CW Specials: My Close Encounters with Cricketing Greats – Part V: Kersi Meher-Homji
I have the good fortune to know this Australian cricket icon personally. Ask any knowledgeable cricket lover to name 10 greatest all-rounders, 15 fast bowlers, 10 six-hitters, five handsomest cricketers and 10 most interesting characters of the game. And only one name will be there in ALL the lists. It is … Keith Miller, universally loved, respected and feared if you were his contemporary batsman.
Tall and handsome, dashing and debonair with a mane of dark hair and nicknamed Nugget, Miller exuded sex and six appeal. According to his biographer Mihir Bose, “the pedigree of his stroke play rivalled [Wally] Hammond’s.”
A cricketing great CB Fry said over BBC, “… Miller had the dash and generous abandon that were part of Victor Trumper’s charms.” RC Robertson-Glasgow described Miller’s stroke-play as “dignity with brakes off.”
It was his reputation as a six-hitter that made me approach ‘Nugget’ Miller. In 1996 I was writing my book Six Appeal and hesitatingly contacted him over the phone. He was then 75 and recovering from a mild stroke but talked in a friendly manner to a complete stranger.
He told me frankly, “Ask me anything on horse racing and classical music but not on cricket statistics. I am not a figures man.”
After a short pause he asked me to contact him half an hour later “so that I recollect my thoughts.” When I rang him later he could recall his six-hitting sprees in 3-D effect.
“The one six I remember vividly was against England at the SCG. I straight drove [England’s] Alec Bedser and it went a long, long way and landed near the concrete stand. A straight six is the real thing, not a hook or a hoick to mid-on.”
“I enjoyed Kim Hughes’ splendid six in the Lord’s 1980 Centenary Test.”
Now Keith was getting in top gear and reminiscing as if to an old mate.
“I’ll tell you a funny story way back from the 1945 unofficial tour of England. I hit a straight six in the direction of BBC commentary room. Rex Alston, the famous English commentator, was on air then and I was told his description went like this: ‘Miller has hit the ball in the air, I think it is coming our way. IT IS COMING OUR WAY’ … and then crash, kaboom as the ball shattered the BBC’s glass pane!”
Apart from towering sixers, Miller also specialised in ‘ponders’ – dispatching balls into ponds and rivers. He recalled belting soaring sixes at Eden Gardens, Calcutta, in an unofficial test match against India in 1945-46.
“I borrowed a bat from team mate Dick Whitington as we crossed on the way to the crease. Knowing my penchant for smash hits, he asked me to be careful with his bat. I nodded and promptly drove Vinoo Mankad over the sightscreen for four sixes in two overs. All four sixes landed in a pond outside the ground. To Dick’s relief, I was soon stumped!”
Miller’s sixes twice sent spectators to hospitals during Australia’s triumphant tours of England in 1948. The young men who were hit returned home safely after having tasted possibly their only brush with fame. Brush with fame? More like a double bang!
After retirement both Whitington and Miller turned journalists and co-authored popular books Cricket Caravan, Straight Hit and Gods or Flannelled Fools among others.
He recalled to me belting two more sixes in their watery grave while touring South Africa in 1949-50. At Port Elizabeth against Eastern Province he hit six sixes in his breezy 131. On jogging his memory, he said, “Oh yes, I remember reaching my ton with a six, one of the nicest and longest sixes I ever hit. It cleared the grandstand and landed in a pond in the park outside the ground. It was one of the shots that clicked.”
He told me many other exciting stories which are included in my book Six Appeal, published in 1996. When the book was published I presented him a copy. It delighted him and I received a letter full of praises.
He passed away in October 2004, aged almost 85. More than thousand mourners filled Melbourne’s St Paul’s cathedral to farewell Australia’s greatest all-rounder. All Australian cricketers wore black armbands during the second Test against India at Chennai.
To me, ‘Nugget’ Miller was more than a cricketer. He was Tarzan and Superman rolled into one.