The last surviving member of Bradman’s 1948 Invincibles, Harvey, 94, has retained his alert brain and apart from general ageing ailments, has remained in reasonable health
Neil Harvey. Pic/Getty Images
With little fanfare Ken Archer’s recent death saw Robert Neil Harvey become Australia’s oldest living male Test cricketer.
It’s an accolade that Harvey, a talented sportsman, born on October 8, 1928, probably didn’t want. However Harvey, as the last living Invincible - Don Bradman’s brilliant unbeaten 1948 touring side - was always likely to attain the title as he was easily the youngest team member.
Harvey has retained his alert brain and apart from general ageing ailments, has remained in reasonable health.
He was the most successful of six sporting brothers, four of whom represented Victoria at cricket, while Neil also played for NSW. Harvey followed his older brother Merv into Test cricket and in only his second match became the youngest Australian male to score a century.
Young gun in 1948
As a youngster in Bradman’s side, he asked his pal Sam Loxton - later a fellow selector - to seek advice from the legendary batsman. The answer came back: “Tell Harvey if he doesn’t hit the ball in the air he’ll reduce caught as a method of dismissal.”
Harvey took notice of Bradman’s astute advice and became arguably one of Australia’s three best batsmen following the master run getter’s retirement. In chronological order I have Harvey, Greg Chappell and Ricky Ponting. I can vouch for Harvey’s greatness as a batsman. Playing in his final Sheffield Shield match at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 1963, I chased a large number of Harvey’s masterful 231 not out.
Years later, I concluded that Viv Richards, Mark Waugh, Mohammed Azharuddin and Greg Chappell were the best all-round fieldsmen I’d seen. Former Australian captain Richie Benaud quickly interjected, “You’d better add Neil Harvey to that list.”
I mostly remember Harvey’s brilliant fielding in the slips, but I heard about his cover field prowess in his younger days. At a very young age I’d become aware of Harvey. My father Martin returned from the 1947 Claxton Shield baseball carnival raving about Victoria’s “young Harvey” who was brilliant in the field and an equally good hitter.
Picked me as captain
I didn’t play Test cricket with Harvey, but he was an Australian selector while I was captain. After retirement I was drinking with Neil at the Pennant Hills golf club. As there were only the two of us left in the club I asked Harvey how I became captain as I was pretty sure I didn’t have Bradman’s vote.
In his most colourful language Harvey told me; “It was !@$#&% me got you the captaincy.”
Harvey had persuaded his mate Loxton (a renowned Bradman supporter) to vote for me as captain. I always felt a bit uncomfortable talking cricket to Harvey, who despite his expert knowledge only ever captained his country in one Test. Typical of his determination, Australia won that Test at Lord’s (1961) in a tough encounter.
He was a popular and successful skipper because he always played for a win.
As captain of Sydney’s Northern Districts club in 1966-67, Harvey scored a blistering century in helping to win the final. Having worked with Benaud for many years I know he was extremely grateful for Harvey’s valuable input as a long-time vice-captain.
In later years, Harvey gained a reputation for being outspoken about modern cricketers. Harvey was not outspoken, just a man who said what was on his mind. Some players should be thankful he wasn’t still a selector when their careers began to wane.
Much of Harvey’s reputation as one of Australia’s greatest batsmen was gained because of his fleet-footed play against the best spinners. As a batsman who was never stumped in Test cricket this is understandable, but he was also a very good player of pace bowling and retained the crucial number three slot for much of his career.
Many people only know Harvey as being the oldest living Australian male Test cricketer. However, for those who didn’t see him play, he was a great batsman, an exceptional all-round fielder with a vibrant cricket brain.
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