In the callowness of my youth, I collected several sporting heroes. One of them was my uncle, Jack Hill, a colourful character who combined life as a family man and livestock agent, with football, cricket and S.P bookmaking.
He enjoyed an excellent footy career. In its latter stages, however, he probably could have done without the distraction of pondering race results, whilst acting as the key weapon in a struggling Wangaratta Rovers forward line.
But cricket was his first love and as a impressionable left-hander I admired how he, a fellow leftie, would flail opposition attacks almost from the time he broached the crease.
It was a pleasure to have a bird’s eye view at the bowler’s end. 20 years his junior, I would occasionally caution him on the recklessness of those cover drives or the nibbles outside his off-stump.
It crossed my mind the other day that, were he still alive, he would be issuing that same advice to his grandson, who has been known to be a tad ambitious in his stroke-play.
Simon Hill, Camberwell- Magpies’ left-handed run-making machine, possessed, in his younger days most of the traits of his grandfather. Eager to get on with it, impulsive and exciting to watch. As the years have rolled on he’s added a touch more polish to his game and has learned to temper exuberance with patience.
He has just come off his most productive District season – 972 runs at an average of 57.18 – the leading aggregate of the competition. Only 14 players in V.C.A history have scored more in a season.
Ever since he could walk Simon was following his father, John, around Wangaratta’s cricket grounds. John is one of those blokes who are the heartbeat of the game. Rolling wickets, giving guidance to young players, organizing the 101 things that keep a club- and Association- going .
Eventually the pair were part of the City Colts senior side, but it was obvious that Simon wasn’t destined to have a long stay in the W.D.C.A. He played just a handful of games with Colts before he was guided into the elite pathway that saw him represent Victoria and Australia at under-17 level and accept an invitation from Camberwell-Magpies to play games in their lower grades.
His courageous 154 for the Vics against NSW in the semi-final of the national championships and 107 against England for the Australian Under-17 team, had underlined him as a player of the future. He made his senior debut for the Magpies in 2002/03 and has been a fixture ever since.
His footy career had to play second fiddle from then on, despite a promising 2003 season in the Brown and Gold Guernsey. He was runner-up in the Rovers Reserves Best & Fairest award and handled himself capably when promoted for 4 senior games late in the year.
For those of us who follow District cricket from afar, the first task on summer Sunday mornings is to scan the sports pages to see how the local boys have fared.
Simon has produced consistent-enough performances to pose the question – why hasn’t he been considered for higher honours? He has made over 450 runs in every season since 2003/04, has scored nine centuries and is a focal point of the Camberwell batting line-up. Perhaps he hasn’t turned enough of those seven scores in the nineties and his six 80’s into the big hundreds that would bring him under the selectors’ radar.
Could a move interstate have proved beneficial? After all, players like Evan Gulbis, Clive Rose, Ryan Carters, Peter Neville, Michael Beer and Ashton Agar were given Sheffield Shield opportunities when they moved to fresher pastures. That is something that greater cricketing minds than ours could answer.
Meanwhile he has given his all for the club that has been his home for 13 seasons (apart from a couple of productive English summers with Waterorton in Birmingham league cricket).
The Pies have not boasted enough depth to rise above the middle rungs of the ladder for most of the time he has been in the playing ranks, although they have been blessed,at different times, with stars of the calibre of Damien Shanahan, Jon Moss, Matthew Wade and Matthew Hayward.
Simon led them into the finals in 2011/12. He had taken on the role at a relatively young age and handled it capably for six seasons. But his game has probably benefited without the shackles of responsibility this season.
He was given some recognition early last month, with selection in the Victorian Futures Team, which played South Australia at Toorak Park. With rain marring the first day’s play, he was not out overnight and stoutly defended, in difficult conditions, before being dismissed for 32. It was certainly a more circumspect knock to some of the blazing innings’ he had played earlier in the year.
He is a six-time winner of the Stackpole Medal, as Camberwell’s Champion Senior Player, has also won their Batting Average six times and is a certainty to be named in his second Premier Cricket ‘Team of the Season’ this week.
What does the future hold for the unassuming school-teacher, who must rank as one of Wangaratta’s finest sporting products.
It’s odds-on that he’ll continue to plunder the bowling for Camberwell for quite a while and climb further up the ladder of the V.C.A’s all-time run-scorers.
He now has 7134 runs to his name and sits at No.61 on the list of all-time run-scorers in the competition’s 107-year history.
Jack Hill never saw Simon play District cricket. He got to the outskirts of Melbourne one day, but it was raining and he turned back and headed for home. He would have loved every minute of his grandson’s career.
CAREER IN BRIEF:
Games: 193 (1st XI). Runs: 7134 16 (T20) Runs: 517
Highest Score: 169* v Melbourne Uni. 2013/14
Centuries: 9 Half-Centuries: 43.
Representative: Victorian 2nd XI v NSW 2006/07. Victorian Futures XI v S.Aust. 2013/14