World Cricket has lost its characters; players are trained to drain every last interview cliche, workloads are carefully monitored.and nearly everything is micro-managed to ensure the players “brand” is nice and shiny and nothing goes wrong.
Before that was Colin “Funky” Miller.
While the Footscray-born medium pacer-cum-off spinner only played 18 Tests, he left a colourful impression.
Miller made his first class debut for Victoria at 22, but had to wait 12 years (with stints at South Australia and Tasmania) before breaking into Test cricket. Miller mixed medium pace with his off breaks (adopting spin after an ankle injury). Miller’s action was simple: a few steps with the characteristic flick of his right arm, a gather to transfer the ball into his bowling hand, jump into the textbook side-on position with a high front arm. With his medium pace background, Miller was a quick spinner, relying on bounce and accuracy more than old-fashioned guile. It worked.
Miller made his debut at Pakistan in 1998 (finding Wasim Akram’s edge to help Ian Healy pass Rod Marsh’s record 355 dismissals) and was a good foil for Stuart MacGill in the 1998/99 Ashes series while Shane Warne recovered from injury, but his big moment came the following summer against the West Indies.
The once proud Windies were in decline, with Courtney Walsh and Brian Lara still fighting on. It was the last traditional five-Test Frank Worrell Trophy.Just as well, as Australia won 5-0. With no Warne, Miller (20 wickets in three Tests) and MacGill (16 wickets in four Tests) feasted on the hapless tourists. Miller took 10 wickets at Adelaide (5/81 and 5/32) as Australia brushed aside Lara’s first innings 182 to win by five wickets. Miller’s eccentricity was revealed in the SCG “Federation” Test, where he dyed his hair blue for the second day, which had Walsh in fits of laughter. This extravagance appeared to backfire when he dropped a crucial catch in the West Indies second innings as the West Indies fought back from a 180-run deficit. He redeemed himself with the crucial wicket of Lara and 4/102 from 32.5 overs. He also averaged a useful 26 with the bat.
Miller’s efforts took him to India, though he only played the third Test at Chennai as Shane Warne resumed the frontline spinners mantle. Miller toiled in India’s first innings 501 (46 overs for 3/180) and took 3/41 in the second innings as India scrambled to a two-wicket win.
While Miller was part of the 2001 Ashes squad, he didn’t play a Test as Warne resumed his dominance. Miller returned to Victoria for the 2001/02 season before retiring in 2002.
Now living in Las Vegas (quite appropriate for such a colourful character), he was appointed ambassador for USACA (United States of America Cricket Association) in 2013.
It’s unlikely we’ll see a player like Miller again. He was a late bloomer, a multi-skilled bowler and had an interesting range of hairstyles. While he may have resembled an embarrassing uncle going through a mid-life crisis, he did a wonderful job for Australian cricket.