Bruce Yardley, the former Australian off spinner who died on Wednesday at the age of 71 had a short but successful Test career. It lasted just five years but Yardley packed a great deal into that brief period. He was the side’s leading spin bowler from the late seventies to the early eighties and even as Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson, Rodney Hogg and Len Pascoe dominated in the wicket taking act Yardley had his share of scalps which resulted in an impressive tally of 126 wickets from 33 Tests at 31 apiece. Six five wicket hauls and one ten wicket haul embellish these figures and what made him an even more competitive cricketer was the fact that he had four half centuries with a highest score of 74.
Yardley came into the Australian team at the age of 30 in the wake of defections of the leading players to Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket. He made his Test debut against India at Adelaide in 1977-78 and straightaway made his presence felt. Bearing the brunt of the bowling in the absence of an injured Thomson Yardley wheeled down 43 overs for a bag of four for 134 successfully preventing the Indians from reaching a formidable victory target of 493. India were all out for 445 and what caught the eye most was the fact that all his dismissals were frontline batsmen – Dilip Vengsarkar, Anshuman Gaekwad, Chetan Chauhan and Mohinder Amarnath.
From then on Yardley was a regular in the Australian side and on the tour of the West Indies in 1978 he attracted particular attention – with the bat. In the second Test at Barbados he hit a whirlwind 74 against Andy Roberts, Joel Garner and Colin Croft, reaching his half century off just 29 balls. It remained the fastest fifty by an Australian for 39 years till David Warner broke the record by getting his half century off 23 balls against Pakistan in 2017.
Yardley toured India in 1979-80 playing in three Tests and picking up ten wickets. He enjoyed his best season two years later when playing at home against Pakistan and West Indies he took 38 wickets in six matches including four five wicket hauls and his only ten wicket haul in Tests. His good form continued in the series in New Zealand when he picked up 13 wickets in the three Tests.
Yardley remained Australia’s lone frontline spinner in the Ashes series in 1982-83 taking 22 wickets in the five Tests. Later that season he had a match haul of seven wickets in the one-off Test in Sri Lanka but was inexplicably not considered thereafter. However he remains Australia’s best off spinner in the period between Ashley Mallett and Nathan Lyon.