The respectful ovation that brought Keith Miller to tears - The Libyan Report

The respectful ovation that brought Keith Miller to tears

Whenever he was asked why this was his favourite cricket photo, Miller, one of Australian cricket’s most revered figures, loved by thousands for his swashbuckling all-round skills, would point to that ethereal figure. It was Graham Williams, the South Australian opening bowler who had provided Miller with what he considered his most emotional sporting experience when, some weeks earlier, he had walked out to bat at Lord’s, representing the RAAF against a British Empire XI. Just a fortnight earlier, Williams had been released from a POW camp. He was emaciated, having lost 31 kilograms since being captured by the Germans after being shot down over Libya, spending most of his four years in captivity teaching Braille to POWs and enemy soldiers who had been blinded in action. Whenever I think of it tears still come to my eyes. Keith Miller As revealed in my just-released book Cricketers at War, Williams was nicknamed “Flamingo’ by his teammates because his post-war legs looked like matchsticks.

There was never a greater reception for an Australian No.6 batsman than on May 12, 1945 when 15,000 spectators rose to their feet and applauded him all the way as he slowly walked to the batting crease. Williams, a formidable pace bowler, had already opened the bowling for the RAAF, with eight wicketless overs. That was some task, requiring him to drink gallons of a thick glucose drink after each over to stop himself from collapsing. In the heels of his boots were scooped-out halves of oranges to lessen the jarring impact of his run-up on his tender feet. One consolation was that the roast lamb and jacket potatoes on offer at lunch, as well as the afternoon tea, were his first proper meals since 1941. Williams appeared bewildered by the crowd’s reception, peering around him with a stunned look as if he could not believe where he was. In Miller’s mind, it was as if he was saying to himself, "This can’t be true. I will wake up shortly". Williams was walking "as if in a trance". Miller described the crowd reception at Lord’s as "the most touching thing I have ever seen or heard, almost orchestral in its sound and feeling". "Whenever I think of it, tears still come to my eyes," Miller said. Williams, who before the war was a wool-classer and valuer, received another standing ovation for an aggressive half century. Following that, England’s Gubby Allen dropped two £5 notes between Williams's legs, telling the exhausted all-rounder he could have them if he had the energy to bend over and pick them up. Williams grinned: "Just heard my shares have gone up a bit in the past four years. Pick 'em up yourself."

The £5 notes remained on the dressing-room floor. As a pilot, Miller had also gone through an eventful war. After one operation in France, Miller misjudged the landing and almost ended up in the hangar. There was another close escape after an attack on a German airfield, when one of Miller's bombs had not dropped during the flight. He was lucky it did not explode when he landed the plane. There are many other episodes of what became known as "Miller's Luck", such as when he had to belly-land a plane that was "a write-off". As the English ground crew rushed to see if Miller was OK, he replied: "Nearly stumps drawn that time, gents." An hour later he was playing soccer with his mates. Pressure is turning around and seeing a Messerschmitt flying up your arse. Keith Miller Cricket during war-time became a diversion. For a match between an England XI and the Dominions, Miller, who was then known only as a batsman, was used as a fifth-change bowler. Before his first delivery, England batsman Denis Compton turned to the Dominions keeper Stan Sismey and asked, "What does this fellow do"?

“He’s not really a bowler,” Sismey replied. “He just chances his arm.” After flicking his hair back, Miller came bounding in and bounced one past Compton’s brow. Compton said it was the fastest ball he had faced since batting against Ernie McCormick during the 1938 Ashes series. Many years later, Miller was asked if he ever felt under pressure when he was NSW captain or when spearheading the Australian bowling attack. He famously replied: "Pressure? In cricket? You’ve got to be kidding. Pressure is turning around and seeing a Messerschmitt flying up your arse.” Lest we forget. Cricketers at War by Greg Growden (ABC Books). source