Mullagh is considered one of the best players of his era, reinforced when he featured in 45 of the 47 matches on the 1868 tour of England, finishing with 245 wickets at 10, 1698 runs at 23.65 and also, at times, keeping wicket.
“I think in this case, Cricket Australia, the players association and the Hall of Fame itself wanted to acknowledge the impact Indigenous players have had on the game,” King said.
“This was probably a bit of an oversight, in retrospect, and I think we have chosen Johnny as a representative of that era as opposed to going back trying to individualise the individual inductees. I think that is a great decision but the ongoing inductee criteria hasn’t changed beyond that.”
Mullagh, who hailed from near the town of Harrow, in the Wimmera region of western Victoria, will be one of three inductees announced in February.
King denied suggestions Mullagh’s elevation could be considered “tokenism”, amid debate as to how much impact he and his team had. Inductees must have left a major imprint to be considered for induction.
“Personally, I think it is acknowledgement of the contribution even though it may have been minimal and may not have been as significant as it could have been in the past. But I think this is really opening the way to the future and, hopefully, we are going to be engaging a lot more with Indigenous talent,” King said.
“We have seen the evidence of this in other sports. There are opportunities for cricket to embrace that relationship with Indigenous people a lot more strongly. You may be correct by saying it hasn’t had a massive impact in the past but I think it certainly had an impact. They were the first touring team to travel outside of Australia, so I think they did pave the way a bit.”
The panel had considered inducting the entire Indigenous squad but King said “ideally we wanted to pick out a representative of that team, of that era, more so than just that specific team.”
“His (Mullagh’s) record speaks for itself. It really should have been acknowledged previously. He is a stand-out character in that era,” King said.
Mullagh’s elevation comes as officials consider a shake-up of the Hall of Fame, with discussions on introducing a legend status – as is used in the AFL – and even allowing administrators to be nominated for general induction underway.
CA has been proactive over the past year in dealing with its Indigenous history. This has included unveiling a series of online discussion panels under the banner of Cricket Connecting Country that has stirred debate about the sport’s mistakes when it comes to Indigenous and overall race issues.
Jon Pierik is cricket writer for The Age. He also covers AFL and has won awards for his cricket and basketball writing.