Clayton Murzello: The voice which cricket will miss

May 17, 2018, 07:07 IST | Clayton Murzello

Bill Lawry's retirement from television commentary is a loss and no one will utter 'it's all happening' as excitingly as the ex-Aus captain

Captain Michael Clarke (left) listens as Bill Lawry speaks to the Australian team before the Melbourne Test v Sri Lanka on December 26, 2012. Pic/Getty Images
Captain Michael Clarke (left) listens as Bill Lawry speaks to the Australian team before the Melbourne Test v Sri Lanka on December 26, 2012. Pic/Getty Images

Clayton MurzelloBill Lawry has called time on his fulfilling 40-year career as a television commentator with Channel Nine. His retirement is a loss and no commentator can utter 'it's all happening' as excitingly as the former Australian captain. Lawry, 81, (nicknamed Phanto for his love for Phantom comics) decided he had enough of commentary when his employers lost the bid to cover cricket Down Under. Lawry enjoyed every moment of his commentary years. He was grateful for the opportunity Kerry Packer gave him in 1977, six years after retiring from first-class cricket.

Cricket destiny was not so kind to Lawry during the 1970-71 Ashes. Selectors Sir Don Bradman, Neil Harvey and Sam Loxton dumped him despite his 324 runs in five Tests at an average of 40.50. The illustrious ones who wielded the axe didn't feel obliged to inform him. When Lawry tried to meet one of them before flying out of Adelaide on the morning after the sixth Test, he discovered the selectors had already checked out for home. He then headed to the room of his fellow Victorians Ian Redpath and Keith Stackpole who delivered the news of his sacking.

He took it on his chin, headed home to Melbourne and put behind his disappointment in the company of the pigeons he reared as a hobby. Lawry scored 5,234 runs in 67 Tests at 47.15. As a batsman, he could be obdurate and adhesive, but his supporters didn't see that as a negative. Ian Wooldridge, the famous British sports writer, apparently called Lawry, A Corpse With Pads On. Lawry defended Wooldridge in an interview, saying a sub-editor used those words in a headline for one of Wooldridge's pieces. "I always regarded Wooldridge as a tremendous writer. I have always had a good relationship with him," Lawry said in Why Cricket Matters.

Richie Benaud, his first captain, often recalled Lawry's courageous 130 on a difficult, uneven pitch at Lord's in 1961 when England pacemen Fred Trueman and Brian Statham rendered the opener "black and blue" with their body blows. The 1962 edition of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack projected his bravado aptly: "Lawry was Australia's spinal column in the second Test at Lord's. This was an indomitable effort of sheer graft under severe pressure with the ball flying about and he was tenacious, painstaking and wonderfully cool."

On the 1964-65 tour of the West Indies, danger came in the form of the swift Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith, who damaged Lawry's right cheekbone, but couldn't stop him from carving a gritty double century. Lawry had a sweet and sour stint as captain, winning nine of his 25 Tests. His eight losses included four in a row on the dreadful 1969-70 tour of South Africa. For 35 seasons — from 1969-70 to 2004-05 — he enjoyed being the only Australian captain to win a Test series in India.

Despite being on top of MAK Pataudi's 1969-70 side, Lawry found captaincy hard in India. His team were not granted current-day luxuries and amenities. Plus, there were a couple of riots. There's an amusing story about the Mumbai Test of that series when fans set a stand on fire at the Brabourne Stadium. The crowd felt the decision to send back S Venkataraghavan (caught behind by Brian Taber off Alan Connolly) was a dubious one. The Australian players feared for their lives and at one point, vice-captain Chappell suggested to skipper Lawry that the team should retreat to the dressing room. In Lawry's mind, there was a Test match to be won, so he said (according to historian Gideon Haigh in The Summer Game), "Hell, we need a wicket badly."

From a personal point of view, it was a disappointing series for Lawry. His 10 trips to the crease could fetch him only one half century and he became unpopular with the media. However, there were no Australian newspaper journalists on tour for him to give his side of the story. Indeed, commentary was his second innings in cricket. He excelled, he entertained, even exaggerated. He got excited to the point of causing amusement to his fellow commentators. When Venkatapathy Raju and Javagal Srinath were running between the wickets in their quest to clinch a close win over the Australians at the Gabba in the 1992 World Cup, Lawry goaded the Indian pair to run like hares. And once, he confessed to saying, "Inzamam-ul-Haq has taken this attack by the throat of the neck."

Lawry was invariably on air when drama made its way into a match. He called many a memorable Indian cricket moment in Australia — Sachin Tendulkar's two Test hundreds on the 1991-92 tour, Sunil Gavaskar's walkout at Melbourne and the victory that followed in 1981. Australian cricket viewing will never be the same without Channel Nine and the new rights holders could regret that they have no one as good as Lawry to scream on air, "What a ripper!"

mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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