Graham Yallop: ‘I did as best as I possibly could’

The third paragraph of Graham Yallop’s book Lambs to the Slaughter reads simply, “I was sacked.”

That was 37 years ago now; it was a time of unparalleled uncertainty in Australian cricket. Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket, which had started the season before, finally gained some traction during the 1978-79 summer – everything conspired in the media mogul’s favour.

Not only did Packer have the players (Lillee, Chappell, Marsh, McCosker, Wessels, Walters, Walker, countless others) but he had the marketing, and the money.

The first run for WSC, 1977-78, had been countered effectively by the official Australian board – they protected the major grounds, kept the media pretty, and ran a slick promotional campaign (albeit one that, looking back, had very dubious undertones). But the following season, Packer took charge. Securing access to the Sydney Cricket Ground led to a run-on of success, and day-night cricket cemented it.

Then came contrast: World Series Cricket offered a game under lights at the SCG just days before the first Ashes Test at the Gabba. The former had a massive crowd, novelty, and great cricket; Australia Official offered up a one-sided thumping, out-played and out-thought by Mike Brearley’s Englishmen. It was tough, as Yallop well remembers.

“When you’re looking at five-day cricket, you’ve got to play well every day. I felt that we played well for parts of every day, but we couldn’t put it all together for the full five days, and that was the [lack of] experience. We just didn’t have that experience to pull us through.”

Looking backwards, it’s still remarkable that Yallop was appointed captain. Bob Simpson had made himself unavailable, but with experienced heads like John Inverarity floating around Shield cricket it still seemed as though someone with a strong leadership background would be picked.

“I was hoping to just make the team,” Yallop recalls now, “that was the thing I wanted to do.”

“They gave me no prior indication that I was in line for it, so yeah, it was a great shock, that’s for sure. And they overlooked these guys, the most experienced Shield players around the states. So I don’t know what their thinking was, and they haven’t told me to this day what their thinking was.”

Today, Australia is in some form of quasi-cricketing mourning. Rod Marsh is gone, Pat Howard and Darren Lehmann are feeling the pressure, and the third Test against South Africa has seen Nic Maddinson (probably the most erratic batsman in the entire country) make his Test debut. Nathan Lyon went nearly 100 overs without a wicket, while every batsman seems to be in a form slump, and 85 all-out seemed to only perpetuate recent collapses in Sri Lanka, England and even brought back the ghosts of 47. Matthew Wade, whose Test career to date is either a Mr Men book or sitcom (Mr Dropsy!) is replacing the tidiest gloveman in the country bar none, because Wade might score 30.

It’s an implosion, both on and off the field, yet it pales in comparison to those dog days of the late ‘70s. Packer was winning the war, and England were romping home in what amounted to a side-note conflict. The end score of 5-1 wasn’t so much a thrashing as annihilation.

“We were so short of quality players at the top level,” remembers Yallop. “We were introducing players who had hardly played at [First Class] level, so it was a really tough, tough grind to beat the well-established English side. They were pretty hardened, they’d played together for quite a while, and it was always going to be a tough gig.”

Australia probably weren’t as bad as the scoreline suggested – at one stage they went close to levelling the series at two-all, and had serious chances in virtually every game – but the end result was clear. England flew home with the urn in hand.

For an Australian side to lose so comprehensively is rare; in an Ashes series, it’s virtually unheard of. Add to that the fact that it was at home. Yet rather than reaching for excuses or scrambling for reasons, their captain – an Australian captain – is inclined to suggest that “We did probably as good as we could possibly do.”

That might sum it up better than anything else.

***

Yallop’s career has become probably unfairly defined by his team’s failings during his stint as national captain. It was the combination of a third-string XI and an underprepared and inexperienced skipper: a mix doomed to failure.

Both the man and his career are much more than just Peter Toohey’s struggle for runs, or Rodney Hogg’s tempestuous attitude. Yallop remains one of Australia’s most underrated batsmen; a career average of 41, which rose to 44 during the 1980s, and was a remarkable 73 over his last seven Tests.

Underrated not just now, but at the time too. As Christian Ryan wrote a decade-and-a-bit ago, “Yallop drifted in and out of the team with the breeze, usually to plug a middle-order gap when Greg Chappell didn’t fancy touring.”

But Yallop himself doesn’t feel resentful about those vagaries of selection: “I had to just go out there and make as many runs as I possibly could, [and] I left the selection part of it to the powers that be.” It did seem as though nothing in Yallop’s career was ever easy.

None of that was foreshadowed as a young lad learning his cricket through the 1950s and ‘60s, though. His was an interest in cricket from the early days – and on the question of what originally got him into the sport, Yallop has a laugh.

“You’ve got to go back to primary school,” Yallop considers – and then pauses. “That’s a long time ago.”

Although he enjoyed a number of sports – especially Aussie Rules – it was cricket that took Yallop furthest. As much as he enjoyed his footy, “I didn’t think I had the technique to actually make it to the top, or the physical toughness.”

He did become an Aussie Rules umpire though, which stood him in good stead for cricket fitness – even if the crowd calls of “stick to cricket, you mug” were less than enviable. (“That was always good,” Yallop comments dryly.)

Coming through the Victorian structures of the day, particularly the Dowling Shield (the under-16 incarnation of grade cricket), and into the Australian schoolboys’ side, Yallop considers it was a good platform:

“I thought the structure was pretty good, I thought it was excellent. When we were playing under-16 cricket in Victoria, you’re playing against the best under-16 players in the state. So that prepared you for your future in Premier Cricket, I thought that was a very good grounding. But they’re playing so many other types of representative cricket these days, whether you’re under-14, under-15, under-13, and you think – where does it all end?”

Yallop did have one slight advantage – his coach was Frank Tyson, who had become a Ten Pound Pom after retirement. “He helped me enormously with bowling and batting,” Yallop says. “So in those days, I was more a bowler than a batsman, and he turned me around. He worked with me for quite a few years to get me up to speed with my batting.”

“He was a great man,” is Yallop’s assessment. “He was very strict, but he was very knowledgeable.”

And if there’s anyone who could tell a young lad that his medium pacers weren’t going far, it’s definitely Frank Tyson.

Once he got into grade cricket for Richmond, Yallop took two years to get into the Victorian state side. But once there, his initial appearances were irregular – selections were erratic enough that he played just three games in his first season (1972-73), and zero the following summer.

Yallop himself, though, doesn’t look back on it with any great disappointment:

“A lot of the time I was 12th man, so that’s in the team but it’s not in the team. Yes and no, you’re disappointed, but I knew I was young. Twenty years of age, you’re still learning the game. […] You’ve just got to get up there through results, and the results came, so eventually I got there.”

Once those results came, they came fast: he averaged a shade under 40 in 1974-75, making his first hundred, and got off to a good start the following summer. By the New Year’s Test of 1976, just 14 months after his Victorian recall, he was in the XI for the fourth Test against the West Indies.

“I admired him, I thought he was a magnificent cricketer. He made us strugglers jealous of just how much ability he had,” Les Stillman, one of his Victorian teammates, recalls now.

But despite that ability, it was still a surprise to Yallop that he found himself in the national side: “I was delighted, but I was surprised. I think I was just there at the right time – you have to have that sort of luck every now and again. Players that make it to the top have had that sort of luck in their build-up to getting to the top level.”

There’s been much written about whether senior leadership should’ve been more supportive of Yallop on Test debut – he was replacing a batsman well regarded by most of the team, and was made to bat at number three. A difficult position for a debutant, let alone against the mid-1970s West Indies.

Looking back, though, Yallop is very pragmatic.

“They were a very settled team, and I felt that when any new player came into that environment that it was going to take a little while to get accepted. It didn’t matter, really, who it was. I had some good friends who were in the Test team, so I didn’t have a problem with that at all. I just worked through it, I thought ‘I’ll just keep scoring runs’.”

And score runs he did – despite making twin sixteens on debut (one not-out), he went on to make 47, 43 and 57 to finish the series. It left him with 179 runs at 44.8 for the series.

A solid series against a bowling attack of Michael Holding, Andy Roberts, Vanburn Holder and Lance Gibbs? Check. A great effort in amongst the difficulties of the politicking and personality clashes of the time? Again, check.

Yet he spent the next two years out of the Test side.

Although no one communicated the reasons for his dropping, “I just felt that I had to keep making runs.” And as a Victorian, it was more difficult to secure the home summer berth with a strong start to the Shield summer – weather, leading to little grade cricket through October, left the side less prepared than, say, Queensland, for the beginning of the summer.

“It was the real lack of preparation, there wasn’t the indoor cricket centres that are available now, we had to rely on outdoor training – and good luck.”

He went on a great run after being dropped, averaging 47 and 56 over the next two home summers. Part of that was having had the experience of the international stage; part of it was Yallop wanting to force his way back up.

“Looking back on it, you’re disappointed – but there was no other place to go, you had to wait your turn, and put as many runs on the board as you could. […] I forced my way back in on weight of runs.”

Perhaps the most surprising element wasn’t being dropped – Australia had great depth at the time – but taking so long to get the recall. He had Test experience, was making runs everywhere, and Australia were being decimated by World Series Cricket defections.

Yet it took until the fifth Test against India to get another chance, eventually slotting in at number three, and making 121 (including a century partnership with Bob Simpson). A maiden Test ton – a fair way to stamp your place in the Test team.

“I would’ve liked to have played earlier on in that tour against India, but again I made more runs towards Christmas rather than the start of the year, so consequently I didn’t get selected. And therefore, you have to wait your turn.”

That ton got him on the tour of the West Indies; where he played the first two Tests, making 81 at Port of Spain, and 47 at Bridgetown. In the second Test, he’d been the first man to don a helmet in Test cricket (although Dennis Amiss was already doing so in WSC), and had copped more than his fair share of flak.

He’d started the series well – but then, in a tour match against Guyana, Colin Croft broke Yallop’s jaw with a brutal bouncer (just to rub salt in the wound, Yallop was playing well enough to be on 118). Any doubts he might’ve had about using a helmet disappeared.

“After a broken jaw courtesy of Colin Croft, I thought, ‘mmm, maybe I should try these helmets’.”

Although he missed the third Test, he came back with a couple of fifties in the last two matches – giving him 317 runs at 45 for the Tests, and 660 at 55 for the tour. He was proving an invaluable member of the depleted Australian middle order.

It seemed like the next time he took the field under a Baggy Green, Yallop would be pushing towards making himself a first-choice selection – instead, having just turned 26 and with eight Tests behind him, he was national captain. Despite that surprise, as Yallop himself says – “Put it this way, you never knock the Australian captaincy back, do you?”

Then came an infamous press conference – Yallop’s claims on an impending six-nil victory were splashed across front pages.

“That was a throwaway line, again beat up by the media. That was just a quip to one of the journos as I was walking out the door, basically.”

“Bad mistake,” is how Yallop sums it up, with a laugh.

Flippant quote aside, with the bat Yallop did well – after a first innings collapse, Australia needed a serious recovery in their second dig. His 102, scored with Kim Hughes making a hundred at the other end, made him just the eighth Australian to score a century on captaincy debut (since joined by Steve Smith).

“I made a point of batting as long as I possibly could, I felt that I was one of the senior players that had to step up.”

It still wasn’t enough to save the Test; and the second match at Perth was, if anything, worse. In the third Test at Melbourne, things improved – Graeme Wood, Kim Hughes and Yallop himself made runs, with Rodney Hogg and Geoff Dymock chiming in with wickets. Australia pulled one back.

That progress was wasted at Sydney, where Australia failed to convert a good first innings lead. It was a failure mainly thanks to Derek Randall batting for what seemed to be eons – “having been plumb LBW second ball” John Maclean recalls.

From there, England didn’t look back. Australia had their chances at Adelaide, but were wiped out in the second Sydney Test – despite Yallop’s remarkable 121, made in a team total of 198. It was 5-1, and Yallop copped it.

“I found Graham Yallop very easy to get along with,” comments Maclean, who was appointed Yallop’s vice-captain in the third and fourth Tests. “If it it’d been two-all after Sydney, and the side had gone on, Yallop might be viewed quite differently.”

Kim Hughes, the man who ended up replacing Yallop as skipper, has even greater praise for him: “I felt that Graham Yallop was a much-maligned cricketer, in that he was an outstanding player. Outstanding player.”

Does Hughes feel that much of the criticism Yallop’s copped for his captaincy was down to just how depleted Australia were? “Oh, god yeah. Winning hides all sins. We’d lost all our senior players, the whole lot. […] We were just – well, ‘Lambs to the Slaughter’ or whatever it is.”

“When I say it was the blind leading the blind, we were all young blokes – if we’d had a full strength side, maybe only two or three of us would’ve been in there.”

***

The end of the 1978-79 Ashes saw Pakistan tour; and Pakistan touring brings us back to the start – “I was sacked.”

It was Hughes that replaced him, and while that could’ve caused divisions with many others teams and players, Hughes said their relationship was still excellent: “Graham’s a bloke you can trust.”

For his part, Yallop says that losing the captaincy was something he was “not unhappy” about – it gave him a chance to work on his batting, and took a bit of the stress off his shoulders.

“I was happy that I’d done it, and had the experience of captaining at the top level. But I was not unhappy about not doing it.”

He remained a senior figure – during the World Cup tour that followed that home summer, he was third selector (alongside Hughes and vice-captain Andrew Hilditch). It was a pretty torrid affair; heavy losses to England and then Pakistan, mitigated only by beating Canada, saw Australia out in the first round.

Things didn’t get much better at Yallop’s second World Cup in 1983, when the first-match loss to Zimbabwe precipitated another early exit; although, in their win against eventual cup-winners India, Yallop made a not-out 66 – his highest ODI score.

And despite those days being well before the pomp, ceremony and overhyped self-congratulation of today’s World Cup events, they were still an exciting edition to the cricketing calendar: “We really enjoyed the World Cups. We didn’t perform particularly well, but again it’s a great experience, playing against the best players in the world.”

So while there were a few flashes of ability in 1983, it was far less so in ’79 – not only did Australia lose two-in-three, but Yallop made scores of 10, 37 and 13 not-out.

But perhaps more importantly, after the World Cup came a tour of India – with it known amongst the side that it would be the last series before reunification with the WSC players, it was make or break.

Yallop generally batted five in the first four Tests – and although he made starts (only once being dismissed for single figures) he didn’t quite kick on, something Wisden termed as “partly because, more than once, he was dismissed in unfortunate ways.”

Eventually, with Andrew Hilditch (who made three fifties in the first four Tests) struggling to find a consistent opening partner, Yallop was called to the top of the order.

“It didn’t really matter, because batting at three, being an opener was just the next level, I suppose. It’s just the next stage. So I didn’t have a problem, we were a little bit short of an opener – one of our openers wasn’t doing particularly well – so I was asked to do the opening job and I thought, ‘yeah, why not? Give it a go’. And luckily it worked.”

He responded magnificently, with 167 – made in nearly nine hours – in the first dig of the fifth Test. He coupled it with 60 in the sixth and final Test.

It took his series tally from 142 runs at 28.4 in the first four Tests to a much more comfortable 423 at 38.5 – suddenly he looked much the batsman he could be. He chose his runs well, too. To again reference Wisden, “Yallop was at his best when batting conditions were most difficult”.

And yet, for the home summer, he lost his place – Australia’s loyal servant throughout some of the most difficult years in the country’s cricketing history was shafted. He’d been shafted after his debut series; shafted when given the captaincy; shafted when it was stripped off him; shuffled around the order whenever needed – and then, to cap it all off, dropped.

In the space of 12 months, Yallop went from being Australian captain to back in Shield cricket. It was a big drop.

In fairness to the selectors, they had a hell of a lot of batting to choose from – from three to six, there were the Packer returnees (two Chappells and David Hookes) joining Kim Hughes, Allan Border and Peter Toohey as those selected. It would’ve required at least three of them to be dropped for Yallop to get an entrance.

At the top, it was Bruce Laird and Rick McCosker given the job – and with specialist opener Julien Wiener the other man trialled, there was simply no road open for Yallop.

But with McCosker failing to rediscover old form, and Wiener struggling to make the slot his own, Yallop got a reprieve on the late-season tour to Pakistan – perhaps helped by the leadership he was showing with Victoria, who won the Shield that 1979-80 season (making it two titles in two summers under Yallop’s captaincy).

Opening in the first Test, he made few runs – but then got shuffled around the order (again) and made a giant 172 at five, putting on 217 with Greg Chappell.

“I always tried to make the bowler pay, because there’s a lot of times when you make low scores. So I was always inclined to make bigger scores, once I got to a hundred I’d put my head down again and try to continue on.”

It made a change from earlier in both his Shield and Test careers, where Yallop had a tendency to get fifties without converting them into larger scores: “That was a learning curve, I felt that the fifties should’ve been turned into eighties, and hundreds, and hundred-and-twenties. You learn that as you go, but we did, and we went on from there.”

Although it was enough to keep Yallop in the side for the 1980 Cententary Test in England, he again was dropped for the southern summer. He returned on the 1981 Ashes tour, making starts but generally not pushing on – outside of one brutal century at Old Trafford.

That series was Willis and Botham, Botham and Willis – and Hughes as captain tried his best to fight them off himself. In the fourth Test at Edgbaston, Hughes decided to farm the strike from Yallop. It was an event well blown up and dissected by the media both then and more recently, but both Yallop and Hughes himself recall it much more tamely.

Yallop recalls a typically aggressive Hughes wanting to stamp a mark of sorts:

“I was flabbergasted, because he was trying to take them on. So he wanted to get the strike. […] So I was just at the other end going, ‘yeah okay, you take them on, I’ll just work the ball around’ and that’s what he tried to do. In the end, it just didn’t work for him.”

Hughes recalls it slightly differently – although both definitely make it sound less like the dramatic scenes that it was painted as.

“Willis was really steaming in, and Graham looked uncomfortable, I was – when I say comfortable, I was more comfortable than what Graham was at that particular stage. We were both on not many, and I thought ‘well, I’m quite happy to stay this end, and if we can get through, then we’ll be right’. Mike Brearley then put everybody out except for slips and the gully, and I then decided bugger you, I’m just going to take it. If we get through three or four overs of Willis, we can get through and hopefully win the game. While it was unique batsmanship as far as farming the strike, if you like, it was also unique fielding settings – so I acted according to what the field settings were, and I thought bugger it, I’m quite happy to take the strike. […] It wasn’t a matter of questioning Graham’s courage or anything like that. […] I batted according to those fields, I thought ‘I’m not going to take the single, I’ll just stay at this end’ because I could see that my mate at the other end was struggling more than me.”

At the suggestion that it was another one of those incidences very different out in the middle to how it was portrayed by the media the next morning, Hughes laughs: “Absolutely, that’s right. And if we’d won the game it would’ve been a stroke of genius, no one would’ve worried about it, but because we lost it looked a bit average.”

That Old Trafford century was one that came off the back of much talk about Yallop’s alleged discomfort against pace bowling – talk that had been magnified by the Birmingham incident. It was talk that Yallop didn’t take much notice of:

“If you’re batting at the top of the order, you’re going to get short-pitched deliveries and all sorts of deliveries that are pretty quick. I disregarded that, that was just rubbish. And then I made that 100-odd, and to this day it’s still the fastest 50 in Ashes history. That’s still a record there. I was not unhappy with the tour itself, just that we didn’t win.”

It’s quite remarkable that the 35-ball fifty record still stands (although equalled recently by David Warner) given the hitting power of those like Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden who followed.

Although he played one Test later that year, making two starts against Pakistan, he ended up with another stint in the wilderness. In 1982-83, his point was made quite dramatically, breaking Bill Ponsford’s half-century old record for runs in a Shield season, making 1254 runs at an average of 70.

That wasn’t broken for more than 20 years – and only by four men total, three of whom played 11 games to Yallop’s ten.

“Everything went right, yep.”

And as Victorian captain, he was a little more settled. Older, more experienced, and not facing the trial-by-media of leading Australia: “I was pretty happy about the whole scenario – but still wasn’t playing in the Test team.”

He did get a recall on the back of that series, though, making 98 on return against Sri Lanka. Then he went big against Pakistan during the 1983-84 season. A big century – 141 – at Perth was good enough, only to be followed by 268 at the MCG. At the time, only Don Bradman, Bob Simpson and Bob Cowper had gone bigger. It was nothing short of one hell of a knock.

His runs were made in a few minutes short of 12 hours, with only Kim Hughes and Greg Matthews showing any great support, and put Australia well in front after Pakistan’s 470.

Yallop, who these days runs a coaching centre, has at least one point to prove himself in the eyes of his junior charges: “I’ve got some tapes on that one that I still show all the boys here.”

“[I’ve got] fond memories of all those days, because we really dominated that series against Pakistan. They had some pretty good players in Imran Khan, [Abdul] Qadir and a few others. We played really above ourselves, batted well, bowled well, and dominated the series.”

This was when Yallop was at his best, he feels: “I don’t think you come of age as a batsman until your late 20s, early 30s. Some are later, some earlier, but the majority of batsmen really come of age in their late 20s, I would’ve thought.”

Although he was picked on the subsequent tour to the West Indies, he ended up ruled out through injury; and when he came back, he got just one Test. One Test after making 268, Graham Yallop was dropped. He’d never play another Test.

“We came to the next season, I didn’t make runs early on, and then they didn’t pick me. So I’m going, ‘okay, got to start making some runs again’.”

Intriguingly, Yallop was also an intermittent one-day selection – despite the fact that, after a slow start to his ODI career, he ended up making 668 runs at 56 in that format once he broke the shackles with 52 not-out against England in 1980.

In the end, he went on tour to South Africa – he was one of those horrendous ‘rebels’ that have been vilified and sensationalised ever since. For Yallop, it effectively ended any chance of re-establishing his international career – yet with a Test cap far from certain anyway, it wasn’t a hard call, especially with good money on offer.

“In those days, I was never assured of a game at the top level. Never assured. And I had a chat to one of the selectors, who shall remain nameless, and he said, ‘well, you may or may not get a guernsey’. So I’m going, ‘mmm, decision easy’.

“So I joined the South Africans, like a lot of others did. That’s how it really turned my attention to it, when they said ‘well, we can’t guarantee you a spot’. […] If you’re not playing at the top level, you’re not making a lot of money playing Shield cricket. When I first started it was $25 a game, ridiculous pay, so that decision was easy to make.”

As for the supposed moral issues, Yallop says they perhaps never quite understood what it was like in Springbok country.

“At the time, we felt that everyone was trading with South Africa, there was no problem, so why should we have a problem about going? But in hindsight, we didn’t get enough information about the situation in South Africa. There was not that quite clear indication of what it was like, but we found out when we went there.”

He still agrees, though, that sport and politics shouldn’t meet: “Politics should enhance sport, not the other way around.” That was particularly the case when Bob Hawke, then Prime Minister, referred to the ‘rebel tourers’ as traitors – “That was a goody,” Yallop remembers. “We laughed at that one.”

“Once we were over there, we did a lot of coaching with locals and kids over there. That was never reported, which was disappointing. I felt that was not reported at all, and yet we went out of our way to do a lot of coaching around the country with junior cricketers. We went into black townships, we met the locals and trained a lot of the locals up. And that was not reported which, again, that was disappointing.”

On the cricket front – which was, after all, the whole reason they went – it was “very tough cricket over there.”

“Very hard. Very tough. But it was enjoyable, it was a good couple of tours.”

In the first season, Yallop had a ‘mare – not helped by injuries, including having to seriously consider playing through injury when Ali Bacher made it clear he wanted Yallop in the XI. But many of the Australians went badly; it was a virtually unknown upstart in Mick Taylor who carried the brunt of run-scoring. Interestingly, Taylor went on tour courtesy of Yallop’s influence (they were clubmates), only played the ‘Tests’ courtesy of Yallop’s injury, and had only originally got a gig in state cricket when Yallop was on international duty; they were somewhat interconnected careers.

Thankfully, the tour was a two-season affair, and Yallop made amends in 1986-87 – he averaged 61 in First Class matches, and put a couple of good starts on the board in the unofficial ‘Test’.

“The wickets were different, and none of us really performed that well. Year one was a learning curve, and then we were okay after that.”

So the Australians returned home, and “they decided to ban us. Actually, I think I’m still banned, so unfortunately I can’t make a comeback. They did say banned for life, and they held to that. Even though I’m a Life Member of Cricket Victoria, they still ban me from playing. I think that’s quite funny.”

Many other players went elsewhere – Mick Taylor to Tasmania, Rod McCurdy and Mike Haysman back to South Africa – and although “I was asked to” consider shifting himself, Yallop decided to call it a day instead. “I had a young family, I really couldn’t move them to be honest. So I didn’t pursue that at all.”

Although he played club cricket afterward, he moved into coaching. His First Class career ended aged 34 – at a time when, undoubtedly, he had good years left in him.

But the transition to coaching allowed him to keep involved with the game, which Yallop “always wanted to, and still do to this day.”

“I was always interested in coaching, right from day one I felt I was able to communicate technique to younger players. It was only natural for me to venture into this profession.”

That involvement has spanned several clubs, countless age-groups, and even multiple countries.

At grade level, as well as captaincy and coaching roles, he’s been involved at the administrative level – especially with South Melbourne, now Casey-South Melbourne, where he was key in their shift out of the city. “That was a defining moment for Premier Cricket, because it was really the first time the inner-city clubs went out to the suburbs.”

He’s also run coaching centres, private coaching, clinics and everything in-between. And that’s even involved coaching in Indonesia – his time, efforts and funding have been so well regarded that the only turf ground in the country is the Graham Yallop Oval.

His philosophies as a coach are of note – he enjoys coaching younger players because “that’s where you’re going to get the best results from, it’s almost too late to get to them when they’re playing Premier Cricket,” and on the subject of over-coaching players to the point of feeling disillusioned with their own game, “If you can’t understand that as a coach, you shouldn’t be coaching. You don’t want to stop the natural flair of any player, you enhance it.”

These days Yallop runs the Victorian Cricket School, an excellent facility: ever the host, Yallop gave me the full guided tour and made coffees before we sat down to talk. Which played into much of what Yallop’s career has been about: the idea of him being ‘too nice’ might’ve been a criticism of his captaincy, but it’s a great compliment to Yallop the man. And it’s one few dispute.

***

When asked to sum up his career – a broad question, given it covers the Packer years, the harshness of being given the captaincy of a very weak Australia, erratic selections and those damned ‘rebel tours’ – Yallop is both pragmatic and, it seems, pleased with what he did achieve.

“I did as best as I possibly could, given the circumstances at the time. I think I performed well with the bat, and got a good record, so I’m very proud of that record. It was a tumultuous time in the cricket world, in the ’70s, early ’80s and mid ’80s as well. It was tough going, but there was no alternative, we had to keep going.”

Lasting judgements are always made by others, though, and perhaps the best comes from Kim Hughes: two men who faced many of the same challenges, always seemed to run with or against each other, and were both were not afraid to speak their mind.

Hughes points out that even if Yallop could struggle a little more than most against the West Indies, or against pace, “we all struggled against the West Indies”. (It’s worth pointing out that Yallop averaged 38 against the West Indies, only bettered by Greg Chappell, Allan Border, Bruce Laird and Kepler Wessels during that era – and the bowler he has the worst Test record against is Mike Hendrick, an unfailing seamer, not a terrifying quick.)

But let us give Hughes the last word:

“He was just a tremendous player, Graham Yallop. God, if he was playing today, he’d be the best player Australia’s got.”


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