Bob Simpson starred as a leader and batsman during Australia’s 1964 Ashes win in England. He was named a Wisden Cricketer of the Year the following spring.
Robert Baddeley Simpson, captain of Australia in England last summer and one of cricket’s leading all-rounders, was born in Sydney, New South Wales, on February 3, 1936, of Scottish descent. His father – a professional soccer player with Stenhousemuir in the Scottish League – and mother hailed from Falkirk, in Stirlingshire, whence they emigrated to Australia.
Robert Baddeley, the latter uncommon name is compounded from others in the family, went to school at Marrickville, Sydney, and, encouraged by his two elder brothers who played in first-grade cricket for many years, began his own sporting career as fast bowler and batsman in any position.
He displayed an early aptitude for leadership, captained his primary school, and when ten represented Sydney Schoolboys. He soon had a century to his credit and at twelve was selected for New South Wales in the Under-14 Competition.
Saturday afternoon club cricket brought him further experience, with a leaning to leg-spin bowling first coming at thirteen when he played for St. Clements, an Anglican Church team in the Junior Association of New South Wales Churches. Moving up to the State Green Shield Competition – virtually the Under-16 grade – he was no more than fifteen years and one week when he reached the first Senior grade with the Petersham Marrickville club.
Playing in company with Test cricketers he profited from their advice, and selection for the New South Wales State side, against Victoria in January 1953, came when he was still sixteen. From 1952/53 to 1955/56 he developed his batting in the State team.
Many thought he had done enough to be given a place in the Australian team to meet England, West Indies, India and Pakistan during this period, but he failed to gain recognition. In 1956/57 Simpson, for business reasons and not because he was in any danger of losing his place in the New South Wales team, moved to Perth where he had obtained a newspaper editorial post and helped Western Australia.
He became captain and his good form at last earned him recognition for a visit to South Africa in 1957/58 where his sure slip catching assured him of inclusion in all five Tests.
Simpson, who in his grade days fielded round the boundary, recalls that Keith Miller was responsible for turning his attention to slip fielding. Simpson was twelfth man for New South Wales against Victoria at Sydney in 1953/54, and when he came out as substitute he asked Miller where he should go. “Try the slips,” was Miller’s reply. Simpson made two brilliant catches there and from that time found that he was quite at home with the ball coming fast at him.
Simpson also tells of another fortuitous occurrence which assisted him to find his métier in first-class cricket. In 1959, after JA Burke had retired, Neil Harvey said to him: “Why don’t you open? Opening is going to be a problem for Australia.”
Simpson, who had been batting number three or four for Western Australia, took the hint with staggering effect. In 1959/60, in five first-class matches before going to New Zealand, he scored 902 in six innings, three times not out, averaging 300.66. In New Zealand, where he also opened, he scored 418 runs, average 69.66, in the four representative matches.
One Test against England in 1958/59, followed by five against West Indies in 1960/61, established Simpson in the Australian side. Six months in England, in 1959, as professional with Accrington in the Lancashire League, gave Simpson experience of English wickets and methods, and he put it to fairly good use in the five Tests under Richie Benaud in England in 1961 and in five more Tests when England next visited Australia in 1962/63.
He had many great performances to his name outside Tests – notably 236 not for Western Australia against New South Wales in 1959/60 and 800 in four innings for New South Wales in 1963/64 including 247 not out against Western Australia and 359 against Queensland, his highest score, but all this time a Test century had eluded him. When the extra cares of captaincy devolved upon him during South Africa’s visit in 1963/64, he might well have given up hope of making a Test hundred.
So he came to England in the Spring of 1964 with 92 as his highest Test score. The first three Tests brought him no consolation in this respect, then at Old Trafford in the fourth Test – his thirtieth – he surprised himself and startled the cricket world by amassing 311 in Australia’s huge total of 656 for eight declared.
Why Simpson allowed Australia to bat so long and whether he carried on his own innings into the third day in an attempt to beat the record Test score of 365 not out by G Sobers, he answers in this way: “My first duty as captain, with Australia one up in the series, was to see that we did not lose. To win on such a wicket we had to get 600 runs. I therefore saw no reason to close on the second day at 500 and give England an early chance to bat on a pitch reaching its best. As to the third morning (which Australia started at 570 for 4, with Simpson, 264 not out) I just wanted to ‘give it a go’ for three-quarters of an hour or so to see the 600 passed for my team.”
Simpson, despite a hair-line fracture of a thumb and later another chip of the same thumb bone, scored 458 runs in the five Tests in 1964, and 1,714 with five centuries, in all first-class matches.
In the short tour to India and Pakistan which immediately followed, Simpson displayed fine form, and at Karachi became only the third captain to hit two separate hundreds in a Test Match. Sir Donald Bradman and A Melville were the others. This feat brought Simpson’s Test aggregate to 2,552 runs in 35 matches for an average of 45.57.
Simpson’s stance is easy and his style attractive, the result of a change of technique in the late 1950’s when he turned from playing too square-on to side-on. Simpson found that it made all the difference to him in dealing effectively with the in-dipper and going-away balls as he describes them. More strongly built than most people suppose – he stands 5′ 10½” and weights 13 stone – Simpson excels most when attacking.
The flashing straight-drive and devastating square-cut shows him at his best and these strokes, as well as the on-drive perfectly taken off his toes, are examples of power and elegance which never fail to evoke admiration. He rarely hooks, having largely discarded the stroke as risky, and does not pull overmuch.
As a bowler of guile, he depends more on the leg-break than on other variations. He admits that when he used to bowl the wrong’un too often, he became erratic.
Had not Simpson made his name as a cricketer, he would probably have become a top-class golfer or soccer player; he is also adept at squash and tennis. Fitness for all games is fetish with this persevering sportsman. Married, he has two daughters, and holds a public relations post with the cigarette and tobacco firm of WD & HO Wills of Australia.
Bob Simpson scored 4,869 runs at 46.81 from 62 Tests, and captained Australia in 39 of them. He later had a successful stint as the national team’s coach, guiding them to the 1987 World Cup triumph and to Test supremacy during the early Nineties