Neil Harvey The Last Invincible by Ashley Mallett

Neil Harvey The Last Invincible
by Ashley Mallett

Published by Hardie Grant Books,
An imprint of Hardie Grant Publishing
Wurundeji Country, Building 1,
658 Church Street, Richmond,
Victoria 3121 and 5th & 6th Floors,
52-54 Southwark Street, London SE1 1UN


Pages: 280


Neil Harvey is the last surviving Invincible from the 1948 tour of England by Australia, a tour in which the Australian team was unbeaten. He is not quite, though, the oldest living Australian cricketer which is held by Ken Archer who is 264 days older than the subject of this book.

A word first, though, on the author and the writer of the foreword, both of whom died recently and around the time of the book's publication.

Ashley Mallett's 132 Test wickets makes him his country's eighth-leading spinner, and he was a vital cog in the 1970s when Australia became such a force. It is well known that he was nicknamed Rowdy because of his quietness. I regret to say that this is the first book of his which I have read: although Rowdy is no longer with us, I will make it my business to read more of his earlier books as his style is generous, his research impeccable - I learnt much which had previously been unfamiliar to me and which I might have expected to have found earlier from my extensive cricket library - and his vocabulary engrossing. Or maybe it is just me being English and not familiar with what may be standard Australian sayings? The book is written with not a little humour.

Alan Davidson, who died just days after Mallett, was one of Australia's premier all-rounders over a ten-year period in the 1950s and 1960s and was one who helped make the first, famous Tied Test possible with an innings of 80 in the second innings. A fine, 44 in the first and eleven wickets in the match. A fine fast bowler, he took 186 wickets in 44 Tests. Both Davidson and Mallett will be missed.

The subject of the book, Robert Neil Harvey, remains one of Australia's legendary cricketers and his background, cricket career and life after cricket is covered within this fine book. Mallett's style is gracious and amusing, befitting one of the author's heroes, with tales of Harvey and his fellow cricketers - notably Sam Loxton - adorning many of the book's pages. Harvey also served a selector. He came from a cricketing family with his brother also representing Australia.

I mentioned before that many of the stories within the book were at times new to me and that pattern continued through the book. Sir Donald Bradman, Harvey's first Test captain, naturally features prominently as a cricketer and as a man, and much can be learned about him also. Various players, and other people, have given their views on Harvey and these snippets add to the subject. In short, every area covered in the book is at the very least interesting, even fascinating.

It is also fairly common knowledge that Bradman finished with a Test average of 99.94, failing to score the four runs required for a century average after being bowled for a duck in his last innings. What may not be as well known is that Bradman finished unbeaten on 173 in his penultimate Test as Australia chased 404 to win. Harvey hit his first and only ball in that innings for four to win the Test. Who knows what might have been? This is one such example of the book throwing up interesting nuggets.

It is a shame that Ashley Mallett is no longer with us and, for my part, better late than never, having very much enjoyed and learnt a great deal through Neil Harvey The Last Invincible, I shall now be embarking upon earlier books written by the former Australian off-spinner.

As for Harvey, he has gone past Bradman in terms of years and maybe he can reach the century which eluded the great Sir Donald.