“KEITH SHERWILL……COUNTRY CRICKET LEGEND……”

Every sporting town probably has its own version of Keith Sherwill.

‘Sher’s’ been gone ten years now, but for just on six decades he was the go-to man if you needed to know something about cricket in Benalla and its surrounds.

He was the champion left-hand batsman who gravitated to become a long-serving administrator and tireless servant of the game. His roles encompassed being a curator, compiler of records and statistics, publicity-machine, zestful promoter at junior level, and Selector/Manager of representative teams……….

Chances are most kids who were making their way in North- East Cricket would have taken note of this slouch-shouldered old-stager who’d shuffle along, fag in hand, brow furrowed; his mind seemingly occupied by a thousand and one things.

They may have been playing in a rep game which he’d organised, welcomed them to, and was keeping an eye on.

But if they happened to encounter him as their careers progressed, they’d have been introduced to the lighter side of him…… the Court Jester, who revelled in the atmosphere of the dressing-room……………

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Benalla’s picturesque Gardens Oval was ‘Sher’s’ pride and joy. He lived just three blocks up from the ground’s Wedge Street entrance – a short jaunt on his trusty ‘chariot’.

“If he went missing we knew he was either rolling the wicket at the ‘Gardens’, or having a beer at the ‘Royal’, the Pub on the corner,” says his son Robert.

His affiliation with his second home began when he’d tag along to watch his dad Bill in action. In time he took over the score-book, then would occasionally fill in for Benalla when they were short.

But a knock on the shin from a cricket ball a few years earlier, almost put paid to the budding Sherwill career.

“His leg became badly infected and he was transferred to a Melbourne Hospital ,” Robert recounts. “The doctors debated about cutting it off, and only for his Maternal Grandmother intervening, apparently the leg would have been amputated”

“He never spoke about it much, only to say how rapt he was when a few South Melbourne footballers came to visit him during his long stay in Hospital. My grandfather was a butcher, and had an affiliation through business with the South President Archie Croft.”

“Red and White became his footy colours from then on…..both for South and Benalla.”

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The aftermath of the injury was that football, which he also loved with a passion, was off-limits for ‘Sher’, even though he did sneak out and play a few games for Winton, unbeknowns to his Mum.

He became a regular in Benalla’s club cricket side at 14, and began to exhibit his obvious potential. His half-century in a semi-final that year helped them into the Final, and a resultant premiership.

There was a hush among those gathered at the Gardens the following season, when he was felled by a delivery at a crucial stage of another BDCA Final. As players milled around, concerned for his welfare, the umpire officiating at the bowler’s end didn’t budge.

It was Bill Sherwill, who, although privately fretting, felt he had been compromised by being assigned to a match involving Keith, and didn’t want to indicate any form of favouritism towards his son.

Runs flowed freely from ‘Sher’s’ bat as he reached his late teens. He made his first trip to Country Week in 1940, as an upper-order bat and finger-spinner. Benalla won its first title – a tight B-Grade Final against Dandenong-Berwick, at St.Kilda in 1946 – and he helped to swing the game.

At a Dance on one of his Melbourne Country Week sojourns, he met his future-wife Dorothy. When he received the inevitable approach to play District cricket with Carlton they settled ‘in town’ for a brief period.

Keith didn’t cope all that well in the big smoke, and after he’d played in the ‘Blues’ 1947/48 Premiership side, they decided to move back home to Benalla for keeps.

He didn’t elaborate on his individual highlights, but the dream season he shared with fellow Benalla club opener Frank Hogan in 1957/58, was certainly one of them.

They were an ideal combination. Hogan, who moved on to play footy and cricket with South Melbourne the following season, was a dashing right-hand stroke-maker and would, in due course, be included in the South Australian State squad.

Sherwill, the mollydooker, was more circumspect, and preferred to settle in before chancing his arm.

They shared six century and one double-century stands before the end of January, then continued their run-spree at Country Week.

Many of ‘Sher’s’ on-field highlights centred around the Gardens Oval. One yarn that he used to tell against himself involved a match against Goorambat in the days of the old eight-ball overs.

He brought himself on to bowl against his friend and keen cricketing rival Tom Trewin, who was well settled. The first seven balls of his over whistled through the elm and plane trees which gracefully ring the ground…… A couple even bounced onto the nearby band rotunda.

Trewin lost his footing attempting his eighth successive six, and was stumped by Benalla ‘keeper Barry Talochino, giving the under-siege Sherwill the figures of 1/42 after his first over……….

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Trewin, a highly-respected Devenish farmer, and the local member for State Parliament, was a cricket diehard. He served as President of the B.D.C.A for 26 years………And for a good portion of his reign ‘Sher’ was his loyal Lieutenant .

The other member of this ‘triumvirate’, which guided Benalla cricket through a period of strength was Ted Cleary, a former wily left-arm medium-pacer, and astute judge of talent, who had worn the Victorian cap three times in his heyday.

The two ‘elder statesmen’ kept the energetic Sherwill – 10 years their junior – on his toes. At its peak, with the competition comprising three eight-team divisions, the BDCA was flying.

Benalla’s performance to defeat Kyabram in the 1979 ‘A’ Grade Country Week Final was, at that point, their best-ever effort. But two years later, after having won promotion to the Provincial Group, they over-powered Ballarat in the Final, to complete their rise to the top rung of country cricket.

‘Sher’ was there, naturally…….Just as he was whenever some extensive organisation was required to host matches at the Gardens, against Ian Johnson’s and Graeme Yallop’s visiting Victorian XI’s, and the touring South African, West Indies and New Zealand Teams.

The biggest shot in the arm to local rep cricket had come three decades earlier, when the North-Eastern District Cricket Cup competition was formed.

‘Sher’, who had earned a spot in the Ensign Cup’s history-books as its first century-maker, acted as Secretary of the body for 41 years, and along the way, helped implement the Mac Holten Shield Under 21 competition in 63/64.

As an extension, he became the North-East Zone 8 delegate to the Victorian Country Cricket League, and was a VCCL selector for twenty years.

He undoubtedly had to put his job with the P.M.G on the back-burner for a week each January, to co-ordinate Benalla Junior Country Week, which he helped kick off in the mid-sixties.

The Carnival became the high-point of the season for the region’s junior cricketers and, in its initial years, would begin with a Clinic on the Sunday. Ian Botham and Merv Hughes were two of the big ‘names’ who were invited to assist with coaching…………..

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‘Sher’ had been able to successfully combine administrative and on-field duties, but at the conclusion of the 1974/75 season he reluctantly pulled the pin as a player, at the age of 49.

He went out on a high, as a member of the Diggers premiership team. Of all the on-field successes that came his way in cricket, this was his favourite, because his sons Robert and Graham were also members of the side.

He managed to combine his duties at Club, Association, Zone and VCCL levels, with his propensity to promote all sport.

His column, ‘Sherwill Speaks Sport’ was a feature of the Benalla Ensign newspaper for over 30 years. He was a deft hand as the BDCA’s – and Benalla Football Club’s – official publicity officer, bringing the game to the forefront of Print, Radio and Television……..

But, of course, as such an opiniated public figure, he always came in for his share of criticism, particularly when dealing with different associations and their own agendas. And heaven forbid, in his role as a Zone 8 Selector, if he failed to find a spot for a Benalla player or two against touring sides.

“Dad always placed great store on the relationships he created through sport,” says Robert Sherwill.

“He often said that he made just as many – or more – friends with the opponents he’d fought tooth and nail against, than the fellahs he played with.”

“He saw all the big guns of North-East cricket at close quarters over nearly seventy years, but he couldn’t go past two all-rounders – Ray Maclaine of Euroa and Max Bussell of Wangaratta, as his favourites.

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‘Sher’s’ monumental sporting contribution was recognised in 2002, when he was awarded the Bob Merriman Medal, for his services to country cricket. This ‘gong’ also tied in with Life Memberships of the BDCA, Benalla Football Club, NEDCCC and VCCL, the Delatite Shire (Benalla) Citizen of the Year in 2001, and the Australia Sports Medal in 2000.

The marathon 55-year Sherwill stint as Curator of the Gardens Oval drew to a close three years later, at the age of 81.

“I told them it was about time these young blokes learned how to make wickets,” he said. “Some of them don’t even know the dimensions of the crease.”

This pronouncement amused one of the youngsters who sometimes helped him tend to his sacred stretch of Turf.

The lad joked that ‘Sher’ had once mistakenly marked out the pitch more than a foot too long for an important club game……… then complained all day that ‘these young blokes can’t expect to get wickets if they don’t bowl a decent line and length’……………..

A MARATHON KNOCK AT THE TOP OF THE ORDER……”

Mention the name Hoysted in this neck of the woods and the sporting pundits will regale you with the feats of the nation’s most illustrious racing dynasty.

Frederick William Hoysted settled here from Ireland’s County Kildare in 1859. The family tree has provided, at last count, 19 renowned trainers, 6 jockeys, 3 Bookmakers, a saddler, a horse auctioneer – and of course, Des, the famous race-caller.

Why, I ask Greg Hoysted, did he veer from the path of thoroughbred racing, and settle on cricket as his chosen sport ?…………….

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“Simple, really,” he explains. “Hal, my uncle, gave me a pony for my fifth birthday. I climbed on and had a massive allergic reaction. I discovered I was allergic to horses, so that put paid to my involvement in the equine industry.”

When Greg’s grandfather, training wizard Henry Fred ( ‘Tib’ ) Hoysted passed away, Hal inherited the family’s stables; Jack, his dad, took over the Wangandary farm.

“Dad operated the farm for the rest of his life. He bred several fine horses, but at one stage he got tied up with helping to run Junior footy, so I started playing with Combined Churches. A few of my mates were keen cricketers, too, and I joined them.”

The die was cast.

At 12 he was opening the batting in the local Under 16 competition. He made his senior WDCA debut at 13 or 14, as a fill-in for Wangaratta; an eye-opening experience that entailed facing the fearsome ‘Ab’ O’Brien on a sporty Moyhu track.

A year or so later he’d become a regular; playing alongside the legendary Max Bussell, quicks Mark Phillips and Brook Anderson and the steady medium-pacer, Graeme Sheppard. They were a team of characters, spiced with a group of kids – and the critical appraisal of Duke Goldsmith, a crusty old fellah who’d been tending the score-book for years.

Duke’s authoritative voice would bellow across the Showgrounds from the Richardson Stand: “Put a man down at fine leg, Bussell,” or “ You’ll need an extra slip for this bloke……….”

Greg became the wicket-keeper, and gravitated to opening the batting – a position that he was to make his own over the next four decades.

He won the Association’s ‘Keeping Award one year, thanks, he says, to left-armer Brook Anderson continually enticing batsmen to nick his swinging deliveries……….And he’d improved enough, in 1984/85, to take out the Batting Average, and score the first of his 27 career centuries.

By now he was in Melbourne undertaking a Teaching Degree. An invitation to regularly practice on the hallowed turf at University Oval, facing the District club’s attack, was too good to pass up. No wonder the Hoysted technique tightened and he became more accustomed to fobbing off zealous pacemen with a glint in their eye.

Uni offered him a game in their Second XI, but he told them he was needed back home on week-ends to pull his weight on the farm. Besides, as Wangaratta’s captain, the side was reliant on his run-scoring capabilities………………..

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When the West Indies’ eagerly-awaited visit to the Showgrounds came around in March 1985, Hoysted and the team’s skipper Gary Lidgerwood, were the only Wangaratta members named in the Country XI team.

A ‘Chronicle’ editorial panned the non-selection of in-form Brian Fisher – and Barry Grant – a promising youngster who’d been in scintillating form that season.

“Some felt ‘Baz’ was unlucky. I suppose he may have replaced me, had he played,” Greg says. “I asked Keith Sherwill ( Selector ) later on, why he missed out, He said they felt that, at 18, he was a touch young at that stage. They didn’t want to throw him to the wolves.”

Nevertheless, it was a memorable experience for Greg, shaping up on his home ‘deck’, in front of a large crowd, and facing the might of Garner, Marshall, Walsh and Davis:

“The first ball of the day, Winston Davis has rhythmically run in . I’ve propped onto the front foot, to play my usual forward defensive shot. He has followed through, but I’ve seen……nothing. I thought, Geez, that was quick…..He’s more slippery than I thought ! He must have been stirring up the crowd, or maybe got something wrong with his run-up, as he still had the ball in his hand……It wasn’t a great moment, that’s for sure.”

The defiant opener batted for just on 25 overs, for 44 of the Country XI’s 4/274, in response to the Windies’ total of 291……

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The Hoysted reputation during eight seasons in the WDCA, had been fashioned around a dour, rock-solid defence, unlimited patience, an organised batting technique and a strong off-side game.

Thus, those who’d spent hours attempting to penetrate this veritable ‘brick-wall’ in club cricket, were astounded at his flamboyance when they opposed him in North-East Cup matches in succeeding years.

He was now living and teaching in Benalla and had thrown in his lot with the BDCA.

“I remember a match in the late eighties. Cup cricket was big in those days,” recalls one Wang veteran. “We made 230-odd in our 50 overs. Benalla passed us with an over or two to go.”

“Hoysted opened, and made a blistering, unbeaten 116. He even straight drove ‘Knackers’ Rundell onto the bike track a couple of times. We couldn’t believe how aggressive he’d become.”

Greg had been involved in the Benalla competition for just on a year when the the long-serving President and Association icon, Tom Trewin, announced his departure from the role.

“I decided to put my hand up, and did the job for the next 10 years. I had another stint a few years later.”

“We had eight senior, and eight junior teams in those days. The competition was strong. For example, Albury & Border took out the Provincial CW title one year. There was a bit of paper talk that this was one of the greatest sides they’d fielded. But we knocked them over in a Cup match the following week-end.”

Greg began his annual odyssey to Bendigo Country Week in 1980; the first of his three trips with Wangaratta. He went on to represent Benalla for a further 26 years, and was inducted to the Bendigo CW Hall of Fame in 2009.

Numbered among the seven centuries he scored at Bendigo was a memorable 120, which piloted Benalla to victory in the 2003 Final, against Wimmera-Mallee.

Teaching commitments interrupted most of his Melbourne campaigns, but he was usually able to fit in to 2-3 days most years……. And whenever Benalla reached the Final they’d send an SOS for their run-machine.

That’s what happened in 1992, when they clashed with Grampians at Carlton’s Princes Park. Hoysted’s 84 was a key factor in their win, and earned him the gong as Player of the Final.

“The conditions were phenomenal,” he says.”A grassy outfield, bouncy wicket, and they had the full scoreboard running. It was the sort of day that country cricketers dream of…….”

Greg had one remaining item to tick off on his cricketing ‘Bucket List’ He headed to England in 1995, with wife Sue, to play a season with Illingworth St.Mary’s, in Halifax, Yorkshire.

“It was an enormous experience. We made friends for life and the opportunity to sample English cricket was terrific.”

He finished with over 1,200 runs for the season, the highlight of which was a 233-run club-record opening-partnership with Sam Smith.

When he returned home he chalked up another career highlight – captaining his BDCA side to a premiership in 1995/96. He’d spent nine years with All Blacks United since arriving in Benalla. It was their one and only title. They promptly disbanded, merging with home-ground rivals Benalla Saints.

Saints won three titles in their 13-year existence. In one of those – 2002/2003 – Hoysted carried his bat, making 138* of his side’s 350, clinching victory by 40 runs.

When Saints folded in 2008/09, he thought of giving it away. After all, he was 49. But Warrenbayne asked if he’d mind giving their young blokes a helping hand. They made the Final in the first year. The club celebrated its 130th anniversary the following season – 2013/14 – and won their first-ever flag.

The demise of the BDCA at the conclusion of the following year caused some heart-ache, but in Greg Hoysted’s opinion it had become inevitable.

“As our junior numbers started to decline we began to run into trouble, and were eventually obliged to seek affiliation with the Wangaratta Association,” he says.

At 53, Greg decided it was as good a time as any to retire, at that stage. He had three years off, but was invited to become involved with the Benalla Bushrangers.

“Trevor Saker got into my ear and I started having a hit again last year, thinking I’d just play in the lower grades. But I’ve been alternating between A-Grade and A-Reserve. It’s been great…………”

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In an involvement with cricket which is even longer than Greg Hoysted’s marathon innings, I thought I’d seen everything that the game could throw up..

But when I spotted a container sitting on the scorer’s table a few weeks ago, I became a tad suspicious.

“What the hell’s that, ?” I queried.

“Oh, they’re Greg’s heart pills. You’ve got to run them out to him at 3 o’clock………..”