The tough cricketer from Tasmania was one of the key members of Allan Border’s Australia during those tough days in the 80s.
When you mention him, you get an image of a man with a distinctive moustache chewing gums. He will always be Tasmania’s first son and one of the warriors of Australian cricket – David Clarence Boon, who left behind a legacy of his own.
He was not the most stylish player of his time. But then, he compensated that department by staying at the crease almost every time it was required by Australia. His numbers might not give away the clear image of what Boon meant to Australia because Boon, for Australia, was more than just a top-order batsman. He was a special team man, their best short-leg, the go-to man against the mighty West Indies and the single force that put his state Tasmania on the domestic tournament, Sheffield Shield’s map.
Boon walks in
Boonie, as he was fondly called, took his first steps into domestic cricket in the Sheffield Shield 1978–79 season, which was Tasmania’s second year into the domestic tournament. He made his Tasmania debut under Englishman Jack Simmons, who pushed the 17-year-old forward as a potential Test player and went on to mentor the kid too. (Eventually, Boon acknowledged Simmons by naming his son after him). From there on began a journey that would go on to write history books in both Australia and Tasmania cricket, which the Wisden described as, “Boon’s achievement in becoming a fine Test player from a state which at that stage was still to enter the Sheffield Shield is strong evidence of his singular determination.”
The first time Boon grabbed the headlines was when he starred in Tasmania’s virtual semi-final of Gillette Cup 1978 against Queensland. Chasing the target of 233, Boon came to bat when Tasmania were eight down and still needed 29 runs more. The teenager stuck at one end, while he saw two more batsmen lose wickets on the other end. He became an overnight star when he remained unbeaten on 18 off 10 balls, including three boundaries, in the nail-biting match which ended with one ball remaining and Tasmania’s spectacular one-wicket victory.
Tasmania eventually lifted the Gillette Cup trophy, which was their first interstate one-day title and from there on, neither Tasmania nor Boon looked behind.
Boon came into the Australian side when they were struggling in the mid-80s and Captain Allan Border desperately needed some helping hand to divide responsibilities in the batting department. He was tough and that unbreakable chain that linked the years of glory of the Chappell era to the years followed by in Australian cricket. During’s Boon’s debut, the new captain Border was doing his best to bring in the revival in the falling apart Australian side. Boon never played those elegant strokes or eye-catching shots but with his macho-personality, he created a glory of his own. So much that, it explained the reason for the gradual disappearance of the masculine brand of Australianness. There have been hardly any Australian cricketers after him as macho as him.
When Border was running a lone battle for Australia, it was Boon’s emergence in international cricket that became their backbone. Boon never complained when he was shuffled around the batting-order according to the needs of the team. He did not even question his early dropping at the beginning of his career. All he did was worked hard, scored runs in the domestic circuit and with utmost pride, made his way back into the national side. It was said that no player worked harder in the nets or ran between in the wickets than Boon, the characteristics that were often ignored because of his hefty physique.
Border once labelled him “my rock of Gibraltar” and said, “if you were picking an all-time XI of Australia’s greatest team-mates, Boon would be close to the top of the list.”
Boon embarks Test journey…
Boon made his Test debut in the infamous Test which saw teary-eyed Australian captain Kim Hughes announce resignation from captain’s post in the aftermath of the defeat. Boon’s maiden Test was against the mighty West Indies of Clive Llyod in the 1984-85 series. Boon was handed the Baggy Green by ACB staffer Ron Steiner and was thrown in the battle field. Fighting his nerves in the first innings, Boon managed only 11 runs off 33 balls. He settled in the second innings before Malcolm Marshall gave Boon some violent instructions: “Boonie, I know this is your first Test match, but are you going to do the right thing and get out or do I have to come around the wicket and kill you?”
Being no help at all at that moment, Boon’s teammate and tail-ender, Rodney Hogg jested: “This is the perfect opportunity to start your career with a not out because I don’t think I’m going to hang around too long.”
In the next series against the same side in 1988-89, while the Australian crowd found some close glimpses of the new talking stock Curtley Ambrose, Boon carved himself as his team’s highest run-scorer. He scored 397 runs in five Tests and his innings of 149 in Sydney gave Australia’s their only win that series, which they lost 1-3. Then came the forgetful Caribbean tour of 1991, which ended sadly for both Australia and Boon. While Boon only managed 266 runs from the series, Australia lost it 1-2. Boon’s “bloodied” unbeaten century in Jamaica helped Australia draw the first Test. He was struck on the face by Patrick Patterson, which later on needed stitches without anaesthesia, obviously, but Boon suggested that innings was one of the most satisfying ones in his career.
West Indies of that era were lethal and Australia had finally found someone who could survive the brutal West Indian attacks and that’s why it was more than necessary for Boon to perform well against these men. The 1992-93 series against West Indies at home saw the best of Boon, who extracted 490 runs at 61.25 and the best of his innings was the counter-punching knock of 111 that helped Australia draw first Test in Gabba. Once again, he was not enough to win Australia the series as the hosts ended up on the losing side (1-2). However, the year when Australia finally thumped these opponents, that too in the latter’s backyard, Boon was well past his prime.
Australia won the series 2-1 on the 1995 tour, Boon scored only 152 runs an a poor average of 25.33 and was just 12 months away from retirement.
Boon’s unique stat
In cricket, the numbers and stats are as important as the bat and ball. When Boon is being discussed, even a casual cricket fan will not forget a special stat that will always be associated with his 17-year-old cricketing career.
Australia had just lost the home series to West Indies 1-3 and had lost two previous Ashes too. The team was on flight en route to England for the 1989 Ashes. With the beer culture increasing in the team, Bob Simpson introduced the modern obsession with fitness to the Australian team and he certainly would not take a beer drinking competition lightly. When the flight landed in London, the pilot gave his normal “welcome to Heathrow” announcement and then he said “Good luck to the Australian cricket team who are already off to a good start and congratulations to David Boon for breaking Australia to England beer drinking record.” Although Boon has never accepted this publicly, he had ended up drinking 52 cans of beer on that flight.
Although coach Simpson was very angered by that. Boon got away from suspension. Thankfully, because he made vital contributions in Australia’s 4-0 Ashes win. Boon scored 442 runs in six Tests at 55.25. He was the fourth joint highest scorer for his side that series along with captain Border.
Boon eventually would smash seven centuries against the English and would be a part of four successful Ashes campaigns.
Images of Boon from his era have been frozen forever. From scratching the pitch with his bat to standing silently at the short leg like a Doberman waiting for any possible inside edge, Boon was a special figure in the team. He was struck several times by the Pakistani fast bowler Wasim Akram or the West Indian quicks, but Boon took pleasure by not showing his pain. There was not one instance when the Tasmanian had rubbed the sore spot because in pain. If the West Indians were intimidating, Boon was one step ahead in the mind games and of course, his moustache always came at the rescue in those macho games. Where Boon was, courage was. His willingness to bat at the top-order and fielding at the most dangerous position of short-leg, without any complaints, were enough testimonies to that.
Boon was indeed a ‘boon’ to Australia
In the course of time in the Australian team, Boon would become the long-lasting member, the ultimate team-man and underrated batsman.
In the Test arena, he was consistent in the literal sense. He averaged 43.60 in the first innings and 43.74 in the second and runs came whenever Australia needed a batsman to step up. His 15 of his 21 Test centuries were scored when the series result had yet to be decided. Boon became the second Australian cricket after Border to earn 100 Test caps. He was an underrated batsman, irrespective of the format, because of the flashier game of his contemporaries. When he made his comeback, following his brief dropping from the side, his game matched the requirements of limited-overs cricket too. His courage was defined by his fearless square cutting, driving and pulling negating the rhythm of the best of bowlers.
Boon’s calm and calculated 75 that clinched the 1987 World Cup for Australia actually explains who Boon is as a batsman. His average of 37.04 in ODIs might have been a little higher had he not honoured a pact according to which Boon play all the shots while his opening partner Geoff Marsh occupied the crease.
Following his retirement from international cricket, Boon led Durham in the English County Championship from 1997 to 1999, guiding the side to its best finish in the last of these three years. After retiring from cricket, Boon took up a position in marketing with the Tasmanian Cricket Association in Hobart and in 2000 replaced Geoff Marsh, his mate and former opening partner, as an Australia selector. Boon is now one of only 7 ICC Elite Officials.
Yes, David Boon indeed was a ‘boon’ to Australian cricket!