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Kenneth Donald (Ken) Mackay (1925–1982)

by Ian Diehm

This article was published:

Kenneth Donald MacKay (‘Slasher’) (1925-1982), cricketer, was born on 24 October 1925 at Northgate, Brisbane, eldest child of Queensland-born parents Alexander Mackay, ironworker, and his wife Lillie Elizabeth, née Goebel. While serving on the Western Front in World War I, Alexander had been awarded the Military Medal. As a schoolboy at Virginia State School Ken was known as the ‘Virginia Bradman’ because of his heavy scoring in cricket matches. From the age of 14, when he left school, he worked in the insurance industry. At 15 he began playing A-grade cricket for the Toombul District Cricket Club. Enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force in November 1943, he served in New Britain in January-April 1945 with the 22nd Battalion before being discharged in Brisbane in December 1946. In November that year he made his début as a State cricketer, against the touring English team. On 4 August 1951 at St Paul’s Presbyterian Church, Brisbane, he married Mavis Jean Kenway, a clerk.

Early in his first-class career Mackay played predominantly as an obdurate, purely defensive left-handed batsman and was not considered for Test selection. During his first southern tour in 1946-47 Aubrey Carrigan, a member of the Queensland team, ironically nicknamed him ‘Slasher’ because of his slow batting. Having improved his scoring capacity and developed his medium-paced bowling, he was selected in 1956 to tour England under Ian Johnson’s captaincy. He played usefully in his début in the second Test at Lords, but failed in later matches against the mesmeric spin bowling of Jim Laker. His Test career appeared to be over but, next year, the withdrawal of Ron Archer from the Australian team to tour South Africa gained him a reprieve; in seven Test innings he averaged 125 with the bat. For the next six years he was an automatic selection in the Australian team. As a right-arm bowler, he approached the wicket with a shuffling, hesitant run and an action that disguised subtle changes of pace. His best performance was taking 6 wickets for 42 runs to help Australia defeat Pakistan at Dacca in the first Test of the 1959-60 series.

A fierce competitor, Mackay was not naturally gifted but in 1958-63 he made himself into an indispensable member of Richie Benaud’s Australian teams. Sir Donald Bradman considered that he was a ‘very, very valuable member of the Australian side’. Of medium height, Mackay was easily distinguished in the field by a peculiar slouching gait, the rakish angle of his cap and his incessant gum-chewing. He is remembered for his defiance of the West Indies attack in an unbroken tenth-wicket stand with Lindsay Kline that denied victory to the tourists in the fourth Test of the 1960-61 series, in Adelaide. In recognition of his feat, the Brisbane Courier-Mail organised a collection for him that netted £800.

During the fourth Test (his last) at Adelaide Oval in 1963 Mackay was appointed MBE. In 37 Tests he had scored 1507 runs at an average of 33.48 and a highest score of 89. He had taken 50 wickets at an average of 34.42. Mackay, who was Queensland captain from 1960, retired at the end of the 1963-64 season. In 100 first-class matches he had scored 10,823 runs at an average of 43.64 with 23 centuries and a highest score of 223, and had captured 251 wickets at an average of 33.31. On his retirement a public appeal raised 400,000 shillings for him.

Mackay wrote (with Frank O’Callaghan) Slasher Opens Up (1964), a cricketing memoir, and Quest For The Ashes (1966), an account of the 1965-66 English tour of Australia. He was a State selector (1964-65, 1967-79); coach of the Queensland team (1977-79); and a life member of the Queensland Cricket Association from 1976. In his playing days, he was a teetotaller and non-smoker. A keen fisherman and golfer, he was president (1969-72) of the Queensland division of the Sportsmen’s Association of Australia. He died on 13 June 1982—sixteen days after his wife—of myocardial infarction at Dunwich, North Stradbroke Island, and was cremated. His four daughters survived him. The Ken Mackay cricket oval at Nundah, Brisbane, was named after him in 1982.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Pollard, Australian Cricket (1982)
  • C. Harte, A History of Australian Cricket (1993)
  • R. Cashman (ed), The Oxford Companion to Australian Cricket (1996)
  • I. Diehm, Green Hills to the Gabba (2000)
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 14 June 1982, p 1
  • Telegraph (Brisbane), 14 June 1982, p 23
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 14 June 1982, pp 2 and 22.

Citation details

Ian Diehm, 'Mackay, Kenneth Donald (Ken) (1925–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 21 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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