Ashley Gray’s interview of Neil Harvey – the last surviving member of Don Bradman’s Invincible Australians of 1948 – originally appeared in the 2023 edition of Wisden Cricketer’s Almanack.
I was probably the first bloke to be plucked out of the woodwork to play first-class cricket after the war. We all met at Flinders Street station in Melbourne for my Shield debut for Victoria, and I was 18. I didn’t know 90% of the fellas there. Lindsay Hassett was captain, and he turned to me, then to Sam Loxton: “You look after him.” And that was it. Sam was my cabin-mate on the train to Sydney (where I was stumped for a duck). And, when I got selected for the 1948 Ashes tour, he was my cabin-mate on the RMS Strathaird. I also roomed with him in England. We ended up great friends.
There was a good chance I’d make the trip after scoring 153 against India in my second Test, in February. When I got the nod, my family were very proud, and it was special because we have a Cornish background. We set sail on March 19, and the beauty of ship life is you get to know each other, because you’ve got 28 days to do it from Fremantle to Tilbury. It was important for me, because the next youngest were Arthur Morris, Ray Lindwall and Bill Johnston, at 26. Most of the guys had served in the war, too. But I was made to feel part of the team.
I enjoyed the deck sports. The crew put up nets so we could have a hit, and we used a ball made of rope. It would be packed with passengers who had come to watch, and they would challenge us to a game. Don Bradman was best at quoits – probably because he’d had three tours’ experience!
The Australian Board of Control sent us first-class, thank goodness. I had to buy my first dinner suit: we had cocktail parties six nights a week. It was great fun. Bradman and Hassett had their own cabins, as did the manager, Keith Johnson. Then there was the baggage man and scorer Bill Ferguson, and a masseur, Arthur James – and that was it. Our tour fee was £600.
I thought London was the best city I’d ever seen, and I still do. When we got there, it was knocked around because of the war; there was rubble everywhere, but it was uncrowded. I loved the theatre. I saw Annie Get Your Gun at the Coliseum, and Oklahoma! at the Theatre Royal. They gave me a lifelong love of the stage. Arthur Morris liked the theatre, too, but I spent a lot of time sightseeing with Keith Johnson, because he was teetotal, like me. As a team we saw a lot of comedy and slapstick – the Crazy Gang at the Victoria Palace, and Flanagan and Allen. We were even invited to an afternoon party at Balmoral; King George wore a kilt. The Queen and the two princesses were there. What a wonderful privilege: I think Elizabeth II was the greatest lady there’s ever been. We also met Queen Mary at Frogmore in the grounds of Windsor – such a very upright, stately lady.
We played two matches, six days a week, with a break on Sunday. You ask today’s players to do that – there’s no way they would. The grounds were full every day. England was cricket-starved, and the fans were lovely to us. And everybody wanted to see Bradman for the last time.
Don was 20 years older than me, so he was like a father figure. I looked up to him – the whole team did. I didn’t have that much to do with him on tour, because he had so many things to take care of. Gubby Allen and Kent’s Bryan Valentine were good English friends he had made in the 1930s. When we were in London, one of them would be waiting for him after each day’s play. He’d be first dressed – and gone.
He trusted us to do the right thing, but he knew we had some villains in the side: Hassett, Keith Miller, Ray Lindwall… After the Fourth Test at Leeds, where we went 3–0 up, we were playing Derbyshire next day. Keith had a big night out, and came back to the hotel at breakfast time. Don met him on the stairs: “Good morning, Keith.” That was all. There were no accusations, no curfews, no rules.
Once or twice, there was obvious tension. Keith’s back played up a fair bit, which interfered with his bowling. At Lord’s in a county game, Don threw him the ball. Keith returned it: “I can’t bowl.” So Bradman threw it back: “Bowl.” He sent down a couple of overs, but at three-quarter pace. You wouldn’t say they were the greatest of friends, but mostly they kept things under control. Overall, we were a very happy unit.
I didn’t expect to play in the Ashes, but I treated every county match like a Test. We played on uncovered pitches, and I had to adjust to English conditions. I’ve always been proud of my footwork, so I got down the wicket whenever I could. My first step would be back and across – unlike today, where they get on the front foot and, if they go too far forward, they can’t go back. I gave myself a little bit of room and time to get back and across. That’s exactly what Don did; I’m not sure whether I copied him, though.
In the Third Test at Manchester, Sid Barnes was fielding in close and got hit in the ribs by a pull shot from Dick Pollard, ruling him out of Leeds. At The Queens Hotel on the morning of the first day, I ordered what felt like my 900th kipper for breakfast – that’s all you could eat because of rationing. Bradman sat down beside me, and said: “You’re playing today.” I shoved the kipper to one side. I was very nervous. It was a good thing we fielded first: it gave me time to settle.
On the third morning, I heard this great roar, looked through the dressing-room window and saw Bradman’s off stump on the ground. I still hadn’t got my pads on. When I got to the middle, Miller reckoned I said: “Hey, what’s going on here, Nugget? Let’s get stuck into ’em.” But I don’t remember that. He told me to get up the other end while he took the bowling. They brought Jim Laker on, and almost immediately Miller drove him over my head for six; moments later, he did it again. I thought: Ashes cricket can’t be so tough after all. It did a lot for my confidence.
I got to 99, when I was facing Laker. He wasn’t as dangerous as he would become, because he bowled too flat – just like he did in Australia in 1958/59. In 1956, he was just about unplayable, but the Old Trafford pitch was doctored. When he got those 19 wickets, I shook his hand and said: “Well done, Jim.” He replied: “You’ve got to get in while you can!” On English wickets, he was hard to get to, and very accurate.
Anyway, I played out a few dot balls, and the ABC commentator Alan McGilvray later told me that, because he knew my parents were listening, he said on air: “Don’t worry, Mr and Mrs Harvey, he’ll be right, he’ll get there.” A quick push to extra cover got me the run I needed. Loxton was at the other end, and he rushed up so fast to congratulate me I thought he could have been run out. He always reckoned he was more happy than I was. That’s how good a mate he was.
The second innings was the famous record-breaking chase, where we knocked off 404. Everyone said England were going to win. The partnership of 301 between Morris and Bradman was great. They were dropped a few times, but that’s cricket. I was lucky enough to come in and hit the winning runs through midwicket off my first ball, from Ken Cranston. I can still see old Don rushing past me, yelling: “Come on, son, let’s get out of here!” The ground was so packed, he couldn’t get to the dressing-room quick enough.
In Don’s final innings, at The Oval, no one knew he needed four to average 100 – not even the press. The emotion was more about it being his Test farewell. When we bowled England out for 52, it was clear he would bat only once. As he strode to the wicket, Norman Yardley had all the English players take off their caps and give him three cheers, and the crowd joined in. It was quite a spectacle. I think he had tears in his eyes. Watching from the balcony, I know I would have.
He played the first ball uncertainly, and you could see he wasn’t at his best – his footwork wasn’t there. Eric Hollies was a good bowler, and the second ball was a wrong’un. Don pushed forward and got a faint inside edge on to his stumps. When he returned to the dressing-room, all he said was: “Fancy doing a thing like that.”
The idea of going through the tour unbeaten only really occurred to us about three-quarters of the way in. That’s when Don got more hard-nosed as captain. What people don’t realise is we could have forfeited our match against Surrey in early July. On the last day, we had bowled them out just before lunch, and needed 122 to win. Trouble was, we’d all been invited that afternoon to Wimbledon to watch the Aussie John Bromwich play American Bob Falkenburg in the final. Loxton said to Don: “What do I have to do to get a hand in this side?” Don replied: “I’ll tell you what – you and that mate of yours can go out and get the 122.”
We all had lunch, and Sam and I padded up, but we could see everyone else putting on their suits to go to Wimbledon. Sam and I got the runs quickly but, when we returned to the dressing-room, there wasn’t a soul there – everyone had left in hired motor cars. We had to walk down to Oval station and catch the train. If one of us had gotten out, there would have been no one else to bat. After all that, Bromwich lost in the fifth set.
Of all the English bowlers, Alec Bedser was the most difficult. He also troubled Bradman and, especially, Morris with huge inswingers. He got Bradman out four times in that series. In the First Test at Nottingham, he was twice caught by Len Hutton at backward short leg, and he got him at Lord’s the same way. But Bradman countered that later on, as he did with everything that bothered him. Alec was so accurate, and he had such big hands. When the shine went off the ball, he’d bowl leg-cutters that were very hard to keep out. He, Arthur and I were great friends. My brother Merv introduced me to Alec, who was a big bloke. I was just the new boy, and he shook hands with me: “Nice to meet you, young’un.” From then on, he’d always say: “How you going, young’un?”
One player we were glad they didn’t select was George Pope from Derbyshire. He was a very good seamer, but they picked Pollard instead. Pope had good movement off the seam, and the wickets were more grassy than they are now. England’s best batsman, technique-wise, was Hutton, on good and bad wickets. I didn’t like the man much: talk about being aloof! But he could bat. He picked up the line and length of the ball quicker than anyone, and was always getting his feet in the right position. Denis Compton was another I rated highly, maybe not so much in 1948, but certainly overall. He was one of the first attacking English batsmen I saw. He’d almost run down the wicket – and he could sweep. He was a great bloke too. On that tour I got to know him a little because he was a good friend of Miller, and they used to get around together. He and Miller were like twins – men about town.
As far as captaincy goes, Yardley did a good job with what he had. But he was an amateur, and I always thought a professional would have done better, because it was his livelihood. Bradman was a good leader, but in my experience Hassett was a better captain. He would take a chance, where Bradman wouldn’t. I learned a lot about life and cricket by watching my team-mates, and I’ve never forgotten it. It wasn’t just the way they behaved on the field – there was no sledging – but off it, too. We went to a lot of top-class functions, and they showed the way to conduct yourself, how to dress and how to speak. I was a better man after that tour, and a lot of it was to do with the leadership. I’m so proud to be a member of that 1948 side.
Neil Harvey played the last of his 79 Tests in 1962/63, and finished with 6,149 runs at 48. He was talking to Ashley Gray.
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