Bit by bit … a “Magic Eye” sequence breaks up Ian Meckiff’s action during the Test against South Africa in Brisbane in 1963. Bit by bit … a “Magic Eye” sequence breaks up Ian Meckiff’s action during the Test against South Africa in Brisbane in 1963.
‘BASICALLY, it’s something I don’t really talk about,” says Ian Meckiff down the phone line from his Melbourne home. I’ve left a message for the former Australian fast bowler at Victoria Golf Club, where he used to be club captain, and he has called back immediately.
Meckiff is 77 now, and 49 years have elapsed since one of cricket’s most controversial episodes, one that brought an 18-Test career to a skidding and humiliating halt in the space of a single over. Meckiff still does not have all the answers as to why on that particular day, the second of the 1963 Brisbane Test against South Africa, his career went up in flames.
Remarkably, the umpire who called him for throwing four times in his one and only over just after the lunch break remained a friend and occasional drinking mate until the day he died. Col Egar, who would go on to be an Australian team manager and for three years chairman of the Australian Cricket Board, stood at square leg, and ruled Meckiff’s second, third, fifth and ninth balls illegitimate with no-balls. Australia’s captain Richie Benaud did not bowl the left-armer again in the Test, and Meckiff, at 28, promptly quit the game afterwards.
Egar required a police escort from the ground, and is said to have received death threats, but Meckiff says they remained on good terms until the former Adelaide umpire’s death in 2008. Before the infamous Test, the pair had won a lawn bowls competition in Melbourne together, and Meckiff says Egar brought the trophy to Brisbane to give it to him.
“I go over to Adelaide pretty much every year with Lindsay Kline, and we stay with Barry Jarman … We go over for the Adelaide Test match,” Meckiff says. “One of the first things that we do actually is on the first day, always at 11 o’clock when the game is starting, we would have a beer at the Colin Egar Bar.
“We’ve been doing that for years. Egar was always there of course until he died so we always had a chat. We always had a beer with him. He was a good bloke actually, a good fella to have a drink with, good fun.”
He says they never spoke about that afternoon in Brisbane, Meckiff maintaining a code of silence on the issue despite long-held suggestions of a conspiracy involving England administrators and Donald Bradman, at the time a member of the Australian Board of Control, to rub him out in an effort to rid the game of a proliferation of illegal actions. Meckiff had been no-balled in Shield cricket earlier in 1963 but not by Egar, who had passed him in domestic matches and during the tied Test with the West Indies in 1960-61, when Meckiff was run out in the most dramatic of climaxes.
“With all the furore that was going on about Murali, he [Egar] did say, ‘The way the rules are today, you’d be 100 per cent pure,'” Meckiff says. “But we never really discussed it, whether he was told by Bradman. It was printed that Bradman called together a lot of the umpires in Adelaide because he wanted them to clean up a lot of throwing problems because they had a couple of guys there that were a bit suspect.
“But whether he spoke to Col personally and said, ‘We’ve got to do this,’ I wouldn’t know. I don’t really want to know, to be honest.”
Meckiff had been first fingered by the English press during the 1957-58 England tour of Australia, and before the reciprocal visit to the old enemy in 1961 Bradman and board chairman Bill Dowling ventured to England to thrash out a truce on throwing laws and interpretations. Meckiff did not ultimately make that tour, breaking down with an Achilles injury against the West Indies, but with Australia due back in England in 1964 and having been recalled to the Test side, he was back in the firing line.
“When it came around to ’63, there was a tour of England coming up, it was most likely I think that Bradman and [England chairman of selectors] Gubby Allen did a deal. I don’t really know but supposedly that’s what happened,” Meckiff says. “It was one of those things – the game is bigger than the individual, I’ve always said – but unfortunately it was a disappointing way, more or less, to finish my career. I never played any serious cricket after that.
“I was told I wouldn’t be able to play first-class cricket anywhere but Victoria. To even play district cricket in Melbourne you could always run into an umpire who wanted to get his name in the paper, so I was far better out of it all.”
Meckiff at least had golf to fall back on – his handicap was as low as three at one point – and he forged successful post-cricket careers in radio commentary, then in advertising and sports signage for decades after that snap retirement.
No one’s life should be summed up in a sentence and, however cricket remembers Meckiff, he is content and proud of what he achieved in the game.
“It’s something that wasn’t the best time in my life,” he says. “But, by the same token, life goes on.”
Meckiff hangs up the phone. South Africa are in town tomorrow, and he will be watching when, after half a century, they finally return to the Gabba.
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