An encounter with Bob Merriman

Published: Dec 27, 2011, 07:13 IST | Sai Mohan |

MiD DAY catches up with former Australian Cricket Board chairman Bob Merriman, who had to complete Kim Hughes' resignation statement after the former captain broke down in 1984

MiD DAY catches up with former Australian Cricket Board chairman Bob Merriman, who had to complete Kim Hughes' resignation statement after the former captain broke down in 1984

Former Australian Cricket Board (ACB) chairman and team manager Bob Merriman had the untoward obligation to complete former skipper Kim Hughes' renowned resignation speech at Brisbane in November 1984. But Merriman's biggest gift to Australian cricket was his successful attempt at ensuring Allan Border stayed on as captain after the devastating tour of New Zealand in February 1986 when Jeremy Coney's team beat the Trans-Tasman rivals. Border went on to leave a legacy that was taken forward by Mark Taylor.

Bob Merriman and Kim Hughes

Border fury
Merriman, manager at the time, revealed that Border had lost patience with the young Australian team that failed to win a series (between March 1984 and December 1987) since the retirements of Greg Chappell, Rod Marsh and Dennis Lillee. "We had a very young side. Steve Waugh was just 19, we were struggling. Allan felt that his leadership wasn't getting across to the younger players.

He took a position in Christchurch (during the second Test) that if things didn't change, he was going to stand down. The state of Australian cricket was really low then. Not only did we suffer from the retirements of great players, we lost over 50 players from a pool of 66 due to deflections to South Africa (on rebel tours) and retirements following World Series Cricket. Allan felt at the time that he wasn't getting through as a leader," Merriman told MiD DAY outside the Melbourne Cricket Club (MCC) Committee Room here yesterday.

So, what did he tell Border? "It was a simple message. I told him he was a very good captain, who had earned the respect of his peers. He proved that against West Indies with a lot of runs though we lost badly. His leadership was never in question. It was the fact that the younger players still had to come to a certain skill level. He, in my mind, had lost patience with some of them in their development. I simply said to him, 'hang around AB.

There will be glory days.' We had a young Steve Waugh, David Boon, Geoff Marsh and Craig McDermott. We had Mark Taylor and Mark Waugh on the horizon. Allan got the beauty of that in 1987 with the World Cup, and then the Ashes in 1989, all the way through 1993. At the end, he managed to get through that low period.

"Bob Simpson (coach) was working as an assistant in New Zealand when Allan was thinking about quitting. I was lucky enough with the help of Ray Bright (vice-captain) to get him to stay on as skipper. We had two one-dayers after that Test in Christchurch, and the team performed very well. Soon, Simpson and Border formed a great team that helped us back to winning ways. After that, Allan became one of our greatest captains," Merriman recalled.

Fateful day
Merriman still considers the fateful day at Brisbane (when Hughes broke down at a press conference) as the saddest day of his life. "When he was making the announcement, it went on for too long. His emotions took over. He finally broke down and asked me to finish the statement. I've been in cricket for 50 years � it was the saddest day of my life.

"Kim told me at 8 in the morning during breakfast that he wanted to quit. He was already out in that Test, the lower order was batting. He asked me to get hold of Greg Chappell who was a selector and dear friend. Luckily, Greg was living in Brisbane. We met at the ground and it flowed from there. The game went on longer than expected, so Kim had to wait till later in the afternoon to make the announcement. It was a painful wait. He had a reflection on what was going wrong in the 1981 Ashes and then the World Cup in 1983. It all just built up to that moment," said Merriman.

So, did he help Kim write the statement? "I was asking him to make it shorter. I thought it was too long. A part of it said that he didn't have the support from journalists. I put the word 'some' in there because he had support from blokes such as Mike Coward. I still have the letter with me, but I won't tell you where I have kept it (laughs).

"After the press conference, my responsibility was how to look after Kim. Luckily, Graeme Wood and Terry Alderman looked after him very well. They had a few moments in the room. Wood took Kim out and they had a meal to try and settle things down. They flew home together.

"In the end, Kim had a very torrid time as captain, but it's all in the past. He and Dennis Lillee (who had a treacherous relationship as teammates) are good friends now," he signed off. Merriman served as chairman of ACB between 2001
and 2005.

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