“SPORTING ADMINISTRATION…….IT’S NOT ALL BEER AND SKITTLES…..”

W.D.C.A President Alf Kendall, beside Prime Minister Bob Menzies, as he is introduced to players at a Club match in 1962. Member for Indi, Mac Holten, is at far left.

It’s afternoon-tea-time at the Gardens Oval……..I’m procrastinating whether to dive into the array of ‘Sanger’s’…. try the iced Donuts….or have a crack at the sliced Watermelon …..

Meanwhile, the rich history of the B.D.C.A captivates me……. I’m drawn to the Honour Boards, which chronicle the sterling service of Benalla’s legends of the game who, for decades, helped maintain the town’s reputation as a country cricket stronghold.

Keith Sherwill, for instance, was a dominant presence for more than half a century……..His off-sider Tom Trewin – also the local MLA from 1961-‘82 – was Association President for 29 years……..Now, there’s devotion for you….

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I was a mere whippersnapper when I witnessed at first hand, the influence of two Administrators of similar status……

Jack Maroney was already part of the furniture at the Wangaratta Rovers when they joined the Ovens and Murray Football League in 1950.

‘Old Wally’ was a man of action, commanded respect and didn’t mince words, even though, by calling a spade a spade he fell out with the odd dissenter.

Working-bees were his specialty……In typical fashion, he’d be wielding a shovel as he barked instructions, his shirt unbuttoned, slouching dacks precariously held up by a piece of baler twine.

You’d see him towing a set of harrows around the Oval during the off-season….or with several sheets of re-claimed corrugated iron tied to the roof of his company vehicle, obviously destined for a maintenance project at the ground…..

A Livestock Auctioneer by occupation, he began as the Rovers’ property-steward, and became President in 1959, just as the Hawks were entering a Golden Era……When he retired from the Committee in 1977 he’d left a lasting impression.

They named the Clubrooms after John Walter Maroney, to commemorate the mountain of work that he put in at the W.J.Findlay Oval………

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Clem Fisher was a giant of Wangaratta cricket…….During his playing career, he bowled with tons of aggression and, as a prolific opening batsman, loved launching an assault on the quickies……

Despite his forthright manner people acknowledged his unstinting love of the game and eagerness to do what was best for cricket……particularly as a consultant to clubs who were installing Turf pitches in the early 50’s.

He managed to rub plenty of opponents up the wrong way…….many of whom regarded him as a ‘shocking sport’…..a ‘stubborn prick’…..and ‘as tough as old boots’.

No surprise really……He was reared on the family farm, ‘Glen’, at East Wangaratta, where his father John, a fierce competitor, laid down a concrete wicket, and taught his sons the rudiments of the game.

Clem emerged as a star during the thirties, when Wangaratta established themselves as a Country cricket power.

A decade later, whilst still piling up the runs, he was installed for his first term as WDCA President….

When he took a step back after four years at the helm he continued to exert an influence; as Manager of the WDCA’s representative sides, a sounding-board on Association matters, and as a father-figure of the game…….

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Fisher and Alf Kendall, who became WDCA President in 1956, were polar-opposites as personalities………and were destined to lock horns.

Alf hailed from Cumfelinfach, a tiny coal-mining village in the south-east of Wales……Although his family moved to Australia in 1924, he retained a distinct British brogue, and his tall, elegant stature gave him the presence of a Business Professional…..which he was…….

He was posted to Wangaratta in 1943, as an adviser and accountant during the construction of an aluminium factory.

Scrap metals would be melted down in hot mills and sent to Sydney as aluminium ingots, which would be used for making aeroplane parts.

After the war, Bruck Mills, a Canadian firm, took over the factory and Alf was its first employee, then became a member of the company’s executive staff.

When Social competition team Alumatta, to whom he was connected, morphed into Bruck Cricket Club in 1947/48, he was part of the inaugural team which competed in the WDCA.

A handy, economical off-spinner, his modest ability was dwarfed by his intense love of the game and his desire to see Bruck play a prominent role in Wangaratta cricket.

To that end, five years later, Mac Holten, a prominent post-war District cricketer and star Collingwood footballer, who had led Wangaratta to four successive footy flags, was lured to Bruck as its ‘Sporting Adviser’……

The following season, 1953/54, Holten’s brilliant, undefeated 136 piloted the club to their first WDCA flag…….Kendall, who was rising 47, was one of three members of the original Bruck team to feature in the Premiership win……..

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Alf Kendall retired from the playing-field in 1959, but by now his influence on Wangaratta cricket had become far more pronounced…..

He had succeeded a fellow Bruck stalwart, Stanley Messenger Arms, as WDCA President in 1956, with the stated aims of forming an Umpire’s Board, helping to establish a junior competition in the town, and taking Wangaratta to the top in country cricket.

He played a significant role in the first two……..and was at the helm when rain washed out play in the 1957 Provincial Country Week Final, with Wangaratta being declared the winners.

He helped to procure a match against the touring South Australian Sheffield team, which met a North-Eastern XI at the Showgrounds in 1957.

But It wasn’t all beer and skittles for Alf, particularly in the aftermath of the 1957/58 WDCA semi-finals…….

The Semi’s were scheduled for the Labour Day long week-end……A heavy downpour prompted the Association Executive to transfer the second day’s play ( Monday) from the sodden turf wickets, onto concrete ‘tracks’ at South and North Wangaratta.

The result was that Bruck and Magpies won through to the Grand Final………. Old combatants Kendall and Fisher were involved in considerable verbal parrying after it was alleged that the venues had been transferred so that Kendall’s side – Bruck – would not be denied the opportunity of reaching the Final….

Kendall and WDCA Secretary ( and fellow Bruck clubman ) Bernie Morris angrily refuted the claim, which, they said, was a ‘despicable insult’…… Bruck captain Mac Holten, they maintained, was the person who had suggested the change of venues……

Alas, Magpies went on to win their first WDCA premiership, in a thriller – 170 to 164………

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It was a proud moment for Alf Kendall, and Wangaratta cricket, when the city won the right to host Peter May’s touring M.C.C team on the Showgrounds in February 1959. Considerable planning had been undertaken and a brand-new Grandstand, named after Show Society President, W.B.Richardson, was unveiled for the occasion.

Modern-day cricket buffs, who were just approaching their teen-age years on that memorable occasion, can still recall being at close quarters with legends like Trueman, May, Laker, Dexter, Subba Row and Graveney.

But trouble was brewing behind the scenes…….

The Showgrounds landlord, the Wangaratta Agricultural Society, were incensed that they had been short-changed for rental of the ground for staging the big game.

A matter of £6 pounds 10 shillings was at stake…..At the height of the dispute, when criticism was being hurled back and forth, one Show Society committee member described Alf Kendall as ‘one of the most awkward persons I have ever had to deal with’…….

The disputed amount was subsequently waived by the Show Society.

More fireworks ensued the following season, when Fisher was voted out of his position as Association Vice-President.

It had emanated from a flare-up between Fisher and Kendall at the Annual Meeting….. Kendall accused Fisher of not supporting him in his criticism of the Showgrounds Committee of Management….

The barbs continued to fly at the next Delegates meeting, when the Wangaratta and Magpies Cricket clubs forwarded letters attacking Kendall for his criticism of Fisher and Max Bussell.

The President’s response was that: “There was a personality clash last year, and it must stop, as it creates unrest.”………

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Alf Kendall had served an eventful eight years as WDCA President when he passed away, whilst still in office, in September 1964.

His successor was Clem Fisher, who held the reins for a further ten years. The old warrior, whose name is perpetuated on the cricket pavilion beneath the Showgrounds’ Richardson Stand, died in 1978, aged 73……

Kendall and Fisher, despite their their contrasting leadership styles, had guided Wangaratta cricket through a successful – if sometimes controversial – 18-year period…………..

“ANOTHER RIVETING DAY’S PLAY AT STAN HARGREAVES OVAL…..”

I look forward to the annual pilgrimage to Yarrawonga’s Stan Hargreaves Oval……….

Situated on the eastern fringe of the town, a white picket fence surrounds a beautifully-thatched green sward, and a typically hard, true centre strip…

The balcony, which is situated on boundary’s edge, provides an excellent, sometimes rowdy viewing area……and leads into the Pavilion, which is, as usual, a hive of activity on match-day……

The Bar has been fully operational from the start of proceedings today , and there are more than a few of the locals sampling the amber fluid…….A giant TV on one wall screens the races from Caulfield and Rosehill…….On another, the uninterrupted vision of the current game is available to those who can’t be bothered craning their necks around to glimpse the action in the middle…..

They look after you a treat, the Lakers…….There’s always ample tucker on hand……….But someone offered the finest piece de resistance I’ve ever had as a scorer – a large plate of piping-hot fresh fish….

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You know you’re always going to be in for a hell of a contest against the Yarra-Mul Lakers, who exude confidence and have become a traditional WDCA powerhouse.

They keep rolling out talented youngsters to complement the array of stars who’ve kept them at the top for more than a decade.

But today’s game, I sense, has a bit of extra meaning for them…….Their opponents, reigning premiers Rovers-United-Bruck, knocked them over in last season’s semi-final and they’re keen to exact revenge.

The Hawks, on the other hand, haven’t tasted success over here for six years……There’s a hint of summer finally in the air….. two top sides are in action……you couldn’t wish to be in a better place than Hargreaves Oval.

I’m not disappointed………it proves to be a fantastic, high-standard game……….

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For the Lakers’ experienced openers Reed Clarke and Matt Casey, it’s ‘steady as she goes’ in the opening overs….

Left-handed Clarke, in particular, has decided to knuckle down, and provide support to his more adventurous team-mate. But they must have wondered what demons the wicket had in store for them when speedster Paddy McNamara incited a couple of venomous early deliveries to jump and spit.

You could see the Hawk skipper licking his chops, but that proved to be the only sign of mischief that the pitch displayed .

Tall and imposing Casey, whose only other knock this season had been an undefeated century against Delatite, looked completely at ease and again emphasised his standing as one of the competition’s top batsmen.

A solid, stylish defence is his keynote, but he dealt severely with the occasional overpitched delivery and he and Clarke guided their side to 0/ 51 at the 20-over mark.

There was really no cause for concern at the slow run-rate as the Lakers, with a lengthy batting list, reasoned that they could apply the pressure later in the innings…..The RUB bowlers, however, deserved credit for their accuracy and discipline.

The first twist in the game came after the drinks break, when Hawk speedster Brady Bartlett ended Clarke’s 76-minute stay at the crease…..He enticed him to nick one…..Keeper Perera did the rest….

Then youngster Zac Fraser swung wildly at a Bartlett delivery and middle stump was uprooted……A few balls later Corey McIntosh fended at a spinning delivery from South African leggie Koot Pienaar, who dived to take a brilliant catch mid-pitch…..

Suddenly the Lakers had slumped to 3/67.

But there was no more joy for the Hawks for some time, as veteran Matt Knight helped Casey to take charge of the game.

They added 40 in just 32 minutes……There have been few more aggressive stroke-makers than the solidly-built left-handed Knight in the last decade ……His innings of 28, which included 5 fours, ended when he skied one and was caught in the deep off McNamara.

Casey’s adventurous attempt at a second run brought his fine knock of 68 to a close, but he had piloted his side to a total of 6/137 at time; a target which, to my mind, would take some catching……..

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The RUB innings could hardly provided a starker contrast to the solid foundation provided by Yarrawonga-Mulwala.

They were in immediate trouble……

Lakers speedsters Corey McIntosh and Angus McMillan cut a swathe through their upper order to have them reeling at 3/19.

A solid response was required……It was up to young skipper Paddy McNamara and a contributor to many such rear-guard actions – Jacob Schonafinger – to right the ship.

The runs came, firstly at a trickle…… then, as ‘Schona’ produced some deft cover drives and began pushing the ball behind square, the total began to mount…

Alas, he played all over one from Jacob Bartlett and was gone for 19. Five balls later, Matthew Whitten departed and the Hawks had tumbled to a disastrous 5/42.

Their prospects looked precarious, but McNamara found a capable ally in his new partner, Lucky Perera – a renowned cool-head in a crisis. .

They added 46 runs in close to even-time to resuscitate the innings. ‘Lucky’ was the dominant partner, but McNamara played an anchor-role, as he set about crafting his finest – and highest – WDCA innings.

Again disaster struck….Perera pulled a full toss from Ben Kennedy and was caught for 28…..the Hawks were 6/88 – still 50 runs away from victory..

Brady Bartlett and Matt Winter both produced valuable cameos, as the target began to inch closer.

There were 15 runs required, with eight wickets down, when irrepressible Blake Nixon, freshly promoted from A-Reserve, marched purposefully to the crease.

Not content to be cast in a subsidiary role, Nixon proceeded to carve 13 runs off nine deliveries to help steer the Hawks to an unlikely victory.

At the other end McNamara, who had played the perfect foil during his 143-minute stay at the crease, for his unbeaten 46, stood in the background, as Nixon began his victory lap of Stan Hargreaves Oval…..

‘THE AGONY AND ECSTACY OF A GRAND-FINAL…..”

It was, they said, the Grand Final that the WDCA had craved………a fluctuating, high-standard clash between two of the competition’s keenest rivals ……..

It featured dashing stroke-play, more twists than a winding mountain road, a dramatic batting collapse…….and finally, one of those last-wicket stands that evoke the suspense of an Alfred Hitchcock thriller………

Firstly, I must offer a disclaimer……….I wasn’t there…….and wasn’t party to the pressure-cooker atmosphere that someone mentioned resembled one of those classical ‘Local Footy Derbies’………

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‘Prav” – The Gun

Instead, as the game progresses, I’m relying on periodic score-updates. Early on, they verify my pre-game trepidation ………that Wangaratta-Magpies’ brilliant Indian all-rounder Pranav Menon, is going to have a profound influence on the game.

The trouble is, when you’re bowling to ‘Prav’, he’s so dominant, and scores so quickly, he can take the game away from you in a jiffy…….

His third-wicket stand with skipper Jack Davies adds 100 in just 80 minutes, before Jack is skittled by left-arm quick Paddy McNamara for a handy 36……But by now the Pies are 3/126, and headed for a huge total.

Brady Bartlett, whose 25 wickets have rounded off the Hawk attack nicely this season, collects another timely scalp when he traps ‘Prav’ in front eight runs later. His 59 off 64 balls was, I’m told, an essay of fluent, wristy strokeplay.

From then on in it’s a matter of the Wang-Magpies lower-order eking out crucial runs – and the Hawks keeping them in check. Despite the best efforts of the bowlers, the Pies finish with 8/163…….Bartlett (3/31) and McNamara (3/23) take the bowling honours.

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‘Runs on the Board’ is a well-worn adage in finals cricket…….Four runs an over, against a side which, time and again this season has been able to put the screws on their opposition, is a tough proposition.

But I’ve got faith in Bailey Dale and Luke Whitten, who have developed into a handy combination. Luke seems to have been inspired by Bailey’s cavalier stroke-play and has, himself, become more uninhibited……..The extent of this partnership could, I believe, determine the match…….

They’re off to a flier, and the updates I’m getting ( scoring at almost eight an over ) indicate that they’ve given their side a really handy launching-pad.

It’s 1/67 when Whitten is adjudged LBW to Zac Guilfoyle, but Dale and the incoming Jacob Beattie ( who’s also a free-wheeler) keep the run-rate flowing nicely.

When I succumb to temptation, and ring for someone to ‘paint the picture’, I’m told they’re 3/112…….Dale had skipped down the wicket to spinner Menon and had been neatly stumped by keeper Cooper Matheson for 45…….Beattie’s 22-ball knock had come to an end when the newly-introduced Nick Pell dismissed him for 28.

The Hawks had experimented with Beattie at first-drop, late in the season, with some success, and again, he had produced valuable, quick runs.

I’m delighted…..surely they should do the job from here……Only 50-odd runs, with heaps of overs in hand and plenty of batting to follow…….

Then the reports start coming through…….I’m informed later that the under-rated Pell is bowling ‘hand-grenades’……..6/120….7/129….8/131…9/136……

I receive an ominous four-word text from a knowledgeable Hawk….’Not looking good, KB’……. which sends me into the depths of depression….

Ah well, the dream’s over…….the boys have had a good season…….and the Pies deserve it. They’ve been outstanding all year ……..

I’m anticipating the final death knell……Half an hour passes by…….No word…Surely the game must be over by now…..

Then the belated message comes through………They’ve pinched it……..Unbelievable…

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So I sit down to watch the live-stream this morning, to recapture the drama of this Grand Final of the Ages ( I note that there have been more than 820 views on You-Tube, which shows the interest in the contest ) ….It’s every bit as riveting as I’ve been told……particularly that last-wicket stand of 28 between Alex McCarthy and Brady Bartlett, which finally swings the pendulum the Hawks way.

Equally as interesting is the ‘chit-chat’ from the crowd, amidst the excitement from both camps:

‘Pelly…Pelly….Pelly…’ as the ex-Greta paceman is cutting a swathe through the RUB middle-order…….

‘He doesn’t have faith in ya mate…….Can’t ya handle the pressure, Bartlett….’

‘Pull ya head in, why don’t ya….’

‘Very uppish shot that…You’re looking scratchy, McCarthy…..’

The partnership develops: A Bartlett pull-shot scoots to the boundary, as does a streaky shot backward of point………They chip 10 runs off one over, then Bartlett hammers a shot back at tiring medium-pacer Matt Gathercole, who just can’t grasp a difficult chance, with the score on 149….

A single here and a strong off-side shot there from McCarthy, who’s been solid, maintains the pressure……….It’s down to 11…..then another Bartlett boundary off Guilfoyle brings the crowd to fever-pitch………Seven to get…. another boundary reduces it to three……

And now they’re home……. Bartlett, whose handy all-round contribution has been as significant as anyone in the match, executes a strong drive, ushering in celebrations and commiserations among the combatants, neither of who deserved to lose………

Rovers-United-Bruck 9/164 defeated Wangaratta- Magpies 8/163

“CRICKET FINALS PRODUCE HEROICS……..”

Local cricket fans will be licking their lips at the Norm Minns Oval this Saturday, when the Hawks and Pies meet in the ‘Battle of the Laneway’, to decide the WDCA A-Grade Premiership.

It’s the first meeting of two Wangaratta-based teams in the ‘big one’ for 11 years……..and the first between entities of the two Clubs since Wangaratta/Magpies and Rovers/United tangled in a famous encounter 20 years ago………..

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Yesterday’s Semi-Finals were typical, pressure-packed affairs.

Delatite, who won the toss and batted, got off to a horror start…….They lost both openers, Earl Ree-Goodings and Nick Scales without a run on the board. It was up to Mitch Copey to perform a rescue act in the face of some pin-point bowling.

His patient, undefeated 51 off 109 deliveries – with some assistance from experienced Chris ‘Fatty’ Anderson and Matt ‘Bull’ Stevenson – enabled them to crawl to 5/97 off their 40 overs.

It was hardly enough against a Wangaratta-Magpies side containing the competition’s ‘Recruit of the Year’, Pranav Menon. The former Prahran star’s 638 runs for the season have included only a couple of failures.

The Indian-born right-hander again lit up proceedings. He had cultivated a sprightly 41 when the Pies reached their target, off 27 overs, for the loss of just two wickets………..

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Meanwhile, high drama was unfolding over the road, at the Findlay Oval, as Rovers-United-Bruck elected to bat.

The Hawks had certainly done their prospects no harm the previous week, when they snaffled handy extra bonus points, to clamber over the top of Yarra-Mulwala, into second spot, and earn the right to host the Semi.

The Lakers were certainly up and about, with consistent left-arm paceman Angus McMillan and young Rory Bartlett proving a handful for the openers. The first significant blow was struck when bulky ‘Gus’ enticed Bailey Dale to nick a superb delivery through to ‘keeper Reid Clarke.

Surprisingly, Jacob Beattie was promoted in the batting order and several daring shots by the tall, free-wheeling all-rounder kept the run-rate ticking over. He’d scored 16 when Bartlett ripped through his defences.

And that was probably the tale of the Rovers-United innings…………Handy partnerships continued to evolve, without any batsman taking complete charge. Paddy McNamara’s score-card showed a ‘picket-fence’ of 13 singles, but at least he was enterprising enough to keep turning the strike over.

The highest score of the day ( and easily the most impressive knock ) came from the blade of Alex Grant, the Kenyan recruit, whose tidy 20 included 2 fours ( the only boundaries for the game).

A more than handy last-wicket stand of 21 by youngsters Darcy Wilson and Brady Bartlett took the Hawk total to a challenging 9/123. Considering that the track was ‘doing a bit’, you felt that there was still plenty to play out in this encounter……..

What followed probably caused the Lakers’ highly-vaunted batting line-up to endure a sleepless Saturday night……..

The new ‘cherry’ was handed to the usual second-string paceman Brady Bartlett, who produced handy pace and life in his opening spell.

Surprisingly, spinner Jeremy Wilson operated from the other end. Considering that the Yarra/Mul openers had quilted the pacemen in their previous meeting, it proved an inspired move, as they approached him with uncertainty.

Bartlett had Ben Irvine fending at one in his second over, to be smartly snapped by ‘keeper McCarthy……..then the normally cavalier Josh Lawrence prodded at one from Wilson and was on his way…….2/5.

The situation only deteriorated from there……..Matt Knight was snapped up off Jacob Schonafinger ( who had immediately hit the spot with his medium-pace ), Matt Casey never looked comfortable in his 18-ball stay, and was a Paddy McNamara victim…….

The very next ball, Ben Radford nicked a McNamara flier to be caught behind.

At 5/9 the competition’s most outstanding upper order was in disarray. There was some resistance from Reid Clarke and leftie Fraser Smart, but by now the run-rate was also careering out of control.

Schonafinger nabbed his fourth victim – Brock McCabe – to close off the Yarrawonga-Mulwala innings for 56, and finish with the figures of 4/13 off 7.4 overs.

The other Rovers-United bowling figures would impress the most critical of bowling judges: Bartlett ( 4 overs 1/5), Jeremy Wilson (6 overs 1/3 ), McNamara ( 6 overs 2/13 ), Jon Hyde (8 overs 1/16), Darcy Wilson ( 3 overs 0/6 ).

It was a superb bowling performance from the Hawks – and plenty of credit should go to ‘Paddy Mac’, their 19 year-old skipper, who executed the team plan to perfection……………

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But for a moment, let’s tread down memory lane, to that Grand Final classic of 2001/02……..

If you happen to be strolling around Norm Minns Oval this Saturday, you might come across a bloke, pensively sitting in a quiet corner, possibly with fag in hand, closely following the game.

He’ll be silently barracking for Rovers-United-Bruck ( even though you wouldn’t know it ) and may be inclined to cast a thought back to one of the greatest moments of his sporting life.

Anthony Lawler ( ‘Ant’ to his mates )……was the unlikely hero of a classic premiership victory………

Originally he was the Hawks’ 12th man…….His form as a solid opening batsman had fluctuated during the season, which was the reason for his demotion……But when his side lost the toss and had to bowl he was included, because star left-hander Peter Tossol had footy coaching commitments at Corowa-Rutherglen………

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The Wangaratta/Magpies innings was held together by champion all-rounder Duane Kerwin, who remained steadfast when wickets were tumbling around him.

The Pies, in the face of some hostile pace bowling from Adam Booth, Peter Harvey and Trevor Anderson, fell to be 5/59 on the opening day. It was up to Kerwin to nurse his batting partners from then on….

At 7/94 they were still in deep strife; they recovered to 8/139, and finally limped to a respectable total of 151; predominantly because of the magnificent unbeaten 73 from Kerwin…….

With half an hour’s play before stumps on the opening day, a lively spell from quickie Tim Sheldon gave the Pies the upper hand…….The Hawks were 2/18 when play was halted……Importantly, Lawler was looking composed and solid, unbeaten on 11.

Aware of his knack of ‘having a few quiet ones’ to wind down after a day’s play, Tossol and his wife Bronnie invited the nonchalant opener to dine with them that evening, thus eliminating the possibility of being led astray.

When play resumed the following morning, Lawler showed admirable restraint, in the face of a Wang-Magpies attack which quickly gained the upper hand.

With the Hawks limping to 6/67, they appeared near-certainties to lose……..Left-hander Steve Croxford then combined with the redoubtable Lawler to undergo the rescue mission.

They added 68 before Sheldon, bowling as if his life depended on it, claimed Croxford for 34……A couple of balls later, Sheldon struck again, trapping Trev Anderson in front for a duck…..

Seventeen runs were required; two wickets in hand. Five runs later the monumental Lawler stay concluded, on 61, when Sheldon claimed his sixth victim.

There were still 12 runs required, and it was up to last-wicket pair Adam Booth and Peter Harvey to get Rovers-United over the line.

Lawler, after his heroics, couldn’t bear to watch…….He took the pads off and headed off for a long walk and a quiet ‘gasper’, as the runs, one by one, began to be whittled away.

Finally, as Harvey snicked the winning runs, players from both teams literally slumped with exhaustion…….and jumped with elation…….

Are we in for a repeat clash this week-end ?……….

“A ( SLIGHT ) BRUSH WITH FAME………..”

To a thirteen year-old boy from the bush, it was my nirvana.

It was shaping to be a blistering hot late-December day when we approached our destination, after a journey that seemed to take an eternity……excitement-levels soared…….. we pushed through the bustling crowd, joined a snail-like queue which inched towards the ticket-box, negotiated turnstiles, scuttled along dim corridors, up flights of stairs……….

“Get a wriggle on,” says Dad ( the keenest of us all ), “It’s almost 11……We don’t want to miss the first ball……”

And there it appeared…….out of the gloom, a ‘vision’, bathed in bright sunshine…… the delightful green sward of the Melbourne Cricket Ground………..

We took our seats, just in time to catch a glimpse of a superb specimen; dark skin glistening, gold crucifix jangling, chiselled 6’5” broad-shouldered frame swinging rhythmically from side to side, as he approached the crease.

Wesley Winfield Hall, the world’s fastest bowler, was a sight to behold.

His run-up had seemed to kick-start from beneath the sight-screen and I felt for the slightly-built Australian opener Colin McDonald, as he powered towards him………….

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My curiosity about big Wes had been piqued a fortnight earlier, when he played a significant role in one of the most exciting matches of all-time – the Tied Test at the ‘Gabba.

I can remember being absorbed in a game of backyard cricket at the time, whilst, in the background, the dulcet tones of Johnny Moyes and Clive Harburg provided a graphic description of the closing stages of a game for the ages.

Just to set the scene, the West Indies tail had wagged on the final morning, setting the Australians a victory target of 232………When Hall got to work, he left the Aussie top-order in disarray, removing four of the top five, with the score on a paltry 57. After ‘Slasher’ Mackay fell to the spinner Sonny Ramadhin it was 6/92

Wes, the Windies tearaway had already played a significant part in the game, scoring 50 and 18, and taking 4/140 off a marathon 29.3 overs in the first innings.

As the afternoon wore on, a partnership between all-rounders Alan Davidson and captain Richie Benaud developed, and changed the game’s dimension. They added 134, before Davidson was run out for 80, leaving the Aussies within striking distance.

When the ball was thrown to Wes Hall, they needed 6 runs to win, with three wickets in hand……..It was time for us, by now, to put down the bat and ball and focus on the Test……..

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Who better than the man himself to give you an insight to what happened next:

“The over took 15 minutes…..( After Grout had run through for a bye ), the captain called to me and said :’Wesley, I’m watching you….Whatever you do now, do not bowl a bouncer to Richie Benaud……I said: ‘OK Skipper, you just watch me.’ “

“As I walked back, still very hurt at the shame, the scandal of dropping a vital catch and allowing them another run, my team-mates were saying: ‘We are with you. You cannot even catch a cold’.”

“But as I walked back I had other things on my mind. I turned around, fingered my cross, prayed a little prayer, pulled at my trousers, and took off.”

God was merciful because I found a little pep in my step and a little spring in my heels, and I said: ‘Eh, eh, let’s go Benaud. I’m bowling the fastest bouncer that I’ve ever bowled in my life……..”

“Benaud, feeling surprised, shaped for the hook, it took the glove, and there was Alexander, triumphantly in the air, taking the catch and rolling over in great triumph.”

“I swung around, my arms raised, going towards my captain, hoping he will embrace me. But all I got was stony silence and a wicked stare.”

“So I said: ‘He’s out skipper…He’s out…’ “

He says: ‘What did I tell you.’ “

“I said: ‘But he’s out. He’s out.’ “

“And then the joke was no more. He said: ‘Do you really understand what would have happened if that ball had taken the top edge and gone for four runs ? ‘ “

“For the first time in 12 minutes I realised that Australia needed 4 to win. So there again, in deep despair, a batsman out, but still no joy.”

As the new batsman came in to bat, Meckiff was his name…..A monumental rabbit…Surely he would not stand the test of time, as I moved in….”

But my spirit was broken…How could you expect a man to get a wicket, yet be admonished by his captain ? I walked in meekly, bowled just as meekly, and Meckiff hit it just as sweetly to the mid-wicket boundary.”

He ran one……he ran 2….he ran 3….The ball went right to the boundary….about a metre away….and there was Conrad Hunte, not giving up, chasing all the way, picking the ball just a metre from the boundary and throwing it with remarkable accuracy back to the wicket-keeper, who did not have to move a centimetre. He took the ball……”

”And there was Grout, sprawled out on the ground, two metres out of his crease.”

“So another man was out, and Sir Frank Worrell came up to me and said: ‘You’ve got one ball to go.’ “

“I said: ‘I know.’ “

He says: ‘And what is more, the umpire is watching you too.’ “

I didn’t know what he was saying, so I said to him: ‘What are you saying ?’ “

He said: ‘Well, listen….. If you bowl a no-ball you will never land in Barbados again.’

And I made my last lonesome trek back, 40 yards from the stumps. As I came in, gasping for air, pressing through for the last ball, my feet planted three yards behind the crease, just in case we had a benevolent Australian umpire.

And so, Lindsay Kline turned the ball backward of square for what seemed like an easy run…….It was, really…..until Soloman, little Joe Soloman, moved smartly to his left, picked up the ball and, with just one stump to see, threw and hit it bulls-eye…….The square-leg umpire – an Australian – jumped four feet in the air and still gave him out.”

The West Indian cricketers were sure we had not lost. Ten men were out weren’t they ? But we didn’t know if we had won, either.”

So we all went off the ground – umpires, those who were not playing, and the extras – all gathered in the one Dressing-Room.”

We drank beer, we drank champagne, and Dinner was summoned……and we did not leave there until 10.30 that night……….”

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There were many stars in the Series that revitalised cricket……And Hall was principal among them.

He took 21 wickets, and like all of the Windies players, possessed a magnetic personality. By the time of the deciding Fifth Test at Melbourne, interest in cricket had reached fever-pitch.

A world-record 90,800 people flocked to see the day’s play on the Saturday, and continued to be enthralled throughout a game which eventually went the way of the Aussies.

Upon their departure, the visitors were afforded a ticker-tape farewell throughout the streets of Melbourne, usually only accorded to royalty, or The Beatles………The following summer, when Wes Hall arrived at Brisbane’s Eagle Farm Airport to fulfill the first of a two-year contract to play Sheffield Shield cricket for Queensland, he was greeted by a swarming, adoring crowd.

His 43 Shield wickets set a state record for a first-class season…….He followed that up with 33 the following year, to accentuate his popularity in the Sunshine state.

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The next time I see Wes in the skin, is six years later. He’s playing in an up-country match…….. methodically pacing out his run-up, and preparing to send down his thunderbolts to a jittery left-hand opening batsman……….

Me…..

From 62 yards away he looks positively menacing……

My fitful sleep the previous night included nightmares of waking up to stumps clattering everywhere after his opening delivery……… of forgetting to wear a box…….and ducking and weaving a succession of 105 mile-an-hour red ‘cherries’………

In this era – which preceded Helmets, thigh-pads and chest-guards – I have taken the precaution of including an extra hankie in my right pocket, to cushion the possible stinging sensation of a Kookaburra thudding into raw flesh.

Wes, of course, has been confronted with this scenario on countless occasions………He knows a sitting-duck when he sees one………And after all, he doesn’t want to impinge too early upon the entertainment of the locals, who are still scampering to take up vantage spots around this scenic bush oval.

So he sends down a harmless half-volley, just outside off-stump, which any leftie worth his salt should be able to despatch satisfactorily………

It skims through the cover field to the boundary……..To the accompaniment of a polite ripple of applause from the crowd…..

The following delivery is yards quicker……..As I shape to play a defensive shot it’s already in the gloves of ‘keeper Hendricks……..

The next is on me in a flash……It thuds into my pad….There’s a muted appeal from someone ( not Wes )……It feels out to me………But the kindly local umpire answers in the negative and my partner ushers me ( I limp ) through for a leg bye.

I’d like to be able to tell you that what followed was an innings marked by defiance and aggression……….Alas, the very next over, Richard Edwards, a strongly-built Barbadian yet to be honoured with a Test cap, crashes through my flimsy defence and sends the off-stump cartwheeling.

Richard certainly means business……The incoming batsman, Brian Hayes ( one of the best country players you’d find ) tries to fend off a rearing delivery, which breaks his left hand. He bravely stays on, but nicks the next ball to the waiting slips cordon.

We’ve played Edwards into the Test side……….

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FOOTNOTE:

Wes Hall’s next visit to our neck of the woods came 15 years later. He was, by now, Manager of Clive Lloyd’s emerging team of superstars, and a highly-respected administrator. He later took over as Chairman of the West Indies Board of Control.

Entering politics, he served in the Barbadian Senate and House of Assembly, and was appointed Minister for Tourism of the tiny island.

On a visit to Florida in 1990 he attended a Christian service. Impressed by the Preacher, he made a decision to devote the rest of his life tending to those in need.

He attended Bible School and was subsequently ordained a minister in the Christian Pentecostal Church, in which he is still involved, at the age of 84……………