Neil Harvey was every schoolboy’s hero in the 1950s with his adventurous left-handed drives, cuts, pulls and hooks upon most of the world’s cricket grounds throughout his brilliant 25-year career.
He came from a cricketing family; three of his brothers played first-class cricket for Victoria, and one of them, Mervyn, appeared for Australia against England. Harvey, a magnificent top-order batsman, was slimly built, though he carried a devastating punch around the wicket, especially, his amazing power-laden drives. His timing and his on-side play were praised by the mighty Bradman himself.
Harvey had the extraordinary gift and tendency to hit against the spin and across the line of flight of the ball while playing some of his era’s greatest spin and pace bowlers. In England, his eye helped him to escape the penalties of these misdemeanours, but after advice from Bradman, he paid more attention to the conventions and tallied several centuries during his apprenticeship on the 1948 tour of England - at the time only 19 years old and the team’s youngest signing.
Harvey gained his Australian cap against India in Sydney in 1947 with a brilliant century in 86 minutes. He certainly impressed the Australian selectors who were at that time formulating the 1948 Test line-up of players who were later to be coined “The Invincibles”, the greatest Australian team of all time.
At Leeds, Harvey got his opportunity and made a brilliant century against England at his first appearance, when runs were sadly needed. This was an innings that Bradman would always praise. A stroke player by nature and desire, Bradman encouraged the left-handed youngster to attack the bowling and not be quietened by inexperience.
Harvey also brought his extraordinary talents to the field. In his era, he was regarded as the finest fielder then seen. As a teenager, he scored six centuries in his first 13 Test appearances at an early average of over 100.
Wisden named him Cricketer of the Year in 1954 after he scored more than 2000 runs on the 1953 tour of England. Then the bombshell was sensationally dropped when as vice-captain he was passed over for the captaincy of the 1957 tour to England when 22-year-old Ian Craig got the vote. After a tremendous career, Harvey played 79 Tests totalling 6149 runs in Tests and 21,699 first class runs. Harvey, now aged 90, was certainly one of Australia’s greatest players.