You cannot be yourself. You have to be portrayed in a certain way all the time. He cannot be what he tends to be or whatever. They cannot be their natural selves. I think that's a pity that they are not allowed to be natural. They have to put on some sort of air of grace in front of the camera. They are supposed to speak what's politically correct. Cricket's just become so robotic with a bunch of characters portraying roles of a cinema, and the administrators are just toying with the almost.
In Ashley Mallett's book on you, 'One of a Kind' you spoke about modern-day players getting too pampered. Can you elaborate on that?
It's not just the cricketers. Modern-day people and cricketers are very soft. They are not allowed any sort of discipline. They don't understand discipline. What I am trying to get at is that they get everything at their finger tips, so they try to avoid putting in the hard yards. People say that I hated training, which is true, but I knew what was needed when I went out there to bat, bowl and field. I am not endorsing that training is bad. I also had a hard nut of a captain in Ian Chappell, who gave me the freedom to be who I wanted to be. These days, you cannot be chastised for sitting at home and doing nothing. If you don't do anything, you are doing things the way that the whole world is doing. There are no independent minds that stand by what they believe in. I see that a lot in cricket. If a young batsman is told "so-and so", they try to follow it blindly. I never took Bradman's advice too. I knew what was needed and fortunately, it worked for me.
How frustrating was the two-year period between 1966 and 1968 when you had to attend national service? That too, so early in your career...
It was frustrating. But, it's something that we had to do. In many ways, it was for the good. And I think, in many ways, people should volunteer to do service for the state. The government doesn't see it that way anymore. But in those days, it was perfectly fine.
You scored a double ton and a ton in the Sydney Test against West Indies in 1969...
I didn't realise at the time that it was a record. I don't know why (Sir Donald) Bradman hadn't done it before (laughs). I enjoyed belting the West Indies bowlers around. It gave me great joy.
What was it about a 19-year-old Graeme Pollock's strokeplay that drove you into cricket? It's said that you were hooked to cricket after that...
It was in early 1964 at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Graeme was only 19 at the time. I too was around 20. I was already playing state cricket, but when I saw him bat the way he did, I told myself that I could do it too. That was the first Test match that I had seen. I got the Baggy Green two years later. The thing about Graeme was the way he smashed the ball to all parts without footwork. I was very impressed by his talent. It's a shame that the world didn't see more of him.
What memories do you have of Australia's tour of India in 1969-70? Ashley Mallett took all those wickets and you won the series 3-1. How highly do you rate your century on a rank turner in Chennai? You were up against the best spinners in the world...
That's just a job you have to do when the spinners are bowling (laughs). I always enjoyed batting against India's spinners. Though everyone says Ashley Mallett won that series, it was Graham McKenzie who won it for us. I don't remember Ashley taking a wicket (laughs). McKenzie gave the Indians a really tough time there. One of my fears before going to India was not getting enough beers and cigarettes to get through. Luckily, the Australian embassy in New Delhi sent over a lot of beer for us. We didn't face any shortage. In the end, I really loved India. We made some good friendships there. Bishan Bedi, (Erapalli) Prasanna and all those guys, lovely bloes.
The Kolkata mob in 1969-70 attacked you, thinking that you had fought against Asians in Vietnam (during your time in service). How did you react to something like that?
At first, I was shocked. But it wasn't disturbing or anything. We had a warning that there were going to be some protests. There was some window- smashing and all that. But, we were not worried. The people though should have realised that I never went to Vietnam. I am a bloke of peace. I went up to Queensland for Foreign Service but that's where it ended. There were false rumours of me going up to Vietnam. It wasn't the Kolkata crowd's fault I guess. They had heard wrong news.
How does one cultivate a hobby for counting heads? You did it many times...
(Laughs) Yes, that was a thing we used to do. When we went to World Series Cricket, Kerry Packer promised us a certain amount of the gate money, like one or two per cent of it, depending on how many people showed up. Unfortunately, the WSC games never drew the big crowds, because most of them were watching the Board's team playing. I was standing at slip and started to count heads because I had taken Packer's word very seriously. It became a habit of sorts later. I used to count heads everywhere I went just for the fun of it. It became a hobby of sorts.
Can you talk about the incident at Savoy Hotel in London in 1972 Ashes - when you were seated next to the Duke of Edinburgh. You had an argument over wine with Clement Freud (politician, writer)...
That Clement was a strange sort of a person. Apparently, he had never been in the war. So what credibility did he have anyway? We always met these strange sort of people on tours of England. Clement kept saying that English and French wine was amazing, but Australian wine tasted like a crap. I couldn't handle his constant irritation so I decided to light a cigarette in the room. He kept staring at me and gave me the vibe that I was too uncivilised for his liking. I didn't care for what he thought.
Can you recall the prank when a bunch of your teammates hid in the showers and you entered an empty Perth dressing room after hitting a six to reach a century off the last ball of Day Two in the 1974-75 Ashes?
That was definitely one my finest moments. I scored 60-odd (67) one hour after tea to get to my hundred. I hit a six off the last ball of the day to get to the hundred. I was told that it was the second time in my career when I scored a hundred in a session. Obviously, I was feeling proud about myself. I came back to the dressing room, expecting to get a huge cheer from my mates. As it happened, nobody was to be found. Suddenly, Chappelli (Ian Chappell) came out of the bathroom and gave me a big hug. I pulled a few tricks on the boys over the years. They pulled one on me there. That's the way things happened in the Australian dressing room those days.
There was a time in the West Indies (1972-73) when you borrowed a spectator's bike to ride from third man to each end after Ian Chappell punished you for oversleeping...
(Laughs) Yes, there are many versions to that story. Chappelli (Ian Chappell) and I had a strange relationship. He was my best mate too. I was trying to give him a hint of sorts. I missed a couple of overs that morning since I arrived late and he was sending me from fine leg to third man, third man to fine leg all session. So I borrowed a kid's bike to give him (Chappelli) a hint, but it didn't work. I still had to go from third man to fine leg for the rest of the session anyway. He was a funny b*****d (laughs).
The Australians performed the Southern Cross ritual openly at MCG after the first Test. What's your take on that?
The Southern Cross is very much over-rated, it's not a ritual. It's something that you should be doing inside closed doors. If they are doing it openly, it's quite ridiculous to be honest. We used to perform that song, but we never thought of it as a compulsion or whatever. We just used to enjoy our wins over some beers. There was nothing else to it.
Rod Marsh once said that the only time you didn't have a cigarette between thumb and forefinger was when you had a bat in your hands. Even then, you would light one up just before leaving the dressing room and leave it burning in the ashtray just in case you got out early. And finally, how did you manage to give up smoking?
I got this laser treatment done a few years ago. When I got there, I was just thinking 'if it works, good enough, otherwise, doesn't matter'. In fact, when I got there, I was just waiting to get out and have the next smoke. But yeah, it seemed to have worked. I don't think it's psychological. It obviously helped me give up, so yeah.
In your debut Test at Brisbane (vs England in 1965), while on 92, you looked at the scorecard and got nervous. You didn't score too many runs for close to 50 minutes before putting away a bad ball to get the hundred. How important was it to get a hundred on debut?
I was looking at the scoreboard constantly. I knew how much I was batting on. There were a lot of interruptions those days, a lot of dogs running on the field and all. I guess I was a little bit tense. I was not the sort of bloke who'd change my game just to get a hundred. Maybe because it was my debut Test, I wanted to get that hundred badly. But, those Poms could never make me nervous (laughs).