We look up, startled, as a stranger interrupts our chatter on this hazy afternoon at the Norm Minns Oval.
It’s summer, roughly five years ago, and the three of us have assumed our customary positions in the outer, prognosticating on the state of the game and life in general.
Yes, we reply, he has made this ground his own. Scored thousands of runs, bloody hard to get out, just one of those real solid country cricketers.
Go on, he urges…….”Well, he’s been playing here for nearly 30 years and he’s hardly changed since he was a boy….. Just got heavier….. You saw him clip that ball off his hips -that’s his bread and butter shot. ….Got terrific concentration…. Loves batting. …….And he’s got a bit of shit in him like all the good competitors do”.
We elaborate on some of the good knocks he’s played. “You know”, we point out, “….he made 130-odd out of 190 to win a Grand Final . One of the best hands ever played here”.
“And, besides that”, my mate adds, “he’s got a twin brother who has also been an absolute star, but he’s playing down in the lower grades now, helping the kids out.”
“They lived just up the road from me in Scott Street They’d play cricket all day when they were little tackers ………….”
Fast forward to November 2014. The twins are re-united in B-grade. Their young team-mates lap up their advice. They still play the game because they have a passion for it.
Just as the label – The Krakoeur Brothers’ – was given to two North Melbourne footballers who were conjoined due to their football genius, so they’ve been eternally dubbed – ‘The Grant Twins’.
I’ve never been able to tell Barry and Darren Grant apart. It was only when ‘Daz’ started wearing glasses that I could distinguish them with confidence. But when they were at the crease you noticed subtle differences in technique. Both built their reputations as batting all-rounders. Theirs was a home-grown style, you would say. No frills, but effective.
They were mad on cricket and basketball as kids. In time they would become stars for Lakers and the city’s representative basketball team , the ‘De Luxe Superdeckers’, during a really strong era for the game in Wang.
There was an uncanny telepathy between them on the court and, they were keen, athletic and mobile. They both continued on with Lakers until well in their thirties.
Their prowess as emerging cricketers prompted approaches from City Colts and Magpies. Their mum, Phyl, thought she should ring local legend Graham Kerr for a bit of advice. Naturally, he ushered them into the arms of the Magpies and acted as a sort of second father to them as they made their way up the cricket ladder.
The Pies were an ordinary side in those early ’80’s and their struggles helped to instil a fierce determination in the boys.
And they had plenty of work to do. Darren, who swung the ball nicely, did a heap of bowling. He and ‘Chewy’ Brezac were their two-pronged opening attack. Barry would toil away for plenty of overs when the shine went off the ball.
‘Baz’ gravitated to the opening batting position and stayed there. I don’t think he’s ever been guilty of throwing his wicket away. The tougher the situation, the more he thrived on it. If you asked a few of the top WDCA bowlers of the past three decades who was the hardest to bowl to, I’m pretty sure a large percentage would nominate him.
Come to think of it, would any local have ever scored more runs than he has? He has amassed an incredible record in club, Country Week, Social cricket, North-East Cup and any other rep games that were going around.
I reckon he’s scored in excess of 20,000, and that includes 15 WDCA hundreds. In the pressure-cooker atmosphere of Melbourne Country Week he scored 5 tons and 15 half-centuries.
He totalled 287 for the week in 1990 and topped it off with a match-winning knock of 119 in the Final against Central Gippsland , at the University Oval. His preferred way of celebrating would have been with a few beers and a couple of Souvlakis on the way home .
His occasionally volatile temperament sometimes prompted opposition bowlers to ‘wind him up’. One of his team-mates couldn’t work out why they persisted, as being sledged only made him more determined.
He was one of the standard-bearers for rep cricket and captained Wangaratta six times in his 20 trips to Melbourne.
On a large percentage of those occasions, his brother was there in support. Darren was an invaluable team man and was able to adapt to any batting situation that the occasion demanded. He was best suited to number 6, as a ‘clutch player’.
Whereas Barry was risk-free, ‘Daz’ didn’t mind lifting the ball in the air and ‘backing’ himself. He scored 4 WDCA ‘tons’ and counted three half-centuries among his 11 trips to Melbourne.
But he became renowned for pulling Wangaratta’s rep team out of many a precarious position with a backs-to-the-wall knock or forcing the pace when they had fallen behind the run-rate. And bowling some tidy overs at the death-knock.
He’s a bit more placid than ‘Baz’, but still possesses that will-to-win that has typified their terrific careers.
After Magpies merged with Wangaratta in 1992-93, the boys suddenly became part of a powerhouse combination. One of their new team-mates was Ian ‘Knackers’ Rundell, who had been involved in the make-up Test matches they’d played in the Scott Street front yard in their formative years.
The twins shared six WDCA premierships, 2 Country Week titles, 6 Ensign Cups and 5 Social Competition flags with West End. Their individual awards included 5 Cricketer of the Year awards , 3 Chronicle Trophies, 4 Batting Aggregate trophies and 2 Batting Averages. ‘Baz’, who had transformed into a wicket-keeper in latter years, also took out four competition ‘Golden Gloves’ awards.
Darren decided to take a step back in 2006, after 300 senior games and lend his considerable experience to the A-reserve (now B-grade) side. Barry soldiered on. He was nudging the 400 games at the end of last season and was still the ‘Pies most solid and consistent bat .
One of his remaining ambitions was to play alongside his son, Rhys. The opportunity finally arose this year, as the youngster emerged from Junior ranks. So ‘Baz’, after two cricket lifetimes as an indominatible, combative, feisty WDCA stalwart, adjusted to life in the lower ranks alongside his brother and son.
I would imagine he’d be just as competitive and can hear that booming voice ringing out across the Showgrounds … “Play straight, you blokes”, or… “Attack the stumps”….That’s been his mantra for 34 years.