Bob Massie rocks England at Lord’s….
When Ray Illingworth was appointed as the captain of England for the tour to Australia in 1970-71, he knew history was against his team coming back triumphantly. Since Douglas Jardine had used Bodyline to bring back the urn in 1932-33, only Len Hutton in 1954-55 had led England to a series win down under and regained the Ashes.
But against all odds, Illingworth succeeded where five other captains, Gubby Allen, Walter Hammond, Freddie Brown, Ted Dexter and Mike Smith, had tried and failed. The urn belonged to the mother country for the first time in 15-years.
Then in the summer of 1972, the Aussies crossed the oceans to visit the British Isles under the leadership of Ian Chappell in a bid to reclaim what every Aussie believes is legitimately theirs.
Australia had not had any Test cricket in the summer of 1971-72 due to the cancellation of the South African tour and had instead played a series of matches against a touring Rest of the World XI. The Australians went one up by winning the second of the five-match series, but after that, the South African Pollock brothers joined the Rest’s side and they took the series by winning two of the remaining three matches.
In 1970-71, Australia’s real problem had been with her opening bowlers. This did not appear to have been solved. Six quicks had been tried of whom only one, Dennis Lillee, made the trip to England.
Lillee’s opening partner of choice was Bob Massie, a medium pace swing bowler. He was selected to play for Western Australia at the age of just 18 in 1965 but having failed to take any wickets on debut, was not played again for four years. Back in the stateside in 1969-70, Massie earned a call-up for Australia against the Rest of the World where his extraordinary ability to swing the ball either way without a discernible change of action got him just rewards. Massie picked up 7 for 76 in one match dismissing the likes of Garry Sobers, Sunil Gavaskar, Zaheer Abbas, and Graeme Pollock. It was on the back of this performance that the 23-year old found himself on the flight to England.
On the basis of the previous series and the lack of a proper series for the Aussies, before they sailed, England were the bookies’ favourites to retain the Ashes. But the hosts had their own problems. The side was an ageing one and the county game, newly enamoured of one day cricket, was not producing very much in the way of new talent. Illingworth himself was past 40, and eleven members of the side were still around from the previous Ashes series.
In the only two series since returning with the Ashes England had lost at home to India for the first time in 1971, and while Pakistan had been beaten earlier that summer, England’s display against them was far from convincing. So in reality, it was shaping up to be a series of evenly matched teams, youth against experience.
The Lord of all Debuts
The traditional tour opener at Worcester gave the Englishmen their first hint of what might be in store as Massie took 6-31 in the county’s second innings, including a spell of four wickets in the course of seven consecutive maidens. But then he picked up a side strain that ruled him out of the drawn first Test and this performance had largely faded from public memory by the time that Test ended.
On the 22nd of June 1972, when the Englishmen went out to bat after a rain delay on a cold early English summer’s day under an overcast sky, there was a little hint of what was to come. Australia had not won a Test in 12 attempts going into Lord’s. The last time they had beaten England was Old Trafford 1968.
From the first ball, Dennis Lillee was lethal with his pace, line and length. He forced the batsmen consistently on the back foot, but failed to make the breakthrough. That would come from debutante Massie at the other end, where the real action of the match was about to unfold.
Initially, Geoff Boycott and John Edrich appeared to have the measure of Lillee’s pace and Massie’s swing at 22-0. Massie got the first breakthrough by getting through Boycott’s defense getting him to play around and over an inswinger, no mean feat for a youngster playing his debut match against a man who guarded his wicket with his life. Lillee then bowled Brian Luckhurst with sheer pace, and immediately trapped John Edrich in front with an unplayable delivery swinging into him. England had slumped to 28-3.
After that, it was all, Massie. He bowled a few stock outswingers to Basil D’Oliviera, and then got a vicious inswinger to trap him LBW. Mike Smith tried to hit a full toss square of the wicket and was bowled.
Massie sent down almost 33 overs in two spells and finished with figures of 8 wickets for 84 runs, as England struggled to reach a respectable 272 in 91.5 overs. Dennis Lillee would say later about his partner’s bowling: “His bowling at Lord’s was as near perfection as I have ever seen.” Those lucky to be at the ground that day and anyone who has watched tapes of those two spells will attest to the astuteness of Lillee’s comment.
In reply, Australia struggled against John Snow, who was undoubtedly encouraged and inspired by the youngster’s performance. However, despite Snow bagging 5 victims for 57, Australia managed 308 in reply, largely thanks to Greg Chappell’s brilliant 131 and Ian Chappell and Rod Marsh chipping in with half centuries.
Facing a slender 36-run deficit England could be forgiven for thinking they had the measure of Massie. Between Tony Grieg with his never say die attitude and John Edrich’s grit, English supporters were sanguine the team would make a match of it. Unfortunately for them, Massie was far from done for the match.
As the Australians trooped out on to the field, Dennis Lillee turned to Massie, “Come on, mate. We got to knock off one of these openers before they pass us.” For good measure, as the senior partner, Lillee took the responsibility on his broad shoulders to fire the first salvo by bowling Geoff Boycott with the England score at 6. He then had Luckhurst caught behind to leave England tottering at 16 for 2.
Then Massie got into the act.
He would go on to bowl a single spell of 27.2 overs. He kept the batsmen guessing by changing his angle to bowling round the wicket and turning up his speed a few notches. He first got John Edrich edging an outswinger into Marsh’s waiting gloves. Basil D’Oliviera and Tony Grieg didn’t last long followed in quick succession by Alan Knott and Ray Illingworth. By the end of the day, England was 86-9 and the match was all but lost.
When England was bowled out for 116, Massie had taken 8 for 53 and his match figures were 16 for 137. In the history of Test cricket, only Jim Laker and Sydney Barnes had taken more and neither had come remotely close on debut.
It would be another 16-years before something as remarkable happened in Test cricket. In that instance, a young Indian legspinner Narendra Hirwani would spin a web around the mighty West Indies and return with an identical 16 wicket haul expending just one run less than Massie.
The Performance and the Career
When someone comes up with such an extraordinary effort on debut, it’s hardly surprising that they set a standard that is difficult to match up to thereafter. Hirwani was also an example of this malaise but he had a few other notable performances in the course of his 17-Test career.
But Massie’s case was truly special. He took another 5 wickets in the next Test and did little else thereafter. He played only 6 Tests in his career, taking 31 wickets with an excellent average of 20.87. His form dropped sharply, and 18 months later, he was dropped from his stateside, Western Australia. Having written his name in indelible ink in the annals of cricket history, Bob Massie went back to his banking career at Commonwealth Bank of Australia.
This gave rise to much unfortunate speculation about the legitimacy of his magnificent effort at Lord’s.
His captain and teammates had no doubt that this was a special once in a lifetime effort.
Ian Chappell said of the performance “The Englishmen had gone into near panic trying to work out how he swung the ball. “ Rod Marsh later wrote, “ I think he enjoyed bowling when it was cool, and that’s how it was at Lord’s. He gave a freak performance, probably something I’ll never see again. The ball really swung and Bob was the master of control and accuracy at all times.”
He had his fans among the vanquished as well. Tony Grieg, dismissed twice by Massie in that match concurred and wrote almost a decade later: “By taking sixteen wickets in the match and bending the ball fantastically, he convinced me that he is the finest exponent of medium-paced swing bowling I’ve ever faced.”
But not everyone was so kind. Alan Knott was to write “I remember that at the end of an over skipper Ian Chappell used to take the ball from slip, pass his fingers across his face and then wipe the ball, before handing it back to Massie as he was preparing to bowl.”
To fans reeling from the triple effects of Steve Smith’s Sandpapergate, the minty breath of Faf du Plessis and the helpful lozenge of Dinesh Chandimal over the past year or so, this will sound eerily familiar and understandably suspicious.
But the one thing that no one could ever have accused Ian Chappell of, was not playing the game in the right spirit. He may have been aggressive and uncompromising in his efforts to win, but like most greats of his generation, the line in the sand was clearly drawn as far as ethics was concerned. Firmly closing the issue was Tony Grieg, not normally a man to hold back his thoughts, who was unequivocal on the subject saying that the allegations were …”groundless and degrading….”
In 1973 Massie, along with Lillee, Stackpole and Greg Chappell were chosen as four of Wisden’s five cricketers of the year. There were prescient words in the piece about Massie “Success, in fact, has come very quickly for Bob Massie, and it would be unwise, apart from applauding, to pay too much attention to his one sensational performance in that Lord’s Test.”
So what did happen to Bob Massie? What can explain such a binary career?
Perhaps as Keith Stackpole wrote: “I have wondered since whether Massie’s spectacular performance at Lords proved to be his undoing. The Poms began to study him and change their methods, and, maybe because success had come so easily, he got a bit lax. Never one for working hard or watching his diet, he was to lose fitness and form the following year.”
Or maybe it was as Australian Cricketer turned journalist Ian Brayshaw surmised: “He suddenly lost form and simply could not recapture it. I thought at the time that he may have lost it because he became too obsessed with disguising his deliveries to the point of perfection and when it came to working in the nets to regain form, he had simply had too much cricket.”
Whatever be the reason, the fact is that as you walk into Lord’s today, almost five decades after that remarkable June day and look up at the Honours Board, there is only one name that appears with two eight-wicket hauls against it. It reads: Robert Arnold Lockyer Massie.
It could well have said:
“Here rest the laurels of Bob Massie – Banker, who made Lord’s his own for five glorious days and carved his place in cricket history forever.”