Davidson originally bowled left arm unorthodox spin, but when his uncle's team was missing a fast bowler in a country match, Davidson temporally filled the role, remaining a fast bowler permanently. In 1948–49, he moved to Sydney and joined the Northern Districts grade club. A talented rugby league player in his youth, he trained with the Western Districts Football Club in the off season to maintain his fitness. The Australian team was touring South Africa at this time, creating opportunities for young players, and he was selected for New South Wales. On debut against South Australia, Davidson claimed the wicket of Bob McLean with his second ball and finished with four wickets. He finished the season strongly, with 13 wickets in the last two matches against South Australia and Victoria, when he captured 5/28. His debut season ended with 26 wickets at 18.73.
These performances earned him selection for the Australian second team tour of New Zealand. In one match at Wairapa he took all ten wickets for 29 and then made an unbeaten 160. With the return of the Test players for the 1950–51 season, Davidson had less opportunities, and he took 14 wickets at 22.7. This included 7/49 against Queensland, but he expressed disappointment at his erratic line and length, frequently bowling full tosses and long hops.
The improvement of his bowling continued with 22 wickets at 18 in the 1951–52 season; in addition, he scored his first half century at first-class level with an innings of 76. He brought himself to the verge of Test selection with 41 wickets at 26.75 and became more consistent in his all round performances with three half centuries. In a match for an Australian XI against the touring South Africa, he took 5/108.
In 1954–55, England toured Australia for five Ashes Tests. Davidson missed Australia's only win in the First Test, and upon his return in the Second Test, managed match figures of 2/86 and did not pass twenty in either innings as England levelled the series. He missed the Third Test but returned for the final two matches, managing only one wicket. His series was poor, with 71 runs at 14.20 and only three wickets at 73.33 as England retained the Ashes 3–1. Davidson had not tasted victory in any of his eight Tests.
Despite this, Davidson was selected for the 1954–55 tour of the West Indies, where he injured his right ankle in a tour match against Jamaica and missed the First Test against the West Indies. Upon his recovery, he could not break into the XI and did not play in any of the Tests, which Australia took 3–0.
Davidson returned to the selection in the 1956 tour of England. In the First Test of the series at Nottingham, Davidson's ankle slipped in a footmark during the first innings and a bone was chipped. He was carried off with figures of 1/22 and his ankle plastered. The injury was such that he was unable to bat even with the assistance of a runner and was absent. This injury sidelined him until August and after playing as a batsman and a left arm orthodox spinner, he was able to force his way back into the team for the Fifth Test at The Oval. His international ineffectiveness continued, ending the tour with eight runs and one wicket. On the return leg to Australia, the team stopped on the Indian subcontinent. Davidson's 37 in the inaugural one off Test against Pakistan was his first score beyond 25 in nine matches. He was bowled sparingly with a total of 2/15 as Australia lost. A muscle problem stopped Davidson from playing against India in the First Test in Madras. He played only in the Second Test, scoring 16 and taking match figures of 1/42. His overseas tour had ended without a victory, and only 64 runs at 16 and his underused bowling yielded five wickets at 22.6. In total, he had played twelve Tests, none of them resulting in an Australian victory. His individual performances were also unimpressive, producing only 317 runs at 18.64 and 16 wickets at 34.06.
With captain and vice captain Ian Johnson and Keith Miller, the main spinner and fast bowler retiring, and Ray Lindwall dropped, Davidson and Benaud became Australia's leading paceman and spinner for the 1957–58 tour of South Africa. It was a heavy burden on Davidson, who had only taken two wickets in an innings four times, and three wickets in a Test match on one occasion. Davidson started the tour well, when Australia arrived in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) to play two tour matches against the Rhodesia. He made an unbeaten 100 in the first match in Salisbury, before taking 5/36 and 2/22 in the second in Bulawayo. He then scored 100 and took 4/62 against Transvaal. Davidson also recorded his best first-class score of 129 in a match against Western Province in Cape Town. Davidson's first outing as Australia's Test spearhead started badly, conceding 1/115 in the first innings as South Africa reached 9/470 in the First Test in Johannesburg. With Australia 102 behind on the first innings, he came back in the second innings to take 6/34, his first five wicket haul, at one stage reducing South Africa to 4/19 before the match ended in a draw. The Second Test in Cape Town saw an Australian victory, the first in Davidson's 14 Tests. He took 2/31 and 2/18 as South Africa lost by an innings after being forced to follow on. He then scored 123 against Natal before the Third Test in Durban. In the Fourth Test in Johannesburg, Davidson made 62, his first Test half century in over four years in another victory. In the Fifth Test at Port Elizabeth, Davidson took 5/38 in the second innings as he and Benaud took all ten wickets and South Africa were skittled for 144 and Australia took the series 3–0. This accompanied his 4/44 in the first innings and completed his best match haul to date. He scored 127 runs at 21.17 and took 25 wickets at 17.0 in the Tests. Although he was unable to score heavily in the Tests, he scored four of his nine first class centuries during the tour. In all, he had taken 72 wickets at 15.13 and scored 813 runs at 54.2 for the entire tour. From this tour onwards, in 32 Tests, he was to take 170 wickets at 19.26 and score 1011 runs at 27.32 in the remainder of his career.
The 1958–59 English tour of Australia saw Davidson lead the attack for the first time in Australia. It was Australia's first series on home soil since the last English visit four years earlier and came on the back of three successive Ashes series losses. Davidson started well with match figures of 5/66 as Australia took the First Test in Brisbane. In the Second Test in Melbourne, Davidson took 6/64 in the first innings to put Australia in control. This included an opening spell in which he removed the three top order English batsmen Peter Richardson, Tom Graveney and Watson without conceding a run. In the second innings, he bowled unchanged with Ian Meckiff, taking 3/41 as England were cut down for 87 and Australia took a nine wicket win and a 2–0 lead. Davidson's least penetrative match was the Third Test in Sydney, taking a match total of 2/84. It coincided with Australia's only non-victory of the series. The match was drawn despite Davidson scoring 71 with the bat. He took three and five wickets in the final two Tests, both of which Australia won. With the bat, Davidson had his most productive series yet, scoring 180 runs at 36.
The 1959–60 season saw Davidson confronted with an arduous eight Test tour of the Indian subcontinent, with three and five Tests against Pakistan and India respectively. Flat and dry pitches unconducive to fast bowling combined with oppressive heat confronted the players. Davidson was consistent throughout the Pakistan series, taking four wickets in each of the three Tests, to end with 12 wickets at 24.83. He also batted solidly, with 47 and 39* to end with 90 runs at 45. His contributions helped Australia to a 2–0 series result which were its last Test victories in Pakistan for 39 years.
In the First Test against India in Delhi, Davidson took 3/22 in the first innings before contributing four catches in the second and Australia took a 1–0 series lead with an innings victory. The Second Test in Kanpur, India saw Davidson return his career best innings and match bowling figures. On a flat pitch in friendly batting conditions and in heat above 38 degrees Celsius, he bowled for the entire day unchanged to take 7/93 from 57.3 overs in the first innings. He contributed 41 in the first innings as Australia took a lead, and then took 5/31 in the second innings to leave Australia seemingly in control. His only failure in the match came in the second innings run chase when he fell for eight as part of a Jasu Patel inspired collapse. This resulted in Australia's first loss in fifteen Tests since Davidson began leading the attack. Davidson bowled solidly in the remaining Tests, taking match figures of 4/87, 5/69 and 5/113 as Australia managed to win the Fourth Test to take a hard fought 2–1 series victory. Davidson had lead the way with 29 wickets at 14.86 in a country regarded as a death yard for fast bowling. During this era, such was the conditions in India, the home team fielded a triple pronged spin attack. In six Tests in India, Davidson took 30 wickets at an average of 15.
Davidson was at his all round peak during the 1960–61 series against the West Indies cricket team, which was billed as the battle between the world's two foremost cricketing nations. In the 1960–61 Tied Test against the West Indies cricket team in Brisbane, Davidson showed his all round skills as well as stamina in becoming the first player to take ten wickets and accumulate more than a hundred runs in a match. On the first day, he bowled more than thirty overs, and more than twenty on the second day to take 5/135 in the first innings as the West Indies reached 453. Australia took a small lead of 52 after reaching 505 with Davidson contributing 44. He took 6/87 in the second innings as the West Indies were restricted to 284, leaving Australia 233 runs to win with 312 minutes available. Although time was plentiful, the pitch had begun to deteriorate and Australia had fallen to 5/57 when Davidson joined local batsman Ken Mackay at the crease. They took the score to 92 when Mackay fell and Australia's chances of winning looked remote as Davidson and Benaud reached tea at 6/109 with 124 runs still required with only the tailenders were to follow. Despite this, Benaud told chairman of selectors Don Bradman that he would still be going for an improbable victory in accordance with his policy of aggressive strategy. With an attacking partnership, the pair took Australia to within sight of the target. Both men were noted for their hitting ability and viewed attack as their most effective chance of survival. Regular boundaries and quickly run singles took the score to 226, a seventh wicket partnership of 134. Only seven runs were required with four wickets in hand as time was running short. Benaud hit a ball into the covers and the pair attempted a quick single when a direct hit from Joe Solomon saw Davidson run out. Australia needed six runs from the final over when Benaud was caught and the last two wickets to run outs while attempting the winning run. Davidson achieved all of this was despite carrying a broken finger into the match. He helped Australia take a 1–0 series lead, scoring 35 in the first innings in the Second Test in Melbourne, before taking 6/53 in the West Indies’ reply. This allowed Benaud to enforce the follow on. Davidson took a further 2/51 in the second innings to set up a seven wicket victory. The teams moved to Sydney for the next match, where Davidson's unhappy experiences on his home ground continued. After taking 5/80 in the first innings, he had taken 3/33 in the second when he was forced off injured. Australia went on to lose by 221 runs. He had not had a win in Sydney in three attempts, the only Australian ground where he had not played in a victory. After missing the Fourth Test to recuperate from the hamstring tear, he returned for the Fifth Test with the series level at 1–1. He took match figures of 6/173 to help Australia secure the victory. In three and a half Tests, he accumulated 212 runs at 30.28 and totalled 33 wickets against the Caribbean visitors at a cost of 18, when the next best average was 33 per wicket. Davidson was regarded as the main factor in Australia's 2–1 series win. His form spread to the domestic matches of the summer. He scored an unbeaten 122 against Victoria and also managed 88 and 81 for New South Wales in tour matches against the West Indies.
The 1961 tour of England was Davidson's overseas farewell. His tour started poorly with an ineffective 1/130 in the drawn First Test at Edgbaston. Davidson carried an injury into the Second Test at Lord's, known as the Battle of the Ridge due to the presence of a ridge on the surface which yielded erratic bounce. He exploited this in the first innings to take 5/42 as Australia seized the initiative and took a first innings lead, setting up a five wicket victory. He took 5/63 in the first innings of the Third Test at Headingley, but was unable to stop England levelling the series. Davidson played a large role in the Fourth Test Old Trafford . Victory would give Australia an unassailable 2–1 series lead to retain control of the Ashes. A loss would mean that Australia would need to win the Fifth and final Test to prevent England from reclaiming them. Davidson scored a hard hitting 77 in the second innings, including a tenth wicket stand of 98 with Graham McKenzie to help set up an Australian victory. After Australia had lost three wickets in quick succession to David Allen, Australia was at 9/334 with only a 157 run lead. Davidson responded by hitting Allen out of the attack. This included a 20 run over where he hit the bowler out of the stadium onto the railway lines outside. This extended Australia's lead to 256 on the last day and gave hope of stopping England from winning the match. Eventually, a Benaud inspire collapse saw Australia scrape home. Davidson knocked Brian Statham's off stump out of the ground to end the match, one of five wickets he took in the match. It was Australia's first victory at Old Trafford since 1902 and sealed the series. He ended his last match on foreign soil with combined figures of 4/150 in the Fifth Test at The Oval. Davidson finished the series with 23 wickets at 24.87 and 151 runs at 30.2. He was again Australia's leading bowler on tour. For his efforts, Davidson was named as one of the five Wisden Cricketers of the Year in 1962. He was also awarded an OBE.
Davidson was in strong all round form in the 1961–62 Australian season, which was a purely domestic one. Against Victoria in Sydney, he scored 106 in a hard hitting innings with the tail. He made 58 of the 59 runs added in a last wicket partnership with Doug Ford, the other being a leg bye. The partnership lasted only 44 balls and Davidson managed to farm the strike and take 41 of these. The following week against Western Australia in Perth, he made 108 after New South Wales had slumped to 6/38 and then took his career best innings bowling figures of 7/31 to secure a victory. New South Wales won the Shield in that season with 64 of a maximum possible 80 points, playing aggressive cricket under Benaud. Davidson was a key factor in the dominance, scoring 521 runs at 40.07 and taking 42 wickets at 13.6.
Davidson struck 46 runs in the first innings of the Fourth Test, then tore his hamstring muscle after bowling only four overs. Australia, with a bowler short, was unable to force a win without him. The Fifth Test was on his home ground at Sydney with the series locked 1–1. He captured 3/43 and 3/80, taking a wicket with his final ball in Test cricket when Alan Smith was caught at slip by Bob Simpson. This left Australia with a target of 241 in 60 overs, but the match ended as a draw. Davidson rounded off his final season in first-class cricket with a hat-trick against Western Australia in Perth. Having taken a wicket with the first ball of the innings, Davidson proceeded to bowl both Barry Shepherd and John Parker before Russell Waugh was caught by Norm O'Neill.
The Ashes series was the only one of seven series that Australia failed to win since Davidson became the team's frontline strike bowler in 1957–58. Of the 33 Tests in this period, Australia won 16, lost four, drew 12 and tied one. Davidson missed one of the drawn games through injury and broke down mid-match in another two. In the five years that he and Benaud led Australia's bowling attack, they totalled 333 wickets; Davidson 170 at 19.25 and Benaud 163 at 25, and were a major part in Australia's return to the forefront of world cricket. This came after the first four years of Davidson's career saw Australia win none and lose seven matches out of twelve. Often bowling in tandem, Davidson's accuracy also forced opposition batsmen to attack Benaud, leading them to perish from the pressure to raise the run rate. In the four years after Davidson retired, Australia struggled without his wicket-taking ability. Only one of the six series was won and two were lost; in all Australia managed six wins and eight losses in 30 Tests. Davidson was at his best when Australia was on her knees; In the four Test losses during Davidson's period as the spearhead of the attack, he took 32 wickets at an average of just 13.9 including a ten wicket haul. In the Tied Test, he took eleven wickets, the other ten wicket haul in his Test career.
Davidson's best first class bowling figures were 7/31 against Western Australia in 1961–62. In Sydney Grade Cricket, he scored 4302 runs at 37.08 and took 348 wickets at 13.69. He later served as a selector for the Australian team, and in 1970 became a president of the New South Wales Cricket Association. At the age of 41, he was the youngest person to have held the post. He also served as the chairman of the Rothmans National Sports Foundation. He published his autobiography Fifteen Paces in 1963, a reference to the length of his bowling run.
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