Last Thursday night, I was watching David Hookes on Fox Sports hosting the one-hour “Inside Cricket” program as he did every week. On Sunday, Hookesy was coach of Victoria as they won their ING Cup game against his old state South Australia. Now, he’s gone.
David Hookes died on Monday at the age of 48 after suffering massive head injuries, apparently the result of an assault outside a pub in St Kilda on Sunday night. He’d been out celebrating the ING Cup win with some of his team. It’s not yet clear what happened that resulted in Hookes’ fatal injury, but a 21 year-old hotel bouncer has been charged with assault.
Hookes had a magnificent career as a batsman for South Australia and Australia, but was blossoming as a coach and a broadcaster at the time of his death. The fact that he was riding high as a celebrity, almost two decades after the end of his international playing days, has heightened the shock and national grief felt with the news of his violent death.
The first time that I can recall seeing David Hookes in a televised cricket match was the Adelaide Test between Australia and Pakistan at Christmas 1976, when he acted as a substitute fielder (this was the Test where Jeff Thomson dislocated his shoulder in an outfield collision with Alan Turner on the first morning).
Already a promising young batsman for South Australia, he made his mark when he hit five Sheffield Shield centuries in six innings in February 1977, including twin tons in two consecutive games. This was enough for the national selectors to give him a place in the team for the Centenary Test at the MCG in the following month, where he replaced the discarded Turner.
It was in the second innings of that magnificent game – in my opinion the finest Test match that I have ever seen – that Hookes hit five consecutive fours off the bowling of England captain Tony Greig to take his score from 36 to 56. Already he was being compared to the great left-handed batsmen such as Graeme Pollock.
Hookes was the youngest member of the Australian contingent signed up for the breakaway World Series Cricket later that year, and at 22 was being touted as the golden-haired boy of the side, much younger than most of the aging stars of the troupe. He was on 81 at the Sydney Showground (now part of Fox Studios) in a “supertest” against the WSC West Indians when he tried to hook Andy Roberts and got struck in the jaw – no helmets then. The fracture kept him out of the game for a while and is said to have affected his confidence against fast bowling.
Chosen in the first Australian Test side following reconciliation of the warring factions in 1979-80, Hookes was part of a middle-order foursome that included Greg Chappell, Allan Border and Kim Hughes, however a hamstring injury forced him to miss the rest of the series. His next recall to the Test team – at Karachi in February 1980 – ended when he bagged a pair.
Hookes was dropped from the South Australian team for a short while in 1980-81, but rebounded to score an incredible 34-ball century against Victoria in October 1982. Recalled once more to the Test team for the 1982-83 Ashes, injuries and form meant that subsequent appearances for Australia were intermittent. Hookes managed to score just one Test century, and that against an inexperienced Sri Lankan side at Kandy in April 1983. He played all five Tests in the West Indies in 1984 as a part of probably the worst Australian team of the post-Packer era.
What turned out to be his last of his 23 Test appearances was the 1985 Boxing Day Test against India (Steve Waugh’s debut). Hookes had previously turned down an offer to captain a rebel Australian side in South Africa that summer.
Hookes played 39 one-day internationals for Australia at a time when these games were confined mainly to the annual World Series Cup triseries and the World Cup. Though his dashing style of play may have seemed well suited to the limited over game, his highest ODI score for Australia was just 76, and only once did he pass 100 for South Australia in one-dayers.
The 1983 World Cup did give him the opportunity to captain Australia for one game, when Kim Hughes was injured for the final group match against India. The eventual champions of that tournament beat Australia by 118 runs, with Madan Lal and Roger Binny taking four wickets apiece.
It was for South Australia that Hookes played his most memorable cricket. His highest score was 306 not out against Tasmania in March 1987, sharing an unbeaten fourth-wicket partnership of 462 with Wayne Phillips (213*). As state captain he brought attacking flair to the game, and was at the helm when SA won the Sheffield Shield in 1981-82.
Hookes branched out into the media after his retirement as a player in 1992. As well as regularly doing television commentary on Australia’s overseas tours, he was a successful broadcaster on radio 3AW in Melbourne, doing a nightly sports talk show with AFL legend Gerald Healy. They should have been doing the show this week from the Australian Open tennis. He often made quite outspoken and even abrasive comments on radio, but this was part of the showmanship that he had learned from some of the other stablemates at the station such as Steve Price and Derryn Hinch.
Hookes added coaching to his repertoire in 2002 when he took on the struggling Victorian side. He was in the process of turning them around into Pura Cup contenders at the time of his death. Earlier this year Victoria had won their first shield game at The Gabba against Queensland for twenty years, and just last week had beaten New South Wales in Newcastle by scoring 445 in the last innings to win.
David Hookes was an energetic, popular individual, and while occasionally a loose cannon at the microphone it was very very hard to dislike him. It is staggering that his life could have ended this way, this suddenly. My sympathies to his family, his friends, and to his team-mates.
David William Hookes was born on 3 May 1955 and died on 19 January 2004. He played 23 Tests for Australia, scoring 1306 runs at 34.36; 39 one-day internationals (captain in one), scoring 826 runs at 24.29; 13 WSC supertests, scoring 789 runs at 35.86; 120 Sheffield Shield matches for South Australia, scoring a then-record 9364 runs at 47.77; and 178 first-class matches in all (which doesn’t count the WSC supertests), scoring 12671 runs at 43.39.