A Good Innings
Because cricket was for many years my chief escape from what are sometimes laughingly called serious affairs, I promised myself I would never write about it. This is the seventh book I promised never to write.
Benny Green A History of Cricket Barrie and Jenkins, London, 1988.
For my agnostic father Alex, cricket was a religion. Perhaps it was an obsession.
Whatever it was, he bowled countless leg breaks or wrong’uns to my brother Vic and me in our backyards or on holidays wherever we went. That was probably the reason I hit Australian leg-spinner Peter Philpott for four leg-side boundaries on the Sydney Cricket Ground for Combined Country against Sydney in 1957. I don’t wish to imply I was ever a first-class cricketer, so that makes those boundaries an even greater achievement for my Dad.
During our annual visits to Berrara, a camping place of long ago (in the Forties) south of Nowra, off Fisherman’s Rock Road, we took a big spade and made a turf wicket for the “Test” matches that went on through the school holidays. There were plenty of players from the tents around us.
Mum and Dad were parents of the Great Depression and I was born in the alleged winding down year, 1933. Dad made me a billy-cart for Santa one Christmas, and added a cricket bat he also fashioned himself. Lots of cricket bats followed though, real ones, with compound cricket balls (cork not leather) to play with as times changed for the better.
I remember buying a Stuart Surridge bat from Mick Simmons’ sports store: George Street, corner with Campbell Street. Simmons made his money first from tobacco and then branched into sporting goods. Creams and shirts were bought there too. I loved going into that shop. Mick also would employ famous sportsmen to serve there, another big attraction for me and many others. Sport was not a corporate business then so the “stars” of the time were probably often glad of that job.
As I write, other sporting stores of my era come to mind. I bought my first wicket-keeping gloves from Bert Oldfield’s store, 243 Pitt Street Sydney. He taught me where to stand behind the stumps, advice I kept for the rest of my wicket-keeping days. A funny anomaly in those first cricket days was the sticky stuff we used to put on wicket-keeping gloves. Now I realise that if you didn’t concentrate, didn’t watch the ball and thus moved too late and snatched, the glue was a waste of time and money.
Yes times did move on as I’ve implied. In that past, you oiled your bat with linseed oil – quite a test of your loving care. I think I remember rolling it with a broom handle and bouncing cricket balls on the surface to harden it. How different things are now – iron clad surfaces already on some of the bats you buy!
I remember too Stan McCabe’s store. He was a very quiet man who always served you courteously and humbly. I bought in particular practice cricket balls from him. I was very sad to hear of his untimely death when it happened long ago now. His deeds against bodyline don’t die.
My introduction to Sydney Grade cricket came from Glebe South Sydney. This was because we moved to Newtown. I have learnt that the administrators of the grade competition decided, I think around 1910, that you had to live in the area of the club you played for. That aimed to strengthen the competition and draw crowds. So because I lived in Newtown, off I went to Jubilee Oval Glebe via the Glebe Point tram.
Albert (Tibby) Cotter, Warren Bardsley, Charles Kelleway and Bertie Oldfield all played for Glebe. Cotter, Bardsley and Kelleway also went to Forest Lodge Primary where Bardsley Senior was headmaster for many years, having taught one time in Warren, New South Wales. Oldfield was secretary of the Glebe Club in 1915.
Tibby Cotter was actually killed, in his life’s prime, at the Battle of Beersheba in October 1917. He chose to join the cavalry charge although not strictly required to do so. As I write, the centenary of that event is being celebrated with full military honours. We can actually join the celebration of this and other fatal events for a deposit of $500 AU and then further payments. Death and destruction have strange bedfellows these days.
We young Glebe players were cared for paternally by a small group of senior players. I remember especially Jim Bowden, the First Grade keeper and later a Sheffield Shield umpire. A lucky friend for me. There was practice at the nets and there were practice matches mixing the grades on the main oval.
It was a great inspiration for us lower grade players to practice with the seniors. Ron Kissell, a state player, was there. He played eleven first class matches for New South Wales between 1946 and 1952. Bobby Madden was also there, an opening batsman briefly for New South Wales and a soccer player for Australia. I remember when he was dismissed for 99 for the state.
One of the umpires in those practice matches was George Borwick, an umpire in the Bodyline series. Mrs Borwick made and served, with other ladies, afternoon tea for us. That was the kind of community we had then and will always need.
Mr Borwick was an influence on me. I remember a durable piece of advice: “If you think you are not out, look in the scorebook.” That has stabilised me many times since.
I was chosen in the club’s Green Shield (under 15) team as a leg spinner. I remember in a match at Waitara Oval that the fence was far to close for my bowling..
I made it into Fourth Grade as a batsman however, and so began a beautiful friendship. Then a wicket-keeper was needed so I volunteered. The friendship blossomed. Jim Bowden was a great help to me down a few years.
Those years passed and I worked my way up into Second Grade. Never to First Grade with that club.
Then came the family move to Ferodale, four miles north of Raymond Terrace on the Pacific Highway. In his usual way, Dad fostered my cricket interests as well as all the others. In conversation with Doug Rawlings, the manager of a shoe-store in Raymond Terrace, Dad found a link with Northern Districts Cricket Club in Maitland.
Another beautiful friendship began there, both with Doug and family and with cricket. Maitland has a special place in my life. I met my wife there much later. The cricket too is a lasting memory.
I remember Doug Rawlings, a memorable man who drove me up from Raymond Terrace each Saturday, and often rolled the wicket before a match. Col Johnstone, a State second eleven player, was our captain and my mentor. Our opening bowler’s name was indeed Mudd. The other opener was Keith Smith – a source of inspiration too as he had lost an arm in a factory accident. He batted quite well and bowled very well. He got a hat-trick against a visiting Sydney team (Western Suburbs). There, with those true friends, I studied the game further.
Inter-district cricket was one of the joys of that time. I met Doug Walters then, a while before his fame. He was a Dungog lad. I noticed the strength of his forearms.
The inter-district cricket led to selection in the Combined Country team of 1957.
It all happened because I had resigned from teaching for a year to play cricket. First came the selection trial match at Tamworth. I survived that. On next to another match in Armidale. I survived that. Finally on to Grafton Oval. No mistakes there either, and I remember taking a diving catch out near square leg. That may have helped me gain selection in the final team.
At this time of writing I interpose a momentary reflection on Robert Holland. “Dutchy” has just passed away. Fate has been kind to me as I had the honour of playing Golden Oldies cricket with him in Vancouver and in Queensland.
A most inspiring person. Kind, humble and gifted in sport. I was present at the Sydney Cricket Ground when he took ten wickets against the West Indies when they were at the height of their power. I lost my voice for a week or so from cheering. I remember his Lords achievement of many wickets too.
Another kindness of fate was my sitting next to him in an Air New Zealand plane en route to Vancouver for twenty-odd hours. There was so much to share on that lucky journey. He told me of his talk with Bill O’Reilly when he Robert was chosen for Australia. O’Reilly told him the bowler was captain when the bowler bowled.
When he went to England, Robert saw fit to talk to the great English leg break bowler Douglas VP Wright, whom I saw dismiss Don Bradman with a lifting “leggie” at the SCG just after the war. Wright apparently took eleven hat-tricks in his cricket lifetime. The advice from the Englishman, who by the way had a long run up and spread his arms like wings just before his last stride of the delivery, was to bowl the third ball of the hat-trick fast and on the stumps.
“Dutchie” was a gentle man; he was humble and not intent on winning above all else. I am so lucky to have known him and he gave me a stumping in one of his Golden Oldies overs. I am sad he has gone but memory eases the pain a little.
Now back to my narrative… (I will go on writing from here soon.)
Au revoir to the reader,