His early cricket was played in Bundaberg where he was selected to represent Queensland Country against the England cricket team during the infamous Bodyline tour. Aged 17, he made his first-class cricket debut for Queensland against Victoria in December 1933. By the 1935–36 season, Tallon was an established player and he topped the Queensland batting averages for the season, however he was a surprise non-inclusion for the 1938 Australian team to tour England. Following the Second World War and the retirement or unavailability of other candidates, he was finally given an opportunity to play Test cricket, making his debut against New Zealand in 1946 aged 30.
Following the Invincibles tour, poor health dogged Tallon, causing him to miss the 1949–50 tour of South Africa. He recovered his spot for the Ashes series in 1950–51, catching well but failing with the bat. Tallon missed selection for the 1951–52 Test season but recovered his spot for the 1953 Australian team to tour England. He played in the first Test before being replaced by Gil Langley, this time permanently. He retired from first-class cricket in 1953 and returned to Bundaberg, assisting his brother in running a corner store. He died in Bundaberg aged 68.
The following season, he played in the Country trials in Brisbane. He was selected for the Queensland Colts in 1932–33 and represented Queensland Country against Douglas Jardine’s England cricket team during the Bodyline tour. In England’s innings of 376, Tallon conceded only five byes and stumped Herbert Sutcliffe, regarded as one of the finest batsmen in Test history. He did not get a chance to display his batting prowess as the Bodyline spearhead Harold Larwood rattled him with a series of deliveries aimed at the throat before bowling him. Tallon's fast and efficient skills behind the stumps further caught the eye of cricket officials in early 1933 at the Country Week Carnivals. Tallon distinguished himself with his tidy keeping to the express pace bowling of Eddie Gilbert, whose suspect action and indigenous heritage were later the subject of controversy.
He made his first-class debut for Queensland at 17 against Victoria in December 1933, having never previously attended a first-class match as a spectator. He conceded only six byes in an innings of 542 in a tidy performance, but was dropped after the match. Queensland officials had ruled that it was not advisable to take such a young player on away trips to Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales. Tallon reclaimed his position when Queensland returned for their home games and from then on was the first-choice wicket-keeper for the state. In his fourth match, he confirmed his batting ability with 58 and 86 against the South Australian bowling attack led by Clarrie Grimmett, the world's leading leg spinner at the time.
Towards the end of 1934, Tallon moved to Brisbane where he worked as a storeman for a car company. In 1935–36, Tallon was Queensland's top batsman in terms of both runs and batting average, scoring 569 runs at an average of 51.72. He started well in a match against South Australia in Adelaide. South Australia included Australia captain Don Bradman in their ranks, making a comeback from illness. The match was mainly noted for Bradman's 233 but Tallon impressed Bradman by taking two particularly difficult catches, one of which dismissed Bradman himself. Bradman also praised Tallon for conceding only seven byes in a total of 642, particularly his ability to take balls passing down the leg side. Tallon then scored 88 in Queensland's reply. Bradman opined that he had a "clean-hitting crisp style ... attacking, positive, and with a technique to rival most first-class batsmen". The highlight of Tallon's season was his highest first-class score of 193, against Victoria in Brisbane, a match in which he also took five catches in an innings. As he continued his consistent form with both bat and gloves, he came into strong consideration for Test selection.
Tallon's non-selection for the 1938 Ashes touring party surprised commentators. In selection deliberations, Bradman had lobbied for Tallon and Walker, asserting that Oldfield was past his best. The other two selectors, E.A. Dwyer from New South Wales and Bill Johnson from Victoria, outvoted Bradman. They selected Barnett, because of his previous tour to England, and Walker. Tallon's omission was overshadowed by that of Grimmett, regarded alongside Bill O'Reilly as the world's leading legspinner. No official reason was given for Tallon's omission. A leak revealed that the reason for his omission was that he was not familiar with the bowling of Australia's three spinners: O'Reilly, Chuck Fleetwood-Smith and Frank Ward. Another was Tallon's preference in standing back to medium pacers. In reality, Tallon stood back and stood up to the stumps depending on the situation. While the medium pacers were swinging the ball, he would stand back to avoid the risk of missing an edge. When the ball was old, he would stand up to the stumps when a medium pacer was operating and effect many stumpings with his fast reflexes.
During the series, Barnett made two notable errors. With Australia leading the series 1–0 going into the Fifth Test at The Oval, Barnett dropped Len Hutton and Maurice Leyland when both were on 40. Leyland went on to post 187 while Hutton set a Test world record of 364. In effect, England were gifted an extra 461 runs as they set a world record score of 7/903. Bradman injured himself during the marathon innings in a rare stint at the bowling crease after the specialist bowlers had failed to break the Englishmen. With opener Jack Fingleton also injured, Australia were down to nine men and fell to their heaviest innings defeat in Test history and the series was drawn.
Tallon responded during the 1938–39 season by equalling two world records. Against New South Wales in Sydney, he dismissed 12 batsmen, six in each innings, a feat performed only once before, in 1868 by Surrey's Ted Pooley. Two matches later, Tallon became the fourth keeper to make seven dismissals in an innings, in a match against Victoria. He did not concede a bye in the innings of 348. Tallon finished the season with 34 dismissals in six matches, setting a new Australian season record. He took more than five dismissals in an innings in four of the ten innings in which he kept wicket. Observers noted Tallon to be more motivated than ever; his catching and stumping style became more animated, and his appealing reached new levels of sound. He passed 100 first-class dismissals during the season, achieved in just 32 matches—the fastest Australian to reach the mark. He also struck a century before lunch in less than ninety minutes in the morning session against New South Wales in Brisbane, the first player to achieve such a feat in Queensland history.
Following his form in 1938–39, Tallon eagerly awaited the arrival of England for the 1940–41 tour of Australia. He was only 23 and regarded as an almost certain selection following his record-breaking performance with both bat and gloves. However, the outbreak of the Second World War called a halt to his rise and robbed him of the opportunity to represent his country while in his prime as a cricketer; official international cricket did not resume until he was 29.
With first-class cricket cancelled, Tallon joined the Australian Army in August 1940 at Bundaberg. Tallon was discharged in 1943 as a private and was not decorated. His discharge was due to stomach ulcers and he later had a major operation to remove part of his stomach.
Upon the resumption of competitive cricket, Tallon's chances of selection had improved due to the fates of his pre-war wicket-keeping rivals. Oldfield had long retired. Barnett, a Captain in the army, had been a prisoner of the Japanese at Changi in Singapore for four years. Emaciated, he slowly recovered his fitness and forced his way back into the Victorian team, but was almost 40 and intended to retire in the near future. Walker had joined the Royal Australian Air Force as a gunner and was killed in a duel with Nazi fighter pilots over Soltau in Germany. This left Tallon as the front-runner, but there was a possibility that the selectors would opt for generational change and install a youthful keeper like Gil Langley or Ron Saggers with an eye to the future. With the pressure of selection on his head, Tallon made eight dismissals in a match against New South Wales in Brisbane, including three stumpings and three catches from the leg spin of Colin McCool, a future Test team-mate. The performance was to herald the start of a prolific bowler-wicket-keeper partnership.
Tallon made his Test debut in a one-off Test against New Zealand at Wellington in March 1946, although the match was only given Test accreditation two years later. On a wet wicket, New Zealand were dismissed for 42 and 54 against the slow bowling of Bill O'Reilly and Ernie Toshack. Tallon made a stumping, a run out and took a catch. He scored only five runs as Australia won by an innings and 103 runs. Tallon had rarely kept to O'Reilly's leg spin and impressed the bowler, who compared him with Oldfield.
The following season saw Australia's first Test series since the end of the Second World War, with five matches scheduled against Wally Hammond's touring Englishmen in 1946–47. Tallon staked his claim for the national wicket-keeping position in Queensland's first match of the season, which was against England. Tallon combined with McCool in four stumpings and two catches, and in the process took his first-class tally to 170 dismissals his 50th first-class match. Tallon's proficiency keeping wicket to McCool's bowling was now a major factor in his favour for national selection, as since the retirement of O'Reilly, McCool had established himself as Australia's first-choice spinner. Tallon was duly selected for the First Test of the series in Brisbane.
In his first Test on Australian soil, Tallon took two catches but scored only 14 in a victory. Tallon was worried that his poor batting might lead to him being replaced, but he was retained as Australia secured an innings victory in Sydney. He put in a polished performance with the gloves, with four catches and two stumpings, in addition to 30 runs. The only negative aspect of the match for Tallon was that he dislocated his finger. Beyond the raw statistics, two of the catches that Tallon made in the first innings were regarded as among his finest ever and turned the tide of the match. Len Hutton and Bill Edrich, two of England's leading batsmen had seen their team to lunch with only the loss of one wicket. Tallon declared to Bradman that he intended to dismiss Hutton down the leg side, so Bradman brought off spinner Ian Johnson into the attack immediately after lunch. Johnson was instructed to bowl at Hutton's legs to give him an opportunity to glance the ball. Hutton obliged and struck the ball from the middle of his bat, expecting a boundary. He turned around and was shocked to see that Tallon had intercepted the ball from a blind position at a range of just one metre. The score was 2/88 as Hutton, who held the Test world record score was dismissed and replaced by at the batting crease Denis Compton. Bradman introduced McCool and Compton misjudged a cut shot which went wide of Tallon and struck Johnson, fielding at slip, in the chest. The ball rebounded past Tallon's shoulder and was heading for the ground when he spun and dived backwards to catch it just before it landed. According to Roland Perry, it was "an acrobatic feat that would put any trapeze artist in the shade, taking one of the most brilliant catches in Test history". Tallon took another difficult catch from McCool to dismiss Hammond as England fell to 4/99, with three specialist batsmen to improbable catches. This restricted England and allowed Australia to set up a match-winning lead.
Tallon now felt secure about his place in the team for the rest of the series. This lead to increased confidence in his play in the Third Test at Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). After keeping tidily and scoring 35 in the first innings, Tallon combined with Ray Lindwall in the second innings for a 154-run partnership in just 92 minutes. Described by Wisden as a "hurricane", the partnership was marked by Tallon's powerful driving and cutting. Lindwall reached his century, but Tallon fell for 92 to Doug Wright. Tallon's keeping was further lauded in the second innings of the Fifth Test, when he stumped Edrich, Jack Ikin and Alec Bedser from McCool's bowling. By series end, Tallon had set an Australian Test record of 20 dismissals in a series and averaged 29 with the bat.
Tallon played in all five Tests against India in the Australian summer of 1947–48, and earned praise from Indian skipper Lala Amarnath who described him as the "greatest keeper he had seen". Tallon made 13 dismissals but had an unproductive time with the bat, scoring only 49 runs at 12.25.
Tallon's form saw him selected for the 1948 Ashes tour as part of the side that would become known to cricket history as the Invincibles. Tallon was the first-choice wicket-keeper, with Saggers as his deputy. Having spent the majority of his life in sunny Queensland and growing up in tropical Bundaberg, the cold English climate initially caught Tallon off guard. He did not wet his inner gloves as was his custom due to the temperature. As England agreed to make a new ball available every 55overs, this meant that the ball would more frequently be in a favourable state for fast bowling, since it would swing more. As a result, Australia adopted a pace-oriented strategy and Johnson was the only spinner regularly used in the Test matches. McCool was not to play a Test on the tour, depriving Tallon of an opportunity to show his stumping abilities standing up at the stumps to his Queensland team-mate.
Early in the tour, Tallon had some difficulty in English conditions as he sustained a bruised right finger when he lost sight of a Ray Lindwall bouncer on a misty morning during a tour match at The Oval and was hit as he put hand over his face for protection, with the ball running away for four byes. During the First Test at Trent Bridge, Tallon took four catches, including two difficult ones to dismiss key batsmen at the start of the second innings. He thus helped Australia to seize the initiative by denying England a good start, which was converted into an eight-wicket victory. The teams moved on to Lord's and Australia compiled 350 in its first innings. Tallon made 53 and helped the tail to "wag", Tallon did not concede a bye in England’s first innings of 215 and his diving was estimated to have saved around 40 runs. One of the three catches he took stood out; it came when Washbrook inside edged a Toshack full toss directly downwards at Tallon's ankle. Bradman described the catch as "miraculous" because Tallon had to reach so low, so quickly, in order to take the catch. Another dive to stop a leg glance resulted in a severely bruised left little finger. Australia won the Test and the teams played out a draw in the third match at Manchester, where Tallon dismissed George Emmett from the bowling of Ray Lindwall with a diving one–handed catch.
Tallon's little left finger swelled up after the Third Test and he exacerbated the injury during a tour match against Middlesex, ruling him out of the Fourth Test at Headingley, which Australia won to secure the series. Tallon returned for the Fifth Test at The Oval, taking three catches, including an acrobatic catch of Len Hutton down the leg side that was considered the catch of the season. When the last match of the tour against Scotland in Aberdeen became safe, with Australia in an unassailable position, Bradman allowed Tallon to dispense with his wicket-keeping pads and try his luck at bowling leg spin. Tallon never bowled in his Test career and only rarely in first-class cricket, where he delivered 301 balls, the approximate workload of a specialist bowler in one match.
Tallon had had moderate success with his batting during the Test series, aggregating 114 runs at 28.50. The Australian team strategy of primarily depending on pace bowling saw Tallon make 12 catches and no stumpings during the Tests; however, Bradman rested his lead pace bowlers Miller and Lindwall during the tour games to save energy for the Tests, so that overall Tallon took 29 catches and 14 stumpings for the tour. Tallon’s performances during the English summer saw him named by Wisden as one of its five Cricketers of the Year.
Upon Tallon's return to Australia, he made an unbeaten 146 in Bradman's Testimonial match at the MCG in December 1948. He featured in a tenth-wicket partnership of 100 with Geff Noblet, who scored only nine as Tallon farmed the strike effectively. This saw the match scores tied on the last ball of the match. Tallon withdrew from the 1949–50 tour to South Africa due to illness caused by stomach ulcers. His place was taken by Saggers, who made 21 dismissals in the five Tests. In the meantime, Tallon toured New Zealand for a brief period at the end of the season with an Australian Second XI led by Bill Brown, and scored 116 in an unofficial Test in Dunedin.
By the home Ashes series against England in 1950–51, Tallon was fit once more and played in all five Tests. He had a poor time with the bat, making only 39 runs at an average of just 6.50. He took only eight catches, but kept tidily to retain his place in the team.
By this time, Tallon was losing his hearing, and gained the derisive nickname Deafy. In one Test, he had been told by captain Lindsay Hassett before going out to bat that there was to be an appeal for bad light. Hassett said "go for the light" but Tallon misheard it as "go for a lash". Tallon walked out and was dismissed for a low score after attempting to attack the English bowlers, leaving his skipper displeased.
Tallon missed selection during the 1951–52 season due his increasingly error-prone glovework and a combination of health reasons including stomach ulcers and deafness. He was unable to reclaim his Test place in 1952–53 despite making a century against the touring South Africans for Queensland. He was selected for the 1953 tour of England, and played in the First Test, taking two catches and scoring a duck and 15. Hassett and his deputy Arthur Morris then made the decision to replace Tallon with Gil Langley.
Tallon retired in dramatic circumstances after the first match of the 1953–54 Sheffield Shield season. During the match, he suddenly took off his gloves and handed the keeping duties to Peter Burge. Tallon continued to play local cricket in Bundaberg for another decade.
Regarded as one of Australia's finest ever wicket-keepers, Tallon was lean and relatively tall for a wicket-keeper, standing 180 cm. Tallon’s high acclaim among cricket pundits derived from his style, rather than raw statistics. In 21 Tests, Tallon kept wicket in 41 innings, making 58 dismissals at an average of 1.41 per innings. Modern Australian glovemen such as Rod Marsh and Ian Healy, both of whom held the Test world record for dismissals, averaged closer to two. Tallon's Test batting average of 17.13 pales in comparison to that of contemporary wicket-keepers such as Australia’s Adam Gilchrist and Sri Lanka's Kumar Sangakkara, both of whom have made a double century and more than ten centuries. English wicket-keepers from two decades after World War II such as Godfrey Evans and Jim Parks scored two Test centuries apiece and averaged substantially more than Tallon.
Tallon had an understated style, which was without flourish or flamboyancy. He was known for his anticipation of the flight, length and spin of the ball. He was particularly regarded for his stumping efficiency and his ability to catch balls down the leg side. Tallon often stood up to the stumps for medium pace bowlers and his stumping was highlighted by his textbook technique of lifting the bails without disturbing the stumps (pictured). Tallon’s crouch was more pronounced than most other keepers and he rebounded upwards further and faster than others. He had a particularly smooth and graceful catching technique that left his hands undamaged from the ball's impact, the injury in England in 1948 being a notable exception that proved the rule. In recognising him as one of their five Cricketers of the Year in the 1949 Wisden, the Almanack noted that his hands resembled those of a violinist, while Bradman noted that all his "fine, longer fingers were intact" as though he had not played much cricket. According to his English counterpart Godfrey Evans, Tallon was the "best and most nimble keeper ever" while Australian team-mate Alan Davidson called him the "Bradman of keepers".
Strong driving and quick scoring were hallmarks of his batting, made possible by his swift footwork. According to Bradman, Tallon’s batting was "attacking, positive and with a technique to rival most first-class batsmen". This led Bradman to select Tallon in his all-time best XI. Tallon was a vociferous and frequent appealer behind the stumps, something that led to complaints from opposition batsmen who felt that the pressure he exerted was unfair.
Tallon married his first wife Marjorie Beattie in 1946. The constant travel, interstate and overseas, took a toll on his marriage and the pair divorced in 1950. He remarried in 1954, to Lynda Kirchner from his native Bundaberg, with whom he had two daughters. In retirement, Tallon helped his younger brother Mat in running a corner store in Bundaberg. His nephew Ross played one match for Queensland Colts in 1967–68.
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