Neil Harvey - Greatest Australian batsman after Sir Don Bradman?

Neil Harvey is regarded by many as the greatest Australian batsman after Sir Don Bradman (Image: Twitter/ICC)
Neil Harvey is regarded by many as the greatest Australian batsman after Sir Don Bradman (Image: Twitter/ICC)
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Indra Vikram Singh

In Sir Donald Bradman’s penultimate Test series against India in 1947-48, a short-statured brilliant left-handed batsman, Neil Harvey, made his debut. At 19 years of age, he became Australia’s youngest Test player as well as centurion.

He went on to, at the time of his retirement, notch up the highest run aggregate as well as centuries for his country - after Bradman, that is - 6,149 runs (average 48.41) and 21 hundreds in 79 Tests. Statistics, though, neither interested him unduly, nor told his real tale.

Not surprisingly, for a small man, Harvey was quick on his feet, at the crease, as well as in the field. He would regularly skip down the wicket to the spinners and this attribute made him a wonderful player on turning tracks. He was not loath to advance forward at times even to the pacemen.

A terrific strokeplayer on the off-side, Harvey was not one to leave alone too many deliveries outside his off-stump. To short-pitched bowling, he employed the Bradman method of Bodyline vintage, of stepping away, allowing himself a free swing of his arms, and smashing the ball through the covers.

At the slightest opportunity Neil Harvey would skip down the wicket and hammer through the off-side
At the slightest opportunity Neil Harvey would skip down the wicket and hammer through the off-side

Doubtlessly a joy to behold, Harvey was extremely swift between the wickets and in the covers. He prowled around a vast expanse of turf, darting to the ball, and making lightning right-handed returns bang on top of the stumps. During the later stages, he excelled in the slips. Neil Harvey was a thrilling sight on the field.

So abundantly talented was he that he scored a century in his first club match, first outing for Victoria, and second Test - a brilliant 153 at Melbourne.

On the 1948 Invincibles tour, Harvey got his chance only in the fourth Test at Leeds after Sidney Barnes dropped out due to injury. The youngster promptly hit up a hundred on his first appearance against England.

With Australia reeling at 68/3, Bradman having been dismissed for 33, Harvey and Keith Miller launched a terrific counter-attack on the English bowling. Harvey scored 112, and never looked back thereafter.

Neil Harvey was at his best against South Africa

6149 Test runs at 48.41 with 21 centuries 🏏A member of Australia’s 1948 Invincibles 🇦🇺ICC Hall of Fame inductee ⭐Happy birthday, Neil Harvey 🎂

Neil Harvey’s best, though, came in two Test series against South Africa. In 1949-50, he hit up 660 runs at an average of 132, with four hundreds. He was even more prolific when the South Africans made a return visit three years later. Amassing 834 runs at an average of 92.66, Harvey again logged up four centuries, including his top Test score of 205 at Melbourne.

Only Bradman had hit four hundreds in a series thrice. Clyde Walcott became the lone batsman to slam five tons in a rubber in 1954-55, a series in which Neil Harvey too thrived. Herbert Sutcliffe and Sunil Gavaskar are the only other batsmen to score four hundreds in a series twice.

Harvey’s aggregate of 834 in 1952-53 was the third-highest after Bradman’s 974 in 1930 and Hammond’s 905 in 1928-29. Australia’s Mark Taylor amassed 839 in the 1989 Ashes series.

🔸 79 Tests🔸 6149 runs at 48.41🔸 21 centuries🔸 An inaugural member of the ICC Hall of Fame 👏 He was the youngest member of the famous Australian 'Invincibles' side in 1948, aged just 19 💪 Happy birthday, Neil Harvey 🎂

When Frank “Typhoon” Tyson decimated Australia in 1954-55, Harvey was one batsman who stood up to the frightening pace. He scored a superb 162 at Brisbane. Then in the Sydney Test, he battled for four-and-a-half hours in adversity, grinding out a courageous and skillful 92, rated as one of his best knocks.

The tour to the Caribbean islands that followed would then have been a big relief. Harvey scored 650 runs at an average of 108.33, with two centuries and a double century as Australia continued their dominance of the West Indies.

Like Everton Weekes, Harvey was rarely at his best when facing England, barring the flying start in 1948 and the gutsy displays against Tyson. In 37 Tests over 15 years, he never scored more than one hundred in any of his eight series against the Old Enemy. As if to emphasise the point, Jim Laker handed him a pair in that famous Test at Old Trafford in 1956, in which the off-spinner picked up 19 wickets.

Neil Harvey, nevertheless, was one of the most delightful left-handers the game has seen.

(Excerpt from Indra Vikram Singh’s book ‘Don’s Century’).

Edited by Akshay Saraswat
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