He was a reliable and gutsy presence at the top of the order for Australia through the 1950s
Colin McDonald, Australia’s lone resister during Jim Laker’s world record 19-wicket haul in the 1956 Old Trafford Ashes Test, has died at the age of 92.
In a lengthy and reliable stint at the top of the order for Australia for the best part of the 1950s and early 1960s, McDonald was a key part of the team in the era spanning the captaincies of Lindsay Hassett, Ian Johnson, Ian Craig and Richie Benaud, playing the last of his 47 Tests on the 1961 tour of England that saw the debut of his fellow Victorian opening batsman Bill Lawry.
Batting with a range of partners, McDonald was at his best during the 1955 West Indies tour and the 1958-59 Ashes series at home, the scenes of four out of his five Test hundreds and plenty of cut shots and leg-side deflections with a technique that was dominated by the bottom hand.
But McDonald’s most enduring efforts were arguably his run of scores in the Laker-led defeats of the Australians by both England and Surrey during the 1956 tour: scores of 89, 45, 32 and 89 out of team totals worth 259, 107, 84 and 205 represented high skill and no little determination against the turning, spitting ball.
Asked in later years by Gideon Haigh about how he viewed the 1956 Ashes, McDonald offered an unvarnished view of the conditions and how they had been prepared. “England cheated: if by cheating you include the practice of preparing wickets to suit your own purpose,” he said in The Summer Game.
“I mean, we wouldn’t have minded so much if the pitches had played true to character. But we’d played Lancashire at the start of the tour and it seamed like a normal Manchester wicket. Then the Test pitch was like Bondi Beach when it was dry and a mud-heap when it was wet. In truth, though, Australians were poor at playing off-spin on slow turning wickets. They tended to thrust at it with firm hands, where the way to do it was play side-on, close to your body, bat inside pad. They bowled well. We batted very badly.”
McDonald’s traditional, “take the shine off the new ball” approach to opening served his country well as Benaud fashioned them into the world’s pre-eminent team, culminating in the memorable 1960-61 series against West Indies at home and then the retention of the Ashes in England in 1961.
“Colin will forever be remembered as a legend of Victorian and Australian cricket,” Cricket Australia chair Earl Eddings said. “He was fearless against the fast bowlers and skilful when playing the spinners both in Australia and across tours of England, the Caribbean, South Africa, India and Pakistan.
“Australian cricket is a better place for Colin’s many years of outstanding service at international and state level, as well as his club career with Melbourne University, Melbourne Cricket Club and Brighton. Our sincere condolences and best wishes go out to Colin’s family.”
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig