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KEITH Ross Miller may have been the first post-War cricketing superstar but he never assumed the airs of one.

I was made most vividly aware of this when, in the mid-Seventies, I was commissioned to write his biography. I had always admired Miller but felt nervous. I had never met him and wondered if he would ask for money.

This was becoming common then and, with my advance a princely £400, I could not afford to pay him. But his response was surprise. “You want to write a book about me? Are people interested after all this time?”

Money was the last thing on his mind. While he had not kept many records he shared his memories and, more crucially, let me talk to his friends. And what friends he had, ranging from Sir Neville Cardus, through Gubby Allen to all the post-War greats of English cricket and any number of girlfriends, including those who had known him as a wartime pilot.

Only two people did not help. Don Bradman — under whom Miller played but distrusted because he was too flamboyant — wrote a polite letter of refusal, while another cricketer, who shall remain nameless, asked me for money.

I was struck by the reaction Miller evoked, particularly in England. By the time I wrote my book he had retired from cricket for more than 20 years, but the English game remembered him with an affection that no overseas cricketer — certainly no Australian — has evoked.

As one cricketer put it to me: “Nugget [Miller’s nickname] devastated our batsmen and bowlers, made love to our women but we could not stop loving him.” Bradman was feared, Miller was cherished.

This was despite the fact that, as a leading member of the great Australian post-War side, he helped to bowl England out for 52 at the Oval in 1948.

Trevor Bailey told me the story of that match in Essex in 1948 when Australia made 721 in a day — still a world record. Miller came out to bat with the score at 364 for two.

He had been playing cards and betting on horses, took perfunctory guard, allowed himself to be bowled first ball. Bradman, at the other end, was outraged and told Bailey, the bowler: “He’ll learn.”

The two stories that summed up why Miller was so special were told to me by Bill Edrich and the journalist Basil Easterbrook.

On one occasion, as he led New South Wales on to the field at Sydney, a player shouted out: “Hey, Nugget, we have 12 players on the field.” Miller gave a nervous cough then, without looking back, said: “One of you f*** off, the rest scatter”.

Easterbrook’s story concerned the match in 1953 when Miller led Australia against Yorkshire at Sheffield.

On the Monday Easterbrook was just about to leave for the match when the manageress told him that Mr Miller and Mr Lindwall [Ray, his bowling partner and room-mate] were still in their room. The Australian team coach had gone and Easterbrook knew it would not be easy to find taxis in Grindleford, a small, picturesque village.

Australia were in the field, Miller would have to lead the team out and Bramall Lane would be packed. Then Easterbrook recalled that the local funeral parlour had a limousine. He hired it, they got to Bramall Lane with the gates closed on 30,000 and minutes to go before the start. Miller, furiously changing in the limousine said: “Pay the cab, Bas, and collect it from Davies [the Australian manager].” But Davies refused to pay the £2.

In 1972, Easterbrook was at the Old Trafford Test against Australia when Miller came by and thrust £5 in his pocket: “That was for Grindleford, Bas.” When Easterbrook protested it was too much, Miller said: “Well, Bas, there’s been inflation and it’s a long time.”

I cannot imagine a modern superstar remembering 20 years later that the cab fare had not been paid and then paying it. That was what made Miller different.

Mihir Bose is the author of Keith Miller: A Cricketing Biography

© Mihir Bose

      

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