Max Walker © Getty Images
Max Walker © Getty Images

Max Walker, who passed away on September 28, 2016, was an excellent fast-medium bowler who formed a third dimension of the lethal Australian bowling attack of the 1970s. Arunabha Sengupta pays homage to this man of many talents.

In the end the eternal umpire does call ‘over’.

But Max Walker’s days in the sun and thereafter have been worth many a life. Full of colour and variety.

He was a sight on the cricket field as he ran in to bowl. The strapping six-foot-three-inch build was rendered quasi-comical by the huge drooping moustache. His run to the wicket contained more bends along the way than traditional straight segments. And then there was the delivery, the ball let go with such a curious position of the feet that he was given the nickname ‘Tangles’.


The man himself described it in his inimitable words, “It was right arm over left earhole, legs crossed at the point of delivery.”

In the Australian side, he remained in the background in spite of his build, hirsuteness and convoluted run-up. That happens when one shares space with Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson. Walker was always first-change, always a yard slower in spite of the seriousness of pace when viewed in isolation, and mostly walked on the debris of destruction unleashed by the terrible twosome. He was generally gunning for the last men who managed to remain standing after the full frontal devastation. In spite of his facial hair and portfolio of fast bowler, Walker curiously seemed to be a nice guy in the company of the ‘Ugly Australians’ of the 1970s.

But, take a look at the records. They read neither comical nor harmless. He captured 138 Test wickets at 27.47, an average superior to Thomson, an economy rate that hinted both at control and frustrated batsmen. When the situation demanded, he could step up and take on the role of a premier paceman. As he did in West Indies in 1973 with 6 for 114 at Kingston, 5 for 97 at Bridgetown, 4 for 45 at Georgetown and 5 for 75 at Port-of-Spain. He did so as early as in his second Test, with 6 for 15 from 16 eight-ball overs at Sydney against Pakistan. And he did it again at Melbourne with 8 for 113 during the 1974-75 Ashes, when Thomson finally broke down after five Tests of terrorising the Poms. And at Edgbaston in the following summer, when for once Lillee, Thomson and he shared the spoils fairly and equally. And he did again in the first edition of Kerry Packer’s World Series Cup, holding his own in a phenomenal pool of fast bowling talent.

And then there was that 3 for 22 at Headingley during the World Cup semi-final when he blew England away for 93 alongside the enigmatic fourth dimension of Australian pace of the 1970s — Gary Gilmour. Let us mix smiles of sunny memories with tears of premature grief.


The wonderful final of the inaugural World Cup got off to a blistering start when Roy Fredericks hooked Lillee out of the ground and fell on his stumps. Gilmour was among the wickets again, capturing 5. Walker was taken on by Clive Lloyd during that magnificent counterattack. Keith Boyce came in to play a cameo towards the end, and fired out four men when Australia progressed through the tantalising chase.

Alas. Gilmour, Fredericks and Boyce had already departed beyond the veil of the unknown. And now Walker joins them.

But, as I said. It was a life well worth living.

Walker did set many a cricket ground alight with his deeds. But that was not the end of the tale of Tangles’ life.

He had formidable skills in Australian Rules Football, and that was where he tasted his first sporting success. Signed up by the legendary Norm Smith, he debuted for Melbourne in 1967. The following year, he kicked 14 goals, getting a vote for the Brownlow medal.

However, in 1969 he started playing Sheffield Shield as well, opening bowling for Victoria with Thomson. By 1972, he had made his Test debut and thereafter gone to West Indies. After that football had to be given up. In 85 matches he had scored 23 goals, but Walker had his hands full with more than cricket balls. You see, he was training to be an architect as well. In 1973 he qualified as one.

For a man of his versatility, it was not difficult to move into a life beyond cricket. After retirement, Walker found his new vocation as a presenter on television and radio. He was the host of Nine Network’s Nine’s Wide World of Sports till 1999 when it was eventually taken off air. He was also a member of the broadcasting team for Channel Nine’s cricket matches between 1986 and 1991.

However, having suffered one failed marriage due to constant travel during his playing days, he gave up his commentating jobin favour of family life.

Walker had still other identities up his endless sleeves. He was a popular writer of books of anecdotes, each bearing curious titles — How to Kiss a Crocodile and How to Puzzle a Python being just two examples. Down the line he also established himself as a motivational speaker and had numerous other business interests.

And when time permitted, he collected fountain pens for which he had a fascination. They were not only for his collection. He scoffed at the new-fangled word processors and wrote his manuscripts in long hand.

In June 2011, Walker was justly named a Member of the Order of Australia.

In 2014, he was affected with cancer and battled two years before succumbing. A man liked by one and all.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history of cricket, with occasional statistical pieces and reflections on the modern game. He is also the author of four novels, the most recent being Sherlock Holmes and the Birth of The Ashes. He tweets here.)