Maxwell Henry Norman Walker had a good weekend for his North Hobart club when he took his only wicket in grade cricket, that of former Australian wicketkeeper Ian Maddocks. It hardly was the making of a bowler who went on to international renown.However, that was the inauspicious start to a great career, and a tale Walker loves to tell against his old skipper, Ted Richardson.“He and the rest of the blokes took one look at my action and made sure the ball didn’t come my way. I soon ended up with the nickname Tangles. Actually I had taken eight wickets and scored 96 in a state schools premiership when I was 17, but obviously statistics didn’t count in Tasmania,” Walker recalls.Undeterred and over-rating himself as a batsman, Walker came to Victoria to begin a new life as a League football who wanted to play Premier cricket.“I was signed to play for Melbourne by the great coach Norm Smith and his equally outstanding secretary Jim Cardwell on a Form Four. I told them I wanted to study architecture and to try my hand at cricket. They organised RMIT for my studies and told me the MCC was the only place to play cricket. To guarantee I fulfilled the residential qualification to play footy, my Melbourne address was the top bunk, Clive Fairbairn’s Sports Store, Hardware Lane, Melbourne.“I started Premier cricket straight after the Christmas break, having moved to Melbourne as soon as I competed my Matriculation. My only wicket in my grade career in Hobart, Len Maddocks came about when he was in the twilight of his career and he holed out. Anyway, I went to Melbourne as a batsman, which wasn’t the place to be. The club had Paul Sheahan, Bob Lloyd, Dr John Lill, Ian Huntington, Graeme Watson and Norm Carlyon. They had seven blokes with first-class batting experience and they sorely needed a bowler.“In my first game, against Fitzroy, Nick Tonkin opened the bowler from one end and I opened at the other. In Tonkin’s first over, he captured a wicket with his first ball. Fitzroy’s super batsman Jack Potter then walked in, hit 23 runs from the next six balls, and then Tonkin took a wicket with the eighth and final delivery of his over. He had 2/23!“I bowled to Pottsie for my first taste of bowling to a quality first-class batsman. He scored 100 in 85 minutes and I ended up with about 0/40. To make matters worse I really fancied myself as a batsman, having just come off 119 and 117 for North Hobart. We needed 10 runs to win and I was out stumped (by about two metres) first ball. Because of Melbourne’s fantastic batting line-up, I didn’t get another hit for 14 weeks.“But in my second game, I got five wickets and that was the start of my bowling success. I played for the Victorian Colts, against Rod Marsh. Dennis Lillee was 12th man, with Bruce Yardley preferred as the new ball bowler!“Unlike in Hobart where they took one look at my action and then hid the ball, Jack Ryder stood behind the nets at state practice and saw I could actually swing the ball. He got me into the Victorian side. But I had a lot to learn.“Norm Carlyon was a top wicketkeeper and player for Melbourne and we ended up with a lot of wickets between us. One day he came up to me and told me to bowl the leg-cutter again. I asked him which delivery he was talking about. For two years I didn’t know what I was bowling.
Occasionally, for some reason unbeknown to me, one slipped out differently and became a leg-cutter instead of my big in-swinger. “And then there was Alan Connolly, who was a great mentor. He taught me reverse swing and the knuckle ball. I had enough difficulty gripping the ball with four fingers, let alone two. The first time I tried the knuckle ball, Les Joslin hit it into the beer garden at the Chevron Hotel.“They were great days. Norm Smith loved his cricket. He would join my dad and Joe Kinnear, who worked on the scoreboard at the Albert Ground, and they would sit up there and knock over a couple of long necks (beer) while they watched play.”A right-arm fast medium bowler, Walker played for the Melbourne Cricket Club from 1966/67 to 1976/77, capturing exactly 200 wickets at the excellent average of 16.82 and scoring 666 runs at 15.85. He won the club’s bowling average three times, in 1966/67 (his first season), 1968/69 (when he captured 53 wickets at 13.88, including his best figures of 8/34 against St Kilda in the semi-final) and 1972/73.He captained the club from 1974/75 to 1976/77, though Test and interstate commitments restricted him to just nine games in those seasons. Subsequently he appeared for South Melbourne from 1978/79 to 1981/82. In all First XI District cricket he captured 249 wickets at 15.91.Walker was not too impressed about having to leave Melbourne. It happened at the end of his involvement with World Series Cricket in 1978/79.“I wasn’t welcomed back at Melbourne at the time, so Ian Redpath, a great cricketer and bloke, took me to South. Melbourne’s Keith Rigg explained that the club was looking for a younger player. I was 32 and still in the Test arena, and in my first three games for South I took six wickets, six wickets and five wickets. Redders had a grin from ear to ear, and so did I.”Walker credits his days bowling on the batsman friendly Albert Ground for helping develop his technique for first-class cricket. ``The Albert Ground was very special in my development. It was a flat deck and if you got wickets there you deserved them. It taught me to be patient.”Others also taught him to be tough. “There were some tough characters in Premier cricket. When I took over as Melbourne captain, I went out to toss with Carlton’s Keith Stackpole, a real mate of mine from our days as Victorian and Australian team mates. He just glared at me and said: ‘Just toss the coin.’“And Dr John Lill, a fine batsman, conned me big time one day. We were batting together in one match when a leggie was introduced. The Doc told me not to slog, as we could milk some runs without any danger. So I pushed a single and then Lill hit five boundaries off the rest of the over and the leggie was taken straight off!”Walker was one of the characters of the game, but he was not alone. “Nigel Murch also was one out of the box. He was bowling to Sri Lankan Claud Reid, who was facing his first ball in his first game of Premier cricket for Melbourne. Murch knocked his cap off, and the next ball he bowled another short-pitched ball, and this time Reid edged it for four. The next was also short, and Reid smacked it backward of square, and the next one he spanked forward of square. Murch stood there and grizzled ‘so you can hook. But can you drive?’ The next ball went sizzling through covers!“Jack Rose at Collingwood was a character too. He kept barracking when he was batting. He’d hit a good shot and say ‘How good is the centre of this bat! Dish up another one.’ In one game he creamed me for three consecutive boundaries and was talking away to himself like crazy. Then he holed out, and the silence was golden. “Robert Rose was a great mate. He played some great innings for Collingwood and he was so unlucky not to be picked for Australia to tour New Zealand in 1972/73. Had he been there he would not have been involved in the car accident that left him a quadriplegic.“Peter Bedford, the South Melbourne Brownlow medallist, was a tremendous competitor and under-rated cricketer. There were just so many. They were great days.”Walker went on to play 34 Tests between 1972/73 and 1977, claiming 138 wickets at 27.47 with a best of 8/143 against England at the MCG. He also played 17 one-day internationals and in 135 games of first-class cricket between 1968/69 and 1981/82 he captured 499 wickets at 26.47. He played 70 matches for Victoria, capturing 248 wickets at 28.22, with best figures of 6/49 against South Australia in Adelaide in 1975/76.Walker was fulfilled his ambition to play AFL. A ruckman and defender, he played 85 senior games for Melbourne from 1967 to 1972, before retiring from the game to concentrate on his cricket. Although a qualified architect, he has pursued a career in writing, public-speaking and the media. A witty raconteur, he is in great demand as an after-dinner speaker and has written a number of best-selling books, many of them collections of humorous anecdotes with a sporting theme. Such as the day he took his one and only wicket in Tasmania grade cricket.