It was a brute of a day. You’d rather have been rugged up inside, watching the goings-on at Moonee Valley, than being exposed to the elements, as we were at Benalla’s picturesque Gardens Oval on Saturday.
A chill wind whistling through the stately elm and plain trees that ring the ground made conditions decidedly uncomfortable.
The traditional showpiece of North-East cricket is in pretty much the same nick as I remembered it 20-odd years ago……the surface looks even and, of course, well-grassed……the ‘track’ still plays fairly truly, they say. …..the handsome rotunda looks supreme and acts as a backdrop to the surrounding parklands……..
And the Grandstand, the central construction, has been refurbished after being badly damaged in the floods of 2010. I closed my eyes for a sec and imagined the ghosts of that legendary local cricket trio, Sherwill, Trewin and Cleary, perched high in the stand, surveying the proceedings and critically analysing the technique of the younger generation …..
I’m keen to catch up with Trevor Saker – cricket ‘nut’, modern-day successor of that old ‘triumvirate’, and curator of the ‘Gardens’ wicket. But they tell me he’s playing a B-Grade game over the road, at the Showgrounds.
At his age ?
“Can’t help himself,” Simon Holmes tells me. “He’s gotta get rid of his competitive juices somehow. And he’s involved in an Over-60’s game here tomorrow. I reckon he’s getting more like ‘Old Sher’ every day. Even rides the bike down to do the wicket, just as ‘Sher’ did.”
Trev had already enjoyed a fruitful career by the time he and his wife Trish settled their young family in Benalla in 1988. He grew up in and around the Nunawading Cricket Club, where his old man, Bob, was somewhat of an institution.
‘Nuna’ re-named their home ground, the ‘Bob Saker Oval’ in 2001, to commemorate a feisty, competitive family which featured one of their number in all but two of the club’s twelve First XI flags.
Trev recalls his first active involvement at the age of 10 or 11. He would take over the scoring duties when the senior side were in the field and would be irked by the uncomplimentary barbs the opposition directed towards his dad.
“As I grew older and started playing with him, I understood why those comments were made,” he says.
He graduated through the ranks, to play alongside his father, and was followed, in time, by his brother Bill ( “one of the best bats I’ve seen”) who ended up at Hawthorn-East Melbourne – and the baby of the family, David.
Dave was possessed of an attitude which was inclined to rub a few people up the wrong way in his early days at Nunawading. So much so that a couple of his club-mates predicted that he probably had no future in the game.
This was to prove a gross miscalculation, as the burly speedster went on to play Shield cricket for Victoria and Tasmania, and build an imposing resume’ as a bowling coach for Victoria and England. He coached the Vics to last year’s Shield title and is the newly-appointed Australian bowling coach.
Trevor was destined not to scale those heights, but he had a insatiable thirst for cricket.
” I was a pretty ordinary junior and was mainly a batsman. I loved grabbing hold of the ball in the nets, but rarely got a bowl in games until a few years later. It just developed from there,” he says.
“Strangely, the biggest improvement in my bowling came many years later, when I went interstate to watch Dave in a Shield game. I was down at training and they invited me to roll the arm over. Just a few clues that I was given about hitting the wicket hard and using my wrists, made the world of difference.”
So that was what he brought to the teams he represented – a batsman who became ultra-difficult to remove once he became set; and a medium-pace bowler who always attacked the stumps and gave nothing away. And, importantly, a bloke who loved the battle and tried to influence his team-mates to play the same way.
“I only scored five centuries, but two of them were in Finals. I like to think I could rise to the occasion,” he says.
Trev had followed his father’s career-path and joined the Police Force. And that’s how he came to turn up in Benalla, after he had applied for a transfer.
The first thing he did after arriving in August ’87 was to find a new cricket club. He saw a notice in the paper from Diggers, but there was no training venue or phone numbers shown. Then he was driving past the Friendlies Oval and noticed a sign advertising that St.Joseph’s training was beginning shortly.
His relationship with ‘Joey’s’ lasted 13 years. The club was undergoing a big change in personnel when he arrived and they were basically a team of youngsters with a few oldies – including Stephen Lalor and Gary Downie – thrown in.
Lads like Simon Holmes, Johnny Lalor, Christian De Fazio, Cameron Howlett and Brendan Duncombe were coming through and they moulded into a formidable combination, winning seven premierships, including four in a row at one stage.
In his last season at St.Joseph’s (1999-2000) they defeated Violet Town in the Grand Final. The next year Trev was playing for the vanquished opposition, having moved ‘down the road’ to take charge of the Violet Town Police Station.
His three boys, Robert, Tom and James (he also has two sports minded daughters, Catherine and Elizabeth) were making their sporting presence felt and all joined him in the side. In what Trev regards as the highlight of his career, the quartet combined in two of the four BDCA flags that Violet Town won in his 13 years in the town.
Robert remains a key figure and captain of Benalla-Violet Town’s WDCA team and his 18 overs of medium-pace were rewarded with figures of 5/25 last Saturday.
Tom is now the captain of Airport West, whilst James, who bowled Wodonga to an ABCA flag in his last game of competitive cricket, opted a couple of years ago to throw all his sporting energies into coaching the Lavington Panthers. He was showing quite a bit at District club Northcote’s Second XI before deciding to focus on football.
Trev called it a day with the Police Force in 2008, and the family returned to Benalla to live. One of his aims in retirement was to spend some time playing cricket in England.
He has now made six trips, playing half a season each year at Plaxtol, a small village in Kent.
“They play on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, then there’s a mid-week comp which begins after work on Wednesdays. It’s full-on cricket, but I love it. I generally play about 30 days over there each season,” he says.
For the last 28 years, ever since he came to the bush, he has been to Melbourne Country Week and it was only last season, when he was Manager of the WDCA side, that he didn’t sneak his cricket gear onto the bus.
Add in regular visits to Bendigo Country Week, his role in representative teams over the years, rolling the wicket, and his massive input towards Junior cricket and you’ll understand that it’s a hectic summer schedule for Trevor Saker.
He’s big on the cameraderie that is engendered in cricket and still loves nothing better than unwinding with a few quiet ales after a tough day in the middle.
It’ll be the same next month, when he heads over to Perth to participate in the National Over-60’s Carnival.
Let’s just hope that his creaking body stands up……….