10 cool things about Ray Bright

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Ray Bright was considered something of a joke when I was growing up. I remember Roy and HG used to do a recurring radio sketch on their Sunday JJJ show This Sporting Life where they’d attribute Bright’s selection in the national side “despite taking no wickets, runs or catches” to his ability to fold his arms and nod the right way in team meetings.

Andrew Denton wrote an ABC Cricket Book article where he used a simile along the lines of something being as “unswerving as a Ray Bright delivery”.

Geoff Boycott griped in his memoirs, “I wouldn’t have got out to Ray Bright, as he couldn’t bowl. Dennis Lillee, yes; Ray Bright, no.”

The press seemed to sigh tiredly whenever Bright was picked for the national team. Maybe it was different south of the Murray where Bright’s long service for Victoria (not to mention 471 wickets at 32.08) presumably gets him brownie points. Still, 53 wickets from 25 Tests at 41 isn’t amazing – neither is the fact that Australia only won two of those Tests.

In the car crash of Australian cricket from the late ’70s to mid ’80s – the period I look back on with the most affection because it’s the cricket of my childhood – the most well-known passengers in the national side were Allan Border, Kim Hughes and Rod Marsh.

But Bright was there, too, present at many of the disasters: the ’77 and ’81 Ashes, the ’82 tour of Pakistan, and the ’85-86 losses to New Zealand, not to mention four seasons captaining a very combustible Victorian side.

So, I thought it was time to do a little Ray Bright reappraisal and thus, this piece: the top 10 coolest things about Ray Bright.

1. He played in both Centenary Tests

Most nuffies will be able to list Greg Chappell, Rod Marsh and Dennis Lillee on the Australian side – but Ray Bright was in both games too, being 12th man in 1977 and playing in 1980 (we took in two spinners which is kind of weird). Incidentally, English players in both Tests: Keith Fletcher and Chris Old with someone called Graham Barlow as 12th man in both Tests.

2. He really did tour a lot for Australia

Bright at one point was famous for having gone on more tours than played Tests for Australia – but he did go on a lot of tours.

To New Zealand (’73-74, ’76-77, ’81-82, ’85-86), England (’77, ’80, ’81), Sri Lanka (’81), India (’86-87), Pakistan (’79-80, 82-83), Sharjah (’86), plus WSC trips to New Zealand (’78) and the West Indies (’79). He also played several years of league cricket in England. I guess he didn’t like it too much at home.

It should be said that in almost all cases where Bright toured Australia might’ve been better off taking a different spinner instead (eg Terry Jenner, Bob Holland, Bruce Yardley, Jim Higgs) – I think overlooking Yardley in England in 1981 and Holland in New Zealand in 1986 was particularly damaging.

Still, he was clearly an excellent team man and on the flip side Bright would’ve been a better selection for the 1985 Ashes squad than Greg Matthews – Bright took 40 wickets in ’84-85, he had a decent record in England, and Border could have used his experience.

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3. He was genuinely a gun player during World Series Cricket

Bright’s best years of international cricket were, like David Hookes’, over the two seasons of World Series Cricket. For any of the teasing he’s gotten and gets – including some, admittedly, in this article – there should be no doubt: he was fantastic for Australia in WSC.

In 1977-78 during the first Supertest, it was Bright’s 69 that rescued Australia from a first innings collapse.

In the third Supertest against the West Indies he bowled Australia to victory with 4-74 in the second innings.

Against the World XI he took 5-149 in the second Supertest and grabbed three crucial wickets in the third. In 1978-79 Bright took a crucial 6-52 and 1-12 against the West Indies, earning himself a Man of the Match award. During the 1979 West Indies tour, Bright was at the wicket with Rod Marsh during the final Supertest, drawing the game, on 56 not out.

He took 42 Supertest wickets at 29.17, more than any other bowler except Lillee and Andy Roberts. He didn’t do as well in the one-dayers.

Bright suffered more than any other player from the “unofficial” nature of World Series Cricket stats, except for the South Africans. His efforts in those summers were sensational. I wonder if it was the captaincy of Ian Chappell, or just the plateauing of his talent.

But it is fascinating that his two best years were the years when he played the toughest opposition ever.

4. He could’ve saved Australia from humiliation in 1981

Bright was considered lucky to get in the 1981 Ashes squad – the overlooked Bruce Yardley in particular had a far stronger season, as did Jim Higgs – but he was picked, and did far better than expected.

Bright took four wickets in the second Test, which Australia drew, and kept his spot in the third Test in the legendary game at Headingly – where Bright was only given four overs despite Botham’s blistering counter-attack in the second innings, and despite having had bowled Botham for a duck in the second Test.

Four overs. It beggars belief that Kim Hughes ignored him so. It should also be pointed out that during Australia’s horrendous second innings collapse Bright and Lillee took Australia from 8-75 to 8-110, only 20 runs short of victory… but then both got out, Bright the last one at 19.

Dennis Lillee

(Photo by S&G/PA Images via Getty Images)

In the fourth Test, Bright took seven wickets and would’ve bowled Australia to victory had it not been for the dodgy batting.

A genuine “what if” of Australian cricket history – what if Bright had bowled more overs at Headingly and gotten that crucial breakthrough earlier? Or if someone had given him more support with the bat? Australia take a 2-0, surely win the Ashes, Kim Hughes keeps the captaincy permanently… though one never knows.

But when people say “what else could Australia have done in that third Test”, while the first answer is “not enforce the follow-on”, the second one should be “given Ray Bright some more overs”.

5. He was brought back to help Border’s captaincy

Allan Border’s first months as Australian captain where not easy, to put it mildly – he was hit by a succession of crises, including the South African rebel tour defections, a thumping defeat in England in 1985, and a thrashing by New Zealand in the first Test of 1985-86.

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Bright (who hadn’t played for Australia since 1982) was recalled to the Test team over another spinner, Murray Bennett, who was in far better form – but it was thought Border would benefit from Bright’s experience and attitude (this was also a reason for the recall of fellow veteran David Hookes).

Bright took five wickets in his return game, contributing to a then-rare Australian victory. And over the next nine Tests – Bright’s longest stint in the Test team – he helped Border enormously behind the scenes.

For instance, when Border threatened to resign the captaincy following a series of losses in New Zealand, it was Bright, then vice-captain, who rallied the players in support… and Bob Simpson, then starting his national coaching career, praised Bright’s contribution. Unfortunately Bright’s contribution as a bowler was more muted – after that five-wicket haul, he only took three wickets over the next five games.

6. He captained Australia in an ODI

This happened in 1986 when Australia had a brief tour of Sharjah. Allan Border, exhausted by the events of a summer, had asked to be excused so Bright stepped up, with David Boon as his vice captain.

Bright led Australia in one game, which we lost, although his figures were his best ever in his short ODI career, 1-28. He never played another ODI – indeed, after the return he lost the Australian vice-captaincy for the 1986 tour of India to Boon – but Bright did join that small group of Aussies who captained their country in ODIs not Tests (which also includes Geoff Marsh, David Hookes, Ian Healy, Mike Hussey and of course Shane Warne).

LONDON - SEPTEMBER 11: Shane Warne of Australia leaves the field as bad light stops play during day four of the Fifth npower Ashes Test between England and Australia played at The Brit Oval on September 11, 2005 in London, United Kingdom (Photo by Hamish Blair/Getty Images)

(Photo by Hamish Blair/Getty Images)

7. His heroics in the tied Test are overlooked

Dean Jones’ double century gets, deservedly, a lot of story time (soiling himself, sweating, being sledged by Allan Border with the threat of bringing out Greg Ritchie as if the cuddly Richie wouldn’t have died if he’d been out there too long).

Greg Matthews’ 10 wickets have also passed into legend, as did Allan Border fighting with the umpire, David Boon not knowing whether the umpire could send off Border and Tim Zoehrer showing his backside to an Indian batter.

And Steve Waugh is always asked about this match because he played in it and he’s, well, Steve Waugh. However Ray Bright’s role was crucial – seven wickets, including 5-94 in the second innings (Gavaskar and Azharuddin among this victims), plus a score of 30 as nightwatchman in Australia’s first innings. He even had an overcoming injury story – he got food poisoning from a dodgy pizza the night before the Test.

Bright was seriously sick on the last day, left the field and collapsed, and got 12th man Dave Gilbert to ask Border if he was no longer needed. Border cracked it at Gilbert (“get that weak @#@!! out of here!!”).

Bright went back on the field, and when India were 6-331 chasing down 348 it was Bright who got the next three wickets, while Matthews took the last. I’ll give Matthews credit – every time I’ve heard the colourful all-rounder talk about this game, he always praises Bright: “When Ray Bright came back on the field, it was the most courageous thing I’ve ever seen on a cricket field.”

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Yet Bright’s contribution gets forgotten. I guess it doesn’t compare to Dean Jones taking a crap on the field.

8. He was part of the “last chance” clean out of 1986-87

The years of 1986-87 saw the death of several Australian cricketers’ international careers at the hands of coach Bob Simpson: David Hookes, Greg Ritchie, Wayne Phillips, Greg Matthews, Tim Zoehrer… and Bright.

Bright seems to have been the one player of that group who Simpson actually wanted in the team, but he simply didn’t get enough wickets. Bright was recalled to the Australian side during the 1986-87 Ashes for the third Test, but was made 12th man – the selectors ultimately went with Peter Sleep instead, and for the fifth Test they brought in Peter Taylor and Bright was done.

9. He performed best when least expected… but seemed to struggle under the spotlight

In 1977 Kerry O’Keefe was Australia’s No.1 spinner… and Ray Bright out bowled him. Bright then emerged as Australia’s No.1 spinner in World Series Cricket… but on reunification in ’79-80, when Bright was picked in the national side over Jim Higgs, Ashley Mallett, Peter Sleep and Bruce Yardley, his form fumbled.

Few expected him to be picked to Pakistan in 1980 but he was and… he bowled excellently. He became our No.1 spinner again but then in 1980-81… his form crumbled once more. He was picked in the 1981 Ashes squad, luckily, then surprised everyone by bowling excellently in three Tests, the spotlight fell on him, and his form fell away again.

He had bowled well in Pakistan in 1980 so was expected to do well in 1982 but really struggled. He was a lucky selection in 1985, but did great at first, then dropped away, then when it was time to be written off almost bowled Australia to victory in the second tied Test in India, restored his reputation, then barely secured another wicket.

All players have an up and down career but particularly Bright. Of course it might’ve been that batters took him more seriously after a strong game or two… but part of me wonders if it could also have been psychological, i.e. when Australia looked to him to be No.1, he didn’t believe he was. Test cricket is no place for a player without massive self-belief. That’s just a theory.

10. He persevered

Bright was around a long time. He was picked for Victoria in 1971 when just 17 and for Australia in 1974 when 19 – and played his last game for Australia in 1986 and for Victoria in 1988 (Dennis Lillee played in his last game, for Tasmania).

He captained Victoria for four seasons in the 1980s, taking them to a Shield final. Bright was a selector at the start of that state’s golden age (still going) in the 2000s. He also helped Richmond to a bunch of premierships and Footscray to one.

Maybe he got more tours than he deserved. But for determination and sheer perseverance it’s hard not to admire Ray Bright.

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