Another local icon has been cast onto the sporting scrap-heap.
I called in to pay my last respects the other day. Just as you would stumble across the uncared-for funeral plot of a long-lost relative, it looked dishevelled and unloved ; hardly bearing testimony to the good times it had enjoyed throughout its 69 years.
The Bruck Cricket Ground is no more. The kindest description of its demise would be that it’s a victim of progress.
You could hardly define the old girl as an Oval ; more like a gently sloping paddock with a ring of trees skirting its perimeter. In fact it was the trees, of various denominations, which gave the ground its character.
I looked across from the now-dilapidated pavilion and had visions of a scorching summer’s day, the last of the spring grass having dried, when a sedately-played shot, or a tentative nick, would scoot past the slips cordon and gather pace as it ran down the hill, towards the boundary……..
Bruck Textiles set up in Wangaratta in 1946, just in time for the re-formation of the WDCA after the hostilities of war.
There were a couple of keen cricketers among the newcomers, including a suave, moustachioed, Managing Director, Stanley Messenger Arms, who agreed that it would be an excellent idea to have a team comprised of Bruck workers, playing in the local comp.
That’s when the real estate was set aside for a new ground.
Stan Arms was a cricketer of modest talent, but a man of influence, and had a genuine love of the game. In time he acceded to the Presidency of the Association and ensured that the town’s most prominent industry provide the funds to keep their cricket team viable.
The turf pitch was laid in 1952 and a state-of-the-art ride-on roller was on hand for the curator, who received a healthy stipend from the company.
And when the tidy little English village-style ‘dressing room /afternoon-tea room’ was installed, it was named the S.M.Arms Pavilion.
Alongside it was a small white construction on stilts, with louvred pull-down shutters, which housed the scorers.
This was the domain of Bruck’s scorer – Mrs.Beeby – who reigned supreme. Her lilting Pommie voice would lift a few decibels if the opposition scorer had the temerity to infer that her books mightn’t balance.
Come to think of it, scorers in those days provided something of a side-show to the action on the field. There were a few dominant personalities wielding the pen and they weren’t short of offering advice on field alterations and bowling changes, in robust language, to their team’s skipper.
Mrs. Beeby was no exception.
Her son Jack was naturally her favourite player. Short, and of stocky build, he worked up a decent head of steam and always operated from the Highway-end at Bruck. On a good day he could be quite fearsome.
Max Bussell, who achieved hero status when he took 8/23 in a Country Week final against Shepparton in 1954, claimed that it was Beeby, operating from the other end, who set up the carnage.
He reckoned that Jack’s spell that day was the quickest he ever saw at Country Week.
Bob Hutchieson, now 91, was a member of the inaugural, post-war team and thinks he is the only survivor. He can remember the excitement when Bruck clinched its first WDCA premiership in 1953/54. A capable all-rounder, Bob played his part, but says it was a masterful, unbeaten 135 from Mac Holten that guided them home.
Holten, Wangaratta’s highest-profile sportsman at the time, was appointed ‘Sporting Director’ by the textile company. The main specifics of that role would have been to coach the cricket team – and make plenty of runs.
He also kept an eye on Rayonaires, another Bruck team, which was formed in 1954 but disbanded four years later. ( Incidentally, Rayonaires was also the name of the Mill baseball team that played at the ground for several years.)
Bruck had a few influential officials, who formed the power-base of local cricket in the fifties. Chief among these was Alf Kendall, a tall, statesman-like Englishman, who succeeded his boss Stan Arms as WDCA President.
Alf had been one of the originals of the Bruck team and was a starchy, conformist type who sometimes clashed with some of the more free-wheeling blokes from other teams.
He had a love-hate relationship with Wangaratta’s ‘Mr.Cricket’ Clem Fisher, and it came to a head when heavy rain fell over the Labour Day week-end of 1958.
The WDCA elected to transfer the second day’s play of the semi-finals to concrete pitches. Fisher accused Kendall of helping to engineer the venue-change so that Bruck wouldn’t lose the chance of entering the final.
Kendall and Secretary Bernie Morris ( also a Bruck man) were indignant, claiming that Fisher’s remarks were a ‘despicable insult’.
The club’s second flag came in 1962/63 under the coaching of Graeme Leydin, who had been poached from Rovers. Leydin, a former North Melbourne cricketer and Essendon footballer, enjoyed a memorable season with the bat.
But, as the years wore on there were to be more downs than ups, as player-interest dwindled and the input of the parent company lessened.
It led to their withdrawal from the WDCA for a while, and left the Bruck Sunday Association team as the sole occupier of the Ground.
After their re-formation in 1978/79 the club returned as a power in the eighties. They snavelled another flag in 1983/84, with players of the calibre of Russell Wood, Brian Fisher, Doug Cruickshank and Ian Dinsdale forming their nucleus.
‘Deano’ undoubtedly played more innings on the Bruck wicket than anyone else. A prolific accumulator of runs, with an almost impenetrable defence and a bat that sometimes resembled a barn door, he has spanned four decades and still soldiers on.
The modern era saw the club chalk up five flags in thirteen years and boasted an assembly-line of stars, such as Jon Hyde, Mark Higgs, Jeremy Wilson, Tim Wood, Craig Startin and the inimitable Darren Petersen.
The Bruck ground played host to just the one WDCA Final in its long history – the 1991/92 encounter between Corowa and College.
College, the underdog and sentimental favourite, did well to compile 284 on the first day. But that evening vandals scaled the high-wire fence and took to the wicket with hammers.
Despite misgivings about the state of the ‘track’, play eventually proceeded with minimal discomfort. In a match which produced 883 runs, the highlight was the twin knocks of 153 and 59* from Anthony ‘Psycho’ Carroll, who guided Corowa to their fifth straight flag.
Ah, the memories !……
I can recall play being halted for what seemed like five minutes ( but was probably only a minute and a half) every time a goods train would chuff past and interrupt the batsman’s eye-line……
And another indeterminate delay when you’d have to retrieve a ball which had been belted over the wire fence, into the pile of briquettes……
It could be a batsman’s paradise, as the stylist, Graeme Leydin, proved when he scored a double-century against Combined Schools in 1963…..
Or when Whorouly’s punishing right-hander Ian Nicoll ( later to play on a wing for Carlton ) scored 205* and helped put on 302 for the fifth-wicket with his uncle Lex, in the final round of 1964/65…..
I suppose if I was to portray a snapshot of cricket at Bruck through the ages it would be of that indefatigable, miserly medium-pacer Brian Fisher trundling up the mound from the Sisely Avenue end and attempting to penetrate the defence of the dour, the ‘unbowlable’ , Ian Dinsdale.