Stacky tales before his big day

Updated: Jul 09, 2020, 07:49 IST | Clayton Murzello | Mumbai

Apart from Sunil Gavaskar, another opener celebrates his birthday tomorrow. While Sunny turns 71, Aussie Keith Stackpole will be 80.

Captain Ian Chappell walks out with his deputy Keith Stackpole (left) at Lord's on Australia's 1972 tour of England. Pic/Getty Images
Captain Ian Chappell walks out with his deputy Keith Stackpole (left) at Lord's on Australia's 1972 tour of England. Pic/Getty Images

Clayton MurzelloWe pick up play now with Roger Binny bowling the second over. Your commentators are…Bill Lawry and Keith Stackpole." While a recollection of Richie Benaud kicking off a Channel Nine highlights package brings back golden memories, it also reminds us that the two commentators mentioned by the late Benaud, opened the batting for Australia in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They were also part of Channel Nine's first commentary team during Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket along with Benaud and Fred Trueman.

Lawry was viewed as a dour batsman and that great Brit sportswriter Ian Wooldridge flippantly described him as "a corpse with pads on." His chubby partner was just the opposite.

Stackpole, who shares a birthday with another illustrious opening batsman — Sunil Gavaskar — turns 80 tomorrow.

The two players opened for their respective teams in the Australia v Rest of the World series during the Australian summer of 1971-72. Stackpole's 2807 runs in 43 Tests doesn't put him high on the list of Test run-getters but the manner in which he took on fast bowling was quite remarkable.

"Stackpole is one of those batsmen who love fast bowling — the faster the better and the more they bounce them — the better Stacky likes it," his captain Ian Chappell wrote in Passing Tests, a book on Australia's 1972-73 series against Pakistan and West Indies.

It was in the Caribbean, where Stackpole induced one of the finest crowd remarks of all time — "Kanhai, have you not heard of the 11th commandment — Dowe shall not bowl." This was when West Indies skipper Rohan Kanhai gave his pacer Uton Dowe a second spell despite Stackpole cutting him to ribbons in the pre-lunch session of the Kingston Test in 1973.

He was an able deputy to Chappell and like his captain, would not let anything come in the way of the team's interests. Diplomacy was not a trait Stackpole was blessed with and it's best illustrated in a story Chappell revealed to his biographer and teammate Ashley Mallett in Hitting Out. Bruce Francis, who opened with Stackpole in the first two Tests of the 1972 Ashes, didn't hit the high notes and while contemplating a change at the top, Chappell feared that spinning all-rounder John Inverarity would volunteer to open the batting. Chappell didn't believe this was ideal. As suspected, Inverarity came up with his offer to open. Stackpole shot down with the words, "Invers, you aren't good enough."

Talking about Stackpole's straight-talking ways, he wasn't afraid of slamming his critics. In this case, the much respected Benaud. In the wake of his horrendous 1973-74 Test series in New Zealand, Benaud wrote that Stackpole succumbed to hosts New Zealand's bait of bowling outside off stump and thus fell to slip fieldsmen often. In his book, Not Just for Openers, Stackpole hit back: "That was rubbish. In no Test innings in New Zealand was I caught behind on the off side from this type of bowling."

The venerable Sir Donald Bradman was not spared as well. Stackpole didn't take kindly to the fact that the Bradman-headed selection committee dumped his mate Lawry as captain during the 1970-71 Ashes without informing him of their decision. Stackpole expected Bradman to have, "the courtesy of making a five-cent phone call" to Lawry. It was Stackpole who broke the news to his fellow Victorian.

Stackpole's best series in statistical terms was the 1970-71 Ashes in which he took 627 runs off an English attack comprising their series-impacting paceman John Snow. Snow was a foe again in the 1972 Ashes in which he plundered 485 runs. The 2-2 scoreline allowed England to retain the Ashes, but it was a turning point in Australian cricket, their world domination only to be displaced by the West Indies.

His 114 in the Trent Bridge Test wasn't all Stacky-like natural aggression. He put his head down and batted for six hours to help Australia total 315 before Dennis Lillee and Bob Massie bowled out for 189 to enable his team to hold sway. That was a drawn game but his century in the first Test against India at the Brabourne Stadium set the tone for Australia's 3-1 series win. Medium pacer S Abid Ali, who opened the bowling with Rusi Surti and was at the receiving end of Stackpole's punitive blade in that Test, told me from his California home on Tuesday, "It was an excellent innings. He was imperious in his driving and square cutting. Stackpole was a typical Australian batsman — they were all aware that they are in the side to score runs quickly — but Stackpole attacked right from the first ball." That century against MAK Pataudi's men was the first of the five centuries he scored in the opening game of his 12 international series.

Like Pataudi, he was deprived of vision in one eye. "Did I ever mention that in my left eye I'm blind as a bat? I probably never did as I kept it a secret for most of my career," he wrote in Not Just for Openers. I got Stackpole to sign my copy of the book in Melbourne on India's 2003-04 tour of Australia and he surprised me by inscribing this message which probably referred to what he wrote about the Australians' uncomfortable tour of India in 1969-70: "Don't take too much notice of its (the book's) contents — I was pretty screwed up with the game when I wrote it. Best wishes, Keith Stackpole (Stacky)."

In the year of its publication Stackpole ended his Test career with a pair at Auckland. No way to leave a much-cherished era, but that's not what his admirers and teammates will remember him for.

We pick up play now with Keith Stackpole marching on from 80.

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

The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper

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