THE DEMON FAST BOWLER

They say he was a bugger of a kid.

Not that he flouted the law, mind you. He just had  a devil-may-care attitude and didn’t tolerate authority all that much. To him, school was an unnecessary evil, and he literally drove his teachers to distraction.

Therefore, everybody was surprised when he developed a fascination for the mundane sport of cricket. You’d reckon the mere thought of spending a sweltering afternoon in the field would be complete anathema to someone like him.

It was the art of fast bowling that gripped his imagination…………….

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He started playing in the Under 14’s with a group of mates, who were surprised how fair dinkum he was. It was about the only time they’d ever seen him take anything seriously.

Around that time, Test player Matthew Elliott was invited to help conduct a cricket clinic in Wangaratta . At its conclusion, he strapped on the pads and gave a succession of youngsters the opportunity to hurl their version of thunderbolts at him.

His attention had been drawn to the kid who had been charging in off an exaggerated run-up. When you’d played as much cricket, in varying countries and conditions, as the left-handed opener had, you prided yourself on being able to pick a diamond out of the rough.

“Who’s the skinny kid with the shaggy hair, ? ” he asked one of the officials.

“Ah, he’s a wild bastard……He won’t stick at it, ” was the reply.

“I dunno…… he sure looks like he’s got something,” Elliott responded.

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At 15, they blooded him in A-Grade, but the next season he literally knocked the door down, to become a regular. Combined with still playing in the juniors, it made for a busy Saturday, but he thrived on it.

The trio of crusty old codgers who followed the team around, loved his style, and urged him on.

They approved of him on three counts ; he was young and energetic, had a bit of ‘shit’ in him, and above all, they testified , the boy could bowl.

He usually operated from the town, or gum-tree end at the Findlay Oval. When he threw his marker on the ground, it was nigh-on 35 metres from the wicket – too far, some would chortle, but his was a rhythmic approach, and he generated real pace.

The day he ‘arrived’ came when  he crashed through a highly-rated Corowa batting line-up to take 5/38 off 11.2 overs – handy figures for a 16 year-old.

But the way he did it – with aggression, accuracy and the odd bit of ‘chatter’ towards the batsman – was the performance of a quickie well beyond his years.

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A couple of seasons later he was among the leading new-ball bowlers in the competition. He overheard the comparisons that the ‘old fellahs’ made about him – of the prospect that he would one day be ranked with the stars of the past.

He played an important role in successive premierships in the mid-nineties. That’s what he loved about the game – sharing the company of his team-mates on the field, and spending the night yapping about it.

Someone joked that he had developed into the typical bush fast bowler – working up a sweat for 20 overs an afternoon , all the while cussing and swearing at the batsmen, then winding down with 25 beers and a packet of gaspers.

Those close to him acknowledged that he was a bit mad, like all quickies tend to be.

The same with his footy – he played mainly for the comradeship. Figured in a Thirds flag, then produced enough form to win senior selection.

His senior debut came at Albury. One of his good mates, who shared the trip up, was quite staggered that he chuffed through five or six fags, such was his nervousness about the big occasion.

Played quite well, too, but a couple of weeks later he announced to his exasperated coach, Laurie Burt, that he’d be missing for a while because he was going away on holidays.

Of his 20-odd senior games, he was best remembered for turning it on in the final quarter of a vital match -also at Albury – the next season.

The Hawks were 40 points down at three-quarter time and had been outclassed by the Tigers. In a trice, the pendulum swung and the visitors’ fight-back gathered momentum. With seconds to spare, they booted the clincher, to get up by 3 points. img_2365Shane Wohlers had been the inspiration, but the long-striding number 43 had also played a key role.

He clung around the fringes of senior selection for another season, then promptly hung up his footy boots for good.

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Whenever his name crops up in cricket discussions, someone will have a story to tell…..

Probably relating to incidents which fired him up and prompted exhibitions of ferocious pace. On those occasions he would impatiently scratch out his run-up like a raging bull, then motor in, particularly when he sniffed a swift breeze at his back.

Often it would unsettle the batsman, unused as they were to such a clip at local level. Occasionally, he was unable to maintain his equilibrium and a batsman would take hold of him.

Like the day he began to bounce Corowa’s dynamic right-hander, Anthony Carroll. The shorter and faster he bowled, the harder the smirking ‘Psycho’ pulled and hooked. It was riveting stuff, but there was only one winner, and eventually the vanquished quick was consigned to fine leg.

Cricket buffs recall the day he produced one of his finest performances and proved his mettle as a bowler of quality.

The clash between old rivals Wangaratta and Ballarat in the Melbourne Country Week A-Grade Final at the stately Albert Ground, gave fans the opportunity to view Shane Harwood, the much-vaunted Ballarat quick.

Later to capture a rare hat-trick on his Sheffield Shield debut, Harwood bowled beautifully, to swing the game in his side’s favour, as Wangaratta battled to 7/155.

The Ballarat reply encountered a few hurdles. The young Wang speedster, who had been impressive during the week, unleashed two fiery spells which cut deeply into their top and middle order. His 4/55 was commendable, but Ballarat were able to sneak home.

Comparisons were made between the two outstanding pacemen of the day and the experts adjudged that both were capable of achieving higher honours.

Unlike his counterpart, who went on to represent Australia, the lad headed back to club cricket. Four years later, he savoured his third – and most satisfying premiership.

After wheeling down 16 overs and snaring 3/38, he put his clod-hoppers up and relaxed, as his side chased down a tantalising total of 151.

Complications set in and there were still 12 runs required when he ambled to the wicket – last man in. Amidst intense pressure, the target was whittled down, until a drive pierced the infield.

At last !

He ran off, bat flailing, arms upraised, acknowledging the cheers of the supporters.

Alas, the batsmen were recalled – the ump had signalled one short run. But he repeated the celebrations when the winning run was finally recorded a few balls later……….

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He didn’t last long after that.

A pair of dicky knees began to play up and he sometimes hobbled onto the field resembling a clawless crab – even though he was only in his late twenties.

By now the dream of sitting behind the wheel of a Heavy-Rigid Truck seemed far more desirous than steaming in to the wicket at 100 miles an hour, trying to blast out an imbecilic batsman.

And that’s when he decided to focus on becoming the World’s Greatest Truckie ………..

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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