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‘Johnnie’ Moyes

Alban George Moyes was born in 1893. He seems not to have cared very much for his given name and, at his own request, was always known as ‘Johnny’. At 19 he went to Adelaide University to study medicine. A keen cricketer he was a fine batsman and occasional leg break bowler who averaged more than 40 with the bat for South Australia in the 1912/13 season. Such was the impression he created that he was selected as member of the Australian side that was due to visit South Africa in 1914 only for the trip to be called off after war broke out.

Moyes chose to join the 48th Battalion of the Australian Imperial Force. By 1917 he was fighting on the Western Front and had achieved the rank of Captain. That April he was part of an advance on German positions that came under heavy enemy fire. Moyes was wounded during the manoeuvre. He received some treatment but insisted on returning to the front as soon as he was able to do so. For his gallantry he was awarded the Military Cross and promoted to Major. The cost of his bravery was a lifetime of pain and discomfort from physical injuries that never completely healed.

After the war Moyes did not resume his medical career and became a journalist. He played just two First Class matches after the War which meant his playing career ended after an appearance for Victoria against the 1920/21 MCC tourists. All told he played 18 First Class matches and scored 883 runs at 29.43. There was a solitary century, on debut against Western Australia, and six fifties. His leg breaks brought him five wickets at 53.60.

Between the wars Moyes worked for a variety of newspapers both in general news and sport. When the Second World War broke out he enlisted in the AIF again and commanded the Seventh Australian Garrison. After the war he went back to writing and also, in 1950, took to broadcasting for the ABC, something he did for the rest of his life. Little of Moyes the commentator is available, although he can be heard whenever footage of the denouement of the first tied Test is played. Jack Pollard described him as bright and informative, a cheery character respected by players and listeners.

Prior to World War Two there had not been very many Australian cricket books. A number of tour books had appeared, and a handful of autobiographies, but there had been little in the way of books of appreciation and no biographies at all. In the late 1940s however Ray Robinson, Jack Fingleton and Moyes all started publishing books. Moyes’ first contribution came in 1948 and was the first Australian biography. The subject, unsurprisingly, was Bradman. Published before the 1948 Invincibles tour began the book is notable as being the one biography of Bradman where his average is above the elusive one hundred mark, although there can be no doubt that 102.98 does not have the same resonance as 99.94.

Other than playing grade cricket one of the ways in which Moyes remained in touch with the game, whilst working in Sydney, was as a New South Wales selector. It was in that capacity that he was responsible for giving Bradman his First Class debut. His book on the legendary batsman was well received, although its dwelling for only three pages on the record breaking 1930 series that first made Bradman the household name he became seems odd.

Two years later A Century of Cricketers appeared from the British publisher Harrap. The book consisted of one hundred short pen portraits of the best cricketers to have played the came. The book itself is reminiscent of what were then two recent books from ‘Crusoe’ Robertson-Glasgow; Cricket Prints and More Cricket Prints. The book contains a foreword from Bradman, suitably effusive, and an equally interesting afterword from John Arlott, who comments:-

Australian writing on cricket, like the conversations of Australian followers of the game, is more technically sound than ours. We in England have often accepted, for its pleasant or evocative style, writing on the game produced by litterateurs who barely know an off break from a leg break. Australian readers will have no such books: regarding cricket as the precise skill that it is, they demand comparable precision of their writers.

In addition to his technical strengths Moyes was also a fine wordsmith. I have always been drawn to the writings about Victor Trumper by those who had the good fortune to see him play. Moyes closed his essay on Trumper with the words; when news of Victor Trumper’s death was published time for me stood still. He lived for only 38 years, but he left behind him a reputation as a cricketer and a man that will endure as long as cricket is played. In that Moyes has certainly proved to be correct.

In 1951 Moyes agreed to provide another book for Harrap, The Fight For The Ashes 1950/51. He published a similar book in 1954/55 and wrote a book on every Australian home series from then on, covering the visits of West Indies in 1951/52, South Africa in 1952/53, England in 1958/59 and 1962/63 as well as the visit of Frank Worrell’s West Indians for that famous series of the first tied Test in 1960/61.

In 1953 and 1954 Moyes, courtesy of Harrap again, wrote Australian Bowlers and Australian Batsmen. They weren’t quite collections of pen portraits in the way that A Century of Cricketers had been, but were of a similar ilk, looking at some length at many of the most successful Australian cricketers. All this however was just Moyes warming up for what was to prove his finest work; Australian Cricket: A History, published by Angus and Robertson in 1959.

Writing in the 1960 edition of Wisden John Arlott set the scene by confirming that the book made good the long-standing, and hitherto most serious, deficiency in the chronicles of cricket. He went on to lavish praise on what he described as a cricket event. The book comprised 631 pages with 48 pages of illustrations. Also impressed was Gerard Martineau who reviewed the title for The Cricketer, who commented; much information will be found in this comprehensive work which smaller volumes cannot compass, and Mr Moyes, skilfully marshalling a vast store of material after patient research, fills a considerable gap in the game’s history in a challenging fashion worthy of an inspiring theme.

Having written the first biography of an Australian cricketer fourteen years previously Moyes also wrote the second, published fourteen years later in 1962. The subject again was the current Australian captain who was by then coming to the end of his career. Benaud appeared a couple of years before its subject retired.

The last Ashes series for both Moyes and Benaud was that of 1962/63. Moyes commentated on the first three Tests. On 18th January 1963 he was at the first day of the Sheffield Shield fixture between New South Wales and South Australia at the SCG. He did his usual close of play broadcast for the local radio station and then returned home and suffered a fatal heart attack.

Fellow journalist Tom Goodman used the work Moyes had already prepared on the 1962/63 series to produce the book that Moyes had planned, With the MCC in  Australia 1962/63. Prior to his death Moyes had been working on a further historical book, this time more in the nature of personal review rather than a strict history, and The Changing Face of Cricket appeared later in 1963. In his foreword to the book Bradman wrote; Johnny was unique and irreplaceable. We should be grateful for the many and varied works he left behind to carry his enduring name.

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