Ain't no Sunshine in these boys
Keith Miller, the great Australian cricket all-rounder, maverick and son of the Melbourne suburb of Sunshine, might have had a little wisdom to impart to those caught up in the pressure cooker of the Ashes series and its accompaniment, the sledging rumpus.
Miller, who would have celebrated his 94th birthday on Thursday if he had not died a decade ago, was once asked about pressure on the cricket field. "Pressure," responded Miller, a fighter-bomber pilot in Europe during World War II, "is a Messerschmitt up your arse.
"Cricket is not."
The famous riposte was typical of Keith Miller, whose handsome looks, devil-may-care attitude, astonishing sporting gifts and ability to attract women all the way to the royal family earned him comparison with the roistering Australian-born actor Errol Flynn. Australia may be well placed to win this Ashes series but the competing cricketers appear - as the Australian captain threatens an Englander with a broken arm in reported response to an England threat to punch an Australian in the face while yet another heads home to Britain, suffering stress - to lack the wit, the resilience and the style of the likes of Miller.
He played in another time, of course, the 1940s and '50s, and his attitude was shaped by a war. But on the anniversary of his birth and as we enter another summer of cricket, it is tempting to wish for a character as large as his on the field of play. His passions were, to say the least, diverse. Once, returning from a mission over Germany in his Mosquito fighter-bomber, he broke away to fly over Bonn just so he could see the city that produced his favourite composer, Beethoven.
In England, he attracted the eye of the Queen's sister, the then teenager Princess Margaret, and took to partying with her. He somehow acquired and displayed in his London hotel the princess' own royal standard, given her by her father, the King, on her 18th birthday. According to Roland Perry, in his marvellous biography Miller's Luck, the sight of the royal standard in Miller's bedroom drew a wonderfully arch comment from teammate Lindsay Hassett: "Seems you have raised your standard in more ways than one."
Miller himself retained a gentlemanly discretion about the matter but asked later about the finest sights in England, he named "the hills of Derbyshire, the leg sweep of Denis Compton and Princess Margaret".
Miller was a long way from home by then. He was the product - until the age of seven when his family moved to Elsternwick - of a small western suburban area in Melbourne that was the early childhood home of far more than its share of individualists who went on to claim fame.
Within ambling distance of Miller's family home in Sunshine lay other houses that would launch into the world rock singer and AC/DC frontman Bon Scott, Royal Flying Doctor Service founder John Flynn, the father of Village Roadshow founder Roc Kirby and the avant-garde performance artist, pop singer and designer who helped shape the New Romantic style in London during the 1980s, Leigh Bowery.
All of these luminaries got their early schooling at the Sunshine Primary School. There must have been something in the water in Sunshine. World champion boxer Lester Ellis spent part of his childhood there and other proteges of the suburb include the golfer Craig Parry, Broderick Smith from the 1970s band The Dingoes, freestyle skier and gold medallist Lydia Lassila and Victorian Labor MP Judith Graley.
Amateur historian and former Sunshine boy Paul Murphy believes it is time for the city of Brimbank to formally honour its famous sons and daughters with a walking trail between their old family homes and a hall of fame. "What other area covering no more than a square mile of Melbourne could have produced characters like these?" he asks.
Of all of them, Keith Miller remains the most charismatic. Often described as Australia's greatest all-rounder for his ability with the bat, as a bowler and as a fieldsman, he is commemorated by the Keith Miller Oval in Sunshine and the primary school boasts a glass cabinet in its foyer holding photographs and Miller cricket memorabilia. He was an all-rounder off the cricket field, too. He played 50 games for the St Kilda Football Club before World War II.
Perhaps his reported ability off-field among the royals wasn't all that far from Sunshine, either. Shortly before Miller began cavorting with Princess Margaret in London, a young British naval officer, Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, sailed into Melbourne, telling reporters he was there for "a jolly good time". He stayed for a period in, of all places, the Derrimut Hotel in Sunshine. The attraction, according to locals, appeared to be the two daughters of the publican. Within 2 years, Philip was back in England and married to Elizabeth, future Queen and sister to Margaret.
Meanwhile, Keith Miller was cementing his name in international cricket with Don Bradman's Invincibles. The knock-about Miller and the teetotaller Bradman didn't get on. Miller's wartime experiences had built a character who couldn't take cricket as seriously as Bradman and he couldn't abide the relentless, win-at-all-costs attitude of the Don. Indeed, Miller's own most cutting on-field sledge was directed at Bradman.
At least twice during a Test match - Miller played 55 of them - bedevilled by a bad back, he refused to bowl when Bradman tossed him the ball. When Bradman chided him, saying he (Bradman) was always prepared to tackle a full day's work, Miller is recorded to have replied "So would I - if I had fibrositis during the war!" It was interpreted as a criticism of Bradman's failure to take part in the war in which Miller had cheated death.
In 1948, Miller was dropped from the Australian team to South Africa. The previous week, Bradman had been caught off a short-length ball from Miller during a testimonial match. Bradman was one of the three-man selection team that dumped Miller, although he - and the two other selectors - all insisted they voted for Miller. Miller simply shrugged it off. The boy from Sunshine knew what real pressure was - and it wasn't cricket.
He had learnt something a lot of today's cricketers appear to lack. It's called perspective.
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