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Lawrie Sawle, Australian and WA cricket visionary, dies at 96.

Laurie Sawle, the dry, witty and forever calm visionary who helped forge Australian cricket as an international force in the late 20th century, has died. He was 96.


“Identify talent and find an excuse to select it,” was Sawle’s mantra as a WA and Australian selector.

The man known universally as Colonel did so with remarkable results in the late 1980s when he insisted that Steve Waugh and Mark Taylor were the players to lead Australia’s recovery from the dark days of the South Africa rebel tours.


In 13 years as a national selector from 1982, 11 of them as chairman, he identified the Waugh twins, Taylor, Ian Healy, David Boon, Michael Slater, Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Craig McDermott, Damien Fleming, Damien Martyn, Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden as players of class and impact.


His reign culminated in the Ashes victory in 1989 that ushered in a remarkable era of success.

It was a similar theme at the WACA from 1962 to 1980 when Dennis Lillee, Rod Marsh, Kim Hughes, Terry Alderman, Ross Edwards and John Inverarity were to be promoted into the State team.


Sawle was a dour opening batsman for WA, saying when he scored his only century in a match-saving effort against NSW’s Test attack that he “had both edges working well” and highly influential figure at the University Cricket Club where he won three flags as a player and was president for a decade.


He was an influential mentor to two future Australian selection chairmen in Inverarity and Marsh while having a quiet but highly respected impact as a WACA and then Cricket Australia board member. His only controversial moment occurred in 1992 when Allan Border, angered that his deputy Geoff Marsh had been dropped for the final Test at the WACA Ground, refused to travel to Perth and threatened to boycott the match.

In this image: John Inverarity, Lawrie Sawle, John Townsend, Wally Edwards and Ashton Agar.


Sawle used all his powers of persuasion, and plenty of the steel that underpinned his velvet and sometimes stuttering voice, to persuade Border to play. His calm philosophy was formed during his World War II service when he was in action on Bougainville before he became a respected teacher at Kent Street High School.

His dry and withering wit was evident throughout his 50 year administrative career, as I discovered one Saturday morning.


His Booragoon phone number was in my book, as was that of the University 4th grade captain who I was trying to help round up enough players to fill a team that afternoon. The captain and I had exchanged several phone calls that morning when I accidentally rang Sawle whose number was almost identical to my target’s.


“Mate, we’re in a bit of strife,” I said. “We have got everyone except an opening batsman, opening bowler, spinner and wicket-keeper.” There was a brief silence then the familiar stutter came down the line: “I can’t really help you because I’ve got exactly the same problem!”


He was chairman of selectors at the time preparing for the Test series against the West Indies.


IMAGE: Supplied