Greats salute Big Max

MAX Walker said he was always happy playing second fiddle to Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson but after his death from cancer aged 68, the lovable larrikin should be remembered as more than a bit-part player.

Walker first came to note as an Australian rules footballer after signing for Melbourne in 1966.

He was still at high school when Demons coach Norm Smith went to the Walker home in west Hobart.

The following year he made his VFL debut and spent six seasons with the club, playing a total of 85 games and earning one Brownlow vote in 1968 as a ruck/defender.

At the same time he had been playing Sheffield Shield cricket for Victoria and also earned a call-up for the Australian Test side, and was juggling the two careers.

Then, after coming home from the Australian cricket team's 1972-73 tour of the West Indies, he told the Demons his footy career was over.

Football's loss was cricket's gain and Walker went on to be one of the country's best-loved players of the 1970s.

Recalling his career recently on Fox Sport's Cricket Legends, Walker said he did not mind being in the shadow of Australian greats, but his career figures suggest he should be remembered as more than the bloke who came on after Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson.

"You're sitting in the dressing room and you look around and see Dennis Lillee, Rodney Marsh, Ian Chappell, Greg Chappell, Dougie Walters, Ashley Mallett, (Ian) Redpath, (Keith) Stackpole, and you think 'my goodness I come from Hobart, Tasmania, what am I doing sitting here?'," he said.

"It was such a privilege to be selected and to bowl behind and in collaboration with Lillee and Thomson, arguably one of the best fast-bowling attacks ever.

"For me at leg gully to watch them bowl was extraordinary."

Someone who knew him best was his captain for most of Walker's 34 Test matches, Ian Chappell.

Speaking to 3AW Mornings, Chappell recalled Walker's second Test against Pakistan when he took 6-15 at the SCG with the visitors only needing 156 to win and with Lillee struggling with a back problem.

Walker's spell won Australia the game and the legend was born, and so was the nickname.

"Tangles (Walker) was all elbows and arms and thrashing around. As you said, he wasn't the quickest ... and he certainly wasn't the best-looking player, but I reckon he would have been a nightmare to play against," Chappell said.

Greg Chappell, who played with Walker in all of his 34 Tests, said the man with the strange bowling action was a true Aussie great.

"What did he come over from Hobart as, a footballer who could bat a bit? And he finished up playing a significant part as a bowler in a successful era of Australian cricket," said Chappell, 68.

"Max had a degree in architecture, even if he claimed the only thing he ever designed was a chook shed.

"He must have been clever because as he often joked, he managed to transform a career in cricket, football and architecture into talking and writing bull***t and getting well paid for it.

"I still meet people regularly who have either read one of 'Tang's' books or heard him speak and loved his work.

"And that was because he always gave value for money, either on the field or off it.

"There was a degree of truth in all those stories he told and the rest he embellished very cleverly, often concerning his father Big Max.

"I can't remember a day when he was less than happy and I was very saddened to hear of his passing."

Chappell was Walker's captain in the 1977 Centenary Test against England at the MCG, and said one of the many highlights to come out of that game was Walker's performance.

"The right arm over left earhole is how he described his bowling," Chappell said.

"Maybe Mike Proctor and Lance Cairns were similar but part of Max's distinguishing feature was his unusual action meaning batsmen were never always sure where the ball was coming.

"In the Centenary Test he knocked over English captain Tony Greig prompting a massive roar. The only difference was the roar came largely from Tangles as he charged down the pitch."

Another of Walker's teammates from those great Aussie sides of the 1970s, Keith Stackpole said his public persona was exactly the same as the one he had on the field.

"He was lovable, uncomplicated and a very astute man," said Stackpole, his captain for Victoria.

"In fact he became a legend when you put everything together that 'Big Tang' did.

"He was loved around the world by teammates and opponents alike and, to my mind, (was) seriously underestimated in part because he was first change to Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson.

"You think of 'Thommo' and Lillee as the tearaways whereas 'Tang' was a medium-pacer with the biggest heart I have come across on the cricket field.

"Once he realised he wasn't a fast bowler, as distinct from a medium-fast bowler, he became a very, very good player.

"He changed, giving away the bouncers, and relying on his swing and line.

"In the West Indies in 1973 when Lillee broke down he carried the attack. Bob Massie was a spent force, Jeff Hammond did his job up one end, we had a pair of medium-pacers in Doug Walters and Greg Chappell plus a couple of average spin bowlers. 'Tang' did the hard work, but that's what he was always happy to do."

After his cricket career ended, Walker had a successful career in commentary, presenting and writing books.

A lot of people will know him for his time on Channel Nine's Wide World of Sports.

But he should be remembered, as his career statistics suggest, as one of Australia's best medium-pace bowlers.

He certainly should not go down in history as the other bloke who bowled with Lillee and Thompson.

Big Maxy was much more than that.


Born: September 12, 1948, West Hobart

Tests: 34, wickets: 138, best bowling: 8-143, average: 27.47

ODIs: 17, wickets: 17, best bowling: 4-19, average: 27.30

First-class games: 135, wickets: 499, best bowling: 8-143, average: 26.47

Topics:  max walker obituary sportfeature

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