He was my first boyhood cricketing hero. A talented, laid-back larrikin – just like so many of the Australian cricketers of that time. And a left-handed batsman and bowler, just like the embryonic ten-year old cricketer I was in 1975.
In the end, like the late David Hookes, he never fulfilled his talent at the elite level, but who cares? He probably didn’t. But like Hookesy – forever remembered for carting Tony Grieg around the ‘G in the Centenary Test – he will always have that 15 minutes of cricketing fame. Namely, that unplayable spell of 6/14 and 28 off 28 balls (after the Aussies had slumped to 6/39) in the ’75 World Cup semi-final v England at Leeds.
He made his Test debut at the age of 22, but only ended up playing 15 Tests in total. Which, ultimately, is 15 more than most of us. His best series was the 1975-76 series against the Windies, when he took 20 wickets at 20, and smashed a 95 in Adelaide.
But it is limited overs cricket which set my mind wondering. He could have been the king of one-day cricket. Amazingly, he only played 5 ODI’s, but his statistics hint at the player he would have been had the condensed form of the game been more prevalent in his time. “How good would Gus have been in T20 cricket?” I asked one of my mates last summer as we sat watching old cricket highlights flashing across the tv screen. But as Ian Chappell said “He was at the front of the queue when they were handing out talent but, unfortunately, he was right at the back of the queue when they handed out health and good luck.”[i] A comment which can so easily be applied to the timing of his career.
Gary Gilmour tells one of the funnier cricket stories, as related by Gideon Haigh in The Cricket War: Gary Gilmour did not like Guyana. “I’d had this rivalry with Colin Croft all summer” he says. “And at the end he told me that his mum was a witchdoctor and she’d be sticking pins in her dolls when we got there” Gilmour thought more about it when the Australians began loitering in airports awaiting flights mysteriously delayed: “I knew Colin was an air-traffic controller, so I told the boys he was behind it.”[ii]
As yet another of my childhood sporting heroes wanders off this mortal coil, another marker of the non-relenting passing of time, I think back to those golden cricketing years of the 70’s and say “Farewell, Gus”.
[i] The Age, June 11, 2014.
[ii] “The Cricket War” by Gideon Haigh (Text, Melbourne, 1993).