” ‘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………

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

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………”

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

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………

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

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………

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

‘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……….

THE GENTLEMAN FAST BOWLER…………

It’s stretching a long bow to suggest that one of cricket’s legendary opening batsmen, Desmond Haynes, was troubled by the pace and venom of Gary Lidgerwood………….

“Hardly,” ‘George’ says, with a grin. “The first time I played against the West Indies at Benalla, he miscued a pull shot and hit it straight up in the air. He was out for a ‘duck’. Then when we met them at the Showgrounds the next year, he tried to belt me over the fence and was bowled – for 1.”

Still, as the years roll on, sporting stories have a knack of ‘growing legs’ and, over a few beers his mates sometimes refer to ‘Dessie’ Haynes as ‘Lidgerwood’s bunny.’
‘George’ laments the absence of those Country XI matches, which used to be an eagerly-anticipated part of International touring teams’ fixtures.

“You grasped the opportunity to rub shoulders with some of the greats of the game. Good crowds turned up and there was a buzz around town for weeks beforehand.”
“Unfortunately, there’s not enough room in the schedule these days.”…………

Gary’s regarded as an icon of North-East cricket. A fast bowler who could produce a bit extra on the big occasions – and a personable type who was a fine leader and ideal team-man.

He thrived on competitiveness and camaraderie and – in something that sat well with selectors – made himself available for any representative match that was on the horizon……..
…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

The tiny hamlet of St.James, perched almost equidistant from Wangaratta, Yarrawonga and Benalla, was the launching-pad for the storied sporting career of Gary Lidgerwood.

When barely a teen-ager, this slightly-built kid, who hailed from a nearby farm, laboured enthusiastically on the  hard wicket and dry terrain of the St.James oval. Gnarled veterans of the Lake Rowan competition nodded sagely, as he made them hurry their shots and withdraw from rearing deliveries.

In winter he lined up on a wing for neighboring Tungamah, and did enough to prompt an approach from O & M club Benalla.

It was 1974; he was travelling in to attend Benalla Tech and saddling up with the Demons’ senior side. A stooped, persuasive old recruiter called Alan Killigrew – one of the most recognisable faces in football – pulled him aside one day and suggested he might consider having a run with North Melbourne Thirds.

That suited. He was heading down to attend Swinburne Tech the next year, so he came under the influence of Raymond Clarence ‘Slug’ Jordan, a coach with a reputation for colourful language and a confrontational approach.

What an experience ! In the time he spent under the brutal ‘Slug’, who, it was claimed, had a tongue like a Chainsaw, he learnt plenty about the rigours of sporting life. But it was a pleasure to be around Arden Street at that time. Barassi’s Northerners were en-route to their first-ever flag.

And, as a lowly Thirds player he was also along for the ride……. At the end of the day, however, Gary deduced that he had a limited future in League footy.

He had, though, considered accepting one of the several approaches he’d received about playing District cricket. Instead, he decided to travel back to play in Benalla each week-end.

He joined Goorambat – perennial BDCA finalists and home club of the Cleary and Trewin clans – sharing the new ‘cherry’ with experienced campaigners John Cleary and Johnny Ashton.

And he became a valuable component of a Benalla football line-up which had been barking at the heels of the flag contenders for a few seasons.

They had been building up to something – and in 1978 it all came together. Under the coaching of local boy Billy Sammon, they chalked up 16 wins on the trot, to secure a Grand Final berth.

The Demons went in as ‘red-hot’ favourites, but were blown away by a Rovers side which dictated terms, almost from the first bounce, to win by 54 points………….
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Gary had played 110 senior games with Benalla -and was a vital member of their rep cricket sides – when he accepted a shift to Wangaratta in 1981, as Manager of Paterson’s Furniture Store.

He threw in his footy lot with Wangaratta, and linked up with City Colts, a club which was making steady progress after years in the WDCA wilderness.

Colts hadn’t played in a finals series in their first 20 years of existence. With Lidgerwood in their ranks they appeared in nine of the next ten.

Younger players grew taller alongside the inspiring fast bowler. In his first season there was immediate success. Colts were defending 116 in the semi-final against powerhouse, United.

Lidgerwood and his bowling partner Bruce Hookey smashed through the United line-up to have them 9/30 at one stage, before finally dismissing them for 76.

Unfortunately, it was Colts’ turn to be humbled in the Grand Final, when they could only muster 52 against Whorouly.

Four years later, they finally broke through for their first – and only – WDCA senior flag. Sneaking into the finals by just 1.1% they squared off against Corowa in the big one.

It was a decisive victory, as Colts responded to a score of 141 with a mammoth 414.

‘George’s’ remarkable consistency in club cricket saw him finish in the top three of the Association’s bowling averages in eight of his first nine seasons. He won the ‘double’, the Chronicle Trophy and Cricketer of the Year Award in 1982/83, with 49 wickets and 381 runs.

His batting style in amassing those 381 runs could simply be described as unorthodox.

Coming in down the list, he would back his eye and tee off with a shot that sent the ball over the field, anywhere from backward point to deep mid-wicket.

Defensive prods were negligible and bowlers who felt they had broken the back of the Colts batting would be frustrated by a flurry of late-order runs.

His second Cricketer of the Year gong came in 1985/86. On the eve of that season, he had played in his only football flag, as a member of Wangaratta’s ‘85 Reserves team.

He’s pretty handy at socialising, is ‘George’. Two years ago he and his old Magpie team-mates gathered together and made a great fist of celebrating the 30-year Anniversary of that Premiership. The flag was all the more memorable because it was the last game of footy he played.

He was just 29 when he hung up the boots, but he reckons it helped to elongate his cricket career.

Back then, in his halcyon days, he had a long, rhythmic run-up. Straight, black hair would flop in the breeze, as a slightly round-arm action propelled the bright red ‘Kookaburra’ at a decidedly slippery and uncomfortable speed.

The ability to bowl a decent out-swinger and a dose of old-fashioned cricket nous made him a formidable opponent.

There was occasional criticism that he needed a touch more mongrel, but ‘George’ replied that he’d rather attack the stumps than than the body. “I preferred not to go head-hunting,” he says.

As his pace began to wane in latter years, he became a dependable ‘stock bowler’, tying up an end with accuracy and subtle variation of pace.

He opened the bowling for Victorian Country in the first-ever National Country titles in Brisbane.

Appearances against New Zealand Under 21’s, the ACT, and those two West Indies sides were part of a bulging CV.

He took 4/50 in the Showgrounds match against the Windies, but hastens to point out that, after he had claimed his fourth victim, opposition captain Richie Richardson proceeded to take 22 runs off his next over.

“He told me I’d bowled one over too many.”

‘George’ played 250 games for City Colts, and took 600 wickets. He was a key player in 14 Melbourne Country Week trips as a player, and was captain in eight of these.

He also figured in eight North-East Cup victories.

When he finally left the playing-field he Managed the Country Week side for several years, then had a five-year stint as President of the WDCA.

It was the least he could do, he said, to repay the debt he owed to cricket…………………