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Thursday, 12 May 1994
Page: 774

Senator ROBERT RAY (Minister for Defence) (4.06 p.m.) —I take great pleasure in supporting the motion today. I do not know where Allan Border will rank in the great batsmen I have seen—probably not in the best five or six, as a batsman—but his record as a captain in 93 successive test matches is not only impressive, but leads us to reflect on the circumstances in which he assumed the captaincy. Cricket holds a unique place in Australia. Ever since 1958-59, whenever I have been to test matches at the MCG—that is, the ones I can remember; I went before then, but cannot remember any of them—cricket has always been about to finish off. It is always about to disappear as a sport in this country; yet more people play cricket in this country than play football.

  Sure, people do not go to Sheffield Shield matches and they do not always turn up at test matches. But we only have to look at the statistics of how many people during a day—even during a Shield match, let alone a test match—ring up Telecom or the answering service to get a score to find out just how many people are interested in the game. In what national institution other than the great Senate would we be able to listen to the cricket through the sound system and pretend to be listening to question time in the House of Representatives? Where else in the world could that occur but here?

  Allan Border started his cricket at a time of a great schism, at a time when World Series Cricket basically divided the Australian cricket world. That was bad enough. But what followed afterwards, I thought, was very sad. Basically, the commentary teams of cricket around this nation were very much aligned with the group that went to World Series Cricket. So people like Allan Border, Kim Hughes, Graham Yallop and others, who actually did not, or were not able to, or were not required to go with that group, were always judged more harshly than anyone else. Australian cricket, from the period of 1980-81 through to 1984, went through some fairly terrible times, which caused Kim Hughes to volunteer the captaincy and to give it away.

  Allan Border was a reluctant captain at the time. That is a testament to him, because he was loyal to his captain. I think that we in politics understand the meaning of loyalty better than most other citizens. Allan took over the captaincy reluctantly. He then went through some fairly horrible times. I remember when we were defeated in New Zealand, by not the greatest test side in history, and the despair that Allan Border must have felt. It would have been very easy for him just to give it away. But he persisted. It all turned around in 1987, I think, when, as 20 to 1 outsiders, Australia won the World Cup. The interesting thing is that Australia was always hopeless at one-day cricket. It was not that we lacked the ability, but we lacked the thought processes of how to apply ourselves to the one-day game.

  Since 1987 we have won a lot more one-day games than we have lost. It was all through mental attitude, not through the cricketers who were available. It is very rare that Australia cannot strangle a side if it is batting second. Allan Border was the one who devised those tactics; Allan Border was the one who was able to persist over that period.

  My colleague John Faulkner has mentioned a matter that I want to mention, and that is, the regard for Allan Border on the subcontinent. If one reads Mike Coward's book on the tour in about 1987-88, one sees that he stressed it then, and Border has been back since then. The fact is that the best known Australian in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka is not one R.J. Hawke, it is Allan Border. He is the best known Australian on the subcontinent.

  There have been many times over the years when England has sent sides to the subcontinent, and how often have we seen the captain of the day be unavailable to tour? Not Allan Border. They are not always easy tours. They are arduous because of transport, et cetera, and different living conditions. Allan Border led side after side to the subcontinent with mixed success, and he has an enormous regard there as the person who was willing.

  I do not know how many people in the Senate chamber have read the most recent history of Australian cricket. It is quite extensive. It points time and time again to the Australian Board of Control during the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and 1970s failing in its duty to promote cricket in these countries. If it was not for the intervention of Sir Robert Gordon Menzies in the mid-1950s we may never have gone to the subcontinent. It was his influence that forced the Australian Cricket Board to tour there and to promote cricket. Allan Border has certainly greatly honoured that memory of Sir Robert Gordon Menzies in continuing that process.

  I have met Allan Border only once and that was at the Prime Minister's cricket match when I had to host the lunch. I told a story then about how someone had scored seven runs at Adelaide oval and I asked anyone at the table, including Richie Richardson, how that event could occur. Most people said, `Run two and hit the helmet, penalty, five runs.' But the circumstances were that someone turned the ball to the leg side, the wicket keeper took off, threw his glove over his head, they ran two, the fieldsman picked up the ball, pinged it back and the dope picked up the glove, grabbed the ball, and penalty, five runs—seven. Allan Border immediately told me who the cricketer was. He just snapped it straight out who the cricketer was that did it. So he had an enormous knowledge of Australian cricket.

  Senator Chapman referred to the fact that in his misguided youth Allan Border was a member of the Young Liberals; Senator Chapman then rather whimsically hoped that maybe now that he has retired from cricket he could enter politics. He indeed then at least would have an adversary, I would have to say, but I will not politicise it any further on that particular point.

  So it is quite appropriate today that we recognise 17 years of test cricket, 10 years as captain and 93-odd successive tests in a row as captain—as everyone has said, not just for the fact that he scored 11,000 runs, but for the fact that he went through the most arduous possible circumstances of captain, came through that period and then triumphed.