In Memoriam for Bruce Yardley: A Man for All Seasons & Sri Lanka’s Cricket Coach

Heyday: Former Australian offspinner Bruce Yardley.
Heyday: Former Australian offspinner Bruce Yardley.CREDIT:ARCHIVES

ONE: Associated Press Notice in entitled Yardley, ex-Australia player and Sri Lanka coach, dies at 71″

PERTH, Australia — Bruce Yardley, who played test cricket for Australia and coached Sri Lanka’s national team, has died after a long struggle with cancer. He was 71. Yardley died Wednesday in a hospital in Western Australia state. He played 33 tests, starting in 1978 during the split in Australian cricket amid the World Series era, after converting from a medium pacer to off-spin bowling.

Aided by his unusual grip of the ball, Yardley took 126 test wickets, a long-time record for Australian off-spinners. He also scored 978 runs, including four test half centuries. One of those, off 29 balls against the West Indies in 1978, was the Australian record for 38 years as the fastest test 50.

He was voted as the top international cricketer of the 1981-82 Australian summer, an annual award held between 1980-1996.

Yardley was Sri Lanka’s head coach from late 1996-98, taking over in the wake of the country’s World Cup win. He was an early mentor in Sri Lanka for offspinner Muttiah Muralitharan, who holds the record for most wickets in test cricket.

Cricket Australia chief executive Kevin Roberts said Yardley was a significant and popular figure in the game. “As a player, it took him more than 10 years of persistence playing first-class and premier cricket to find the art of off-spin, earning him a test debut at the age of 30,” Roberts said. “He was also an excellent fielder and handy batter. Off the field, Bruce had an infectious personality and was regarded as one of the best spin-bowing coaches in the world.”

Tom Moody


Deeply saddened to hear the passing of former team mate and friend, Roo you were one of a kind you’ll be missed by us all.

John Townsend


Vale Bruce Yardley. He was genuinely one in a million. 

TWO = Peter Lalor, Australian cricketer Bruce Yardley dies, aged 71,”in The Australian, 27 March 2019

As word of Bruce Yardley’s passing made its way across cricket’s territories today his friends and those he encountered paused to remember a gifted cricketer, a lighthearted teammate and a caring human being who had a deep love for the subcontinent, in particular Sri Lanka.

Rod Marsh, who played against him as a teenager and with him in the Australian Test side, spoke fondly of his friend. “He was an outstanding teammate,” the former wicket keeper said. “When he was around there was always laughter. He played the game the way it should be played. He enjoyed it, he felt lucky to be playing at that level and nothing was going to stop him enjoying it. He was full of fun, fantastic to have around. Bruce was a highly underestimated cricketer too, he did some wonderful things in Test match cricket and Shield cricket.”

Tall and athletic, Yardley, who was known as The Roo, took 126 wickets in 33 Test matches between 1978 and 1983. He was a brilliant gully fielder, utilising his long limbs to reach balls that should have been on their way to the boundary and he used those same levers to great effect in the lower order.

In 1978, batting at No.8 Yardley hit a 29 ball half century that remained the fastest by any Australian for 38 years. The record withstood many an attack from Adam Gilchrist but eventually fell to David Warner in 2017. Yardley’s was all the more remarkable for being achieved in Barbados against the bowling of Joel Garner, Andy Roberts and Colin Croft. He walked gingerly to the wicket that day on a foot from which the spine of a sea urchin had been removed the day before and was in even more pain when he left. Yardley took on the quicks, infuriating Garner in particular when he launched him over deep point for six.

The bowler got his own back soon enough, striking Yardley on the elbow. “I thought my whole arm was gone,” Yardley recalled in Gideon Haigh’s book, The Cricket War, “and I can’t have been thinking too straight because the next ball I tried to hook. It hit me in the throat.” While his lower order teammates defended for their lives, Yardley refused to surrender and launched into the feared bowling trio.

Marsh says that when he first saw the lanky teenager in junior representative cricket he was bowling leg spinner. When they next met Yardley was a medium pacer for Midland Guildford who swung the ball prodigiously, but when he broke into the Australian side it was as an off-spinner.

Influenced by baseball, Yardley had developed a slow delivery, delivered by gripping the ball between the third and fourth fingers, that won him recall to WA and became his stock delivery on the international stage.

Yardley lost his eye to cancer early in the prolonged battle with cancer and announced the end was near in an email titled ‘Jack the Dancer and the Roo’ which he sent to his mates in late February.

“An update to you me mates,” he wrote. “I reckon my time is done. 71 wonderful years which will end in Wyndham …

“Beat it in the body but it has infiltrated my amazing brain.

“I’m not heading back to the big smoke, loves yas orl”

Another teammate Wally Edwards said Yardley had a wandering spirit in the later years and had eventually bought an old railway house in Wyalkatchem, a small town in the wheat belt north east of Perth where he lived alone.

“He said he liked it because he could walk around naked,” Edwards said. “He was a good team man, a good bloke and a wonderful cricketer.

“I remember when I first played against him in club cricket, I’d never seen anyone swing the ball so far in both directions. He was a good batsman too, he underplayed his ability with the bat. In the later years he would bat at No.4 for Midland Guildford.”

Yardley loved Sri Lanka and while conducting a bowling camp there he came across a young bowler with a mild deformity of his arm. He encouraged him to get more side-on in his delivery which he did almost immediately.

Yardley returned to Australia and told his peers about a kid who was going to “turn world cricket upside down.” The bowler, Muralitharan, went on to take the most Test wickets of anyone in the game. Later Yardley became Sri Lanka’s head coach. After the Tsunami hit that country in 2004 he made a number of visits where he threw himself into the task of helping the people he’d developed so much affection for to rebuild.

During one visit Yardley met a young girl, Chatharika, who had problems with her eye. He organised for her to be flown back to Perth to see the same surgeon who had treated him, while she recovered he raised fund which enabled her and her grandmother to buy a farm and house on return.

Yardley was 71 when he died in Kununurra District Hospital.

Peter Lalor is The Australian’s chief cricket writer and has been a reporter for over 30 years. An award winning journalist and author he has covered Test cricket in all parts of the world for the newspaper. He… 





Filed under Australian cricket, child of empire, cricket and life, cricketing icons, murali, performance, spinning art, Sri Lanka Cricket, unusual people

2 responses to “In Memoriam for Bruce Yardley: A Man for All Seasons & Sri Lanka’s Cricket Coach

    Dear Michael

    I had the pleasure of having some beers with him on several occasions during Sri Lanka’s tour to South Africa in 1996.
    Great guy. At that time he was teaching bowlers to do reverse swing.

    Sad to hear about his demise.


  2. an EMAIL NOTE from CYRIL ERNEST: Thank you Michael. Yes indeed we have lost a great personality in the form of Bruce Yardley. I had not realized his true potential as a great cricketer and I am reading about him only now.
    Cyril Ernest.

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