A time of cobbled together teams
In a summer when we welcome Steve Smith to Sussex, it is interesting to recall another great Australian cricketer who played for the county, albeit rather briefly.
When World War Two broke out in September 1939, Championship cricket was understandably suspended but unlike the situation in World War One, there was still some cricket of a high standard played between teams that were often cobbled together based on who was home on leave and /or where in the UK they were stationed. The authorities encouraged it, seeing it as good for morale and a demonstration of the Commonwealth’s resilience. With the priority being to organize matches in rather challenging circumstances, county qualifications and allegiances were immaterial. So it was that at various times Sussex teams included Alec Bedser and Denis Compton, among a variety of first-class players from other counties. Keith Miller, a Royal Australian Airforce pilot and subsequently a decorated war hero who was billeted in Brighton had begun to make his mark prior to the outbreak of war in his native Victoria was another cricketer who played some cricket locally.
Keith Miller became, arguably, the greatest Australian all-rounder. He was a fine batsman, and as a fast bowler was to form a deadly Test Cricket partnership with Ray Lindwall. Miller was also a very accomplished off break bowler and a superb fielder. He was billeted at Brighton’s requisitioned Metropole Hotel. The first time he played in Sussex was on 12th June 1943, when he appeared for United Services against the county at Hove in a one-day match . He did quite well, scoring 134 not out in a total of 309 for 4 declared, before having a hand in skittling out Sussex for 84. He took seven of the wickets for 36 runs. Later that month on 24th June, he actually played for Sussex at Horsham against the Royal Air Force in another one day match. He scored 11 and took three wickets for the county who were however soundly beaten . In July, he played at Hove once again, this time for the Royal Australian Airforce against the South. He scored 23 and took three wickets in a comfortable win for the Aussies.
Miller apparently enjoyed his cricket in Sussex and allegedly told Sir Home Gordon, a committee member and noted cricket journalist, that he would want to qualify for Sussex “but naturally I must first go out to smash the Japs”. Miller would make his Test debut for Australia in 1946 and go to on to play 55 times for his country, thrilling post-war crowds with his exciting style. Miller was a decorated war hero and would later attribute his flamboyance and carefree approach to the fact that real pressure was facing Messerschmitts not playing cricket.
He was never of course to play for Sussex again, although he would return twice as a member of the Australian team of which he was key member for more than a decade.
By Peter McQuade, May 2023