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Thomson joins Australian Cricket Hall of Fame

25 January 2016
Our voices

The man many consider the quickest of all time inducted into exclusive club alongside 'keeper Wally Grout

About the Writer:
 @ARamseyCricket

Andrew Ramsey is the senior writer for cricket.com.au. He previously wrote for the Guardian, The Australian, The Times, The Telegraph, The Hindu and Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack and the author of The Wrong Line.

The nature of the era in which he thrived and the character of the players who came to define it are succinctly captured by one of Jeff Thomson's former Test teammates' response to the legendary quick's newest honour.

When word of Thomson's elevation to the Australian Cricket Hall of Fame spread, the once-universally feared fast bowler was contacted by a retinue of long-time friends and peers including famously droll Test batsman Doug Walters.

"It's about bloody time, what took you so long?" Thomson told cricket.com.au today in recounting the congratulatory message from his teammate and fellow member of the landmark 1974-75 Ashes-winning team who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Thomson's reply to Walters, a Hall of Famer alongside Ian and Greg Chappell, Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh who were also members of that team which pummelled England to win the Ashes on Australian soil for the first time in almost 20 years, can't be detailed on a polite website.

But it was the camaraderie and chemistry that existed between teammates and rivals alike that provides the 65-year-old with as much satisfaction as his installation as one of just 43 players from almost 140 years of Australian cricket to be included in the Hall of Fame.

"I'm just lucky to have played in a team that was so successful and with a bunch of blokes who were, and who still are, such good mates," Thomson said ahead of Wednesday night's Allan Border Medal presentation at which he will be formally inducted.

"So it will be nice to catch up with a few of them for a drink and share the night with my family because it means a lot to them, and to all those people who have helped you and supported you along the way."

Thomson is also chuffed that he will be inducted alongside former Queensland and Australia wicketkeeper Wally Grout given the pair both played – albeit in different eras and roles – for Brisbane grade club Toombul when their state and international commitments allowed.

“Wally Grout was one of Australia’s finest wicketkeepers,” ACHoF chairman Mr David Crow said of the gloveman who represented Australia in 51 Tests from 1957 to 1966.

“Luminaries such as Bob Simpson and Wes Hall claimed he was the finest gloveman they had ever seen.

“Wally Grout was the first player in Test history to claim six dismissals in an innings and that remains an Australian record which has since been matched by Rod Marsh, Ian Healy and Adam Gilchrist.

“Wally also set the record for the most catches taken in a Sheffield Shield innings, eight, which is now held jointly with Darren Berry.

“But Wally’s contribution went beyond immaculate wicketkeeping. He was highly regarded for his honesty, integrity and sense of humour.

“As captain, Richie Benaud relied on Wally for the team’s strategy because of his great understanding of the game.”

Thomson had moved to Queensland from his native Sydney at the suggestion of Greg Chappell, who had made a similar move from Adelaide to Brisbane a season earlier, after the fast bowler with the unique 'slingshot' action had battled to win a regular berth in the Blues' Sheffield Shield team.

And after Thomson's Test debut against Pakistan at the MCG two summers earlier had been blighted by a fracture in his foot – not dissimilar to the injury that prematurely ended Mitchel Starc's season last November – that he carried throughout his debut outing in a Baggy Green Cap.

His second Test appearance, against Tony Greig's shell-shocked England at Thomson's adopted home ground in November 1974, launched a 10-year international career that contained a mini-series worth of highlights, controversies and setbacks.

His 200 Test wickets at 28.01 – only the fourth Australia fast bowler to reach that milestone when he achieved it in his final Test in England in 1985 – and his 50 ODI appearances present but a snapshot of his larger-than-life time in Australia colours.

From the 'sandshoe crusher' yorker he produced to demolish Greig and then the steepling bounce that did likewise to every other England other batsmen in that historic summer.

To his unlikely and ultimately comic batting cameo at the end of the inaugural ICC World Cup final in 1975, to the freak on-field shoulder injury against Pakistan in 1976 that subsequently blunted his frightening pace.

The radio deal that made him one of cricket's first media megastars but also forestalled his involvement in the World Series Cricket revolution, his infamous "I like to see blood on the pitch" quote, his official crowning as the world's fastest – and most accurate – bowler in a pioneering speed test.

And then his bluntly outspoken views as a television commentator, his post-cricket life on the public speaking circuit and – most recently – his role as a specialist fast bowling coach in India where he will be guiding a generation of aspiring 'Lillees and Thommos' in Mumbai and Bangalore.

Given the traditional sluggishness of pitches on the subcontinent, Thomson's new charges might well expect to hear the same sort of wisdom that he imparted to his then skipper Ian Chappell after going wicketless on a lifeless last-day pitch at Trinidad in the final days of WSC in 1979.

Where Chappell quietly suggested that Thomson – never one to dabble with his natural instinct to bowl fast in favour of cross-seamers, off-cutters and gentle outswingers – might have a chat with the more experienced Lillee on how to prevail in such unhelpful conditions.

"Aww mate, if you don't mind I'll do it my way," Thomson famously told his combative captain over a post-match beer.

Thomson has previously been involved in coaching with Queensland's Sheffield Shield team, though he admits a healthy disdain for those "blokes who reckon that coaching means you try and turn natural athletes into something the experts reckon they should be".

"I never worked on too much technical stuff, I guess I was just an athlete who knew what worked for me and what didn't," Thomson said.

"So I'll just be helping bowlers to figure out why something works, rather than how.

"I'm not looking at rebuilding actions and messing around with their wrist position and that sort of stuff, it's just getting them to understand their own game so they can think on their feet in a match situation.

"Besides, they do all this bloody science with workloads and remodelling of actions and you see more fast bowlers breaking down now than ever happened back in our day."

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