Memories Of A Second Class Cricketer

A Good Innings

 III

“Look after that shine please!”

John Blomley, Brilliant Swing Bowler

imagesAttribution: Wiki Commons

I have explained earlier, in my personal cricket narrative, that in 1958 I gave up my sporting ambition and returned to teaching. My appointment at a one-teacher school in the outer reaches of the Hunter Valley, with week-day accommodation only, meant that I spent my weekends closer to the city of Newcastle. So how could I not play cricket again?

The 1960 green field I had the good fortune to return to was situated at Stockton, on the north side of the Hunter River. It was a joyous return to the welcoming friendships and support I found there in that club that was a vibrant part of the Newcastle competition. I hope my surviving team mates and all families will forgive me if I focus just on one team-mate. After all these years I realise more strongly that ever what a brilliant human being he was.

My motive therefore is to make this little piece of mine an obituary in effect to a special friend, John Blomley. Off the cricket field when I knew him, John was a doctor serving the Stockton community in particular. On the playing field he was a star. That star shone not only on the cricket field. As a medical student he had been a fine Rugby Union centre-three quarter with Sydney University, New South Wales and Australia.

Here is a little more on the football side of things:

Born 7 March 1927 at Tumbarumba in New South Wales, Blomley attended St Joseph’s College, Sydney where he came under the watchful eye of the famous rugby coach, Brother Henry. Here, the young Blomley learned the rudiments of the game. Brother Henry insisted on a solid foundation for the young footballer. “There is no room in a college fifteen for a boy whose hands are not safe,” he counselled. “All the footballers at the college must learn the rudiments of the game.”

So Brother Henry turned out Jack Blomley as a polished inside back. After leaving St Joseph’s College in 1944, Blomley entered Sydney University to study medicine and naturally played for Sydney University in the metropolitan competition.

… Although he declared himself unavailable for the Australian Universities tour of New Zealand early in the year, Blomley looked forward to the 1949 representative season with the Maori side touring Australia for a Test series to be followed by a Wallaby tour of New Zealand. Blomley won selection in the New South Wales team that met the Maoris in the third match of their tour. The visitors produced a strong forward display to win 19-14, but Blomley did enough to be selected to play for Australia in the first Test match at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

(Source: Loc.cit. the link below)

Here is an image of John at the height of his Football power. He was known as Jack in his Rugby days.

blomley-john

  Attribution: Loc. cit. the link below

You can read more on the Rugby career of John here at this Rugby site.

Returning to matters of cricket, I can say with some confidence that wicket keepers tend to judge bowlers’ ability accurately. The bowler has a huge hand in the making of the ‘keeper’s status. Part of my destiny was to keep wickets to the bowling of John Blomley.

Now although I was a mere second class cricketer, I have been lucky enough to keep wickets to a number of Australia’s Test bowlers including Johnny Martin, Pat Crawford, Grahame Corling, John Watkins and (as a Golden Oldie) Robert Holland. I have batted against Gordon Rorke, David Sincock and Peter Philpott, all Test bowlers. You can add to that perspective keeping wickets for countless other bowlers from inter-varsity and the Grades of Sydney and Newcastle, as well as the brilliant Merv Black at Arundel for the Australian Old Collegians. Nowhere in that conglomeration of experience can a find another John Blomley.

I am not saying he was the best in my experience. But he was up there, unrecognised largely, with the stars. He was unforgettable with his wit and boundless energy. How sad for him to die aged 43.

John loved every moment of his cricket. His enthusiasm was catching. He polished that ball, especially at Stockton’s oval, like the finest medieval craftsman at work. If you bounced that ball with a throw, you were doomed to hear a torrent of abuse.

He rode the mystic winds of Stockton Bight with that ball like Pegasus. Perfect control with windy support. Three outswingers and then a sudden inswinger at LBW time. A sudden slow ball for a caught and bowled. A faster one, the wicket broken and a bail harmlessly hitting my jaw.

John was a busy doctor too. More than once play was interrupted by the urgent needs of a patient.

He was patient with me too, amidst all of his quest to overthrow batsmen. Cheerful with mistakes and generous with success. I still replay a missed stumping that would have given him a hat trick. It was a legside inswinger that left the batsman and me stranded and resulted in four byes. I have replayed that moment so many times that I am sure I could catch it now, old as I am.

It is such a long time now since I marvelled at John Blomley. We all fade away eventually don’t we? All that is left of our dreams is a memory in the minds of others. But somehow that is a very important place to be.

R

Memories of a Second Class Cricketer

A Good Innings

II 

One of the most captivating aspects of the Victorian age was its tendency to confuse issues which ought not to have any logical connection at all. Among these the concept of the Gentleman loomed like a cloud over the landscape, permeating every backwater of social intercourse, tilting the balance of debate.

Benny Green A History of  Cricket  Barrie and Jenkins, London, 1988, p. 125.

The theme of this second part of my cricket tales is overwhelmingly ‘my gentlemen.’ It had nothing to do with class or with a capital ‘g.’ The only social status they had was to be in the same place as I was for a serious cricket match. Many of them are no longer alive yet I feel so fortunate they are still with me in my mind.

My performance for Combined Country in February 1957 led to my selection in the Petersham-Marrickville First Grade Team. Our home ground was Petersham Oval. I love that ground.

It was our school home ground for Fort Street and we won the Sydney High Schools competition in 1949. Our opening bowler at the time was Alan Wyatt who went on to open the bowling for New South Wales. I gained selection in the Combined Sydney High Schools team as an opening batsman. I had not taken up wicket keeping at this stage.

Here is our Petersham Marrickville team in 1957 as revealed by an ancient press clipping. These people are some of my ‘gentlemen’ but as you can see, the newspaper decided to give them capital letters.

Petersham

Clive Johnstone was at times captain of New South Wales. Noel Hughes had recently returned from a stint with English cricket. His sons, young at this time, were to grow into a distinguished cricket and football family.

Johnny Martin was yet to be the noted Test player. He was incredibly hard to “read” as a bowler for the wicket keeper that I was. We had an agreement that he would nod for a wrong ’un. Alas his mind and his body were not always in harmony so I would often get the wrong message. Poor batsmen though! He would trick them constantly too. But then I had to stop the ball to prevent four byes.

Johnny Martin was a lovely human being. A man of massive talent with bat and ball. As a first slip player he often stopped byes from a ball I missed. He was a true friend, humble and supportive. I had got to know his two brothers too in earlier days.

Vince was an opening bat for Stockton in the Newcastle competition I later played in. I rode in a taxi, when I was teaching in Maitland, driven by Johnny’s brother Tom. He said to me, “Keep an eye out for that young fellow (brother John). He’ll play for Australia some day.” He was right.

Johnny is also famed for his big hitting on Melbourne Cricket Ground. With ordinary bats too, not the supercharged 20/20 ones of the present.

Kevin Cantwell was a slow medium for whom I stood up to the stumps and got a stumping in one match match against Gordon. He was a brilliant field and a leading baseball player. I remember Brian Taber as the Gordon ‘keeper in that match, before his Test fame had arrived.

Pat Crawford had just returned from bowling for Australia at Lords . He was quick. I had met him in the National Service strangely enough. He represented New Holdsworthy’s troops while I was the wicket keeper-batsman for Old Holdsworthy. Keith Herron, a First Grade wicket-keeper for Drummoyne and a very diminutive person, had to deal with Pat’s bowling on a mat. I remember one of the deliveries almost going for six byes – or more accurately these days six wides.

Pat was kind to me and supportive, a rather overwhelmed country lad that I was. The other three team members were very good bowlers. Bruce Livingstone was the opening bowler for New South Wales, along with Pat Crawford.

Ken White was a skilful off spin bowler. Television came to Australia in 1956. The ABC was televising Grade cricket matches in 1957. In our match at Bankstown Oval, Alan McGilvray and Michael Charlton were busy describing our all-day performances. Ken was bowling to new batsman Grahame Thomas. He moved out to a yorker, missed, the ball hit my ankles and I missed the stumping. Thomas went on to get fifty, play for Australia and have an oval at Bankstown named after him. So as I see it everything happens for the best.

Ron Briggs for Bankstoen had been batting all day before Thomas came in, and finished with 187. Alan McGilvray was very sympathetic for the stressed out keeper with hours in the field who missed that one of so many balls. Had I made that stumping perhaps there would be an oval named after me instead of Grahame. (Only joking,) Just a few mistakes sent me to Second grade and thence back to a lifetime of teaching not cricket.

Combined Country 

Here is an ancient and  just surviving record of the Country innings on the first day of that match: February 13, 1957.

Petersham.pdf 2

My happiest memories are linked with the human qualities of the players, the gentlemen. First, the chance to talk for an hour after the match with Brian Booth, a captain of Australia, was a delight. A man of great status, he was so humble and so easy to talk to. His words were a fine complement to the artistry of his batting I observed on the field. His opening partner Warren Saunders was also a sheer delight to share time with.

Here is the Sydney innings. It clearly shows the cricket powers of those two players in particular.

Country Inns 1

It was an interesting experience too to be treated by the Cricket Association as representative players. Accommodation in the now extinct Hotel Sydney was very comfortable. Hire car transport to and from the SCG was relaxing for the players. Cricket boots left in the dressing room over night were cleaned with bright whiteness next morning. A small player wage we got to cover costs was quite an honour and a new experience.

Sam Trimble broke a finger facing Gordon Rorke. He was taken away for medical treatment and resumed his innings later. That was the starting moment perhaps of an illustrious career with Queensland and later Australia.

The haloed SCG itself was another joy. That “visitors” dressing room had served many players of distinction. A haloed place to be,

My other Sydney opponents in that match of long ago are still remembered.

Ken Muller I had met in my school days. He was a Fort Street student as I was. Peter Philpott was twelfth man for the 1949 Combined High Schools team I played in. He was a thoughtful bowler who turned the ball quite sharply and deserved more wickets. He was also a stylish batsman. I was destined to play against Grahame Thomas later in the year, as I have discussed elsewhere.

My Second Experience of Sydney Grade  

In the 1957/58 Sydney season I played four matches in First Grade and two in Second Grade. I batted only twice in the four First Grade matches for 20 not out against Gordon, and 49 not out against Waverley. I was not called on to bat against Western Suburbs and Bankstown. In Second Grade I scored 71 against Paddington at Rushcutters Bay and 20 against Glebe-South Sydney at North Sydney Oval. So my batting average was rather good.

After the demotion I felt a stronger calling from the profession I loved — teaching. I decided to leave the city, if the Department of Education so decreed, and rejoin the permanent teaching ranks. I was appointed far from the city cricket scene to a one-teacher school at Chichester via Dungog in the Hunter valley.

At Chichester I was unable to get weekend accommodation so I had to stay with my parents at Ferodale, four miles north of Raymond Terrace.

Thus, with the help of Fate, I was able to return to cricket at Stockton in the Newcastle competition. This in many ways was the beginning of another cricket adventure. The next part of my narrative will focus on this.

To end this chapter, these links might interest you:

(My special thanks to the wonderful Marrickville cricket researchers.)

Marrickville Cricket Club, in my time joined with Petersham, has a long and proud history commencing in 1910.

Notes From The Net and My Memory

As you know, I played with Johnny Martin and Pat Crawford. I admired from outside the fence Barnes , Alley and Moroney. Alley became a test umpire in England and in his very first Test with the very first ball he had to give a decision. It was out, caught behind and he was right. Andrews was before my time.

I saw Jack Moroney when I was an admiring kid, hit a six right over the rail arches in a Grade match at my Glebe home ground, Jubilee Oval. He was a solid Test opener but he could be aggressive too. Two ducks in a match were an inaccurate cause of demotion in that seven Test match career. He was a high school maths teacher by profession.

Marrickville CC’s players include Johnny Martin, Pat Crawford, Sid Barnes, Bill Alley, Jack Moroney and Tommy TJ Andrews  It has been home to Australian Captain Bob Simpson and three of Bradman’s ‘Invincibles’ – Ernie Toshack, Bill Brown and Ron Saggers. I remember the grace of Ron Saggers when he played for New South Wales. To clash in time with Test star Don Tallon from Queensland was bad luck for Saggers.

Here is a link to the Marrickville site:

http://www.marrickville.nsw.cricket.com.au/content.aspx?file=4224%7C23309m&print=1

Leg bye now,

R

Memories of a Second Class Cricketer

A Good Innings

I

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.

Combined Country Selection

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,

Royce