Max Walker passes away, aged 68

Former Australia fast bowler Max Walker has passed away, aged 68

Cricket Network

28 September 2016, 12:37 PM

Tributes flow after passing of Max Walker

Former Australia fast bowler Max Walker has died, aged 68, following a battle with cancer.

A strapping fast-bowler who played 34 Tests and 17 one-day internationals for Australia, Walker was also a key figure in the introduction of World Series Cricket in the late 1970s.

Quick Single: Cricket world reacts to Max Walker's passing

The 263rd man to wear the Baggy Green, Walker claimed 138 Test wickets and 20 in one-dayers between 1973 and 1981, including 12 wickets in his first two Tests and a career-best figures of 8-143 against England at his beloved MCG in 1975.

He is best remembered for his unique bowling action, which earned him the nickname 'Tangles', while he forged a strong career in the media following his playing days.

A highly-popular author and public speaker, Walker was also a member of Channel Nine's iconic Wide World of Sports commentary team.

Walker played 34 Tests for Australia // Getty Images
Walker played 34 Tests for Australia // Getty Images

"Max was an outstanding cricketer who played an important role in the emergence of successful Australian cricket teams in the 1970s," said Cricket Australia CEO James Suitherland.

"It was a golden era of Test Cricket under the captaincy of Ian and Greg Chappell, and Max's medium fast bowling and his unmistakeable bowling action were a feature of those teams, and then in the late 1970s when he joined World Series Cricket.

"The cricket world will be deeply saddened to hear of Max’s sudden passing. As a cricketer, with ball or bat in hand, Max was always fiercely competitive. He was a genuine crowd favourite wherever he played - and nowhere more so than at his beloved MCG, where he had also played senior football prior to his Test debut.

"On behalf of everyone at Cricket Australia our deepest sympathies go out to Max’s family, friends and all those in cricket who had the pleasure of dealing with him.

"He was a great character, with a big smile and positive approach to life. He will be sadly missed."

Max Walker reflects on his cricket career

Max Walker by the numbers

Tests M: 34 | Wkts: 138 | Ave: 27.47 | 5wi: 6 | BBI: 8-143 | Runs: 586 | Ave 19.53 | HS: 78*

ODIs M: 17 | Wkts: 20 | Ave: 27.30 | 4wi: 1 | BBI: 4-19 | Runs: 79 | Ave 9.87 | HS: 20

First-class M: 135 | Wkts: 499 | Ave: 26.47 | 5wi: 21 | BBI: 8-143 | Runs: 2014 | Ave 15.49 | HS: 78*

Optus Exclusive: The Super Tests

MAXWELL HENRY NORMAN WALKER Born 12 September 1948, West Hobart

By Rodney Cavalier

Max Walker went directly from his school in Hobart in 1967 to undertake an architecture degree in Melbourne.

Good at all sports, Max saw his future in Australian Football and he turned out for the Melbourne Football Club while enrolled at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.

Training through the winter at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, summer provided cricket nets and solid practice at the same venue.

Finding his rhythm as a right-hand fast-medium bowler and useful batsman, Max played grade for the Melbourne Cricket Club and quickly made an impression.

Life was at full stretch. Graduating in architecture was his priority, his future career and livelihood, and he regarded football as a means of providing useful earnings on the side for a decade. Cricket was his third string in a crowded life.

Walker was a part of Channel Nine's iconic commentary team // Getty
Walker was a part of Channel Nine's iconic commentary team // Getty

Football might have claimed Walker if he had not taken such pleasure in cricket and the company of cricketers. Pre-eminently a team man, devoted always to the wider cause, skippers knew they could rely on him when a game was poised. Underlying discipline mixed with good humour endeared him to all.

Although the position of his arms and upper body in his bowling action made him look like he was entangled in himself, his balance at the moment of delivery and control was outstanding. His nickname of 'Tangles', unlike so many cricket nicknames, required no explanation.

In February 1969, he made his first-class debut for Victoria in the last game of the season in a match against Queensland at the Gabba, filling a vacancy occasioned by the absence of five Victorians on Test duty. Opening the bowling with Alan 'Froggy' Thomson, he put in a solid performance with figures of 2-38 and 3-56. He was 13 not out when Victoria succumbed.

But his place in the side was not secure as Froggy and Alan Connolly were ranked ahead of him, while allrounder Graham Watson made his fast-medium bowling seem surplus to requirements. He was not selected for the following season and did not return until December 1970.

Defeat in the Ashes of 1970-71 revealed deficiencies in Australia's pace department, with the great Dennis Lillee only just emerging, and Walker emerged as a possible solution.

Throughout 1971-72 as the World XI toured, Walker had become a regular in the Victorian side, taking wickets in most innings, though not a five-wicket haul. With the bat he was bagging a lot of ducks, broken by middling scores in the twenties.

In 1972-73, he captured 39 wickets at 21.38 for the season, including his first five-wicket haul in the first game of the season.

Walker's unique bowling action became his trademark // Getty Images
Walker's unique bowling action became his trademark // Getty Images

Consistently good performances persuaded the selectors to experiment with Walker and Gary Gilmour in the Combined XI, a Test selection trial, against the touring Pakistan, and his performance was again solid.

And it was a solid performer that the selectors were looking for. They had their stars; after the Ashes in England 1972, Australia believed that Lillee and Bob Massie were ensconced as the anvil of the fast attack for a generation. It did not work out that way and Walker needed to step up.

Making his Test debut in the Second Test and Pakistan along with Jeff Thomson, the lightning quick from NSW, Walker was the first-change bowler after Lillee and Thomson. Again solid, but nothing special, Walker's five wickets in the match was sufficient to keep him in the side, a choice that was made easier after Thomson fell well short with no wickets and 110 runs as his return.

A comfortable victory and a series win might have caused Australia to drop a cog for the Third Test at the SCG, and Pakistan had the game won when they started their second innings needing just 158 for victory.

But the tourists weren't permitted to settle. Massie and Lillee took the first two wickets, but thereafter it was Walker who produced a superb spell of 6-15 to guide Australia home by 52 runs.

Walker in his prime // Getty Images
Walker in his prime // Getty Images

The touring squad for the West Indies had been announced before the Test and Walker had played in the knowledge the selectors had confidence in him. Selected as back up for the two champion quicks, Walker suddenly became commander of the frontline. Massie broke down irredeemably and was to fade from cricket while Lillee sustained a crippling injury of his own.

But Australia still had Max Walker and his dutiful giving of his all, as well as Ian Chappell’s unwavering belief in his charge. Walker was magnificent as both spearhead of the Australian attack and its mainstay. Twenty-six wickets fell to him at 12.73 and Australia won the series without losing a Test. The bond between the Australian skipper and the unlikely hero was unbreakable.

The 1974-75 Ashes is remembered for the dangers posed to the English batsmen by the venom of Lillee and the bolts unleashed by Thomson with his sling action, and the scoreline conceals just how competitive England were before going under.

Necessarily overshadowed in popular memory by the performances of Lillee and Thomson, in all six Tests Walker proved he was more than a bit player. In the first England innings he took four wickets, while Lillee took two and Thomson three. He broke the resistance with the wickets of Tony Greig and Alan Knott and was solid as a rock, his characteristic since grade days when astute eyes saw a player who could go all the way.

Walker, wearing his Baggy Green, in 2015 // Getty Images
Walker, wearing his Baggy Green, in 2015 // Getty Images

With the bat he achieved an average of 44.20, built around a string of not outs and no score below 17. Innings after innings, he proved crucial in the context of the final outcome.

In the sixth Test with Thomson absent and Lillee injured early, the burden of the attack fell to Walker. The Ashes lost, England had their vengeance. Ahead by 355, they were only four wickets down when Walker broke through. In a superb spell he claimed 5-17 to finish the innings and his 8-143 was his best performance in first-class and Test cricket.

England in 1975 and 1977 were not outstanding series' for Walker, though he had his moments.

But when cricket endured its schism because of World Series Cricket, Walker was a certainty in any squad selected by Ian Chappell.

In the internationals he was cast as 12th man but, rather than be idle, the architect who played two sports at the highest level, took a camera to the matches and shot rolls of film by the scoreboard, including the riots in the West Indies.

His Test career behind him, Walker's moustache, prominent nose and infectious smile were a caricaturist’s delight. Show business beckoned.

He was a natural, achieving success through wit and intelligence. Walker backed up a natural presence on stage with an unrivalled ability to tell a yarn.

Television is objectively cruel to features and voice, but the cameras liked Max. He had become a celebrity with a commanding presence that made him a host of sports magazine programs when that format dominated television. He was not going to depend on his former status in cricket for his livelihood.

His way with words extended to writing. Three volumes of cricket memoirs flowed. He made a fortune by telling jokes and funny stories in books bearing titles like How To Hypnotise Chooks and How To Kiss A Crocodile.

People who had not seen Max play cricket were an ever-growing part of his fan base.

The darling of Bay 13 at the old MCG, he became the speaker of choice at events far distant to cricket, and a legacy was secure.