TOP-LEVEL CRICKET TANTALISES A BOY FROM THE BUSH.

Most of us never get close to living the sporting dream.

Burdened by mediocrity, restrained by self-doubt, impeded by a lack of motivation, we can only imagine what it must be like to reach the pinnacle of our sport of choice.

Others, who have toiled diligently, yet remained on the periphery of the elite level, just need a lucky break.

And that’s what came Paul Broster’s way in 1995.

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Long-term local fans fondly remember the Broster cricket dynasty. Paul’s grand-father, Alec, was a devoted servant of WDCA club Tarrawingee for many years.

Possessed of a stylish technique, he was renowned as one of the area’s toughest batsmen to dislodge. Alec was used to playing the sheet anchor-role to guide Tarra through many a crisis and, by necessity, became somewhat of a grafter.

His son Graham inherited his correctness, but was more forceful and had an expansive repertoire of shots. He used them to great effect in a decorated 34-year career, which yielded close on 10,000 runs.

Graham had played alongside his father, and, towards the end of his time in the game, was joined in the Whorouly side by his two sons, Paul and Nathan.

Graham tells of the day that he decided to pull the pin. He was fielding in the covers, aged 49:

“The ball got hit to me and my team-mates were yelling out ‘Bros…Bros….it’s yours.’ I just put my hands up in the air, but I had no idea where it was. It came through and hit me on the shins. As you get older your reflexes go and I knew there and then it was time to give it away.”

Appropriate, because it coincided with Paul starting to make his way through District ranks with Collingwood. Graham and his wife Barb were able to chart his progress.

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Paul’s talent was identified early on. A classy left-hand batsman and left-arm finger spinner, he once scored a record, unbeaten 233 in a North-East Colts match against Wodonga, a knock which included 34 boundaries.

His father scored 11 WDCA ‘tons’, but was probably prouder of the 103 that his eldest son made against Wangaratta, which began a stint of heavy scoring and alerted those in the know to his obvious ability.

He followed the normal elite pathway – O &M Schoolboys, Dowling Shield, Victorian Under 17’s and Under 19’s and the VIS .

When he moved to the city to study Radiotherapy he joined Collingwood and made steady progress in the lower grades.

A knee injury that he sustained playing football resulted in a reconstruction and cost him a full season, so when he broke into the Collingwood senior team in 1993, he was eager to make a decent fist of his crack at District cricket.

But he was really struggling for touch the following year. “Just before the Christmas break I thought I might be close to getting dropped to the seconds,” he recalled.

He’d totalled just 95 runs for the season when it all came together. He scored  88 against Footscray and began a run of form which led to a sensational finals series.

He scored 109 and took 2/35 against Northcote in the semi-final and hammered an impressive 134 in the Final against Melbourne.

You’d think that this contribution, in a total of 306 would put your side in the box-seat to clinch the flag. But no, Melbourne, thanks to 123 from Dean Jones, passed them with three wickets down.

Paul received the VCA’s Player of the Finals Award, which was little consolation for the pain of defeat.

The thing about making a couple of centuries under the focus and pressure of finals was that people started to talk about him being odds-on to make the State Squad.

“I didn’t really take much notice of that”, he said. But sure enough, he was included in the squad and gained selection in a 15-man team to play a couple of one-day games against New Zealand in Darwin, in October 1995.

“I’d never spoken to half of the blokes. There were a couple that I’d never seen. It was rather daunting”.

It had been quite a journey. Only four years or so earlier he had been playing in the idyllic surrounds of his home oval at Whorouly, with cattle grazing on nearby paddocks.

Now he was acquainting himself with a new set of team-mates. Some of them, like Shane Warne, Dean Jones, Matthew Elliott, Brad Hodge and Damien Fleming, were household names.

After scoring a brisk 30-odd in the first game against the Kiwis, the fledgling Broster was provided with an acid test by Jones, the Victorian skipper.

He was thrown in at the deep-end the next day and asked to open. “Let’s see what the kid’s made of ,” said Jones, aware that there was a vacancy at the top of the order.

Paul responded with a dashing 114, including 14 boundaries.

He had as good as cemented a spot for the opening Sheffield Shield match, to be held at the ‘Gabba a couple of weeks later.

“I was excited, but nervous”, he says of his Shield debut. “There were kids running around getting autographs. Not mine, but Warney’s and Paul Reiffel’s and here I was, sitting with these blokes”.

“You just don’t realise how different it is until you’re there. And, as for the cricket, it was a step up in standard. You’re just expected to be almost perfect in everything you do.”

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As dramatic as Paul’s ascension to the upper echelon had been, it was over in the blink of an eye.

He never really got settled in his first Shield innings against Queensland, making 8 in 33 balls, before succumbing to ex-Victorian spinner Paul Jackson.

A fortnight later, against New South Wales at the MCG, he scored 5 and a more promising 22 in the Vics’ emphatic loss. He did okay in a couple of interstate one-dayers, but it was obvious that, after a poor start to the season, the selectors were keen to make changes.

Paul felt the brunt of the selection axe and was destined never to return to Shield cricket……….

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He continued to churn out runs and claim wickets in District ranks on a consistent basis, but was unable to turn the 30’s and 40’s he was making, into the big scores that would again bring him under notice.

He played in another two Grand Finals with the merged Camberwell-Magpies, which both ended in disappointment. But he could be highly satisfied with his 8 years and 124 games with the ‘Pies, which had yielded 3216 runs and 115 wickets.

Paul missed out on playing with his younger brother Nathan, who made his senior debut at Camberwell in 2001/02 and went on to play 40 senior games.

By this stage his body was starting to let him down, even though he  finished fifth in the  Ryder Medal in 2000/01. So he rounded out his career with four successful seasons at Sub-District club Spotswood. He was captain for two years and won the batting average on three occasions..

“I was reluctant to retire, but my knee, shoulder and hammy were playing up. It was time to move on with life,” he says.

Paul is now Sales Manager for Siemens Healthcare and retains a fervent interest in the game which, for a few weeks, tantalised him at the highest level.

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N.B: Paul Broster was the Wangaratta & District Cricket Association’s first  Sheffield Shield representative in its, then, 102-year history.

Ashley Gilbert followed when he was capped against Tasmania in 1999. Former Rutherglen leg-spinner Josh Mangan played four Shield games for West Australia in 2008 and 2009.

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