They Played at Selkirk #1 Keith Miller

A new series celebrating the great cricketers who have played at Philiphaugh. Many splendid players have trotted out from the pavilion to play here but few have been finer than Keith Miller. Nearly 3,000 test runs at an average of almost 37 and 17o test wickets taken at 23 runs apiece is an impressive enough record but figures alone tell barely half the Keith Miller story.

“Nugget” was once called “the Australian in excelsis” by the great English cricket writer Neville Cardus and more than half a century after he last played test cricket he remains perhaps the most glamorous cricketer to have worn the Baggy Green. More than anything else, Miller was a stylish cricketer who played the game with flair and an insouciant attitude that did not always endear him to his superiors, most notably Don Bradman.

On the 1948 Ashes tour, for instance, the Australians spent a day murdering the Essex bowling, racking up 721 runs. Miller derived no pleasure from this turkey shoot and when it was his turn to bat he stepped away to leg and was bowled first ball. He was not the kind of cricketer who played for his average or padded his statistics with easy runs.

Miller was a fighter pilot during the Second World War and would later tell young players that test cricket was easy. Pressure, he said, “is a Messerschmitt up your arse”. In the late 1940s and 1950s he was the most popular Australian in England and a hero to thousands of English schoolboys. For Miller, victory was not the only thing that mattered. Swashbuckling was important too. (He was also rumoured to have enjoyed an affair with Princess Margaret).

In tandem with Ray Lindwall he formed one of Australia’s greatest new-ball attacks and as a classically elegant batsmen he had the power and range of strokes to turn a game on its head in the space of half an afternoon. Bowling off a short and always unmeasured run he could follow a wicked bouncer with a googly or whatever seemed fun or most likely to catch the batsman out. As a batsman he was equally adept hitting thunderous off-drives and delicate late-cuts.

Though a successful captain for New South Wales he was too free-spirited to ever be trusted with the Australian captaincy. Sometimes he took an unusual approach, telling fielders just to “Scatter” when he could not be troubled setting a field. On another occasion he discovered he was taking the field with 12 players. “Well one of you had better bugger off then” he told his players. He would have made a fine skipper in the Border League…

In 1945, Miller was part of the Australian Services XI that toured the British Isles, marking the resumption of first-class cricket after the war. Though the so-called “Victory Tests” do not have official test match status, this was the year Miller first made his mark, hitting a spectacular 185 at Lords. As part of the tour, the Australians visited Philiphaugh where they played a Scottish XI.

Three years later, during the “Invincibles” tour of 1948, Miller returned to Philiphaugh where he planted a tree alongside one that had been planted in 1945 by the wicket-keeper Stan Sismey. He is pictured here, in the centre of the back row, alongside other members of that Australian party and Selkirk committee men of the time. A great Australian and one of the greatest to have trod the Philiphaugh turf.

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