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Cricketer 'Hawkeye' who withstood 30 surgeries.

Australian cricketer and pacer Neil Hawke used his fighting spirit as a sportsman to withstand 12 cardiac arrests and 30 surgeries. During his playing days, he withstood a shoulder injury from football but remained a match-winner. An infection after a bowel surgery pushed him to the brink of death many times but he fought back with his iron will for 20 years

As cricket fans, all of us are familiar with the term ‘Hawkeye’ - a technology used in cricket to review leg before wicket decisions. Years ago, there used to be a cricketer by the nickname ‘Hawkeye’. It was on this day, on June 27 in 1939, that this Australian cricketer Neil Hawke was born.

Here goes his story.   He was a pacer whose passion for the game broke all barriers to emerge a match-winner for whichever team he played. He later underwent 30 surgeries, often returning from the brink of death, but withstood all of them with his fighting spirit.

Hawke was born in Cheltenham in South Australia and played Australian football, golf, and cricket. Six-feet-tall and well-built, Hawke caught the attention of media as an outstanding sportsman through Australian football. He also qualified to play in the British amateur golf championship.  But luck did not favour him and in 1966 his football career came to an end when he dislocated his right shoulder and a screw had to be inserted to fix it.

Yet, in 1968, he played in the cricket Test series at home against South Africa, Pakistan and India and also toured England. In the 1963-64 season, Hawke, who bowled with an asymmetrical action and had the ability to move the ball late, often caught batsmen by surprise with his slower ball. During the 1965 West Indies tour he took 24 wickets in the Test series, which included a spell of 10 for 115 in the Guyana Test match.

In the 1965-66 Ashes series, he was the top wicketkeeper along with Garth McKenzie with 16 wickets each.  He played 27 Tests for Australia and took 91 wickets at an average of 29.41.  Through his strong will power more than technique, he played some fighting knocks too, which included a knock of 37 that resulted in a 105 runs eighth-wicket partnership with Peter Burge in the Leeds Test to ensure Australia a victory.

Although the football injury affected his bowling, he continued to play in the Lanchashire League till 1974 and then became a journalist writing for The News and The Sunday Mail, and also turned a television broadcaster for Channel Nine.  

In 1964, in a Chennai Test match, he took two wickets each in both innings to help Australia win over the Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi led Indian team. In the same year at Melbourne against the Hanif Mohammad led Pakistan team, he bagged three wickets in the first innings and four wickets in the second innings, which included the prized wickets of Asif Iqbal and Intikhab Alam in both the innings!

In 1980 he had to undergo bowel surgery, which led to an infection and multiple organ failure. In the next two years, he overcame 12 cardiac arrests and underwent 30 additional surgeries till in 1996 he contracted Hepatitis B and C leading to impaired speech. The huge medical bill forced Hawke to sell all his memorabilia, but the man whom he entrusted to sell them pocketed the money saying all items were lost in transit! How greedy can humans be even at the cost of another person's grief?

When he died on Christmas day in 2000, his wife Beverley said that he had shown the courage to fight back from the brink of death for nearly 20 years. Not only cricketers but footballers and golfers too paid tribute to him. His autobiography Bowled Over published in 1982, two years after his health began to sink, describes his passion for cricket and life. In memory of this all-round sportsman, the South Australia government instituted the Neil Hawke scholarship for young sportsmen.  

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