” ‘PEABO’…….THE POOR MAN’S WARNER…….”

It’s a Thursday morning……mid-January, 1994………….

A few spectators have braved the elements for this Country Week clash, and are scatttered under the shade of the cypress trees surrounding North Bendigo Oval. That will provide find some respite from the oppressive sun which tends to belt down on the central Victorian Gold-Rush city at this time of year.

An unlikely pairing of openers stroll to the crease…..One is strongly-built, tubby, laid-back….a veteran campaigner. His partner – a chirpy midget – twirls his bat, and flexes his shoulders like a seasoned pro…..despite looking barely old enough to be exposed to brutish new-ball bowling.

It’s obvious that what he lacks in size, he sure substitutes with confidence………

But what’s exercising the mind of the Red Cliffs quickie, who’s methodically shining the ball on his creams ?…… He’s probably ruminating on what has been a gruelling week: “I’ll get the joints moving with a couple of ‘warmer-uppers’…….then crank up and let a few rip at this little prick …..”

The speedster is forced to duck in his follow-through, as the first delivery is driven straight back at him and races to the boundary…..The second is square-cut past a fielder at point, who hardly has time to move…..The final ball of the over, directed at the tiny bloke’s throat, is pulled for four, one bounce, into the backward-square fence……….

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Darren Petersen threshed his way to 138 that day, and, as so often happened when he was on song, guided his side to victory.

For those of you who didn’t experience ‘Peabo’ in full flight ( and what a rollicking ride it was if he was on your side)……think David Warner.

They share similar characteristics……….Sandy-haired, ebullient, perky, left-handed rough-nuts who grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck…….and sometimes flirted with controversy.

‘Peabo’, like Warner, usually took the run-rate out of the equation, because once he got to 20-or so, you knew the Score-Board would be ticking over with a flurry……….

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

My innocuous career was grinding to a halt when the little fellah came to my attention. He’d become accustomed to spending his afternoons around the Rovers’ A-Grade matches, bat in hand, dropping unsubtle hints that someone might like to throw a few down to him…….. helping to demolish the Afternoon-Tea…..and possibly visualising himself mauling the bowling out on the centre-strip of W.J.Findlay Oval……

That would be after dominating Under 14’s cricket in the morning, where he’d bat for as long as permitted, send down his maximum eight overs, then take over the ‘keeper’s gloves for the remainder of the innings.

Little wonder that he scooped up the Player of the Year Award, and two years later repeated the feat in the U.16 comp.But the cynics suggested that he’d get sorted out once he reached Senior ranks:

“Takes too many risks”……. “You can’t keep playing that way and get away with it.”……..”Anyway, he’ll most likely lose interest and drift off……..”

They were wrong, of course………..People under-estimated his fascination for the game. And he had a priceless asset – an eye like a dead fish…….

At 14, he made his A-Grade debut with Rovers-United, and progressed steadily, as the Hawks won successive flags in ‘95/‘96 and ‘96/‘97.

‘Peabo’ soon won the begrudging die-hards over, but a blistering century against a much-vaunted Corowa attack convinced them that he was a special talent. The following year he scored 205 of Rovers-United’s 2/361 against Bruck, and followed it up with an unbeaten 135 at Beechworth.

His love-affair with Bendigo Country Week included four ‘tons’, but it was a breezy 89 at Kennington Oval that came to the attention of one bystander.

Burly Merv Hughes was conducting a Clinic in the nearby nets, and made enquiries about the diminutive dynamo creating havoc in the middle.

His team-mates dubbed it a ‘Meeting of the Minds’; the Aussie Test team’s ‘serial pest’ engaging in a tête-à-tête with his Wangaratta counterpart !

The result was an invitation for ‘Peabo to try his luck at ‘Big Merv’s’ District Club, Footscray.

He spent a season with the Bulldogs, and played 5 First XI games; numbered among them one sparkling half-century. But a knee injury, which he suffered whilst playing footy with Greta, required rehab……..Dreams of a long District career were put on the back-burner, and ultimately fizzled out.

Those oft-mentioned physical dimensions proved a barrier to his football ambitions. But he was a skilful, and more than handy player, and figured prominently in Greta’s 1999 flag, when they withstood a desperate last-quarter challenge from Moyhu to hold on by five points.

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I haven’t caught up with ‘Peabo’ for a few years. He’s become somewhat of a cricketing nomad, since the days of his not-so innocent youth, but when we spoke last week he was looking forward to saddling up for another season – his 30th in senior ranks.

Yes, he’s still a wicket-keeper/batsman……. still carving out the runs…….still enjoying it.

By the way, I asked, how many ‘tons’ have you scored….”Just a minute, I’ll count ‘em up. I’ve got ‘em jotted down on my thigh-pad.” (Short delay)………“Are you there, KB…….. Thirty altogether.”

I enjoyed a front-row seat to the ‘Peabo Show’ when he was coming through the ranks with Rovers-United, and can compare only Corowa’s ruthless ‘Psycho’ Carroll to him for entertainment-value in the WDCA. Most of the 2700-odd runs he scored with the Hawks before he moved on to North Albury, came at a rapid clip.

He announced his arrival at Bunton Park in ‘01/‘02 when he and another ex-Wangaratta boy, Greg Daniel, shared a 205-run second-wicket stand. ‘Peabo’s’ contribution was 173*.

It was a successful era for the Hoppers, who were either challenging for – or winning – flags when he was with them. The first of his ABCA Cricketer of the Year Awards came in 2003/04. By the time he’d won his second, he’d transferred to East Albury, where he scored 803 runs in ‘06/‘07, and helped them to a flag.

In his time in Albury, the little fellah also represented Victorian Country in a National Carnival at Lismore, and was a representative regular.

His move back to Wangaratta was timed to perfection, when he played in a flag with Bruck, but he had no sooner settled down, then was off for a season with the Bendigo Cricket Club.

Mention the Petersen name to anyone from over that way and they’ll no doubt refer to his knock in the 2010 Country Week Provincial Final:

“Man of the Match Petersen strode to the wicket in the 37th over, and for the next 11 overs the match was his,” reported the Bendigo Advertiser. “He attacked from ball one, blasting the Kyabram attack to all parts of the picturesque Albert Ground.”

“His first 50 came off just 34 balls…..Ben Gunn was on 57 when Petersen joined him, but such was the dominance of the pint-sized left-hander, he forged past Gunn just before he was dismissed.”

“Petersen eventually fell for 77 off 49 balls, with seven fours and two sixes.”

When he returned to Bruck, he found that the landscape of WDCA had altered, and that out-of-town clubs Yarrawonga-Mulwala and Beechworth had now become the pace-setters of the competition……….New teams, Benalla, Delatite and Ovens Valley were also capable of providing formidable opposition.

But shades of the old ‘Peabo’ were on show in a riveting semi-final clash at Hargreaves Oval in 2012/13.

Minor Premiers Yarra-Mul posted a challenging 9/209, and had reduced Bruck to 4/34 when old hands, Petersen and Jon Hyde, came together in an effort to restore their club’s fortunes.

Their stand of 160 took Bruck to within an ace of victory. When ‘Peabo’ was dismissed for 91, the salvage job was almost complete. The dependable Hyde, 69*, effortlessly guided them over the line with 10.5 overs to spare.

The following week, Bruck, who had strung together five successive wins to sneak into the finals, completed a remarkable turn-around by defeating Beechworth in a riveting Grand Final.

The Wanderers opted to send their opponents in to bat on a sporty pitch, and had them in dire straits at 6/47. Again it was the veterans – Petersen (38), Adam McNamara (37) and Andrew Balfour (27), who rescued Bruck, and helped them to 164.

Then some tight, disciplined bowling kept the pressure on the Wanderers, who fell 21 short. It completed a memorable finals campaign. Lengthy celebrations ensued for what proved to be Bruck’s last title.

‘Peabo’ moved on again, three years later, to take up an ill-fated role as captain-coach of CAW cellar-dwellers, Wodonga Raiders. The partnership was doomed almost from the start, and it was no surprise when he sought fresher pastures at rival club New City the following season.

By now his son Miles, a gifted ‘keeper/batsman like the old man, was coming through the ranks at East Albury. Early in 2017/18 he broke through for his senior debut at the age of 13; presumed to be the youngest-ever debutant in the competition’s 159-year history.

His 492 runs for Templestowe included three half-centuries and a brisk 121, which proved that, at 44, the super-veteran was still seeing ‘em like watermelons…………….

Another shift – this time to Melbourne – saw ‘Peabo’ throw in his lot with Ferntree Gully Association club Knoxfield. Last season, due to an alteration in his living arrangements, he transferred to the Box-Hill Reporter competition, still playing as a keeper/batsman.

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I took on the task of toting up a few of his career-stats, which proved mind-boggling – 14 clubs ( Rovers-United, Bruck, Woollen Mills, West End, Greta, Footscray, North Albury, East Albury, Wodonga Raiders, New City, Bendigo, Knoxfield, Forest Hill, Templestowe ), representing four Associations, achieving countless honours….

But the run-tally proved beyond me. “Have you got a rough idea how many runs you’ve chalked up,” I ask.

“No idea,” was the reply. Well, my guess is that, of the hundreds of games ‘Peabo’ has played, he’d be over the 25,000-run mark……and counting………….

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