Brush with royalty is part and parcel of a cricket tour to England. And when one throws a bunch of colourful Australian cricketers amongst the sovereign, the results tend to be hilarious on occasions.
At Sandringham Palace, when Bill Woodfull’s Australian side was being entertained by King George V and Queen Mary, His Majesty demonstrated curiosity about the Bosey. And so Clarrie Grimmett demonstrated the art of bowling the googly with an orange. As is recalled in Grimmett’s biography by Ashley Mallett, “Nobody could find a cricket ball when it was most needed, but the well-spun orange gripped and turned on the sun-drenched Sandringham turf.”
Mallett himself, an off-spinner of some repute and class, had a thing for high society when visiting England with the Australian team. He even went to the extent of dressing like an archetypal Englishman when he attended social events.
His celebrated teammate Greg Chappell recalls:
“He bought a deerstalker hat, tweed jacket and hooked meerschaum pipe and at boring receptions, where most of the team were huddled together to exclude earbashers, Mallett would declare, ‘Hellow, Mallee’s the name’ in a murderous Oxford accent. ‘From the antipodes, ackchewally, small property in the west, 30 000 acres . . .’ The team fell about.”
However, he sometimes overdid things. Never more so than during the famed tour of 1968.
Mallett did not play in the Lord’s Test, where John Gleeson was the spinner of choice while Bob Cowper did send down a few overs of off-spin. Swing, of course, had the major say in the game as David Brown and Barry Knight blew the tourists away for just 78 runs when they batted the first time. Weather and a stubborn Ian Redpath ensured a draw as huge chunks of the days were washed away by rain. However, the moment of the five days belonged to Mallett.
It took place during a party on one of the evenings of the Test match. Mallett himself recalls in his autobiography Rowdy.
“I distinctly remember talking among a group of fellow players when I saw from a distance of about 10 yards the figure of a rather elegant-looking woman approaching. My short-sightedness had never really embarrassed me before, but I really couldn’t make out who the woman was and called out, ‘I say, my dear, will you not join us here?’ By now you will have realised that it was none other than Queen Elizabeth.”
That is perhaps the greatest faux pas made by an Australian cricketer in the presence of royalty. The only instances that come near are Dennis Lillee’s greeting to the queen in 1972, which amounted to ‘G’day’.
And then, of course, there was Rodney Hogg on the 1981 tour, who pointed to the Queen as she passed them at Lord’s and remarked to Geoff Lawson ‘in a voice that could have been heard at Buckingham Palace’ , “Jeez Henry, she hasn’t got bad legs for an old sheila, has she?”
They are indeed a colourful lot, the Australian cricketers.