Great left arm bowlers do not come along frequently, and this may be part of the reason why they are so successful. Variety is the spice of life, and likewise, a distinction between the types of bowlers in a team's attack is vital for success. This is where being left handed can be of great benefit. The natural angle across the right handed batsmen is an obvious advantage, but unless it is combined with swing, it can quickly become predictable and lose its edge. Alan Davidson may have been born left handed, but without an enormous amount of skill to go with it, he would never have developed into one of the finest all-rounders of all time, described by Richie Benaud, as "one of the best cricketers ever to play for Australia".
Alan Davidson was born on the 14th of June, 1929 on the Central Coast of NSW at a small town called Lisarow. Cricket was part of his life from an early age, being supported and encouraged by his family. Alan recounted stories of sitting at his grandfather's feet, listening to anecdotes and yarns about legends of the past such as Trumper and Duff. This was a great grounding for a young Alan, with his grandfather reinforcing the value of the basics of the game, especially a straight bat. Alan played all sports throughout his schooling years at the local school at Lisarow, but his love for cricket was obvious. He was selected to play for his school against the nearby Ourimbah School, bowling slow left arm leg spin. On the morning of the match, Alan awoke feeling very unwell. He didn't breathe a word of his illness, fearing it would rule him out of the game. Alan played on and took a number of wickets, before the emerging spots revealed the fact he had chicken pox and he ended up in bed.
Alan moved onto Gosford High School, however he was very slow to develop physically. At the age of sixteen, Alan was still only just over five foot tall. In the next year however, he shot up rapidly in height to just under six foot. He had continued to play all sports and represented Northern Schools in both cricket and sport. One of his greatest disappointments as a footballer came against a team from Hamilton Marist. Playing at fullback, Alan and his teammates all struggled to lay a hand on the opposition's five eight who continually ran past them to score tries. This was part of the reason that Alan decided to concentrate upon cricket. In later years, when Clive Churchill did the same to Great Britain, Alan recalled the experience in a better light.
Alan did everything in cricket left handed, but interestingly he writes and plays tennis right handed. Alan continued to bowl left arm spinners successfully enough to be picked for the Gosford representative first XI at age seventeen, however he then turned into a fast bowler largely by accident. His uncle Vern Clifton was one of the best batsmen in Gosford, and he often used Alan for special practice sessions. One day, just prior to an important game against Singleton, he asked Alan to bowl faster than normal. Alan let go with a ball that swung back very late into Vern, scattering his stumps in all directions. Vern just replaced the wicket and threw the ball back to Alan, but he took notice. The next day in the game against Singleton, Vern, who was captaining Gosford that day, tossed the ball to Alan, telling him he was to open the bowling. Alan took 4 for 39 and his new career was well underway.
In 1947, Alan took 37 wickets for Gosford in the John Bull Shield at the impressive average of 4.3. This form was pivotal in his selection for the Hunter Valley team that competed in the annual country carnival in Sydney. In the three games, Alan took 5 for 29, 5 for 45 and 2 for 54, however this was not good enough for him to be selected in the combined country team. Despite this disappointment, some good came from the experience, with an offer to trial with Northern Districts in the Sydney grade competition. Alan gratefully took this opportunity, travelling to Sydney by train for three successive weekend trial games, and he was subsequently picked in the Northern Districts First XI. Having finished school, Alan started working with the Commonwealth Bank, and was fortunate to gain a transfer to the Strathfield Branch, which limited the amount of travel he would have faced if he continued to commute from Gosford.
Initially, Alan relied predominantly upon his inswinger, however his captain Tim Caldwell worked with him to develop a straight ball that angled across the right handers. This development increased the danger of the inswinger greatly, and Alan started to gain the notice of the state selectors. Whilst his batting was not yet coming to the fore, Alan's bowling took Northern Districts through to the Sydney premiership. He took 40 wickets at an average of 14, and selection for NSW followed in the 1948/49 summer, replacing Keith Miller who was called up for the Australian tour of South Africa. Alan was still only twenty years old but took 4 for 32 in his debut game against South Australia, and after only two more first class games, he was chosen to tour New Zealand with the Australian Second XI.
This New Zealand tour features a number of career highlights, including a magnificent game against the province of Wairarapa, which sadly was not viewed as a first class game. Opening the bowling, Alan took 10 for 29 off only eight one balls in the innings, before scoring 157 not out in the Australia's response. There was one unofficial test against the national New Zealand team, which ended in a draw. Alan took 0 for 36 in New Zealand's first innings, but then ran through their top order the second time round with 4 for 24, which left the New Zealanders at a precarious 9 for 76 when time ran out.
This was to prove as close as Alan would get to representative honours for the next two years, as the Australian line-up was exceptionally difficult to break into. At that time, the NSW opening attack was composed of Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller, which meant that Alan's opportunities were limited even for his state. Whilst the lack of opportunities was undoubtedly frustrating, Alan did serve an excellent apprenticeship under the guidance of these great bowlers. On a few occasions he was able to take the lead, with figures of 7 for 49 against Queensland underlining his potential. Finally, in 1953 Alan's consistent performances resulted in his selection to tour England with the Australian team.
Under English conditions, Alan showed his value to the side by not only swinging the ball, but also moving it off the pitch. He was duly selected in the side for the first test, as part of a bowling attack that included Lindwall, Miller, Richie Benaud and Bill Johnston. He took 2 for 22 and 0 for 7 as the game ended in a draw. Alan's performances were viewed favourably by the tour selectors, and he kept his place in the team for the remainder of the series. He finished the series with 8 wickets at an average of 26.50, and scored 182 runs at an average of 22.75. Whilst Alan's bowling had been fair, if underutilized behind Lindwall, Miller and Johnson, his highest score of 76 underlined his all-round potential, and his fielding was rated as exceptional. The 27 catches he took on tour was the best of any non-wicketkeeper, and he was also involved in a number of run-outs.
Over the next four series against England at home in 1954/55, back in England in 1956, and in Pakistan and India in 1956/57, Alan struggled to recapture his first class form. He only took a total of 8 wickets in these four series, admittedly at a minimal cost, however he gained valuable experience behind the frontline pace duo of Lindwall and Miller. His groundbreaking tour occurred in 1957/58 under the young twenty one year old captain Ian Craig. Without either Lindwall or Miller for the first time, Alan was given the responsibility to carry the Australian attack along with leg spinner Richie Benaud. Alan had a fantastic series, getting the choice of ends and using the new ball effectively. He responded to this by taking 25 wickets at the impressive average of 17.00, with a best bowling performance of 6 for 34. Leading South African batsman Roy Mclean in particular struggled, failing to pick the difference between the inswinger and the ball angled across him. In one match he left a ball from Alan that he thought would move across him, but it swung back so much that it hit leg stump. Alan's performances were recognized by the South African public with him being named as one of the five players of the year there. Alan reported afterwards that this was the series in which he first became a matured test cricketer, and the faith that the Australian selectors had shown in him was now starting to be repaid.
Alan was now the considered to be the key bowler in Australia's attack, and he met that challenge successfully over the next seven series. Australia recaptured the Ashes at home against England in 1958/59 with a comprehensive 4 to nil victory under Benaud's captaincy. Alan was again the team's best bowler, taking 24 wickets at an average of 19.00, and also showed his batting prowess, scoring 180 runs at an average of 36.00. The highlight of the series was Alan's three wickets in an over in the second test. England had moved to seven without loss, before Alan got the opener Richardson caught behind, clean bowled the no. 3 batsman Watson with a late swinging yorker two balls later, and then knocked over Graveney lbw with another inswinger. 0 for 7 had rapidly become 3 for 7, Alan finished with 6 for 64 and Australia were on their way.
Alan toured Pakistan and India in 1959/60, and continued his fine form in these different conditions. In the eight test matches, composed of three against Pakistan and five against India, Alan led the Australian bowlers again by taking 41 wickets. He bowled better in India, taking 29 wickets at an average of 14.86, including his best match figures of 12 for 124 at Kanpur in the second test. Alan took 5 for 31 in the first innings, and followed it up with his test best 7 for 93. His batting continued to improve, averaging a healthy 45.00 against Pakistan.
The 1960/61 series between Australia and the West Indies is still recognized as one of the finest of all time. As Alan commented in his autobiography, Fifteen Paces, "Not even the highly imaginative editor of Boy's Own Cricket Annual would have dared to take such liberties with fiction". The first game produced test cricket's first ever tie, in a game whose momentum swung back and forth constantly. In this test played at the Gabba, Alan became the first player to ever to take 10 wickets in the match and also score 100 runs. Alan's bowling had taken 11 for 222, including a magnificent 6 for 53. Chasing 232 runs for victory in the final innings, Davidson and Benaud came together at a very precarious 6 for 92. They decided that attack was the best policy, and Alan produced his best test innings by scoring a rapid 80, before being run out with only seven runs for victory. The game eventually finished in an amazing tie, with Australia's last four wickets falling for only six runs including two spectacular run outs. Alan's performances in the entire series was exceptional, taking 33 wickets at an average of 18.54 in the five tests, and scored 212 runs at an average of 30.28. Australia eventually won the series 2 to 1, but if the West Indies had some luck, it easily could have been reversed.
Alan toured England for the third time in 1961. He took 23 wickets at an average of 24.86 and scored 151 runs at 30.20. Just prior to the Lords test, Alan injured his back and told his captain Benaud that he couldn't play. Benaud replied that Alan had to play, as Benaud himself was already out. Reluctantly Alan agreed to play, and overcame his back injury by taking 5 for 42 in the first innings. He did however feel that this effort cost him greatly and he did not bowl near this level again in the series. He did have one further highlight for the series however, scoring a rapid 77 not out in the fourth test at Manchester. On a wearing pitch in their second innings, only one hundred and fifty four runs in front, Alan decided to attack once the no. 11 Graham McKenzie came to the wicket. He proceeded to smash 20 runs off the next over from the English off-spinner David Allen, and the two players added a valuable 98 for the last wicket. England needed 256 runs to win, but Benaud's leg spin took Australia through to a famous win after England were cruising towards victory. Fittingly, Alan took the last wicket, bowling Brian Statham to secure the Ashes. He was fittingly named as one of Wisden's Five Cricketers of the Year.
Alan was now thirty three years old, and coming to the end of his career. He was still working for the Commonwealth Bank, and with a wife and children, it was difficult to make ends meet. As with almost all Australian cricketers of his day, Alan did not make money from the game and relied upon the sympathy of his employer in gaining leave for tours. He decided to retire at the end of the 1962/63 Ashes series at home. Alan showed that he was retiring at the top of his game, taking 24 wickets in the series at an average of 20.00. He added 158 runs to this, at 22.57. This series saw the end of four Australian stalwarts, with Alan calling it quits at the same time as Neil Harvey, Richie Benaud and Ken Mackay.
Alan was rated by his peers as the greatest left handed bowler of all time. Since then, Wasim Akram has laid a claim for this title also, however it is a measure of their respective skills that Richie Benaud compares the two favourably. No less a judge than Garry Sobers, who played against Alan in the famous 1960/61 series, rated Alan as the best fast bowler in the world for the final five or six years of his career. Whilst his bowling skills are well remembered, his batting was also far better than average. Sobers viewed Keith Miller and Alan as the two best all-rounders he played against.
Following his retirement from the game, Alan served for many years in Administration for NSW cricket, and is still the President of the NSW Cricket Association. He was named as one of NSW Cricketer's of the Century, and continues to live in Sydney.
Alan played 44 test matches, scoring 1328 runs at an average of 24.59, and snared 42 catches. He took 186 wickets at an average of 20.53, with best bowling figures of 7-93.
First Class Games
In a total of 193 first class games, Alan scored 6804 runs at an average 32.86 with a highest score of 129. He took 672 wickets at an average of 20.90, with best bowling figures of 7-31.