Almanac Life: Tony Dell – Soldier in a Baggy Green finds peace at last


LIKE a lot of good cricketers, Tony Dell could and probably should have worn the baggy green cap more often than he did, which was only twice. But then, there was a lot about his troubled life which could and should have been more rewarding than it was.



That’s because the big left-arm fast bowler was engulfed for four decades by a mental health crisis that he didn’t realise existed, and which made him almost impossible to live with for his family and friends.


It’s a very dark episode which has its roots in the Vietnam War where Dell fought in 1967-68, three years before he made his Test debut alongside another  almost brand new fast bowler, Dennis Lillee.



He was a willing conscript looking for adventure for whom the reality turned out to be terrifying and soul-destroying.


Belatedly, his sad story has now been told in book form. And Bring The Darkness Home: The Tony Dell Story, by Greg Milam, will be released in Australia next month by Pitch Publishing.


Although it obviously deals in detail with Dell’s relatively brief cricket career, it is not a sports book as such, rather a highly informative and often deeply emotional essay on the psychologically debilitating condition known as PTS, short for Post Traumatic Stress disorder.


Dell, who is the only living Test cricketer to have seen active service, brought PTS home with him from Vietnam but was in his sixties before he learned it was the reason he had changed from an amiable teenager into a moody, irrational, paranoid adult who couldn’t sustain a marriage, fell out with his three children, lost friendships and couldn’t even remember much about his promising arrival at the pinnacle of his chosen sport, or explain why he stopped playing long before he needed to.


Dell, 23, was selected to open the bowling with Lillee, who had debuted a fortnight earlier, in the deciding Ashes Test in Sydney in November, 1971. He took five wickets, two more than the future superstar, as Ray Illingworth’s England team won narrowly.


He played at that level only once more, against New Zealand in Melbourne three years later, taking only one wicket. At 27, despite team-mate Greg Chappell believing he had much more to offer Queensland and Australia, he informed selectors he just didn’t want to play any more and walked away, his life spiralling out of control despite becoming a workaholic in the advertising industry.


By 2007 he was living in his mother’s garage, broke and friendless and existing on a diet of baked beans and chicken nuggets when he was invited to be a guest at a cricket challenge organised for defence force personnel.


Told that he should have lost medals replaced, he found himself talking to volunteers at a veterans’ drop-in centre in Queensland, who listened to his story and then told him he had PST, without a doubt.


Dell couldn’t believe it because he had never heard of it.


But it was his moment of truth – now he knew why his life had been consumed by hopelessness, negativity, guilt and shame, of fear of crowds, of nightmares and bewilderment. And on further investigation, he learned that he was far from alone. There were thousands of Vietnam veterans in the same boat.


It takes a horrific toll. “One veteran tops himself or herself in Australia every day of every year. In America, it’s every hour or every day of every year. In 10 years we have lost more people to suicide than we have on the battlefield,” Dell told the Cricinfo website as he began the difficult task of reclaiming his life.


He has done so successfully, and is now working hard to help others do the same. He has established a charity named Stand Tall 4 PTS  to raise awareness and raise funds for sufferers. His ambition is for the Gabba match each year to be dubbed the “orange” Test just as the Sydney one is the pink Test in aid of breast cancer research.


That may or may not happen but at least Dell and cricket have found each other again and are at peace at last – and certainly not before time.




This important book will be launched by the Governor-General David Hurley on August 27 and is open to all Footy Almanac people. Bookings can be made through Wayne Ross, secretary Australian Cricket Society at 0416 983 888, or go to and click on ‘Events’.


Full details of the book launch can be found Here


The book is available  for $60 from  Ken Piesse


More stories from Ron Reed HERE


Lifeline is a free and confidential support service which can be reached on 13 11 14.

Beyond Blue  can be reached on 1300 22 46 36.



The Tigers (Covid) Almanac 2020 will be published in the coming weeks. It will have all the usual features – a game by game account of the Tigers season – and will also include some of the best Almanac writing from the Covid winter.  Pre-order right now HERE


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  1. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Ron a fascinating article- scary,sobering,reflective a hell of a lot of meaning.Tony was a bloody good bowler and definitely should have played more test cricket but the issues you have uncovered are a hell of a lot more important thank you

  2. Steve Fahey says

    Thanks for a great piece Ron

  3. Graham Cornes says

    Excellent Ron… strikes a chord with those who have served

  4. Peter Hulthen says

    I think Tony also played rugby union for Brisbane Souths. Thanks Tony for your service.

  5. Graham Ferris says

    Tony was one of the best fast bowlers in Australia for a number of years and I could never understand why he only played two tests

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