Almanac Book Reviews: ‘Neil Harvey – The Last Invincible’ by Ashley Mallett






Almost three-quarters of a century on, the Australian cricket team which toured England in 1948 holds a place of affection in the hearts of all cricket lovers. Universally known as ‘The Invincibles’, the team holds a mythological status in Australian sport. The team was undefeated in 31 first-class matches, triumphing in the Test series 4-0, and was greeted by huge crowds wherever they played in a Britain that was still emerging from the ravages of World War 2. Donald Bradman’s announcement that the tour would be the finale to his illustrious playing career added greater interest.



Apart from Bradman, the touring party was chock full of Australian cricketing legends: Keith Miller, our greatest ever all-rounder; vice-captain Lindsay Hassett; pacemen Ray Lindwall and Bill Johnston; and the brilliant opener Arthur Morris. Also in the touring party was the young Victorian batsman Neil Harvey, making his first overseas trip. At the age of 92, Harvey is the only surviving member of that legendary team, and this point is referenced in the title of Ashley Mallett’s biography of the man: Neil Harvey: The Last Invincible.



The story of Neil Harvey is well worth telling. With five brothers and a sister, his upbringing in the back streets of post-Depression Fitzroy was hardscrabble, and the stories of Neil and his brothers battling it out in cricket matches in cobblestoned laneways are now part of cricket folklore. Amazingly, four of the Harvey boys played first-class cricket for Victoria. With sheer talent and fierce determination, it took only a few short years for Neil Harvey to make his way from playing in those back laneways to be batting at number three for Australia.  This is book is the story of another time: in what would be an unthinkable situation in these days of million-dollar endorsements, Neil only purchased his first bat when he was selected to play for his country. ‘I had saved up 10 pounds and now that I was about to play my first Test match I thought it time I owned my own cricket bat’.



Former Test off-spin bowler Ashley Mallett has carved out a fine career as an author, principally of biographies, most notably of cricketers such as Victor Trumper and Ian Chappell. It is quite obvious that Mallett is passionate about the game of cricket; the introductory chapter is a beautifully related reminiscence from his childhood, attending the 1954 Sydney Test match with his grandfather, and watching Neil Harvey – then his cricketing hero – bat against England. The bulk of the ensuing biography lacks a little of this same passion, most probably because the author is constrained by the fact that the subject is an elderly man whose quotes are brief and to the point. For example, when talking about about a pair of South African pace bowlers, Harvey says ‘They were genuinely quick and both very aggressive. We had to bat well to counter them’.



However, there is more spark when Harvey comes to life when talking about the great disappointment of being overlooked for the Test captaincy ‘I was pretty pissed off about it. I reckoned I was entitled. I guess the thinking was that I tended to speak my mind a bit and that I might not be capable of handling the captain’s off-field duties’. Having missed out on watching Neil Harvey play, my generation would only know him for being the old-timer to whom journalists went for contrary quotes on contemporary cricket matters. So it is interesting to get a deeper insight into the man. He ‘hated’ World Series Cricket (he was chairman of selectors at the time), but is realistic enough to admit that he would have accepted a WSC contract had he still been playing. And naturally, he is not a fan of T20 competitions such as the Indian Premier League.



For cricket-lovers especially, this biography provides an enjoyable step back in time, particularly the descriptions of Test series long past – not only the 1948 Invincibles tour, but voyages to South Africa and the West Indies (for three months!). The manner in which those series were played, their sheer length, and the cricketers and characters with whom Harvey was fortunate enough to play speak of a time long past.



Neil Harvey is the greatest batsman Victoria has produced. His record speaks for itself. From the most humble of beginnings, his was a wonderful Test career, and later his great service to the game included a twelve-year stint as a national selector. Generally an uplifting story of a remarkable life, the book ends upon a sad note, with Ian Chappell noting Harvey’s loneliness since the passing of his second wife.





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About Darren Dawson

Always North.


  1. roger lowrey says

    You beat me to it Smokie. I am writing a review myself so I’ll keep going and lodge it over the coming days. It will serve in lieu of any commentary I would otherwise make here.


  2. Luke Reynolds says

    Excellent review Smokie. I enjoy Ashley Mallett’s writing (his book on Clarrie Grimmett a real favourite), so looking forward to reading this.

    Up until about 10 years ago Harvey was the media’s go to guy for a negative comment, will be really interested in his views on the 50’s to the 70’s, World Series Cricket especially.

    In regards to greatest batsmen produced by Victoria, he’s clearly top 2 with Ponsford. I reckon Ponsford is skipped over by many by having played alongside and under the shadow of Bradman.

    And really interested in players who played after World Wars, when many young men who could have been great cricketers were lost, and cricket was restarting after several years break.
    Wonderful that the game was starting again but how was the standard affected and how do we rate those performances?

    Incredible that four brothers from Fitzroy could represent Victoria.

    Not trying to downplay anyone from that era by the way, I actually have a framed picture of the Invincibles on my lounge room wall!

  3. Bought the book for my Dad for Fathers Day. He turns 90 in October. Neil Harvey was his boyhood hero as dad is also a left hander.
    I have vague memories of Harvey at the end of his career. I think of him as Alan Border with the dancing footwork of a Doug Walters or an Ian Chappell. One of the finest players of spin in the era where you got down the wicket to the pitch of the ball.
    Thanks Smokie.

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