HOWZAT: Azaria Wells with best friend Denis Schuller in 2015 when he was helping her to raise money for brain surgery.
HOWZAT: Azaria Wells with best friend Denis Schuller in 2015 when he was helping her to raise money for brain surgery. Trinette Stevens

The cabbie who bowled Viv Richards out for 99

NAMES like Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson, Allan Border and the Chappell brothers come from a golden era in cricket.

From ordinary folk to prime ministers, the cricket-loving world stood still at times just to watch the world's fastest bowlers take on some of the greatest batsmen in history.

Some were among the 95,000 people to cram the Melbourne Cricket Ground chanting "Lillee, Lillee, Lillee", while others watched from lounge rooms and pubs around the country.

But one Rockhampton cab driver had the best spot in the house, as he took his place at the end of the wicket, and faced off against the world's greats.

Often victorious and occasionally humiliated, Denis Schuller says there was no greater era in cricket and probably never will be again.

An all-rounder who batted with his right arm and bowled with his left, Schuller was, in his own words, the perfect 12th man.

"I could field, sing and dance and organise parties," he said with the characteristic good humour that made him a popular and well-liked member of the Queensland cricket team.

Between 1975 and 1980 Schuller played 29 Sheffield Shield matches and 11 internationals with the Queensland side; scoring 525 runs and taking 66 wickets.

 

STAR STUDDED: Denis Schuller (centre row, third from left) as part of the Queensland cricket team.
Denis Schuller (centre row, third from left) as part of the Queensland cricket team. Christine Mckee

He bowled West Indian great Viv Richards out for 99 on one occasion and on another, he almost single-handedly lost a McDonald Cup match against Western Australia.

"WA had half the Australian team and Queensland had the other half," he recalled.

"Viv Richards was playing for Queensland, Jeff Thomson was the world's fastest bowler ... on paper we had a fabulous side.

"We got them out for 77, so it should have been a walkover."

But a comedy of errors, starting with a dropped catch, meant there would be no walkover.

"Thommo and I both missed the catch from Rick Charlesworth," he said.

"Then I came on to bowl. I was 0 for 22 off two overs and banished to the boondocks.

With players like Greg Chappell and Viv Richards only chasing 77, Schuller wasn't expecting to bat but Chappell was quickly out followed by Richards for a duck.

"Then we were down to No.8 where I was. John McLean was at the other end.

"He played a pretty good shot down towards the covers and next thing he was beside me yelling 'Run!'.

"I didn't move, so McLean was run out. "Then Geoff Dymock came in and a similar thing happened. That was two I'd run out.

"We were 62 and I thought I'd better get these runs myself, so I played a brilliant shot to gully and got myself caught out for a duck."

It may not have been Schuller's greatest moment, but he says in a way it wasn't a bad game to lose.

"It made Western Australia - the crowd, everything just jelled," he recalled.

"They should have given me man of the match for that one.

"It was the best thing to happen in West Australian cricket. They still talk about it today."

Denis Schuller began his cricket days in Ipswich and Wynnum-Manly.

 

Denis Schuller's trading card
Denis Schuller's trading card Christine Mckee

When his family moved to Moura in the early 1970s Schuller joined the Norths Cricket Club in Rockhampton and it was there in 1968 he played his first international match against the West Indies in Mackay.

"I had a funny thing though, where I didn't like to play for dominant sides. I preferred to play for a struggling team so I played a couple of seasons for Easts in Rocky as well."

In a match for Queensland Country against Pakistan in 1972, Schuller had three for none against three of the best batsmen in the world.

But he also got himself into 'a bit of trouble' and that year spent three months in jail.

"I was always a bit of a protector and I was wrongly accused," he said.

After leaving jail he was convinced he wouldn't make the Queensland side and headed to South Australia.

Famous sports journalist Mike Coward suggested he try the Salisbury club which had a new coach after running last in the previous five seasons.

It suited him down to the ground with a chance to both bat and bowl and after three matches Schuller made the state squad.

 

Former Queensland cricket player Denis Schuller now drives a taxi in Rockhampton for a livinig.   Photo: Chris Ison / The Morning Bulletin
Former Queensland cricket player Denis Schuller now drives a taxi in Rockhampton for a livinig. Photo: Chris Ison / The Morning Bulletin Chris Ison ROK241014ccricket2

But with Don Bradman as principal and his ideas to always select local players, Schuller headed back to Queensland ready to give the game away aged 26.

However after a call from Clem Jones, former head of Queensland Cricket Association, he was back playing for Wynnum Manly and finally made the Queensland side, as a batsman.

In those days, players were paid $100 a game and Schuller says the camaraderie between players was very real, with the on-field sledging quickly forgotten.

"We'd get on the grog with the other team straight after the game, in the dressing room," Schuller said.

"Greg Ritchie would loosen the stubbie cap and pass it to me, and I'd 'open it' with my eye socket.

"The Poms couldn't believe it; they reckon they'd never seen anything like it before.

"Whenever England came out the talk was always about getting Geoff Boycott out.

"I had one great game where I got him both times, and David Gower both times. That was a very memorable game.

"We made some great friends with the Poms and that was the part I liked most."

After bowling to the world's greatest batsmen, Schuller said the best he ever played against was a South African called Barry Richardson.

"He only ever played four test matches before apartheid, but he made Thommo look like a slow bowler," he said.

"Barry just made him look like a fool."

Schuller's respect for the other players stopped short of his own captain Greg Chappell.

"I didn't like him. He was all about the money and too aloof. He wasn't popular," he said.

"He would have three kids carrying his bags out of the car while they'd laugh at his sick jokes.

"I just don't like that sort of thing.

"But even though I fell out with him, he was never going to get rid of me.

"I was the perfect 12th man.''

Denis Schuller called it a day in 1981, aged 33.

He could see talented young players like Carl Rackemann coming through and in the team spirit he was known for, decided it was time to move aside to give them a go.

But his zest for life, great sense of humour and love of cricket continued.

In a game where everyone had a nickname, Denis Schuller was known as Louie (the Fix).

"I'd tell terrible lies, tell them I was mixed up with the mafia," he laughed.

"After one match I was banned from umpiring my son's cricket matches at Nudgee College in Brisbane.

"I asked him if it was because I gave him not out when he was caught in the slips?

"He said, yes ... twice."

 

 

This story was first published in Rocky Life in October, 2014.