An infant prodigy, so inspiring for aspiring cricketers to emulate
In 1956, at the tender age of seventeen, Malcolm Francke walked into the Ceylon Cricket Association team for the then prestigious Gopalan Trophy clash against Tamil Nadu. Named after the legendary Madras all-rounder M. J. Gopalan and inaugurated in 1952/53, the annual encounter between the State of Madras (Tamil Nadu) and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) was played on a home and away basis till 1975/76.
A wily leg spinner, Francke, played for All-Ceylon in 1958 against visiting Englishmen skippered by Peter May, who led the likes of Cowdrey, Statham, Trueman, Bailey, Evans, Graveney, Laker, Loader, Tyson, Raman Subba Row and Tony Lock.
Having moved to England, Francke reportedly had chosen to play part-time club cricket to concentrate on a career in accountancy, in preference to better offers from a few counties.
As a migrant to Australia, his Queensland debut came in 1971 against the Rest of the World XI. The well-earned wickets of Clive Lloyd (both innings), and of captain Rohan Kanhai and Sunil Gavaskar, are evidence of his expertise in the trade.
Francke’s illustrious teammates in Queensland’s Sheffield Shield team included Greg Chappell, Jeff Thomson, Geoff Dymock, Tony Dell and Martin Kent.
The young cricketer’s pursuit of a spinning spot in the Australian team had many obstacles, even in his prime from 1972 to 1975. The stipulated residential eligibility criteria to represent his adopted country had to run its course. Then, what about the competition? Despite his nagging style, an unquenchable thirst for bowling in any conditions and fantastic dedication to the cause, he had to oust the likes of Mallett, O’Keeffe, Bright and Jenner. A tall order indeed for a small man from a tiny island!
During the time, Francke was considered the best leg spinner in Australia by none other than Ashley Mallett himself, who expressed disappointment that Francke was unfortunate to miss out on Test selection.
He was also a part of the 1975 rebel tour by D H Robins’ XI, led by former England captain Brian Close, the youngest-ever to play Test cricket for England. Cricket teams touring South Africa weren’t sanctioned then, and Robins’ side included Test regulars such as Tony Greig, Max Walker, Terry Jenner, Bruce Francis, Frank Hays, Clive Radley, Roger Tolchard, Eddie Hemmings and John Shepherd; great company once again.
In 1977, Ian Chappell called a 38-year old, fading Francke, “a very steady type of spinner, with good line and length, but I can’t really see him bowling out Test batsmen. As well, he is getting on in years.”
He retired from first-class cricket in 1980 but was amazingly recalled by Queensland at the age of forty-six to play in the 1985/86 season. In surroundings largely bereft of spinning resources, Francke went on to take 146 wickets @ 29.61 in 49 matches for Queensland in Sheffield Shield cricket, with a career-best of 11-184.
Be that as it may, many still rate Malcolm Francke (now 81) as the best to have rolled his wrist to leave batsmen in a spin, for Queensland’s cause in Sheffield Shield cricket.
This article first appeared on the 1st issue of the Vox Cricket magazine on 13 April 2020.