‘I thought they were pulling my leg’: Victorian duo Redpath, Jennings inducted into cricket hall of fame

Almost 60 years ago, on the same patch of MCG turf where Ian Redpath was formally welcomed into the Australian Cricket Hall of Fame on Friday, he was told by then-captain Bob Simpson that he would be making his Test debut against South Africa. There was no ceremony about it then; it was 10 minutes before the toss.

Redpath made 97. “Bowled,” he said. “I hit an off-drive for four and there was another one I thought was in the same spot, and I licked my chops. Beautiful follow-through, it was.”

This is Redpath in thumbnail: a spindly, correct and courageous batter good enough for eight Test hundreds, mostly as a minimally protected opener against some pretty frightening attacks; and later coach of Victoria, all of it underscored by a self-deprecating sense of humour.

Ian Redpath puts John Snow through the slips to the boundary during Australia’s first innings against England at The Oval.Credit:Central Press Photos

“I thought they were pulling my leg,” the 81-year-old said of the moment he learned he had been inducted in the Hall. “Some of the fellows who are in it: I don’t know if I was at their standard. But it’s lovely to be recognised.”

Marg Jennings, this year’s other inductee, was wondrous, too. She was like Alyssa Healy, a wicketkeeper and opening batter, a Test centurion, a World Cup winner, a captain of Australia, a long-time selector and, in common with Redpath, later a coach of Victoria.

At 73, she’s still wicketkeeper chirpy.“I never thought this would happen,” she said. “When you look at the quality of the players who are in the hall of fame … I think I selected most of them,” she said. “I gave them their starts – and probably gave them their ends, too!”

Marg Jennings was a wondrous wicketkeeper and opening batter.

Theirs was a different time. Of course, it was: that’s the point of a hall of fame, to reinforce the game’s historic thread.

Redpath brought to the unveiling an old Stuart Surridge bat, one of few he used in an era when each had to last. “I think that was Maxie Walker’s,” he said. “I broke mine in a Test match and borrowed one from Tangles, and made a hundred with it and he never got it back.”

It’s an unprepossessing implement, and explains much about then versus now. “We weren’t game to hit the ball in the air,” Redpath said, “because if you got it slightly off middle, a bloke half-way to the fence would catch it.”

“I never thought this would happen. When you look at the quality of the players who are in the hall of fame … I think I selected most of them,”

More than 10 years into his first-class career, Redpath had not hit a six at the MCG until he faced up to Intikhab Alam in a Victoria-Pakistan match.

“I got a touch of the sun and went on with a forward defence, and it flew over wide mid-on. I got such a fright,” he said. “It landed two rows from my wife. I was flexing my muscles – and she was talking to a friend about a shopping expedition and missed the whole thing.”

Redpath only hit two sixes in Test cricket, both on the same day, while making a century against the West Indies in Adelaide. It was the second last of his 66 Tests.

Redpath lived a dream Jennings could not have had. She played street cricket with a fruit box wicket in West Essendon, but did not know club cricket for women existed until a teacher at Essendon High steered to one.

Playing for Australia entailed sacrifice. “When we got selected, we got a congratulations and a ‘here’s your bill’,” she said. “You’d pay for your clothes, your air fare, everything. But you wouldn’t swap it for quids.”

Jennings would take leave without pay from teaching. “You’d save up, go on a tour, come back and start saving again,” she said. “At least I had a job to go back to. Some gave up jobs to play, But it was something we loved doing.”

Both inductees have particularly vivid recollections of India. Redpath’s is of a series triumph there in 1969. “To win there on a couple of difficult tracks was a good memory, he said. “The rest of India? An adventure. There was a riot in the first Test. I’d just been married. I thought, ‘I’ll never see my darling again’.”

He did. Christine died 18 months ago. “She was the blessing of my life,” he said. “She didn’t like the game, but she never put any pressure on me to give it away. Underneath it all, she’d be very proud today.”

Jennings remembers playing in front of seagulls in Australia, 40,000 fans in India. “It was an experience,” she said. “Very noisy, trying to distract us with mirrors – but we settled in.”

Redpath lived a dream Jennings could not have had. She played street cricket with a fruit box wicket in West Essendon, but did not know club cricket for women existed until a teacher at Essendon High steered to one.

Jennings experienced no bigger crowd until more than 86,000 packed the MCG for the women’s T20 world cup final in 2020. Former Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland, who was sitting in front of her, turned and asked: “Did you ever think this would happen?” “No,” replied Jennings. “I dreamt it, but I never thought it would.”

Jennings prides herself to think that she helped to keep the flame alive until it became a cauldron. “We didn’t have the heroes the kids have now,” she said. “But I think we kept the ball rolling.”

Redpath, when asked what pleased him most about his career, paused. “Longevity,” he said. “I was lucky I was in the side early. I had some good fortune at the right time. I played with some fabulous players. I tried to do a decent job wherever I was batting.”

He dwells more on the centuries he didn’t make than did, but when prevailed upon notes one. “New Zealand, second dig, dampish wicket,” he said. “I managed to bat through the innings. That was rewarding.”

For decades, Redpath also ran his own antique shop, but now his hobby is twice-a-week golf. If he’s lighter or heavier than he was in his prime, it can only be by milligrams. His offspring are scattered far and wide, but were reunited at Christmas and the Boxing Day Test. “There wasn’t a murmur from the grandkids,” he said. “They were enjoying it as much as I was – and they all live in Switzerland.”

Jennings is still in thrall to the game, but glad not to have played under its modern stringencies. “Ice baths? I don’t know if I would have liked that,” she said. “Our cool-down was to sit on the bar and have a beer. I liked the social aspect.

“I go down to Essendon still, get on the balcony, watch the cricket, have a couple of drinks and go home. It’s very pleasant.”

Greg Baum was a member of the voting panel for this year’s hall of fame class

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