‘AND NOW, THE TIME HAS COME…..’

It’s the pinnacle of the season tomorrow; the culmination of a year’s hard work………

The WDCA Grand Final has provided a catalogue of upsets, controversies, brilliant performances, dramatic collapses and – dare I say it – rain interruptions.

My memories hark back to the fifties, when Dad and his brothers left you in no doubt they were playing for ‘sheep stations’, as they prepared for the ‘Big One’….. But for decades before that, tempers flared and emotions boiled when rivals fought for the flag.

Here is a selection of  games that fostered a tradition which has spanned 123 years…….

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1896/97 : Wangaratta v Exelsior.

“……At 9/68 on the first day, these were anything but cheering figures that greeted the Wangaratta skipper, as he strode out to join McCallum, in one of the most eventful partnerships ever seen on the Wangaratta ground.

He had a ‘grim smile’ and one of the onlookers remarked…..”what if the last two were to make a century ?”

The batsmen played with verve and judgement. Clarke was content to play a steady game, but Mac hit ‘bloomin hard’ and ‘ bloomin often’.

Hickey came on and clean-bowled McCallum and the innings closed for 137.

Exelsior’s reply began well the following week, but soon they slumped. Their hopes were revived by Joe Bath, as they edged ever closer to the Wangaratta total.

But Joe had the unpleasant experience of having his wicket put down by the Wang keeper.

He played a splendid and plucky innings – never giving a chance. He was very knocked about, but had the consolation of knowing that he received his wounds and spilt his blood in a most stubborn fight.

The ray of light that had started to glow in the breast of Wangaratta now burst into the sunshine of splendid victory as Jimmy Tough, the last man in, knocked the ball into Len Docker’s hands.IMG_4021

While the ball was in the air, even the boldest held their breath, but when its career was stopped, the Wang supporters manifested their delight in no uncertain terms……”

Wangaratta 137 defeated Exelsior 130…..

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1928/29 : Wangaratta v East Wangaratta.

“Scarcely in the history of the WDCA have there been two stauncher rivals than the Grand Final combatants, who met at Oxley.

Wangaratta managed 136, with their premier batsman Alec Fraser registering 36, to be the main obstacle to the much-vaunted East Wang pace attack.

East gained a slender advantage by posting 158. Clem Fisher was his usual obstinate self in an innings of control, but it was the slow bowler Tom Nolan, with 8/48, who took the honours for Wangaratta.

Wang could manage only 99 in their second innings, after Harry Fisher had taken 6/5. So East needed 79 to take out the premiership.IMG_4022

They still needed 9 runs when last pair Cliff Pratt and Bill McCormick were at the crease.

Easts supporters urged them along all the way, as they inched their way to a famous win…..”

East Wangaratta 158 and 9/79 defeated Wangaratta 136 and 99.

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1933/34: Footballers v. Wangaratta.

“It was a most riveting game, dominated by the slow bowlers.

Wangaratta’s score of 87 saw them take a 1-run advantage over Footballers, who wouldn’t have reached their total of 86, but for a fine contribution from Arch Wilkinson.

Wilkinson’s 7/44 wrecked Wangaratta’s second innings, but they reached 97.

Footballers, having given themselves a definite chance of taking the honours, were then bundled out for 65.

Don Young did the damage. He bowled remarkably well, flighting and turning the ball in a manner that made him nigh unplayable. Young finished with 6/29…..”

Wangaratta 87 and 97 defeated Footballers 86 and 65.

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1935/36: Footballers v. Eldorado.

“This was one of the most memorable of all Grand Finals, principally for the numerous batting records which were created along the way.

On the first day, Arch Wilkinson and Bernie Izard put on 245 for the first wicket. Resuming on Day 2, Charlie Heavey and Frank Archman carried on the awesome performance, and added 287 for the third wicket.IMG_0828

The score at the end of the day was 8/634.

The first four batsmen scored centuries or over: Izard 100, Wilkinson 154, Heavey 187 and Archman 112.

Eldorado were to be congratulated for the wonderful way they stuck to their task.

Footballers declared after two days batting and Eldorado set out on their Herculean task. Several batsmen got a start, but the lower order failed badly and they were all out for 126.

In their second innings, Eldorado had compiled 5/196 when play was mercifully concluded……”

Footballers 8/634 defeated Eldorado 126 and 5/196.

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1957/58: Magpies v Bruck.

“The week preceding the Grand Final was chock-full of drama.

Magpies, in their third year in the competition, had staged a withering run after the Christmas break,  sneaking into the four at the death-knock, at the expense of unlucky Moyhu Gold.

They defeated Rovers Brown in a fiery semi-final clash, which saw three of their players – Jack McDonald, Peter Larkins and captain John Holloway – reported by umpire Bill Daly, for disputing an LBW decision against Graham Kerr.

All of them escaped with a reprimand, and were able to take their place in the Grand Final.

Bruck, led by Mac Holten, were the favourites going into the game, and they battled hard to contain Magpies to a score of 170. Jack Isles, with a handy 32, was the main thorn in Bruck’s side.

Bruck were always in contention, but were unable to gain the upper hand against some superb bowling from Jack McDonald, who finished with 8/67.

Bruck, at stages appeared to be on the verge of victory, but fell agonisingly short, by six runs……”

Magpies 170 defeated Bruck 164.

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1959/60: Rovers v Bruck

“Chasing their second successive flag, Rovers pacemen Jim Horne and Jim Chapman cut a swathe through the Bruck batting line-up to dismiss them for a paltry 90.

The swing of Horne (4/36) and the fire of Chapman (3/30) had given the Hawks the ascendency, but Bruck hit back well to have Rovers 5/14 at one stage, then 6/64 at stumps on the first day.

Jack Beeby (7/45) was the wrecker, as Rovers limped to a four-run lead, thanks to a lone hand of 50 from Len Hill.

Bruck were sailing along well, at 5/106 in the second ‘dig’, but collapsed dramatically to be all out for 115.

Chapman, Len Hill and Bob Rose shared the spoils for the Hawks.

Rovers had some anxious moments in pursuit of 113, and slumped to 5/74.

On a wicket which was affected by overnight rain, the feature of the day was the batting display of Fred Booth, who was 31* when Rovers claimed victory. It was only in the last hour that the Hawks put the match beyond doubt………”img_4025.jpg

Rovers 94 and 6/114 defeated Bruck 90 and 115.

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1986/87: City Colts v Corowa.

“Corowa made history by reaching their first WDCA Final.

And although they were given a hammering by City Colts, local fans were soon to become used to the Border team winning their way through to the Grand Final.

Corowa could only muster 141, as Maurie Braden and Mick Lappin did the damage. Colts, who were also relative newcomers to the finals stage, gave themselves a fair chance. But this was one game where their batting line-up rose to the occasion.

Led by teen-ager Scott Clayton (146*), they amassed a huge 414, with Maurie Braden (97), Russell Harris (76) and John Hill (32) joining the action.

Rod Lane, who was to join Carlton the following season, toiled manfully to finish with 6/100……..”IMG_4026

City Colts 414 defeated Corowa 141.

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2001/02: Wangaratta-Magpies v Rovers-United.

“One of the great WDCA Grand Finals went right down to the wire, in a low-scoring encounter.

Magpie star Duane Kerwin held his side’s innings together with a fine undefeated 73, to guide them to a respectable total of 151 after they had slumped to 5/55. Hawk speedmen Adam Booth, Peter Harvey and Trevor Anderson shared the bowling honours with three wickets apiece.

Rovers-United, 2/18 overnight, had slumped to 4/24 the next morning. Dogged right-hand opener Anthony Lawler then stepped up and proved the unlikely hero for the Hawks.

Recalled to the side after the unavailability of Peter Tossol, Lawler’s 61 was an innings of patience and defiance.

Even so, the Hawks still needed 12 runs for victory when the last pair, Peter Harvey and Adam Booth came together.IMG_4027

It was Harvey who hit the winning runs to take Rovers-United to a dramatic victory, despite the lion-hearted effort of ‘Pies quickie Tim Sheldon, who finished with 6/34……..”

Rovers-United 9/153 defeated Wangaratta-Magpies 151.

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2011/12: City Colts v Yarrawonga-Mulwala.

“City Colts suffered Grand Final pain for the 4th consecutive year, after losing a nail-biting clash with Yarrawonga-Mulwala.

The Lakers caused one of the upsets of the season, at the most appropriate time, with a Marcus Hargreaves spell on the opening day proving the catalyst to their four-wicket win.

Hargreaves took 5/47 in a 24-over spell, to help restrict Colts to 177 off 75 overs. Colts flew away to a good start, with openers Jeremy Carr and Nick Norris crafting a 40-run stand. It was left to veterans Scott Clayton and Justin Solimo to steady the ship, but the going was slow.

Luckily, the tail wagged, to push the score to 177.

In reply, the Lakers also found difficulty in breaking the shackles, but Daniel Athanitis (33), Lee Fraser (34) and Dwayne Duxson kept them within reach of a competitive total.

But they still needed 33 off 8 overs when Fraser was dismissed, and youngster Paddy Martin strode to the crease.IMG_4029

Whereas the batting over the two days had been circumspect, Martin cleared the field with some excellent hitting. Nineteen balls later, the game was over. Martin’s quickfire 26 and Duxson’s dogged, unbeaten 39 had taken the Lakers to their first WDCA flag……”

Yarrawonga-Mulwala 6/179 defeated City Colts 177

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2018/19: City Colts v Yarrawonga-Magpies.

“Who will write the next chapter in the WDCA Grand Final story……?”

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‘MEETING THE GHOST OF LOCAL CRICKET…..’

The whitish pitch shimmers in the brassy sunlight……Fielders dawdle listlessly on a vast, scorched outfield…….Batsmen opt to ‘dig in’ rather than play their shots…….The quicks struggle to summon the effort to muster that extra yard……..

Cricketers and spectators alike appear drugged by the oppressive heat of this stinking mid-summer’s day……..

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I’m drawn to this solitary figure, leaning against the huge gum tree at the northern end of the ground ……

I’ve got to know all the identities around local cricket, but this fellah doesn’t ring a bell. I know I’m starting to get on a bit, but he’s positively archaic.

He sucks on a blade of grass, totally entranced by what’s happening out in the middle.

We get yapping…….Initially, he doesn’t appear keen on being distracted, but he loosens up after a while, his eyes misting over as he studies the technique of the young left-hander.

“See how he fiddles outside the off stump…..Doesn’t use his feet….I had that problem, you know. Took me years to get out of the habit.”

“Ah, it only seems like yesterday I was out there…. Course we had rolled dirt, then concrete, to play on. Not beautiful tracks like this one.”

My gentle prompting seems to kick his memory into over-drive…….

“Ever heard of Charlie Heavey?”, he says. “Made 299 in a day, over on the Showgrounds. I made sure I watched every knock he played. Geez, he could bat.”

“He hit the ball so hard that day, that a few of his sixes landed in Edwards Street ….We all  reckoned he should have played Test cricket, but Charlie liked a good time and upset a few of the snotty- noses when he went to Melbourne.”

Yes, I reply. By all reports he was a beauty.IMG_0829

“Too right. He was the best around at that time and was also downright dangerous when he decided to let ‘em go with the new ‘cherry’.”

“But heck, son, there were plenty of good players in those days…….Like Alec Fraser…. Lovely chap, Alec…Made a power of runs up the order.”

“He opened with Clem Fisher in Wang’s rep teams, and what a combination they were ! Put on 300-odd in one match at Country Week.”

“Funny, you know. They were polar opposites. Alec was a gentleman….Always giving encouragement and a bit of advice to the youngsters….Played the game as it should be played.”

“But Clem was a bloke who knew how to create a stink on the cricket field. Nice enough chap to talk to….did heaps for cricket…..but once he crossed that line he was an old bugger…..He’d resort to anything to get you out…..It’s a wonder he didn’t get punched on the nose a few times……..”IMG_2256

By now, my mate has taken his eye off the going’s-on in the middle. It’s almost as if he’s watching a flickering highlights tape and describing it to me.

I ask him his opinion of a latter-day batting hero – Barry Grant.

“Funny you should mention it. He reminded me very much of Alec Fraser, with his technique and defence. Both of them were very hard to dislodge once they got settled. His temperament was a touch more bristly than Alec’s…..Didn’t like going out. Not too stylish, but more of a run-machine. He and his brother….I just forget his name for a sec….Darren, that’s right….They were great players for a lot of years.IMG_3150

“Yes, I’ve seen ‘em all. Those Nicoll’s out at Whorouly…….Don’t know what it was in the water out there, but they were master batsmen. You had four champion brothers – Wils, Ron, Ernie and Vic. People used to debate about who was the pick of them – Wils or Ron. I couldn’t seperate them.”

“Wils used to smoke a roll-your-own when he was batting. He’d plonk it behind the stumps and have a puff between overs…….’Didn’t have much style.”

“They used to tell the story about him walking out to bat at Country Week one day, wearing a pair of black socks tucked behind his pads, and puffing on a fag. An opposition fielder slung off about this ‘country yokel’, and he proceeded to score a century in no time.”

“A few of the Nicoll progeny turned out all right, too. I had a lot of time for the chap who had polio and batted with a runner. Did a terrific job….Lex, I think it was….”IMG_0412

“Talking about families, you had the Kneebone’s from Brookfield. I suppose you knew they fielded their own family team in the local comp.”

“They lived for cricket, and got their competitive instinct from their old man.”

“I thought Ken was the pick of ‘em. He had a run-up that was smooth as silk. Did well against the Poms at Benalla one year. But a few experts rated Harry just as quick. Frankie Archman kept up on the stumps to most bowlers, but he had enough sense to stand back to those two.”

By now this mystery-man has me gob-smacked, having touched on all the names down through the ages in Wangaratta cricket – Carey, Trebilcock, Lidgerwood, Charlie Ladds, Thomlinson, Beeby, Bill Hickey, Sid Docker, Max Bussell, Rosser…….IMG_1022

“I thought he might have played for the state, that  fellah. He had the ability and played some good hands out on this ground. He got close when he went down to play District cricket, they tell me……”

His mate was nice and slippery when he was in full flight  – Welchy – with the curly hair. Had a bit of shit in him, too. Course his knees went on him in the end.IMG_0180

“And the boy Broster – the left-hander- who played a few games for the Vics, I’d have preferred him to serve more of an apprenticeship before he got his chance. His Shield career was virtually over before he’d got started.”

“You’d have seen his dad bat when he was in his prime, wouldn’t you. Golly, he could play, and his grandpa, Alec, was terrible hard to get out.”

“I watch these kids coming through now and think: ‘Have they got what it takes to go on ?’ “

“All of the Welch’s were handy, and  Hilly’s still making runs down at Camberwell. Surely he deserved a chance in the State side. But, I suppose they must have seen a shortcoming in his game.”IMG_1024

I mention the changes that have taken place in the modern era. Like the local competition now expanding its horizons to include Mansfield, Benalla, Rutherglen and Bright. And the great teams, and players, from Corowa, Yarrawonga and Beechworth that had plenty of success in recent decades. I’m surprised that he’s all for it…..IMG_0882

“Well, you’ve got to embrace change, son. On the same note, I never thought I’d see the day when I’d be watching the  lasses playing cricket. Terrific………”

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That steel trap of a mind doesn’t miss a beat, and when he diverts again to tell me about Billy Henderson scoring a big 100 in a Final, he describes his cover and straight-driving as if he was there.

“When was that ?” I ask.

“Oh, back in the 1890’s,” he replies.

We have barely paid any attention to the cricket, so engrossed are we in his reminiscences. But the umps lift the bails to signify the tea-break and, momentarily distracted, I turn to resume our journey into the past.

But he is hobbling down the bank and out of sight.

“Hey, just a minute, do you remember………..”IMG_1549

CRICKET’S SWASHBUCKLING HERO

There have been few better – or more colorful – players in the history of Wangaratta cricket than Charlie Heavey. Certainly none could have been as swashbuckling.

His five and a half seasons produced displays which, even today, are spoken of with awe.

To examine the Heavey phenomenon we need to delve back a touch over 80 years………..
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Frank Archman, the brilliant wicket-keeper/ batsman, is walking along Murphy Street one hot January day when he spots a chap of striking build, obviously a newcomer to town, and looking every inch a sportsman.

Ever-eager to recruit a player for his club, Archman can’t resist the temptation to sound him out, especially when he notices that he’s wearing an Essendon Cricket Club blazer.

Yes, the newcomer replies, he does have a hit, and yes, he’d be interested in coming down to training at the Showgrounds tonight.

What a fluke recruiting coup !

From the time he rolled his arm over at the Showgrounds nets, Archman and his team-mates knew that they had a real ‘find’ on their hands.

It turned out that he was a Shepparton boy. He’d established quite a reputation over there before being invited to move to the ‘big smoke’ to play cricket with Essendon.

He was no slouch with the Bombers either, scoring the season’s fastest District century in his first season, and revealing his potential as an all-rounder. His performances were substantial enough to earn him a spot in the Victorian Second XI.

But he had no sooner established himself in District cricket, than he was back in his beloved ‘Shepp’, reportedly falling out of love with the city.

He continued to enhance his reputation as one of the Goulburn Valley’s finest sportsmen and, in his final year with Shepparton Footballers, took 101 wickets. In an astonishing all-round double in the Haisman Cup Final, he scored 141 and took 8/23 against Tatura.

So how did he lob in Wangaratta ?

Well, Charlie explained, his dad was an executive with the Vacuum Oil Company and had suggested that the lad should “clear out for a while” and move to Wangaratta, where he would be under the watchful eye of an old friend, Norm McGuffie.

Heavey loved the outdoors and was happy to drive an oil tanker around, rather than be stuck in an office. Wangaratta suited him down to the ground.

Standing 6’3″ and weighing 16 stone, he was an imposing physical specimen – a Colossus amongst his new team-mates.

Wngaratta cricket’s ‘Golden Era’ of the thirties was enhanced in no small part by the contributions of Heavey. He had a languid bowling action which generated great pace. He was a batsman of style and immense power, a brilliant fielder and a keen competitor.

Charlie’s capacity to socialise prompted the comment that he’d have been an even better player had he not been so partial to an ale.

There was one occasion that no-one would have blamed him for tucking into a ‘frothy one’. He set a new WDCA record in his momentous innings of 299 at the Showgrounds during the 1936/37 season.

In a team total of 388 (the next highest scorer made 34) he hit 34 fours and 11 sixes in a knock which showed no mercy to the Eldorado attack.

He hammered 32 off one over and 29 off another and two of his sixes landed over the tin fence which bounded Edwards Street.

Legend has it that he actually scored 301 and that the Eldorado scorer, in a fit of pique, pinched two runs off his total so that he’d be deprived of the triple-century.
Just for good measure, Heavey snaffled 6/54 and 2/38 the following week.

The luckless Eldorado were also on the end of another Heavey onslaught in the 1935/36 Final, when he scored 187 of Footballers’ 8/634, and took 3/31.

He made 3137 runs and took 224 wickets in his five seasons of club cricket. He scored nine WDCA centuries, five of them in excess of 140.

Charlie revelled in the companionship of Country Week and his capacity to swing the ball both ways and produce telling innings’ under pressure, lifted his team-mates.

His performance in a match at South Melbourne one day, prompted state selector Jack Ryder to opine in that evening’s Herald: ” If Heavey would come to Melbourne he would be a definite acquisition to Victorian cricket “.

CharlieIMG_0837 used a giant lump of willow which he christened “Big Bertha”. He was an intimidating batsman at the crease, but was really a genial soul.

Wangaratta took out the A-Group title in 1936 and vice-captain Clem Fisher we moved to say at the mayoral reception on the team’s return: ” This has been our best Country Week performance yet.”

“Charlie Heavey captained the side brilliantly and, whenever we were in a bad position, Charlie was able to pull things together with his batting and bowling.”
Heavey won selection (along with another Wangaratta player, Ken Kneebone) in the Victorian Country XI team which played the Englishmen at Benalla in 1937.

Not to be shackled by the occasion, he raced to a quick 30 before he was stumped by George Duckworth.

The veteran ‘keeper sought him out after the game and suggested that, should Heavey feel inclined to come to the ‘mother country’ for a season, he would arrange a suitable club for him.

Charlie took up the offer and enjoyed considerable success in League cricket, scoring the ‘double’ of 1,000 runs and 100 wickets in his 6-month stay.

What his trip to England did, unfortunately, was to bring down the curtain on a scintillating football career with Wangaratta.

He had been among the O & M’s glamour players of the thirties. A strong-marking forward and a beautiful kick,he was a deadly-accurate shot for goal.

He booted 109 goals in 1935 and starred in the 1936 premiership team, which was led by Fred Carey.

Heavey’s final WDCA season was interrupted by the outbreak of war in 1940 and he went away to serve in Darwin.

Upon his discharge he re-located to Melbourne and was recruited by the Melbourne Cricket Club. Despite being on the wrong side of 30 and now carrying a burdensome 17 stone, he proved a decided acquisition in his two seasons with the Demons.

That was the last anyone from Wangaratta  heard of him, until the Country Week Final of 1954, when local speedsters Max Bussell and Jackie Beeby were cutting a swathe through the Shepparton batting line-up.

High up in St.Kilda’s Blackie-Ironmonger Stand, a voice bellowed out for all to hear:  “Pad ’em up two at a time”.

It was Charlie Heavey.

Charlie later retired from his long-term employment with the Vacuum Oil company, and moved, with his wife, to the sunny climes of Maroochydoore, in Queensland, where he died of cancer in 1981, aged 75.IMG_0835