It’s hard to believe that, when the City Colts came into being 54 years ago, they would ultimately become the Wangaratta and District Cricket Association’s longest-serving club.
Mergers have become fashionable in recent times and have swallowed up a few of the traditional teams for one reason or another, but Colts have been able to maintain their status-quo.
The face of local cricket has changed at a rapid rate. Thirty-five years ago the WDCA’s only outlying club was Whorouly. Now the Association’s tentacles spread as far as Mansfield, Violet Town, Yarrawonga, Corowa and up to Harrietville.
In the interim, seven defunct Associations have been incorporated into the ‘new-look’ WDCA………
The Colts were formed in late 1961, at the instigation of a well-known livestock agent, Neil McConchie, who, upon arriving in town, spent a couple of seasons with the Wangaratta club.
McConchie, a handy cricketer, and father of a promising all-rounder, noticed that the popular clubs, Wangaratta and the Rovers seemed to swoop on all of the high-profile recruits. He felt that many talented, but inexperienced local players in other teams were being stifled in their development, through not being guided by senior cricketers.
With that in mind, the club’s mantra in its infancy, was that, ideally, the team should include four players over 21 – and that its principal aim was to promote young talent.
Their early years were testing. Unable to recruit that core of seasoned players, the young line-up was subjected to many a shellacking.
They eventually settled into a ‘home’ at the Barr Reserve and installed a new turf wicket ; their fledgling players began to show signs of maturity and eventually the odd win started to come along .
But it was a long and winding road to the top. Twenty-one years after their formation, Colts played in their first semi-final.
A major factor in their improvement had been the ‘raiding’ of Rovers stars John Hill and Brian Carr in the late seventies. Besides being more than handy players, both were cricket ‘nuts’ and did as much as anyone to create a strong culture around the club.
The proudest moment in the history of the City Colts came in 1985/86. After having bombed out in four successive semi-finals, they again snuck into fourth spot by just 1.1 points, then went on to defeat Whorouly in the semi and convincingly toss Corowa in the Final.
They scored a mammoth 414 to take a vice-like grip on the premiership Cup. The baby of the side, Scott Clayton, who emphasised his precocious talent with a dashing, unbeaten 146, went on to enjoy a fine sub-district career. He is now back at O’Callaghan Oval – wiser, plumper, but just as difficult to dislodge.
A key to the title success was a brilliant paceman from Benalla – Gary Lidgerwood – who was to provide an abundance of leadership and inspiration to the club over the succeeding 20 years.
Some of the team-mates he bonded with belonged to long-standing Colts’ families – the Lappins, Carrs, Daniels’ and Bradens. Other familiar faces, like Peter Mullins, Justin Solimo, Noel Gilbert and Peter Farquhar, were part of the framework of the club.
Undoubtedly the finest player the Club has produced is Simon Hill, who continues to score heavily with Camberwell-Magpies and now sits 15th on the table of all-time Premier Cricket scorers. Malcolm Smith (Hawthorn East-Melbourne) and, more recently,Isaac Willett (Essendon), have also gone from Colts to senior VCA teams.
But undoubtedly their biggest celebrity export would be national television and radio personality and cricket-lover, Ross Greenwood, who cut his teeth with the club before moving on to become a prominent financial analyser and media guru.
City Colts have pressed strongly in the modern era, but their last six appearances in the A-Grade Final have resulted in tears . Their record is beginning to assume ‘Collywobble-style’ proportions.
They head into another finals campaign with justifiable confidence.
But it’s my guess that if they are to land the ‘Big One’ it would be on the back of a tall, athletic all-rounder, who has been their heart-beat over the last 10 or a dozen years.
Kent Braden is a long-striding right-arm quick who can do a bit with the ball. He has a bustling approach to the crease, culminating in him stiffly directing his left hand towards that imaginary spot on the pitch, which he hits with unerring accuracy.
He has reportedly become a lot more driven over the years and has long abandoned the ‘large’ Friday nights which could sometimes deliver him to the game in less than pristine condition.
Others believe it’s just the competitive Braden nature shining through. He certainly doesn’t seem, from a distance, to have the win-at-all-costs attitude that was a trademark of his feisty old man Maurie ; just a fervent desire to succeed.
He is a left-hand batsman with style, and seems better suited to forcing the pace. He can cut and pull with the best of them, but it’s a wonder to me why Kent bats so far down the list.
In a couple of those losing Finals, Colts lost control of their seemingly-attainable run-chases because they became bogged down, then had a clatter of wickets, which left him to protect the tail.
It happened again last Saturday. Their opponents were well in the ascendancy when he came to the crease. The game had slipped away.
He is one of those players you can sometimes take for granted, but when you look at his record it stands up against the greats of recent times.
Kent plays his 199th A-grade game this week-end. He captained the side for three seasons, but was content to hand over the reins to Greg Daniel, focusing his efforts on the team and lending support to the brigade of younger players filtering into the senior side. He is an excellent influence, they say.
He has now scored 4001 runs and taken 387 A-Grade wickets for Colts. There have been two centuries and four hauls of six wickets, or more, in that lot.
And, as further proof of his standing among the WDCA’s elite, he has won three Association Player of the Year awards, a Chronicle Trophy, 2 Bowling Averages, 2 Bowling Aggregates and 2 Batting Averages.
He made the first of his 14 trips to Melbourne Country Week, as a promising 18 year-old, in 2002, taken more for experience than the expectancy of a huge input. But, in an era when officials find it increasingly difficult to get players to make the commitment, Kent has become a fixture and captained the side on four campaigns.
2016 proved to be among his most consistent at Melbourne, with the feature being a five-for against Goulburn-Murray and a couple of cameo knocks of 30-odd.
The Kent Braden career is seemingly far from its conclusion. Despite being in his early 30’s, he concentrates more on his fitness these days. And he’s still as keen as ever to grab that red cherry and attempt to make the vital break-through when things are looking bleak.
Just as Neil McConchie visualised in 1961, he’s the experienced old hand lending support to the youngsters…….