‘ARVO TEA AT THE CRICKET……..’

(With thanks to guest blogger, Simone Kerwin.)

Afternoon tea…the words conjure a range of delicious images in my mind. 

Firstly, there are those sparked by the Enid Blyton stories I devoured as a child, in which there were always ‘lashings’ of this, and tables ‘groaning’ with that…. Or my favourite Roald Dahl books, which often feature gloriumptious feasts enjoyed by the Queen, or the heroic saviour of some wretched waif.

These stories set in the English countryside, and its magical forests and woodlands, were a world away from reality. However, the sun-baked country Australian cricket ovals I roamed as a youngster, also offered up the distinct highlight of indulging in that very English-sounding pastime of ‘afternoon tea’.

Anyone who has ever been a cricket-following child knows the rule – that once the players and umpires have finished ‘Tea’ the remainder is fair game.

So it was for my brother, sisters, cousins and I, who would hungrily try to sneak a peek inside the Tea-Room on cricket days, to glimpse the treats that might be in store for us.

The scene was guarded by adults seemingly overseeing the Crown Jewels, as Dad and his team-mates toiled under a hot sun. But we craned our necks over tables and around doorways, licking our lips in anticipation.

Perfectly aligned rows of sandwiches, trays of biscuits, cakes and scones, lay before us like the Promised Land. All that stood in our way were the cricketers.

When the umpires called ‘Tea” we would hover outside the rooms, watching the red-faced, sweaty, men in white troop in for their rejuvenating feed, and a cup of tea (which, when I was not a tea-drinker, seemed absurd on a 40 degree day.)

When they were done and readying themselves for the next stage of the game, we would strike, stealthily working our way through the leftovers until we were shooed away, tummies full and mouths caked in icing, jam and sandwich crumbs, to return to our play.

Since then, I’ve seen afternoon tea from a number of perspectives.

When my brother was playing, there were the stories which came home at the end of a day’s play.  For instance, the one about the likeable lad who faithfully brought along the egg sandwiches his mum had made, only to leave them, forgotten, in his cricket bag until tea.  They were sheepishly retrieved, squashed beyond recognition and smelling to high heaven. 

Then there was the canny fella who re-packaged leftovers from the previous night’s pizza dinner as ‘savoury slice’.

I’ve heard Dad tell the story of the large Kneebone clan’s approach to game- day at their Everton ground, Brookfield, in the 1920s and ’30s, when the eight girls of the family would prepare afternoon tea while the boys played.  If I had the ability to travel in time, I would love to witness – and taste – what I’ve heard was a simply magnificent spread.

Dad remembers the lavish meals that were put on by the Moyhu Cricket Club when they were part of the WDCA.

They were a struggling team, and you were usually assured of a win. But the highlight of the day would come when you repaired to the large utility shed, set back a little from the ‘MCG’ Oval.

Cream sponges, roughly 6” high, vanilla and apple slices and raspberry tarts awaited your consumption. A lengthy welcoming speech would be made by their skipper, who was , by this stage, usually covered in welts and bruises.

 ( He doubled as the left-hand opening batsman, and found the most suitable method of defending his wicket and ‘psyching-out’ the fiery bowlers on the sometimes treacherous pitch he’d helped prepare, was to let the ‘pill’ thump into his body.)

His speeches usually lasted longer than many of his innings’. Then it was the duty of the opposition captain to thank the ladies profusely for their wonderful catering, and compliment both sides for the chivalrous manner in which the game was being played.

Whorouly always produced an extravaganza. As both the Cricket and Tennis Clubs shared arvo-tea, it was touch-and-go which group convened for the tea-break first. So it was vital to keep an eye on the clock, to ensure that you were over at the Kiosk to get first ‘dibs’ at the ‘tucker’.

Numbered among Dad’s sporting memories was sitting down, at Country Week matches at the Prahran Oval, to the Club’s regular fare of Cantaloupe,  hollowed out and filled with fruit salad. He has vivid memories of the team-mate who provided Tick-Tock biscuits as his weekly contribution

While my husband was playing, I took turns at ensuring the urn was boiled and the plates disrobed of their Glad Wrap covers.  There was even a year when each couple involved in the club took charge of afternoon tea for a round.  When it came to our go, we introduced the revolutionary  treat of ice-cream and two fruits.  Initially, this sounds like a fantastic idea on a sweltering day, but the lethargic performance of some of the home side’s younger members in the field that day, after they had over-indulged, illustrated just why it is not a regular feature on the tea- room table.

Afternoon tea was also a glimpse into the planning and shopping habits of cricketers.  It was always easy to tell who had forgotten afternoon tea until they were on their way to cricket, by how much effort had gone into the fare they produced.  The 12- pack of cinnamon donuts hastily gathered from the entrance of Safeway was a dead giveaway of a rushed pick-up.

Since my daughter began playing cricket, I’ve seen some impressive afternoon teas, often catered affairs, and usually featuring lots of healthy, fresh fruit, in an era when concern for sugar, salt and fat content is at the forefront on everyone’s minds.  My daughter chuckled while padded up and waiting for her turn in the middle recently, when a younger teammate sought her wisdom as he made his choice from the refreshments: “Grace, are apples healthy?”

Her little brother has the appetite typical of any busy 12 year old, and loves the chance to sample what’s on offer, just as I did in my day.

 And I was delighted when our girl returned home from an afternoon spent watching her club’s senior cricket after her morning game, to tell me she and her junior teammates had eaten what was left of afternoon tea when the players had had their fill.

 Isn’t it comforting to know that sometimes, the more things change, the more they stay the same……..

‘SO NEAR……AND YET, SO FAR…..’

Fraser Ellis has, for some time, been touted as one of Wangaratta’s hottest sporting prospects.

He earned a reputation last year, for being able to shut down some of Ovens and Murray Football’s gun on-ballers. His disciplined play, whilst still being able to pick up possessions, was commendable for an 18 year-old.

But his cricket star has been on the rise for several years; ever since he won selection in an Australian Under 16 side which played against a Pakistani touring team in 2015.IMG_4018

As a pace bowler with a rhythmic bowling action and the ability to do a bit with the ball, there’s no doubt that talent scouts have had him earmarked for big things…………..

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2018/19 has been a relatively lean year with the ball, though, for the well-proportioned, blonde-haired speedster.

In the home-and-away rounds he took 18 wickets; at Melbourne Country Week he claimed just one victim – hardly stats befitting a brilliant up-and-comer……..

Yesterday, in warm conditions, under a smoky sky, on a fairly unresponsive wicket and a lightning outfield, Ellis proved the match-winner for his club, City Colts.

His 6/38 off 19 overs diverted a thrilling Semi-Final in Colts’ favour after 520 pendulum-swinging minutes of play.

From the second ball of the opening day, when Rovers-United’s inspiration, Jacob Schonafinger enticed Colts’ leftie Ollie Willet into tickling one to second slip, tension gripped O’Callaghan Oval.

The Hawks were at long-odds pre-match, as their form had been patchy and they’d had to cope with a few late-season absentees from their line-up……Colts, on the other hand, finished well-clear on top of the ladder and were hoping to take the next step towards expunging the demons which have haunted them since their only WDCA flag in 1986/87…………

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But first, after winning the toss, lay ahead the task of building a reasonable total.

It looked in some doubt after they plunged to 2/1, when medium-pacer Paul Szeligiewicz stretched his bulky frame onto the turf and clutched a return catch from Englishman Tom Jones.

Mitch Giggins and the veteran skipper Kent Braden, who has pulled his side out of countless tight spots like this, then got to work in restoring order.

But it was hard yakka, as Schonafinger, in particular, was bowling with vim, with offie Joe Thomas and the lively Paddy McNamara lending support.

It was the 16 year-old left-armer McNamara who achieved the next break when he clean-bowled Giggins for 30.

Braden attempted to attack against Thomas, who, he no doubt believed, posed a threat to his lower-order, but he mis-timed a lofted on-drive off Schonafinger, and was picked up at mid-on for 48.

The run-rate, as it proved throughout, was pedestrian, and when Colts crept to 8/117, the game was wide open.

The useful Mitch Howe was the principal figure in navigating them through that crisis, to a competitive 164, with his unbeaten knock of 33.

Jon Hyde (3/25) took the bowling honours, but Schonafinger (2/36 off 22), McNamara (2/27) and Szeligiewicz (2/30) had their moments. Thomas, coming off an eight-wicket haul, toiled valiantly, but went wicket-less. It just wasn’t big Joe’s day…….IMG_3132

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The odds were still stacked in Colts’ favour when the Hawk openers, Luke and Matthew Whitten broached the crease on Day 2.

But their start was highly-promising. They had raced to 27 in quick time, prompting enthusiastic chatter among the Hawk camp.IMG_4019

It was Ellis who drew first blood, having Matt snapped up in slip by Ollie Willett.

Then, putting an exclamation mark on that dismissal, he enticed dependable veteran Jon Hyde into the slightest of nicks, towards the waiting gloves of Mitch Giggins.

Suddenly the Hawks were in disarray. They crumbled to 5/38 and it appeared that the game may be terminated well before tea, as Ellis with four wickets and his fellow quick Dylan Adams (one) scythed through the upper-order.

Enter Gagabadawatta Arachilage Lakprija Waruna Shantha, otherwise known as ‘Lucky’, the most technically proficient batsman in the Rovers-United- Bruck camp and their saviour on many an occasion.

Lucky’s suffering from a dicey back these days; hence his decision to hand over the wicket-keeping gloves, and drop down the order for the Hawks.

Luke Whitten had, by now, begun striking the Kookaburra with his old proficiency, after a rather lean season figures-wise. The pair recognised the massive responsibility that had befallen them and batted with caution against a now-rampaging Colts attack.

Someone mentioned, after they’d been together an hour or so, that if they could add 50 or so, it might be line-ball. I felt they needed to extend the score well past 100 for the Hawks to be an even-money chance.

Lucky was favoured by the odd short ball which he dispatched to the boundary in emphatic fashion with his favourite pull shot.

The pair were now well-set, and when tea was taken, RUB sat on a rather more comfortable 5/102.

Kent Braden was by now wheeling down a deadly-accurate variation of offies and medium-pacers and had helped drag the run-rate back to a stage where overs and time were becoming a factor.

The mood in the field was sombre. A wicket was desperately required. Both batsmen had passed fifty, but you sensed that the classy Sri Lankan was in discomfort. Soon after they were applauded for the century-stand, which had taken the Hawks to a position of superiority, at 5/139, Lucky fended a delivery through to the keeper Giggins.

His departure, after a magnificent knock of 54, left RUB needing 26 runs to win, at a little under three runs per over.

Easy enough, you’d say, but the pressure of finals shouldn’t be discounted, particularly when young, inexperienced players are thrust into the cauldren.

The wickets again began to tumble. It was the still lively Ellis, in his third spell, who captured two of them.

But amidst this Luke Whitten soldiered on. It was now obvious that if the Hawks were to win, he’d be the man to take them there.

At 9/150, with 15 still needed for an upset victory, Whitten was joined by Paul Szeligiewicz, who, it would be fair to say, is yet to be classified in the all-rounder category.

The target dwindled down to 11, then Whitten punched a beautiful boundary, which brought a roar from a portion of the crowd. Successive leg glances produced two runs. Suddenly, the equation was – three to win, two overs remaining.IMG_2923

Sounds simple, but again, don’t discount the pressure…….

On the first ball of the penultimate over, the unlikely combination attempted a run which would have had even Usain Bolt stretching for the line.

Big Paulie was caught short, and so were his side – three runs shy of victory.

A game which had ebbed and flowed and produced a magnificent contest, had ended in heart-break for the Hawks.

There were a few heroes, not the least Luke Whitten, who carried his bat to finish with 68 in a 262-minute innings, in which he faced 229 balls.

A fascinating sidelight of the game was the display of several young players, which, in my opinion, again emphasises that Wangaratta cricket is alive and well………IMG_4020

‘THE KNEEBONE’S OF BROOKFIELD…..’

“He had a reputation as a boaster…… He claimed that he could jump higher and further than nearly anyone else, achieve the highest score in rifle-shooting…. and referred to his run-making ability in cricket…”

“He was ready to throw anyone into the river if he was out clean-bowled when, he said, it was obvious to any fair-minded person that it was a no-ball…..”
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That was one rival’s assessment of Eugene Kneebone, who made a lasting impact on the sporting life of Wangaratta and District.

Born in 1864, he was to become renowned as an athlete, strongman, wrestler, cricketer, administrator and co-founder of a formidable sporting dynasty.

Raised in the rich tobacco-growing area of Bowman’s Forest, he had scant interest in school, but developed a passion for cricket from one of his teachers – Mr. Walters – who preached that one of the fundamentals of success was hard work.

Young Eugene was certainly used to plenty of that. His labours on the family farm conditioned his body for the athletic achievements that lay ahead.

He was skilled at many sports, and was convinced of his obvious potential when he travelled to Melbourne to take on a Scottish policeman called McHardy, in a weight-lifting match.

After winning the first two trials, Kneebone took the 50 pounds prize-money and went home.

Fired by this success, he broke two world hammer-throw records in 1891, which were additional to the record he held for shot-putting in 1899.

The next year he competed in the Caledonian Games on the MCG, where he came up against Scotsman Donald Dinnie, who was to become his chief protagonist for many years. Kneebone won the match, and also regained the world record for the 56 pound hammer.

In his late-twenties, Eugene began a wandering life, competing in a myriad of strange places and, at one stage travelling with Wirth’s Circus.

His contests with other strong-men from Europe and beyond attracted huge exposure and, at the height of his powers he was labelled the ‘Strongest Man in the World.’

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‘The World’s Strongest Man’

Kneebone and his old foe, Dinnie, once met at the Wangaratta Showgrounds, in front of a large, parochial crowd:

“The contest began at 2.30 pm on a glorious autumn afternoon……..” said the Chronicle scribe.   “Dinnie looked a powerful specimen. Kneebone was smaller in height, but remarkably well-built and poised, large-limbed and muscular. Dinnie held his own, but went on to lose the match…..”
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Eugene Kneebone married, and settled in Gippsland, after a spell on the goldfields of Kalgoorlie, where he had made his fortune.

His unique competitive streak was emphasised in a report of a cricket match between Mirboo – of whom he was captain ( and their outstanding player) – and Dumbalk, led by a gentleman named Billy Hughes:

“There was a time-limit set on the game , to enable players to get home for milking. Dumbalk batted first, but Mirboo were creeping up on their total, when Billy Hughes signified that time was up. Eugene claimed that, as the sun was still shining, there was time for 7 or 8 more overs.”

“A great dispute followed and Eugene – with bat in hand – chased Billy around a big blue-gum stump….”
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After 20 years in Gippsland, Eugene returned to his roots with his growing brood, and settled on the property, ‘Brookfield’ (between Wangaratta and Myrtleford). He began to stamp the Kneebone legend in local cricket.

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The Tobacco-Grower

He and the boys carved out a quaint cricket ground in the paddock in front of the family home and the lads began to reveal their talent under the watchful eye of a demanding ‘old man’.

There were 16 kids in the family. The boys, five of whom represented Wangaratta at Country Week, helped form a tough, unyielding team.

Bill, Hughie, Harry, Sam, Jim, Ken, Dennis and Eugene Jnr all had their qualities and played their particular roles, as did sons-in-law Jim and Bernie Morris, Phil South and Bill Swan.

The girls, Nell, Ida, Estelle, Mary, Anne, Belle, Fay and Irene, joined their mother as the chief supporters of the Kneebone tribe.

Among their duties was the preparation of afternoon-tea. “We’d have lamingtons, pavlovas, scones and cream cakes…..we would fill the opposition up so they wouldn’t do any good,” Nell joked many years later.IMG_3959

“Because there were eight boys and eight girls, Mum decided each brother would have a sister for a ‘slave’, to wash their clothes and clean their shoes.”

‘Kneebone’s’ originally competed in the Ovens and King competition and entertained VCA team Prahran in challenge matches for many years. Enlisting the help of a couple of Nicoll’s and Fisher’s, they defeated Prahran 132 to 113 during the Christmas break of 1924. Old Eugene, aged 60, captured 3/11 with his flighted slowies.

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Eugene Kneebone and his sons, who formed the nucleus of the Brookfield Cricket Club.

They transferred to the Wangaratta & District Cricket Association in 1922/23, but changed their name to Brookfield the following year.

They were a most formidable – and certainly one of the ultra-competitive – teams in the competition until the onset of World War II.

Taking on Brookfield on their own ‘dung-hill’ was no easy task. Nor was facing old Eugene, who was still sending down his spinners with guile, well into his sixties.

But the boys knew his fading eyesight was beginning to affect his batting when he issued an edict to one of sons: “Bill, trim the branches off that tree will you. I can’t pick up the ball too well.”

Visiting teams recalled the family patriarch, long after his retirement from the field of play, sitting on the verandah overlooking the ground, shouting encouragement and advice to his team.

Eugene took over as President of the Association in 1929, and held the reins throughout the thirties. It was a period which saw the competition become more structured and the standard improve markedly.

But it was also an era of strong personalities and Eugene, with his volatile temperament, attracted more than his fair share of critics.
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Brookfield won their first WDCA premiership in 1927/28. Their second followed in 1932/33.

The latter was a triumph, as their opponents, Footballers, had a handy lead after the first innings and needed only 73 to wrap up the game. But they crumbled in the face of some fearsome bowling from Harry Kneebone, who took 6/19.

They could have won a third flag in 1936/37, when they met East Wangaratta in the Final. East’s side contained Clem and Clyde Fisher, cousins of the Kneebone’s , and tough old nuts in their own right.

It was a low-scoring affair, with Brookfield gaining the ascendancy, thanks to Ken Kneebone’s 8/35.

East Wang fought back, and needed just nine runs to win, with one wicket in hand.
Brookfield then walked off the ground. East Wangaratta protested and the resultant Tribunal declared the game ‘No-Result’.

Debate often raged over who was the quickest of the Kneebone clan. Harry and Hughie had their supporters, but some opted for Ken, whose rhythmic run-up was ‘poetry in motion’. Ken played against the Englishmen at Benalla in 1937.

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Ken Kneebone – The Quickest of the Clan.

His 4/63 included the wickets of Maurice Leyland, Hedley Verity, Bob Wyatt and Laurie Fishlock. . He was on a hat-trick at one stage, which prompted his proud dad to testify that the lad: “…could bowl for a week……”

With his boys playing a central role at Country Week, Eugene took on the role of Team Manager during the thirties, and was generally sought out by the media for a quote on all things cricket.

On more than one occasion, when discussion turned to his own family, he said, with confidence, that: “he’d back the Kneebones against any other family in Australia. And, if he had to, he said: “I’d get out there and help them myself……..”
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Thirty-two years after Ken Kneebone bowled against the M.C.C, his son Robin was selected to play for a Victorian Country XI against the West Indies at Wangaratta, in 1968/69.

An accurate left-arm swing bowler, who played a handful of games with District club Fitzroy, Robin was one of a number of old Eugene’s grandchildren and great-grandkids who filtered through the WDCA ranks.

The ‘Grand Old Man’ of cricket died in 1953, aged 89.. The WDCA’s Under-16 teams now compete for the ‘Eugene Kneebone Shield’………

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. Eugene Kneebone (Left ,Back Row) Manager of Wangaratta’s 1934 Country Week team, which contained several of his sons.

‘A MASTER OF HIS CRAFT…..’

Stuart Elkington is recounting one of his countless sporting memories………..

It’s the early sixties, and he’s the baby of Wangaratta’s North-East Cup Cricket team , fielding at short mid-on in a tight Final against Euroa. The match is reaching its climax……. You can almost sniff the tension in the air….He’s just praying that if a catch does happen to bob up in these dying moments, it won’t be heading his way.

Alas, an attempted drive miscues in Stuie’s direction. He’s perched under it, and can hear the whooping of his team-mates, as they sense they’ve snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

Blokes like Trebilcock, Bussell, Welch – giants of the local game…….he can’t possibly let them down by dropping this absolute ‘sitter’….

“I don’t know how it happened, but the ball has slipped through my fingers. It was the most embarrassing moment of my career……”

The next day, the Border-Mail’s headlines accentuated his ‘clanger’. He shows me the now-faded match report: ‘…ELKINGTON DROPS CATCH, WANG LOSE MATCH…’

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Elkington-territory is prime Dairy country; just three or so kilometres from Whorouly’s heartbeat, which includes the Pub, General Store, Hall and, of course, the Recreation Reserve .

On my way here, I can’t resist calling in to pay a nostalgic visit to the lovingly-maintained Memorial Oval, scene of the township’s many sporting triumphs.

It brings to mind the imperious left-hander, Peter Nicoll contemptuously hoiking me over the fence, and over the road, necessitating the fielder to extract the ball from the garden bed of a neighboring house……..of his cousin Lex, curtailed by polio, patiently manoeuvring the bowling and accumulating runs……and of the blonde Stuart Elkington setting off on his elongated run-up and making the Kookaburra spin, curl and bounce on this traditionally batsman-friendly track.

It was on this very Oval that Stuie mastered the craft of spin bowling, plundered thousands of runs, and played the majority of his 212 games of footy in the Maroon and White guernsey……………….

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He was the youngest in the family, by quite a distance, behind his brother Brian and  sister May, so had to find ways to entertain himself in his boyhood days.

In summer, it would be relentlessly throwing a ball against a wall in the Dairy. The pill would ricochet onto the uneven concrete wash-down gutter, breaking this way or that, and forcing Stuart to improvise with his shot selection.

After he played every ball, he jotted down the runs – or wickets – in his scorebook. He’s explaining this intricate exercise to me, when Jo, his wife, pulls out the 60-odd year-old book, which painstakingly recorded his version of ‘Test Match Cricket’. The performances of the ‘players’, such as ‘Tom’, ‘Phew’, ‘Hard’, ‘Peter’, ‘Clown’, ‘Elk’ and ‘Zip’, are preserved for posterity.IMG_3768

Later, on match days, he’d pedal down to the Oval and spend the afternoon scoring in the same book…..and paying particular attention to Whorouly’s smattering of star batsmen.

Eventually, the opportunity came for him to play alongside them. At 14 he made his debut, and shared in a useful partnership with the phlegmatic veteran Wils Nicoll.

That was an education in itself. Wils was a renowned run-machine; unstylish, but determined. One of his quirks was that he usually smoked a roll-your-own during his innings; retrieving it from behind the stumps between overs to have a reflective puff.

In one of these instances he sidled up to offer a quiet word of advice to Stuie, who had begun to get a touch cocky, and played a reckless shot during the over.

“These fellahs coming in behind you, they’ll get their turn…..There’s no rush to get the runs, you know,” he said.

Yes, there was no shortage of advice for the youngster. After he’d wheeled down a coupe of overs of his leg-spin, someone suggested: “Just slow it down a bit, Stu….toss it up…..Give the ball a chance to turn……”

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As one of a group of emerging youngsters who promised a bright future for Wangaratta cricket, he was sent to hone his skills at Bendigo Country Week.

In their early years, WDCA officials had the lads billeted at the outer-suburban residence of a kindly old soul, Mrs.Tredinnick. The idea was that they, in their innocence, shouldn’t be exposed to the perils of the city’s night-life.

That failed. They discovered the demon-drink, bounced off each other, and formed long-lasting friendships. The nonchalant Elkington was one who savoured the social life, shrugged off the occasional hangover, then hurled himself into his cricket under the blistering January sun.

He made six trips to Bendigo, once taking 8/39 to rout Emu Valley and, on another occasion, figuring in a 257-run stand against Tyrrell. Having already taken 4/18, he and Greg Rosser opened and had a race to be first to reach 50, then 100. Rosser was dismissed for 112; Elkington soldiered on to 148*.IMG_3779

He recalls his fate being decided one day, by a gnarled old Bendigo umpire, who had a habit of providing a running commentary on each decision:

“I’ve been rapped on the pads, and he’s gone: ‘Well, son…….It was pitched in line……..but then you were playing forward….. the wicket’s doing a bit…..and he is moving the ball….’ “

“After what seemed like an eternity, he’s slowly raised the finger and testified: “I think you’re out…..”

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Stuie’s first adventure took him to Hobart, where he undertook a two and a half year Phys-Ed Degree, and played TCA cricket with the University of Hobart.

He came under the influence of former English Test player John Hampshire, who opined that he had a rare talent and plumped for his selection in a Tasmanian Colts team, which met the NSW Colts at the SCG.

“He’d bring me on first change and bat me high up the order. I had a bit of success in Tassie, and, in hindsight, probably should have stayed longer. But when December came around I’d head back home for the holidays. I’d feel bad about leaving them, but the lure of home always brought me back.”

With a Degree in hand, he headed over to Adelaide for his first teaching job, playing two years of District cricket with Sir Donald Bradman’s old team, Kensington, and footy with Barossa Valley club, Freeling.

On his return home one year, he received a phone call from the Principal of Benalla Tech School…..Said he’d heard good reports about him and wondered if he’d be interested in a teaching job there.

“I said sorry, I’ve already got the car packed. I’m about to head back to Adelaide. But on my way through Benalla I thought to myself: ‘It won’t hurt to have a look at the place and see what it’s like.’

“Funny, I walked in and my concentration was diverted to this young teacher with nice legs. It was Jo. That settled it…..One thing led to another and I decided to take the job.”

But he found he needed more qualifications and took study leave later that year, to undertake a Science Degree, majoring in Geology at Melbourne Uni. At the same time, Jo did a Degree in Pottery.

“Les Stillman was Melbourne Uni’s coach and he encouraged me to come along to practice,” Stuie recalls.

He went from the Thirds to First XI in three games and, in one of his first Senior appearances, lined up against Essendon and State speedster John Grant, who proceeded to give him a baptism of fire.

“He whistled a couple past my ear, and I was most uncomfortable. After I’d played and missed a few times, he continued his follow-through and eye-balled me, muttering : ‘Why don’t you have a go, you weak little prick’……”

Stuart and Jo eventually returned to teaching at Benalla, and he provided a huge boost to a Whorouly cricket side which was now blossoming, after being forced into recession a season or two earlier.

For the next dozen years he proved a stellar performer in the WDCA, as one of its premier all-rounders. And there’s no doubt that his figures as a spinner have been beyond compare over the last half-century.

He took 744 wickets, scored 6,500 runs and hit nine centuries in his 236 games for Whorouly. And if you needed proof of his influence with the ball in big games, have a look at his figures in the Maroons’ three winning Grand Finals: 7/36 in 1971/72, 6/22 in 1974/75, and 6/27 in 1981/82……

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He had a particular fascination for Melbourne Country Week; loved the tough, no-holds-barred aspect of the games. Stuie found that he needed to push his leggies through a bit quicker against the good bats, but that was all part of the challenge.IMG_3778

He captained Wangaratta on two of his 11 trips to the ‘big smoke’ and, as we talk we’re reminiscing about some of the quickies who used to have you ducking and weaving.

…Like George Skinner from Maryborough, who, one day, threatened to ‘go through’ Wangaratta on a softish green-top, which was causing the ball to skid through alarmingly.

We recall left-hander Terry Hogan copping one delivery on the ‘moosh’ and taking ages to be revived – and assisted – from the field of play. Stuie was next in……

“I arrived at the crease and took block in a pool of blood. George was back at his mark, raring to go, and I’m hearing the fielders urging him on: ‘Here’s another one…Take him out.’ “IMG_3780

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Apart from stints with Federal League club Oakleigh Districts, Freeling (S.A), Old Hutchins Amateurs (Tas) and Benalla, the bulk of the Elkington football career was played with Whorouly.

As a skilful mid-fielder/half forward, he saw plenty of the action and would count winning the 1970 Ovens and King League’s Baker Medal among the cherished highlights of his 14 years with the Maroons.

Conversely, he’d rate as one of his roughest times when he was persuaded to take on the club’s coaching job in 1974. They’d been hit heavily with player departures, blooded many youngsters and battled through to win two games.

Three years later, he was part of a dominant line-up which completed an undefeated season by defeating North Wangaratta in the 1977 Grand Final.IMG_3770

He was lured out to King Valley the following year, and thrived in the role as captain-coach. The Roos, who had won just three games in ‘77, improved dramatically to storm into the finals.

“We had a great year, but it fell apart in the first half of the Preliminary Final. We were 56 points down at half-time, then came home with a rush. But the siren beat us. Beechworth held on to win by eight points,” Stuie says.

The Valley reached the finals again the following season, but the end was nigh for the veteran. His hips were giving him hell and decided to pull the pin……..

For the school-teacher, turned Public Servant, turned cockie – and fanatical sportsman – it was time to focus on the Dairy Cows……IMG_3774

‘MEETING THE GHOST OF LOCAL CRICKET…..’

The whitish pitch shimmers in the brassy sunlight……Fielders dawdle listlessly on a vast, scorched outfield…….Batsmen opt to ‘dig in’ rather than play their shots…….The quicks struggle to summon the effort to muster that extra yard……..

Cricketers and spectators alike appear drugged by the oppressive heat of this stinking mid-summer’s day……..

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I’m drawn to this solitary figure, leaning against the huge gum tree at the northern end of the ground ……

I’ve got to know all the identities around local cricket, but this fellah doesn’t ring a bell. I know I’m starting to get on a bit, but he’s positively archaic.

He sucks on a blade of grass, totally entranced by what’s happening out in the middle.

We get yapping…….Initially, he doesn’t appear keen on being distracted, but he loosens up after a while, his eyes misting over as he studies the technique of the young left-hander.

“See how he fiddles outside the off stump…..Doesn’t use his feet….I had that problem, you know. Took me years to get out of the habit.”

“Ah, it only seems like yesterday I was out there…. Course we had rolled dirt, then concrete, to play on. Not beautiful tracks like this one.”

My gentle prompting seems to kick his memory into over-drive…….

“Ever heard of Charlie Heavey?”, he says. “Made 299 in a day, over on the Showgrounds. I made sure I watched every knock he played. Geez, he could bat.”

“He hit the ball so hard that day, that a few of his sixes landed in Edwards Street ….We all  reckoned he should have played Test cricket, but Charlie liked a good time and upset a few of the snotty- noses when he went to Melbourne.”

Yes, I reply. By all reports he was a beauty.IMG_0829

“Too right. He was the best around at that time and was also downright dangerous when he decided to let ‘em go with the new ‘cherry’.”

“But heck, son, there were plenty of good players in those days…….Like Alec Fraser…. Lovely chap, Alec…Made a power of runs up the order.”

“He opened with Clem Fisher in Wang’s rep teams, and what a combination they were ! Put on 300-odd in one match at Country Week.”

“Funny, you know. They were polar opposites. Alec was a gentleman….Always giving encouragement and a bit of advice to the youngsters….Played the game as it should be played.”

“But Clem was a bloke who knew how to create a stink on the cricket field. Nice enough chap to talk to….did heaps for cricket…..but once he crossed that line he was an old bugger…..He’d resort to anything to get you out…..It’s a wonder he didn’t get punched on the nose a few times……..”IMG_2256

By now, my mate has taken his eye off the going’s-on in the middle. It’s almost as if he’s watching a flickering highlights tape and describing it to me.

I ask him his opinion of a latter-day batting hero – Barry Grant.

“Funny you should mention it. He reminded me very much of Alec Fraser, with his technique and defence. Both of them were very hard to dislodge once they got settled. His temperament was a touch more bristly than Alec’s…..Didn’t like going out. Not too stylish, but more of a run-machine. He and his brother….I just forget his name for a sec….Darren, that’s right….They were great players for a lot of years.IMG_3150

“Yes, I’ve seen ‘em all. Those Nicoll’s out at Whorouly…….Don’t know what it was in the water out there, but they were master batsmen. You had four champion brothers – Wils, Ron, Ernie and Vic. People used to debate about who was the pick of them – Wils or Ron. I couldn’t seperate them.”

“Wils used to smoke a roll-your-own when he was batting. He’d plonk it behind the stumps and have a puff between overs…….’Didn’t have much style.”

“They used to tell the story about him walking out to bat at Country Week one day, wearing a pair of black socks tucked behind his pads, and puffing on a fag. An opposition fielder slung off about this ‘country yokel’, and he proceeded to score a century in no time.”

“A few of the Nicoll progeny turned out all right, too. I had a lot of time for the chap who had polio and batted with a runner. Did a terrific job….Lex, I think it was….”IMG_0412

“Talking about families, you had the Kneebone’s from Brookfield. I suppose you knew they fielded their own family team in the local comp.”

“They lived for cricket, and got their competitive instinct from their old man.”

“I thought Ken was the pick of ‘em. He had a run-up that was smooth as silk. Did well against the Poms at Benalla one year. But a few experts rated Harry just as quick. Frankie Archman kept up on the stumps to most bowlers, but he had enough sense to stand back to those two.”

By now this mystery-man has me gob-smacked, having touched on all the names down through the ages in Wangaratta cricket – Carey, Trebilcock, Lidgerwood, Charlie Ladds, Thomlinson, Beeby, Bill Hickey, Sid Docker, Max Bussell, Rosser…….IMG_1022

“I thought he might have played for the state, that  fellah. He had the ability and played some good hands out on this ground. He got close when he went down to play District cricket, they tell me……”

His mate was nice and slippery when he was in full flight  – Welchy – with the curly hair. Had a bit of shit in him, too. Course his knees went on him in the end.IMG_0180

“And the boy Broster – the left-hander- who played a few games for the Vics, I’d have preferred him to serve more of an apprenticeship before he got his chance. His Shield career was virtually over before he’d got started.”

“You’d have seen his dad bat when he was in his prime, wouldn’t you. Golly, he could play, and his grandpa, Alec, was terrible hard to get out.”

“I watch these kids coming through now and think: ‘Have they got what it takes to go on ?’ “

“All of the Welch’s were handy, and  Hilly’s still making runs down at Camberwell. Surely he deserved a chance in the State side. But, I suppose they must have seen a shortcoming in his game.”IMG_1024

I mention the changes that have taken place in the modern era. Like the local competition now expanding its horizons to include Mansfield, Benalla, Rutherglen and Bright. And the great teams, and players, from Corowa, Yarrawonga and Beechworth that had plenty of success in recent decades. I’m surprised that he’s all for it…..IMG_0882

“Well, you’ve got to embrace change, son. On the same note, I never thought I’d see the day when I’d be watching the  lasses playing cricket. Terrific………”

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That steel trap of a mind doesn’t miss a beat, and when he diverts again to tell me about Billy Henderson scoring a big 100 in a Final, he describes his cover and straight-driving as if he was there.

“When was that ?” I ask.

“Oh, back in the 1890’s,” he replies.

We have barely paid any attention to the cricket, so engrossed are we in his reminiscences. But the umps lift the bails to signify the tea-break and, momentarily distracted, I turn to resume our journey into the past.

But he is hobbling down the bank and out of sight.

“Hey, just a minute, do you remember………..”IMG_1549