“BOONY AND THE CURATOR…….”

He’s a constant presence at the Barr Reserve’s O’Callaghan Oval on any summer day……….Strolling at funereal pace, back and forth, manipulating the roller………His faithful Golden Labrador, Boony ( named after the rotund, taciturn former Test opener ), keeps him company. Boony, like his predecessors, Border, Bobby and Ruby has spent more time on this precious centre square than some cricketers do in a lifetime.

It’s said that a passer-by once laid a complaint of cruelty, alleging that, upon venturing down Park Lane one stinking hot day, she saw a distressed dog, tied to the roller (untrue, of course) being dragged repeatedly up and down the wicket.

Fat chance of that……..John Hill and his ‘Lab’s’ are like peas in a pod.

For more than two and a half decades, John has persisted in his efforts to convert this slab of black dirt into a flat, evenly-grassed, hard, true, sporting, ‘track’ – one of the best in the area.

It provides him with plenty of ‘think-time’, whereupon he may hark back to those days when his involvement in the game began…………..

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His father was a sporting fanatic. Blessed with oodles of ability as a cricketer and footballer, Jack was shipped off to St.Pat’s College, Ballarat, where his Mum ( John’s and my Grandma ) hoped and prayed that he’d answer the vocation to become a priest.

There were thoughts of entering the Seminary, but he came to the conclusion that the life of a religious wasn’t for him. He returned home in the early post-war period to become a livestock agent, Wangaratta Rovers centre half forward, dashing Keith Miller-type cricket all-rounder, husband to Maureen and father of eight kids.

John was just a whippersnapper when footy and cricket began to take second place for Jack. He’d discovered a far more lucrative pastime – as an S.P Bookie – which meant that keeping an eye on the fields at Morphettville, Rosehill and Doomben was of more consequence than kicking goals and taking wickets.

Instead, he found the most convenient way to sate his passion was by playing Sunday cricket, and enthusiastically urging the three boys – John, Brendan and Paul – to follow their sporting dreams………….

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John was a star all-rounder in his final years in the WDCA’s Junior comp and at 14 was handed a few senior games ‘for experience’. As captain of the Rovers U.16’s he once took 7/3 to lead his side to the brink of victory. Chasing a meagre 41, they capitulated for 22.

His father was the mainstay for Socials and John and his mates were regularly co-opted into the Sunday team, which would occasionally be one or two short.

The Socials line-up was an eclectic mix of racing figures, comprising Bookmakers ( both legal and S.P ), horse-trainers, punters and greyhound owners.

They would conduct a vigorous post-mortem of the previous day’s racing ( pink Sporting Globes in hand ) before each game, whilst the lads warmed up with batting and fielding drills.

But when the match began their focus would be on cricket. There was plenty to learn from these veterans who had been high cricket-achievers……….

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John became a regular with Rovers in 1966/67 and made his mark as more of a bowling all-rounder. He had a good grasp of the off-spinning craft and was a regular wicket-taker.

As understudy to his uncle, Len, who was in the evening of a long career, he learned plenty about the flight, variation and super-competitiveness of a cunning ‘offie’.

Always a good timer of the ball, he believed in extracting full value for his shots, sometimes to the detriment of his batting partner. A call of ‘Yes’… ‘No’….‘Wait’……would often leave the non-striker contemplating his demise in mid-pitch…….John’s defence would be : “I thought I called No”…..

He was part of an emerging group of young players who formed a close-knit Mac Holten Shield team, which won four titles. In one memorable encounter Ovens & King speedster Trevor Harding snared 9/18, to have Wang in dire straits. Hill produced his best-ever figures (8/43) to secure an unlikely victory,

Maintaining his close bond with the players, he managed the side in succeeding years.

He’d also enjoyed a taste of captaincy with the Under 21 team and slipped into that role a few times with the Rovers.

He was nothing, if not innovative. With the identical Bell twins in the line-up, he once batted Graeme, who was a superior stroke-player to Trevor, twice in the same innings. Graeme recalls John handing Trevor the new ‘cherry’ at one end, then using him from the other end in the next over .

In his 11th WDCA season John played in his first premiership, a convincing win over Magpies. Rain ruined the first day and it reverted to a one-dayer. He was secretary of the Club, a vital member of the side and a renowned ‘stayer’ at after-match activities.

Out of the blue an offer came from City Colts to become their captain-coach. This was a role hitherto unheard of in local cricket. When his Rovers team-mate Brian Carr was also approached they decided to cross over.

The boys were 26 and regarded this as an opportunity to rejuvenate their careers. It was to prove a recruiting master-stroke for the previously down-trodden Colts, who were given the boost on the field – and in leadership – that they sought.

Within five years Colts were playing in their first Final. Four successive semi-final defeats followed, before they finally cracked it for a flag, in 1986/87. They were emphatic in victory, replying to Corowa’s 141 with 414, the highest WDCA Grand Final score in 51 years.

John was now rated one of the competition’s stars. He won successive ‘Cricketer of the Year ‘ Awards, in 1980/81 and ‘81/82. The highlight of the 517 runs he scored in the latter season was his first WDCA century..

The runs came at a lively clip that day. He opened the batting against Beechworth, as he had an important function to attend later in the afternoon. The time of his scheduled departure came and went, and when he was finally dismissed for 157, he explained that no matter how hard he tried: “I just couldn’t get out……”

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John made six trips to Melbourne Country Week, and thrived on his seven visits to Bendigo. He captained the 1980 and ‘81 sides, and was a member of the winning squad of 1983 .

As he moved into his forties he slipped into the minor grades at City Colts. This was partly out of necessity, because a good portion of his Saturday arvo was taken up with pencilling for his Dad ( who was now licensed ) at the Albury – and, later – Wangaratta greyhound meetings.

He played the last of his 264 WDCA A-Grade games in 2003, but continued to plunder the runs in B and C Grades .

His lengthy Sunday cricket career with Socials, Postals and Tarrawingee made for a hectic cricket week-end in his prime . He had accumulated 4472 runs in that competition before it unfortunately folded.

His 5474 WDCA A-Grade runs and 386 wickets tell the on-field story, but his WDCA Hall of Fame Induction in 2012 was recognition of a sterling off-field contribution over 40 years.

He served as Association Secretary and Treasurer and was an administrator in several other capacities.

Such as being the designated man in charge when representative matches were allotted to Wangaratta. Whilst the Association received plaudits for the smooth functioning of the games, John was generally the ‘nuts and bolts’ man whom the touring teams dealt with……….

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The ire of this fastidious local cricket legend was recently raised when he voiced his concerns about the state of the newly-completed $1million Barr 2 re-development.

It’s the Council’s plan for Colts to use this as their new home, but as far as John’s concerned, there is a long way to go before the pitch – and the Oval itself – are anywhere near ready.

“I was really disappointed. As people who have put hundreds of hours into preparing wickets at the Barr over the years, we weren’t given the chance to provide any input to the project.”

“After all, we went through the experience of installing a new wicket at Barr 1 ( O’Callaghan Oval ) fifteen years ago.”

“They didn’t bother to ask us: ‘What do you think ?……What do reckon you need ?’ “

“It does irk you a bit. But then, they probably think I’m just another cranky old bugger who’s living in the past……”

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John’s greatest cricketing thrill came when his son Simon followed him into the Colts side in the latter part of the 20th century.

Old-timers reckoned that the youngster’s batting style rekindled memories of his grandfather – also a swashbuckling left-hander.

But Simon was destined for bigger things, and was guided into the elite pathway, which saw him represent Australia at Under-17 level, and commence his association with Camberwell-Magpies in 2002/03.

He is among a select group of nine players who have scored 10,000-plus runs in the 114-year history of Victorian Premier cricket; one of just 14 who have played 300 games or more.

His grandfather never got to see Simon play District cricket. He reached the outskirts of Melbourne one day, but, after receiving a message that it was raining, turned around and headed home…..

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John Hill spends most Saturday afternoons these days at his vantage spot on the Park Lane side of O’Callaghan Oval. With a pair of binoculars at the ready, he keeps a close eye on play, and, courtesy of My Cricket, obtains regular updates on the changing fortunes of Camberwell-Magpies.

He reckons this is the closest thing you can get to cricketing bliss……..

” ‘ASHO’S’ STILL PLOUGHING OUT THE RUNS……”

The cricketing gods smiled fondly upon Wayne Ashton one sunny, early-October day in 1995……

The spotlight had been trained on the softly-spoken, new-boy in town, as he prepared for his A.B.C.A debut with Wodonga. His reputation as something of a run-machine preceded him; now the good judges would make their own prognostications.

It was to prove some sort of initiation for Wodonga’s opponents, the Tallangatta ‘Bushrangers’, who had recently been admitted to the competition.

They would concede a mammoth 4/502, as the Bulldogs flailed them unmercifully. Ashton’s contribution ?…..An unbeaten 270, including 34 fours and three sixes.

The left-hander’s name had been indelibly etched into the record-books of Border cricket………

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At 48, ‘Asho’s’ still scoring runs. He now plays alongside his 14 year-old son, who’s an up-and-coming right-hand bat and leg spinner.

The thrill he gets out of lining up with Will, he says, is a reminder of the old days, when he used to stroll onto the Goorambat Oval in the footsteps of his father, John.

That’s where it all began…….

Tiny Goorambat is a dot on the map, perched in prime wheat and grazing country, 16km from Benalla, and in the vicinity of St.James, Devenish and Thoona.

They’d traditionally fought above their weight, in cricketing terminology , and had won their share of flags in the strong Benalla competition. Players of the calibre of the Cleary’s, Trewin’s, Steve Siggers and, of course, medium-pacer Johnny Ashton, had been long-time stars of North-East cricket.

Wayne was only a toddler when he started following his dad, but when the ‘Bat’s were a man short one day, they slipped him into the A-Grade side…..He was just 12……

He served an apprenticeship in the lower grades for a couple of years, but it was evident that the fluent stroke-maker was going places when, aged 15, he scored 148 in an A-Grade match against St.Joseph’s.

Two years later, he helped Benalla pull a Bendigo Country Week Final out of the fire with a majestic knock at Golden Square.

Gisborne had amassed a defendable 5/223, and when they snared four early wickets, the assessment of the experts was: ‘Game- Over.’ Ashton then proceeded to take charge. He was 150 not out when Benalla reached their unlikely target.

The inimitable Keith Sherwill branded it “ without any doubt the best knock I’ve witnessed in country cricket over the years.” He went on to point out that his earlier innings that week had been 34, 72, 70* and 15, giving him a total of 341 for the Series, at 113.66.

“Also,” added ‘Sher’, who was prone to pen the most flowery turn of phrase: “I’m certain it won’t be the last time that a dazzling piece of willow controlled by Ashton is responsible for a three-figure innings………”

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Wayne had previously represented Collingwood in the U.16 Dowling Shield Carnival. So, when he moved to the city to commence his Radiography studies, he was invited to throw in his lot with their Premier Cricket team.

They were busy times. He played Amateur footy; firstly with Banyule, then North Old Boys ( where he won a flag in 1993). Cricket was pretty full-on, and he had to fit all of that around his studies. But he recalls it as a terrific experience.

His progress at Collingwood was steady. Starting in the Fourths in his first season, he scored a century when promoted to the Thirds, then settled into the Second XI after the Christmas break.

A ‘ton’ in his opening Seconds game made the pundits sit up and take notice, as did the 470 runs he plundered in the post-Christmas period.

But for one reason or another, he wasn’t able to crack it for a First XI game at Victoria Park, despite some consistent form and the role he played in a Seconds flag in 1990/91.

After spending four years at Collingwood, he was approached by South Melbourne, who dangled the prospect of playing First XI cricket in front of him.

“I’m glad I moved to South,” he says. “ They’d recruited Gus Logie, the West Indies batsman, who was a really down-to-earth fellah. He didn’t drink or smoke, and just loved his cricket. I certainly learned a lot from him.”

Wayne played six First XI games in his season with the Swans, including a ‘Country-Round’ match against Ringwood at the Norm Minns Oval………

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After qualifying as an Accredited Radiographer in 1992, he had spent some time working in city Hospitals. But he was on the lookout for an opportunity to sneak back to the bush. When a job offer presented itself in Albury, he snapped it up; thus commencing his association with Border Medical Imaging.

Almost on cue, Keith Sherwill subtly dropped the hint to Wodonga stalwart Bob Craig that there was a handy recruit in the wings.

“That suited me ideally, because I was living in Wodonga. They were a great club, the Bulldogs, and made us most welcome,” he says.

Over the years we mere mortals in Wangaratta have sniggered at the tendency of the Border’s media to almost ‘Deify’ their star cricketers. When Ashton began to cut loose in the early rounds of ‘95/96, they were almost having heart palpitations.

He went to the Christmas break with a total of 522 runs on board. Following his maiden hand of 270*, he had scored 158 against New City and 101* in the reverse encounter with Tallangatta. By season’s end, he had convincingly won the A.B.C.A Batting aggregate.

The highlights of his time at Wodonga were the three Club championships they won, and the premiership he captain-coached in 1998/99. That tied in neatly with the Reserves footy flags he’d collected with Wodonga, and Wodonga Raiders………

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‘Asho’ heartily agrees that you never tire of winning flags. He’d already picked up his share, but Lady Luck was about to land him in the midst of another ‘Golden Era’.

A transfer in employment saw him re-locate to Wangaratta and throw in his cricketing lot with Wangaratta-Magpies.

The ‘Pies had been there, or thereabouts, in the dozen years that had elapsed since the traditional rivals merged. They’d snatched two flags, and been ultra-competitive, but often fallen just short.

The tide was about to turn.

They scrambled into the 2003/04 finals by just a handful of runs, but Ashton produced his finest WDCA innings when he overpowered a lively Bruck attack in the Semi-Final. His 107 enabled them to reach 7/284.

The pressure of chasing a huge total told on Bruck, as they battled the over-rate and tumbling wickets, to fall 88 short.

The following week, they matched up against their nemesis, Corowa. The Roos’ batting had proved their Achilles heel all season, and again they wilted. Wang-Magpies lost only four wickets in cruising past a target of 93.

It was a triumph for a side of seasoned veterans and talented youngsters.

Darren Grant, one of those old-timers, spent plenty of time watching ‘Asho’ at close quarters.

“He was exciting to watch, for sure,” says ‘Daz’. “When he was in full cry, he was destructive; very strong square of the wicket……a bit unorthodox…..but he had all the shots.”……”And,” he adds, he had a real cricket brain. He was a terrific player for us.”

The ‘Pies won the next two titles, then another in 2007/08, when they proved too strong for Rutherglen. That gave them four flags in five years.

Wayne made six trips to Melbourne Country Week -five of them as captain – and guided Wang to the Division 3 title in his last season at the helm.

He also captained them to two North-East Ensign Cups, giving him the rare honour of playing in Cup wins with Albury, Benalla and Wang.

After working at the Base Hospital for six years, he became a Principal of ‘Wangaratta X-Ray’ in 2008. The need to spend extra time on an expanding business prompted him to step away from cricket.

Two years later, though, he began a two-year spell as coach of the Wangaratta Rovers Reserves, a job he threw himself into wholeheartedly.

He completed his hiatus from cricket in 2016, when he took up the invitation to play alongside his son Will, in Rovers-United-Bruck’s C-Grade side.

He proved the dominant player in the competition, winning a hat-trick of Awards as the competition’s Best Player, and sharing the last two flags. This season, with Will continuing to develop, and earning promotion to A-Reserve, ‘Asho’ decided to join him.

The old champ, whose 24 centuries and 10 premierships have provided him with a plethora of career highlights, still enjoys eking out a few runs.

But he gets a bigger kick out of seeing Will and his mates making their way in the game. If he can help them, he says, that’ll be just fine……….

TOP-LEVEL CRICKET TANTALISES A BOY FROM THE BUSH.

Most of us never get close to living the sporting dream.

Burdened by mediocrity, restrained by self-doubt, impeded by a lack of motivation, we can only imagine what it must be like to reach the pinnacle of our sport of choice.

Others, who have toiled diligently, yet remained on the periphery of the elite level, just need a lucky break.

And that’s what came Paul Broster’s way in 1995.

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Long-term local fans fondly remember the Broster cricket dynasty. Paul’s grand-father, Alec, was a devoted servant of WDCA club Tarrawingee for many years.

Possessed of a stylish technique, he was renowned as one of the area’s toughest batsmen to dislodge. Alec was used to playing the sheet anchor-role to guide Tarra through many a crisis and, by necessity, became somewhat of a grafter.

His son Graham inherited his correctness, but was more forceful and had an expansive repertoire of shots. He used them to great effect in a decorated 34-year career, which yielded close on 10,000 runs.

Graham had played alongside his father, and, towards the end of his time in the game, was joined in the Whorouly side by his two sons, Paul and Nathan.

Graham tells of the day that he decided to pull the pin. He was fielding in the covers, aged 49:

“The ball got hit to me and my team-mates were yelling out ‘Bros…Bros….it’s yours.’ I just put my hands up in the air, but I had no idea where it was. It came through and hit me on the shins. As you get older your reflexes go and I knew there and then it was time to give it away.”

Appropriate, because it coincided with Paul starting to make his way through District ranks with Collingwood. Graham and his wife Barb were able to chart his progress.

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Paul’s talent was identified early on. A classy left-hand batsman and left-arm finger spinner, he once scored a record, unbeaten 233 in a North-East Colts match against Wodonga, a knock which included 34 boundaries.

His father scored 11 WDCA ‘tons’, but was probably prouder of the 103 that his eldest son made against Wangaratta, which began a stint of heavy scoring and alerted those in the know to his obvious ability.

He followed the normal elite pathway – O &M Schoolboys, Dowling Shield, Victorian Under 17’s and Under 19’s and the VIS .

When he moved to the city to study Radiotherapy he joined Collingwood and made steady progress in the lower grades.

A knee injury that he sustained playing football resulted in a reconstruction and cost him a full season, so when he broke into the Collingwood senior team in 1993, he was eager to make a decent fist of his crack at District cricket.

But he was really struggling for touch the following year. “Just before the Christmas break I thought I might be close to getting dropped to the seconds,” he recalled.

He’d totalled just 95 runs for the season when it all came together. He scored  88 against Footscray and began a run of form which led to a sensational finals series.

He scored 109 and took 2/35 against Northcote in the semi-final and hammered an impressive 134 in the Final against Melbourne.

You’d think that this contribution, in a total of 306 would put your side in the box-seat to clinch the flag. But no, Melbourne, thanks to 123 from Dean Jones, passed them with three wickets down.

Paul received the VCA’s Player of the Finals Award, which was little consolation for the pain of defeat.

The thing about making a couple of centuries under the focus and pressure of finals was that people started to talk about him being odds-on to make the State Squad.

“I didn’t really take much notice of that”, he said. But sure enough, he was included in the squad and gained selection in a 15-man team to play a couple of one-day games against New Zealand in Darwin, in October 1995.

“I’d never spoken to half of the blokes. There were a couple that I’d never seen. It was rather daunting”.

It had been quite a journey. Only four years or so earlier he had been playing in the idyllic surrounds of his home oval at Whorouly, with cattle grazing on nearby paddocks.

Now he was acquainting himself with a new set of team-mates. Some of them, like Shane Warne, Dean Jones, Matthew Elliott, Brad Hodge and Damien Fleming, were household names.

After scoring a brisk 30-odd in the first game against the Kiwis, the fledgling Broster was provided with an acid test by Jones, the Victorian skipper.

He was thrown in at the deep-end the next day and asked to open. “Let’s see what the kid’s made of ,” said Jones, aware that there was a vacancy at the top of the order.

Paul responded with a dashing 114, including 14 boundaries.

He had as good as cemented a spot for the opening Sheffield Shield match, to be held at the ‘Gabba a couple of weeks later.

“I was excited, but nervous”, he says of his Shield debut. “There were kids running around getting autographs. Not mine, but Warney’s and Paul Reiffel’s and here I was, sitting with these blokes”.

“You just don’t realise how different it is until you’re there. And, as for the cricket, it was a step up in standard. You’re just expected to be almost perfect in everything you do.”

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As dramatic as Paul’s ascension to the upper echelon had been, it was over in the blink of an eye.

He never really got settled in his first Shield innings against Queensland, making 8 in 33 balls, before succumbing to ex-Victorian spinner Paul Jackson.

A fortnight later, against New South Wales at the MCG, he scored 5 and a more promising 22 in the Vics’ emphatic loss. He did okay in a couple of interstate one-dayers, but it was obvious that, after a poor start to the season, the selectors were keen to make changes.

Paul felt the brunt of the selection axe and was destined never to return to Shield cricket……….

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He continued to churn out runs and claim wickets in District ranks on a consistent basis, but was unable to turn the 30’s and 40’s he was making, into the big scores that would again bring him under notice.

He played in another two Grand Finals with the merged Camberwell-Magpies, which both ended in disappointment. But he could be highly satisfied with his 8 years and 124 games with the ‘Pies, which had yielded 3216 runs and 115 wickets.

Paul missed out on playing with his younger brother Nathan, who made his senior debut at Camberwell in 2001/02 and went on to play 40 senior games.

By this stage his body was starting to let him down, even though he  finished fifth in the  Ryder Medal in 2000/01. So he rounded out his career with four successful seasons at Sub-District club Spotswood. He was captain for two years and won the batting average on three occasions..

“I was reluctant to retire, but my knee, shoulder and hammy were playing up. It was time to move on with life,” he says.

Paul is now Sales Manager for Siemens Healthcare and retains a fervent interest in the game which, for a few weeks, tantalised him at the highest level.

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N.B: Paul Broster was the Wangaratta & District Cricket Association’s first  Sheffield Shield representative in its, then, 102-year history.

Ashley Gilbert followed when he was capped against Tasmania in 1999. Former Rutherglen leg-spinner Josh Mangan played four Shield games for West Australia in 2008 and 2009.