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………..”

‘ROBBIE REMINISCES………’

Rob Worthington’s excitement levels used to rise, around this time of the year.

He’d focus his attention on Wangaratta’s Country Week Cricket campaigns, and begin to assess player availability, the possible composition of the teams and the numerous other jobs that would facilitate the smooth functioning of the trips.

For almost 20 years Robbie was the ‘Backroom General’. He’d play a central role in a hectic whirl of WDCA representative fixtures, which included North-East Ensign Cup, Mac Holten Shield and Bendigo and Melbourne Country Weeks.

He became almost synonymous with the competition’s pursuit of success at the higher level. Scores and scores of players – many of them on the verge of outstanding careers – passed through his hands, and vouched for his enthusiasm and attention to detail.

Even now, more than a decade since his playing career wound down and he decided to hand over the reins, he’s still an avid follower of local cricket…………

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Rob learned the ropes at St.Mary’s Cricket Club, in Dandenong.

He rose through the ranks, from Under 16’s to A-Grade, making his mark as a fast-medium new-ball bowler and handy middle-order left-hand bat. The highlight of his twenty years of senior cricket in his home town, he reckons, was his first flag, on Dandy’s Shepley Oval, in 1971/72.

The Saints were a power club in the D.C.A, and he was to figure in another three premierships among a total of eight Grand Final appearances.

The last pennant came in 1986/87 – a fitting farewell from the club which had previously honoured him with Life Membership for his on and off-field services.

Two months later, he and wife Di – and their two kids – landed in Wangaratta. A steady stream of local cricketers ( me included ) beat a path to the door of the business they had acquired, West End Lotto, in a bid to lure the newcomer to their respective clubs.

Smooth-talking Bruck official Andy Walker secured his services. Robbie’s halcyon days had now passed him by, as he was rising 35, but he was to prove a more-than handy back-up to the new-ball combination of Russell Robbins, Steve Harries and the redoubtable Brian Fisher…………….

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His first Bendigo Country Week campaign was less than memorable……..”After being fortunate enough to get 3 wickets on the first day, I opened the bowling on the second and had a couple of wickets in my first two overs, then did a hammy. That meant I was in charge of the score-book for the rest of the Week,” he recalls.

“But I really enjoyed the experience. Playing in the city, you just didn’t get to savour that type of thing. There’s rep cricket, of course, but nothing to match a Country Week tour.”

Twangy hamstrings started to plague him, and he had to manage his body……and reduce his pace. He made one more trip to Bendigo as a player, then took over as Manager.

He’d been helping out with the Under 21 North-East Colts teams, and many of those lads formed the nucleus of the youth-orientated Bendigo squad.

At the time, a close-knit, happy-go-lucky group of youngsters were coming through, and they thought the world of Rob, who admits there was always a fair bit of revelry; but occasionally a few stern words, just to keep them in check.

One player recalls the pep-talk that he’d usually deliver on the eve of the opening Bendigo Country Week game …..: ‘Righto fellahs, it might be alright to have a few beers one night. But if you follow that up with another, it’s bad news…..It’s the cumulative effect that knocks you. Take it from me, you’ll struggle to last the Week’.”

“We ‘stitched’ Robbie up after the final game one year, though. He found himself in three different ‘schools’. Resultantly, it must have been a herculean effort to lift his head off the pillow the following morning. He wiped off the Vegemite that someone had pasted in his ears whilst he was sound asleep, and, right on the knocker of 7.30am, performed his final task for the week:

“This is Rob Worthington, reporting for 3NE, with the Bendigo Country Week match report…….”

“With admirable poise, he signed off and said : ‘Whadd’ya think boys. How’d I go over ?…..”

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Players like Leigh Hansen, Ash Gilbert, Shane Welch, Paul and Nathan Broster, Darren Petersen, Barry McCormick, Simon Hill and Jordan Wood were among the ‘younger breed’ of rep players of this era who went on to perform well in Victorian Premier Cricket, or its equivalent.

Two other highly-promising youngsters – Jaden Burns and Chris Tidd – both lost their lives whilst still playing Under- 21 rep cricket. Rob was keen to perpetuate their memory. For the past 27 years the WDCA’s outstanding young player has received the Award named in their honour.

Wangaratta won the B-Group title in 1994, but undoubtedly his most cherished moment at Bendigo was the A-Group crown they took out in 1999.

After being set a meagre 142 for victory against Kyabram, the match looked to be out of their reach when they’d slumped to 9/125. An 18-run last wicket stand between the match-hero, Ian Rundell and number 11, Chris Kenny, got them over the line, amidst raucous celebrations.

Much to Rob’s chagrin, the WDCA elected to bypass Bendigo Country Week the following year. He’d been Manager for 11 years, and regarded the experience that youngsters gained as ‘priceless’ for their development. He was rapt that the Association eventually decided to renew its link with Bendigo in 2017.

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After a lengthy spell with Bruck, he was considering retirement in his mid-forties, when he was approached to join Wang-Magpies, a move which elongated his career by several years, and provided him with a raft of cricketing thrills.

Not least of these were premierships in 1993/94 and 2003/04. The latter was of special significance, as the ‘Pies had come from 7th spot in mid-January, just fell into the four, then hit peak form at the right time.

They blasted through the highly-touted Corowa line-up for 93. Rob’s son Mark had grabbed the vital wicket of danger-man Rod Lane for 11, and from then on it was a procession. Mark took 3/22 off 15 overs, to share the bowling honours, and his ‘old man’ tied up an end, with 0/13 off 7. Wang-Magpies knocked off the required runs for the loss of four wickets.

Rob reckons watching his son emerge as a talented quick – and playing alongside him – was about as good as it gets.

He continued playing, on and off, until he finally hung up the boots, aged 58, and began following Mark’s District career, at Footscray and Geelong………

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Throughout the nineties, he’d been helping out with the North-East Cup team, and making regular trips to Melbourne to watch an occasional Country Week game. This morphed into him being a key component of the touring party.

He couldn’t think of a better way of spending his annual Leave ; one week at Bendigo and another at Melbourne. He became the off-sider to Managers Joe Pilkington, Graeme Kerr and Gary Lidgerwood, and would order Lunches, help with hit-ups, give rub-downs, score, drive the Bus and perform a myriad of other tasks.

He was even pressed into action, and made his Melbourne CW debut in 2004, aged 52, when a series of circumstances left the side in a pickle. “It was one of those weeks that you dread,” Rob says. “There were three wash-outs, and in the one completed game, four run-outs cost us victory.”

“Whatever happened though, you felt every bit a part of the team as the players. It was a great way to get to know blokes you played with and against. I saw some fellahs who were the toughest of competitors on the field, but when you socialised with them they were terrific.”

I ask him to pluck out some of the best rep players he saw in his two decades of involvement. It’s no surprise that he immediately plumps for the revered Barry Grant……

“He was as passionate about cricket as anyone I’ve met ( still is ) and he rose to the occasion in rep cricket. Some of the knocks he played in Melbourne, and in Ensign Cup matches, were terrific.”

“Rod Lane was a man of few words, but was a fine competitor and captain for many years…..There were few better all-round players than ‘Rocket’.”

“And the inimitable Darren Petersen…….Once he got going the runs came in a hurry. He treated the bowling with a minimum of respect, and was an excitement machine.”

“Of course there were the veterans like Brian Fisher, Gary Lidgerwood and ‘Psycho’ Carroll, and the other stars – Duane Kerwin, Rod Newton, Darren Grant, Paul Miegel, Ian Rundell and Jon Shaw…….”

In fact, whilst glancing through his extensive cricketing records, I come across a couple of teams he selected, comprising the star rep players from his time. He’s at pains to point out that it was purely subjective. Some had almost passed their peak when he arrived on the scene….some made only brief appearances before moving on…..others were just making their way in the game……..

I hope you don’t mind, Rob, if I publish your ‘Representative Teams From 1990-2008’……

TEAM No. 1

Barry Grant.

Darren Petersen.

Paul Broster.

Shane Welch.

Rod Newton.

Darren Grant.

Paul Miegel ( Wicket-Keeper )

Rod Lane.

Duane Kerwin.

Jon Shaw.

Ian Rundell.

Rod Gulliver.

TEAM No. 2.

Anthony Carroll.

Peter Tossol.

Simon Hill.

Joe Wilson.

Luke Norman.

Aiden Ryan.

Glenn Cousins. ( Wicket- Keeper )

Paul Lavis.

Ross Hill.

Gary Lidgerwood.

Brian Fisher.

Adam Booth.

Unlucky to miss: Jeremy Carr, Shane Norman, Craig Henwood. Andrew Wilson, Jon Townsend, Mark Higgs, Ashley Gilbert, Colin Smith, Michael Keenes, Peter Harvey, Andrew Hill, Mark Worthington, Chris Jones, David Diffey, Wayne Newton, Mick Lappin, David Lane.

Footnote: Rob Worthington’s contribution to representative cricket was acknowledged in 2004, when he was installed as a Life Member of the WDCA…..

” ‘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………

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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………”

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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………

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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………

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‘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……….

“AUSSIE ‘IMPORT’ SHARES IN LONG DITTON GLORY…..’

Aha………I think I detect the sweet, resonant sound of bat on ball…….

To an old cricket buff like me, it’s akin to a musician’s ears being pricked by the distant strum of an acoustic guitar. Or ‘the sound you hear when lightning parts the air for a split second’………

It’s only a couple of weeks since the O & M Grand Final produced the cacophony of 8,000 cheering fans at nearby Norm Minns Oval. A couple of the kids who participated on that day have put it behind them .

They’re limbering up for the approaching cricket season…..steaming in, hurling the spherical projectile with venom…… and conversely, delighting in the ‘crack’ of the willow, as the pill cannons into the netting.

I ask how things are shaping. Okay, they say…..There’s a new bloke coming over from Zimbabwe….a wicket-keeper batsman, called Tafadzwa Tsiga.

Crikey, I reply, that’s a handle that could drive an ageing scorer to drink…… I’ve only just managed to get my head around the interpretation of our generously-proportioned medium-pacer – Paul Szeligiewicz, and that reliable Sri Lankan veteran Lakprija ‘Lucky’ Waruna Shantha. And besides, I’ve still got to pronounce the name of our skipper, Jacob Schonafinger, to the less- informed opposition scorers.

By the way, I ask, what’s ‘Schona’ up to ?………

”They reckon he flies in tomorrow,” I’m told……..

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I’d better hunt him down…….

The first question I put to this fanatical Tiger fan is how – given he was on the other side of the world – he managed to deal with the stress of Grand Final Day.

“We were sitting in the Airport Lounge in Iceland,” he tells me, “….and I managed to get a good Internet connection. It was 4.30am, yet it felt like I was there…..Didn’t miss a kick….It was wonderful.”.

‘Schona’s’ just completed a six-month sporting adventure. Besides incorporating a fair bit of travel, he also spent some time teaching at Harlesden Primary School, in the north of London.

“That was an interesting enough experience in itself. It’s a cultural melting-pot. Really tough. Some days you’d be pulling your hair out wondering how you can put up with the kids any longer.”

“But then, when the Summer Holidays came around and my Term was up, they seemed really sorry to see me go. Presented me with farewell gifts. I guess I must have made some sort of an impression……”

His main purpose in heading over to the ‘Old Dart’ was to soak up a different cricketing culture; to savour the game at an 87 year-old club in South-West London – about 17 miles from the hub of the city.

‘Stokesfield’, a charming little Oval with fine amenities, is the home of the Long Ditton Cricket Club.

“Whereas over here we have a tier-system of young kids being fed through from junior ranks, the players were all my age, or slightly older. They love their cricket – and they love the social life afterwards,” he says. “ A few beers, and then they bring out the Cards and play ‘til all hours.”Schona

‘Schona’ wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but admits that the first ‘Friendly’ game he played in after landing – against Thames Ditton – certainly opened his eyes.

“It was about 7 degrees and there were a couple of delays because of hailstorms. I made a Golden Duck and didn’t look like taking a wicket. They probably thought their overseas recruit was a dud. For my part, I wondered if this might be a forerunner of what I was going to cop all season.”

He redeemed himself with a typically aggressive 87 off 50-odd balls the following day, so the ‘natives’ were rather relieved that the polite, cheerful young fellah who had arrived in their midst, could handle himself alright.

As things began to materialise, he adapted easily to the change in conditions : “I was told the ‘Stokesfield’ track usually had a bit in it, but it turned out a trifle ‘dusty’, and suited me, I suppose.”

Long Ditton enjoyed their best season in ages, and cleaned up a hat-trick of trophies : the 20/20 Cup, the F.A-style knock-out Sunday Cup, and the main prize, the Fuller’s Premier League Cup. According to ‘Schona’, they celebrated accordingly.Schona 2

The Premier League trophy earned them promotion to Division 4 of next year’s Surrey Championship.

A contributing factor towards their success, no doubt, was their Aussie ‘import’, who captured 31 League wickets, bowling second or third change. He usually batted at number 5, and mustered 290 runs @ 29.0 in the League. ( His stats in all matches were: 526 runs and 43 wickets ).

All told, he fitted 24 games into his English summer. The season finished near the end of August, and he and Sheri spent the last month exploring Croatia, Italy, Scotland and Wales, and taking in the volcanoes, geysers and the spectacular Northern Lights of Iceland. So after that break, he’s raring to attack the 2019/20 WDCA season………………

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You can understand what an eye-opener it must have been for the young fellah, when he walked into his new club in early April.

After all, he’d spent his entire cricketing life at the W.J.Findlay Oval, moving through the junior grades to ultimately make his senior debut in 2008, at the age of 15.

Even then, he was considered part of the furniture. His Saturday ritual, for a couple of seasons, had been to play Junior cricket of a Saturday morning, then hang around and follow the exploits of Rovers-United’s senior players like Peter Tossol, ‘Chuck’ Berry, Peter Harvey, Will Russell and ‘Jezza’ Ackroyd…..

The club’s trio of colourful supporters – Arthur Welch, Joe Pilkington and Ken Stewart – who were noted for their acerbic wit and unsolicited comments to players and supporters alike – took a ‘shine’ to the lad. They correctly reasoned that any kid who loved the game to that extent, must be made of the right stuff.img_2762

‘Schona’ saw the Hawks win a flag. He couldn’t wait to join them. But not long after he did, the ranks started to slowly dwindle, until they were left with just a shell of a side.

It’s a funny thing with sporting organisations ( and Glenrowan Football Club is a recent case in point). From the outside, the public think that they’re impregnable, whilst inside, a couple of individuals are ‘peddling furiously’ in an endeavour to keep them afloat.

That was the case with the Rovers-United of a decade ago. ‘Schona’ was one of those who had to do the ‘peddling’.

I remember penning a few words which summed up his involvement thus far:

‘Jacob Schonafinger has become used to shouldering responsibility at the Findlay Oval.’

‘At 18 he was captain, chief recruiting officer, motivator and secretary. Whenever anything went wrong, or needed to be done, ‘Schona’ was the man to contact. He maintained an optimistic outlook when things looked decidedly bleary, and celebrated the club’s meagre successes with gusto………..’

Relief eventually came in the form of Bruck Cricket Club, who were groundless, and floated the possibility of a merge. Suddenly there was playing support there in spades. From leading the ‘wooden-spooners’ the previous season, he was to become a central figure in a dramatic Grand Final against Yarrawonga-Mulwala, which went down to the wire.

I’ve seen almost all of the 2034 runs he’s made, and the 219 wickets he’s taken in 122 A-Grade games, but the purple patch he enjoyed in the 2015/16 Finals put the stamp on him as a ‘star’ of the competition.IMG_0999

For starters, there was an inspired 21 overs against Benalla-Violet Town, which yielded figures of 7/17. Those bobbling, well-controlled medium-pacers had the batsmen flummoxed, and incited visions of a re-incarnated Bob Massie.

The following week, he sent down 26 overs and snared 6/34. The ‘Lakers’ had staggered to 7/92 in pursuit of their target of 155. ‘Schona’ grabbed the eighth wicket with seven runs still needed, but there was to be no romantic finale’ to this hot-streak. Yarra-Mul scrambled to a two-wicket win in one of the great WDCA deciders.schonafinger 5

Nine years after initially being thrust into the leadership of his club, he’s still skipper….still the motivator….. still the ‘go-to’ man……still attacks his cricket with a passion….

When he walks onto Yarrawonga’s Hargreaves Oval on Saturday, to kick off the WDCA season, that sabbatical in the Northern Hemisphere will seem like a blur……..Long Ditton

‘IN THE SHADOW OF WARNIE……..’

There’s nothing like the emergence of ‘another Warnie’ to get the heart-beat of the average cricket fan racing…….

Even Kerry O’Keeffe, an old leggie of repute, tweeted excitedly a couple of weeks ago: ‘….There’s white smoke coming from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel……cricket has a new Pope…..Lloyd Pope…..a Jaffa-headed 18 year-old leg spinner from Adelaide…….just took 8 wickets to beat England in an Under 19 World Cup quarter-Final….and his wrong-un accounted for six of them !…….’

Josh Mangan felt a sense of déjà vu when he read this news.  Fourteen years ago it was he who was  being lauded as a possible successor to the ‘Sheik of Tweak’. He had bowled superbly in successive National Carnivals and acquitted himself well at the Under-19 World Cup in Bangladesh.

The considered opinion was that, at youth level, he was the best leg-spinner in Australia…………..

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“He loves a chat; he’ll talk to you all day,” says Jon Shaw when I mention about doing a story on his old team-mate.  And yes, he seems the same chirpy, happy-go-lucky lad that he was when I first spotted him as a WDCA debutant.

‘Shawy’ had not long arrived in Rutherglen, hoping to broaden his cricket experience, and escape another English winter, when he came across Josh Mangan.

“I’ve seen two kids in my life, at that age (11-12 years old ), and before any ‘proper’ coaches have got hold of them, who you could confidently predict: ‘That person will play professional cricket,’ he says.

“Josh and the English Test player Samit Patel had the God-given talent, the passion for the game and the willingness to train hard.”

“Josh would train twice a day down at the Rutherglen nets. Once in the morning before it got too hot, then, again in the evening when it was a bit cooler. That was beside all of the other team and rep training he had to do.”

“He used to bowl blindfolded at one stump sometimes, and very regularly bowl a ripping leg break that would hit the single stump.”

“The Rutherglen selectors felt that he was too small for men’s cricket, and that he wasn’t physically ready for C-Grade. I said: ‘Well, that’s great. If you don’t want him in C-Grade, I’ll take him in A-Grade.’  He was 13……..“

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Josh reckons he was lucky that ‘Shawy’  arrived in Rutherglen at just the right time.  “He helped to impress upon me how the cricket system operates……how, if you keep getting wickets, you can go from being a 12 year-old at Rutherglen and work your way through the grades. He invested a lot of time into me, that’s for sure……………”

He was slightly-built, confident and a popular team member and was, in no time, being ushered through cricket’s Pathway program.

The story goes that his dad Chris – a musician – would often take Josh to gigs that he was playing at…..and he would happily jump up on stage and sing along with the band. He became a dab hand at the piano, and loved drawing and sketching.

In short, he was multi-talented. His parents, he says, didn’t have much of a cricket background. “But they were super-supportive of me.”

Rob Worthington, one of those who came into contact with him in rep cricket along the way, recalls someone who was perpetually active: “Whilst the other kids were sitting down watching the team batting, Josh would be twirling a cricket ball around, with those long fingers of his……or  sketching his team-mates.”

“He was an excellent bowler in Junior ranks, of course, but also had a solid batting technique. You could see that he had something special.”

He rose through the North-East Knights, represented Victoria’s Under 17 team and took a total of 47 wickets in three Under-19 Carnivals, overtaking a record held by Matthew Innes.

This led to Australian Under-19 selection.  It was heady stuff indeed, for the lad, who seemed destined for the top – with a bullet.

He moved to the city to begin an Architecture Degree at Melbourne University, and landed in Melbourne’s First XI team, aged 17.. His performances in 64 First XI games in four seasons were hardly spectacular, but sufficient to attract the attention of the State selectors, who rewarded him with a Rookie contract in 2005. His apprenticeship included 8 or 9 games with the Victorian Second XI.

“I was looking forward to getting a game for the Bushrangers, but the reality was that I had ‘Warnie’, Cameron White, Bryce McGain (who was still going around) and John Holland ahead of me in the queue,” Josh says.

“Then West Australia approached me with the offer of a Rookie Contract. Their leggie, Beau Casson was leaving the West to play with New South Wales, so I thought it was a great opportunity.”

He was just 20, and was still recovering from a knee injury, when he made the move for the 2006/07 season; also transferring his Architecture course to the University of W.A.

“I was fortunate to join the University club, and come under the influence of some terrific people. Neil ‘Noddy’ Holder, a batting guru, was, and still is, a great mentor. As was Martin Tobin, who was the coach at the U.C.C.”

In his first season in the WACA, Josh took 27 wickets and scored 177 runs ; in the second, his contribution was an impressive 39 wickets and 561 runs. He was surely nearing that elusive first-class appearance.

In the winter of 2008, he headed to England to re-join his old Rutherglen mate, Jon Shaw, playing with Kimberley, in the Notts Premier League, as the senior professional.  It was a dream season. His 950 runs and 47 wickets was a major factor in the club’s successful season, although the League title was just out of reach.

His match figures of 56.3 overs, 7/156, and 100* for the WA Second XI against ACT brought him to the attention of the State selectors.

In late 2008, they named him  for the Sheffield Shield clash against Victoria, at the MCG.  Despite a limited spell at the bowling crease, promising knocks of 24 and 10 whetted his appetite.

He made two further Shield appearances, with limited success that season, followed by half a dozen games during a brief spell at the AIS, in the winter of 2009.

It was generally felt that the slightly-built all-rounder was still a work in progress.

“It’s about being patient,” he said at the time, as he prepared for a vital Shield encounter with NSW. “Being exposed to State cricket last year helped me realise that success at that level is more than just turning up and landing the ball in the right spot.”

‘Spin Hopefuls To Show Wares’ was the newspaper heading, previewing the spin-off between the two emerging stars on display – NSW’s third-gamer Steven Smith, and the WA tyro, Mangan.

In a match affected by weather, Smith sent down 34 overs, for figures of 3/164; Mangan’s 21 overs netted him 1/80, including the wicket of left-hand opener Phil Jacques.

What Josh Mangan needed to progress his career, was a healthy slice of luck. Unfortunately, it had begun to abandon him, as he’d already received cortisone injections for a nagging shoulder injury and a degenerative wrist complaint.

He underwent surgery a couple of months later, for a damaged rotator cuff, had some bone shaved out of his shoulder, and some floating bone removed from his wrist.

The State selectors elected not to renew his contract the following season, despite his determination to fight his way back into the side.

His First-Class career was over, and his spells at the bowling crease became less and less frequent.

Josh continued to pile up the performances in WA Grade cricket. His eight seasons and 141 games with University yielded 3922 runs, 4 tons, 166 wickets and included a stint as captain. He ranks in Uni’s Top-10 for runs scored and wickets taken, and has the most catches in UCC First XI history, as a fielder.

He spent two years with another WACA club, Willeton, accumulating  534 runs and a century, before stepping down this season to play with Wembley Districts, in the WA Suburban Turf competition.

He’s scored 340 runs to date, and is still hitting the ball well. “It reminds me a bit of English club cricket. I’m playing with a lot of good mates and enjoying it thoroughly,” he said.

Josh no doubt rues that right shoulder that started to play up a few years ago and helped to cut short a promising Shield career, but he hasn’t given up on the game he loves……………..