THE GENTLEMAN FAST BOWLER…………

It’s stretching a long bow to suggest that one of cricket’s legendary opening batsmen, Desmond Haynes, was troubled by the pace and venom of Gary Lidgerwood………….

“Hardly,” ‘George’ says, with a grin. “The first time I played against the West Indies at Benalla, he miscued a pull shot and hit it straight up in the air. He was out for a ‘duck’. Then when we met them at the Showgrounds the next year, he tried to belt me over the fence and was bowled – for 1.”

Still, as the years roll on, sporting stories have a knack of ‘growing legs’ and, over a few beers his mates sometimes refer to ‘Dessie’ Haynes as ‘Lidgerwood’s bunny.’
‘George’ laments the absence of those Country XI matches, which used to be an eagerly-anticipated part of International touring teams’ fixtures.

“You grasped the opportunity to rub shoulders with some of the greats of the game. Good crowds turned up and there was a buzz around town for weeks beforehand.”
“Unfortunately, there’s not enough room in the schedule these days.”…………

Gary’s regarded as an icon of North-East cricket. A fast bowler who could produce a bit extra on the big occasions – and a personable type who was a fine leader and ideal team-man.

He thrived on competitiveness and camaraderie and – in something that sat well with selectors – made himself available for any representative match that was on the horizon……..
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The tiny hamlet of St.James, perched almost equidistant from Wangaratta, Yarrawonga and Benalla, was the launching-pad for the storied sporting career of Gary Lidgerwood.

When barely a teen-ager, this slightly-built kid, who hailed from a nearby farm, laboured enthusiastically on the  hard wicket and dry terrain of the St.James oval. Gnarled veterans of the Lake Rowan competition nodded sagely, as he made them hurry their shots and withdraw from rearing deliveries.

In winter he lined up on a wing for neighboring Tungamah, and did enough to prompt an approach from O & M club Benalla.

It was 1974; he was travelling in to attend Benalla Tech and saddling up with the Demons’ senior side. A stooped, persuasive old recruiter called Alan Killigrew – one of the most recognisable faces in football – pulled him aside one day and suggested he might consider having a run with North Melbourne Thirds.

That suited. He was heading down to attend Swinburne Tech the next year, so he came under the influence of Raymond Clarence ‘Slug’ Jordan, a coach with a reputation for colourful language and a confrontational approach.

What an experience ! In the time he spent under the brutal ‘Slug’, who, it was claimed, had a tongue like a Chainsaw, he learnt plenty about the rigours of sporting life. But it was a pleasure to be around Arden Street at that time. Barassi’s Northerners were en-route to their first-ever flag.

And, as a lowly Thirds player he was also along for the ride……. At the end of the day, however, Gary deduced that he had a limited future in League footy.

He had, though, considered accepting one of the several approaches he’d received about playing District cricket. Instead, he decided to travel back to play in Benalla each week-end.

He joined Goorambat – perennial BDCA finalists and home club of the Cleary and Trewin clans – sharing the new ‘cherry’ with experienced campaigners John Cleary and Johnny Ashton.

And he became a valuable component of a Benalla football line-up which had been barking at the heels of the flag contenders for a few seasons.

They had been building up to something – and in 1978 it all came together. Under the coaching of local boy Billy Sammon, they chalked up 16 wins on the trot, to secure a Grand Final berth.

The Demons went in as ‘red-hot’ favourites, but were blown away by a Rovers side which dictated terms, almost from the first bounce, to win by 54 points………….
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Gary had played 110 senior games with Benalla -and was a vital member of their rep cricket sides – when he accepted a shift to Wangaratta in 1981, as Manager of Paterson’s Furniture Store.

He threw in his footy lot with Wangaratta, and linked up with City Colts, a club which was making steady progress after years in the WDCA wilderness.

Colts hadn’t played in a finals series in their first 20 years of existence. With Lidgerwood in their ranks they appeared in nine of the next ten.

Younger players grew taller alongside the inspiring fast bowler. In his first season there was immediate success. Colts were defending 116 in the semi-final against powerhouse, United.

Lidgerwood and his bowling partner Bruce Hookey smashed through the United line-up to have them 9/30 at one stage, before finally dismissing them for 76.

Unfortunately, it was Colts’ turn to be humbled in the Grand Final, when they could only muster 52 against Whorouly.

Four years later, they finally broke through for their first – and only – WDCA senior flag. Sneaking into the finals by just 1.1% they squared off against Corowa in the big one.

It was a decisive victory, as Colts responded to a score of 141 with a mammoth 414.

‘George’s’ remarkable consistency in club cricket saw him finish in the top three of the Association’s bowling averages in eight of his first nine seasons. He won the ‘double’, the Chronicle Trophy and Cricketer of the Year Award in 1982/83, with 49 wickets and 381 runs.

His batting style in amassing those 381 runs could simply be described as unorthodox.

Coming in down the list, he would back his eye and tee off with a shot that sent the ball over the field, anywhere from backward point to deep mid-wicket.

Defensive prods were negligible and bowlers who felt they had broken the back of the Colts batting would be frustrated by a flurry of late-order runs.

His second Cricketer of the Year gong came in 1985/86. On the eve of that season, he had played in his only football flag, as a member of Wangaratta’s ‘85 Reserves team.

He’s pretty handy at socialising, is ‘George’. Two years ago he and his old Magpie team-mates gathered together and made a great fist of celebrating the 30-year Anniversary of that Premiership. The flag was all the more memorable because it was the last game of footy he played.

He was just 29 when he hung up the boots, but he reckons it helped to elongate his cricket career.

Back then, in his halcyon days, he had a long, rhythmic run-up. Straight, black hair would flop in the breeze, as a slightly round-arm action propelled the bright red ‘Kookaburra’ at a decidedly slippery and uncomfortable speed.

The ability to bowl a decent out-swinger and a dose of old-fashioned cricket nous made him a formidable opponent.

There was occasional criticism that he needed a touch more mongrel, but ‘George’ replied that he’d rather attack the stumps than than the body. “I preferred not to go head-hunting,” he says.

As his pace began to wane in latter years, he became a dependable ‘stock bowler’, tying up an end with accuracy and subtle variation of pace.

He opened the bowling for Victorian Country in the first-ever National Country titles in Brisbane.

Appearances against New Zealand Under 21’s, the ACT, and those two West Indies sides were part of a bulging CV.

He took 4/50 in the Showgrounds match against the Windies, but hastens to point out that, after he had claimed his fourth victim, opposition captain Richie Richardson proceeded to take 22 runs off his next over.

“He told me I’d bowled one over too many.”

‘George’ played 250 games for City Colts, and took 600 wickets. He was a key player in 14 Melbourne Country Week trips as a player, and was captain in eight of these.

He also figured in eight North-East Cup victories.

When he finally left the playing-field he Managed the Country Week side for several years, then had a five-year stint as President of the WDCA.

It was the least he could do, he said, to repay the debt he owed to cricket…………………

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