ANOTHER NAIL-BITER AT THE GARDENS OVAL….

One of the quirkier characters of Benalla cricket is a rough-hewn gentleman called ‘Staff’, who operates the score-board at the Gardens Oval.

Thankfully, the Benalla players are well-used to his mannerisms and have learned to turn a deaf ear to the constant barrage of advice and encouragement that he proffers, in between arguing with those in close proximity about the accuracy of his work.

He was in full-flight yesterday, as he attempted to guide the Bushrangers home in a tense clash against Rovers-United-Bruck……

It was an intriguing encounter. The number of times the pendulum swung was enough to drive the average supporter to drink – and I’m sure that explains why ‘Staff’ had to sneak away a couple times during the afternoon to fortify himself…….
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The action started early, when the Hawks – who had been sent in – lost their openers, Luke and Matt Whitten in quick succession.

The younger of the duo, who has been in fine touch of late, with three half-centuries to his name, was sent packing when he nicked one off the lively Dale Stratton. Whitten, the elder, had preceded him – also edging behind. The visitors were 2/3, and the alarm bells were ringing. Neither batsman had troubled the scorers.

Co-captains Jordan Blades and Jacob Schonafinger appeared set on retrieving the situation, but Blades became Connor Brodie’s second victim. It was 3/22 and the quicks were right on top.IMG_3823

The visitors seemed to be imploding, and the loss of the reliable Schonafinger for 19 was a crushing blow. It only got worse – ‘Staff’ took great delight in bringing the scoreboard up to date after four quick wickets had tumbled – the score was 7/48…….

The two super-veterans of the side then came together in an eighth-wicket stand that brought the game to life. Lucky Perera decided on attack from the moment he reached the crease and, by so doing, wrested the initiative from the Bushrangers.

He and the dynamic Jon Hyde sent the run-rate scarping and took advantage of the fact that Benalla’s new-ball bowlers Stratton and Brodie had used up all of their eight overs.

The hosts were bemoaning the absence of a couple of their key back-ups. They relied on spinners Lee Brennan -who extracted huge turn from the track – and Ryan Lloyd-Williams, in a vain attempt to keep the rampant Hawks in check.IMG_3819

‘Lucky’ survived a clumsy catching attempt at backward square-leg, when he mistimed a sweep shot. It was to prove a crucial moment in the game. Shortly after, he produced a classic on-drive which sailed into the plane trees at the Rotunda-end of the ground.

Hyde, who looked scratchy early, discovered some of his rare touch, and deftly produced three boundaries in one over from Nathan Abley.

Resultantly, the Hawks had not only arrested a snail-like run-rate, but  scored with abandon. The 81-run stand between the pair came in just 49 minutes. but there were signs that ‘Lucky’s’ back injury was causing him some stress, and it came as no surprise when he holed out off Lloyd-Williams for 44.

Paddy McNamara, providing valuable support, helped Hyde reach his half-century. They added a further 39, before ‘Billy’ fell for a well-made 54.

The Hawks were satisfied with their eventual 9/174, particularly the lanky Paddy, who, with an undefeated 17, posted his highest A-Grade score.

“A handy total,” I suggested to a Benalla fan at the break. “Yeah” he replied, “but the Gardens has never been quicker. We scored 170-odd against Colts a few weeks ago and they ended with 200 in their 40 overs.”

So obviously, this was a game that was still up for grabs.

And when James Carboon and Ash Ellis set off after the target, it’s size seemed to shrink markedly. They had effortlessly cruised to 31 in just seven overs when, out of the blue, paceman Paul Szeligievicz got one through Carboon’s defences.

That was  the only encouragement the Hawks were to have for quite some time, though. The dashing left-hander Ellis was composed, and his stylish batting was a treat.
He took toll of Jon Hyde and belted four boundaries in two overs, prompting the diminutive medium-pacer to be removed from the attack.

The Hawks threw the ball to James McIntyre, who was bowling for the first time in senior ranks, and debutant left-armer Tyler Norton. Both strutted their stuff and showed promise, but were unable to make an impact.

Simon Holmes, one of Benalla’s finest batsmen of the modern era, was back in the side after missing two seasons through a serious eye injury. The stocky leftie was soon middling them and provided good support to Ellis, as the pair progressed to 87 at drinks.
88 to win, with nine wickets in hand, 20 overs to get them. It seemed an impregnable position for the home team.

But the game swung on its ear in a trice.

McNamara, the enthusiastic left-armer, had proved the most economical of the bowlers, conceding just 11 runs in his first 4 overs, but he struck a telling blow when he skittled classy Ellis for 59. IMG_3818

Wicket-keeper-turned off-spinner Lucky Perera Made further inroads when he had Holmes caught for 19, and five balls later dismissed Lee Brennan for a duck.

McNamara, who was now in full cry, captured two more wickets in his next over. The Bushies had now lost 5 wickets for two runs.

But again, it was Benalla’s turn to mount a rearguard action. Nathan Abley and Josh McCullum proceeded to steady things, then set a cracking pace, as they added 60 for the seventh-wicket.

The game was now theirs to lose.

They needed just 21 runs; still had four wickets in hand.

In a make-or-break move, the ball was again thrown to part-timer Perera. It was felt that the game may be decided on what happened next.

Again Lucky did the trick. Abley, on 38, slammed one back and was dismissed caught and bowled; a brilliant reflex catch.IMG_3821

Then McCullum fell with no addition to the score – out for 22.

Moments later, Dale Stratton was found short of his crease following a smart Schonafinger return.

Benalla had lost 3 for 1. Their two batting ‘hiccups’ had amounted to the loss of eight wickets for three runs.

Just 14 runs short of their target, and still not without a chance, Connor Brodie hoiked a shot into the deep, giving Jordan Blades a short run to complete the catch and effect a memorable victory for the Hawks.

McNamara, one of the team’s five ‘babies’ sent down 6.4 overs to finish with the figures of 4/16 and continue his improvement. Perera snagged 3/17 off his 4 overs.IMG_3817

With youngsters Matt Whitten, McNamara and Bailey Dale all enjoying fine seasons, and Bailey Annett, Jimmy McIntyre and Tyler Norton sure to continue their improvement,  the smiles  are back on the faces of the Hawk clan………..IMG_3822N.B: With thanks to Peter Whitten for Photography.

GOLDEN OLDIE EMULATES GHOSTS OF THE PAST………

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 …..

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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.

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“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.”

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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.img_2017

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 himg_2016im 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 img_2035on 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……….

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