Hookesy at West Torrens
In the summer of 1977 Kerry Packer’s fracturing of cricket led to a clandestine meeting at Football Park in Adelaide.
Richie Benaud and Austin Robertson flew over to nut out a deal with administrators of the West Torrens Cricket Club. The pair carried with them the approval of their boss to use his legal muscle.
No notes were taken. No evidence of the meeting formally exists. At the conclusion only handshakes committed everyone to a plan that could see them all in court and West Torrens ostracised from the South Australian Cricket Association.
“We did it,” says club President Denis Brien, “out of loyalty to Hookesy.”
Denis first met David Hookes when the boy’s mother Pat brought him to a junior net session he was running.
“This is my son David and he wants to play cricket,” she told Denis.
The coach looked at the kid’s blond hair and then his bare feet. This could be a problem.
The arches of his feet tilted from inside to the outside while one leg was shorter than the other. Consequently his legs were severely bowed. The orthopedic specialist gave the family two options – leg irons or going barefoot. They chose the latter and so the boy’s first day of school was the first time he wore shoes.
He did have his own bat (which was smaller than the other kids). He then produced a pair of spikes from his little bag and put them on, assuming he was now ready.
Denis kept spare gear and so kitted him out with pads, gloves and a box. He liked him and encouraged him to follow his instincts and use his gift.
“He had an eye like a dead fish.”
As Hookes advanced people wanted Denis to correct his style especially his footwork. His reply was “God knows more than me and he put it in, so I am not taking it out.”
Hookes played as a teenager at West Torrens in the B grade where Denis was captain.
“I think if we had corrected him more he would have been a very, very good A- grader but allowing him to have flair he became a charismatic player.
“He proved how well he hit the ball in the Centenary Test. He should have had six boundaries in a row if Derek Randall hadn’t stopped one.”
Away from cricket, things were not always easy at David’s home as his parents’ divorce played out bitterly. Denis became a surrogate father and Hookes became a surrogate big brother to the Brien children.
One Friday night Hookes rang Denis to tell him of his engagement. After congratulations were passed, he asked if he and his fiancée could come over because he feared his home would be swamped when the announcement appeared in the morning newspaper.
“So we hid him here,” says Denis.
It didn’t take long for Advertiser journalist Mike Coward to join the dots. With no one home at Hookes’ house he called Denis enquiring “is the eminent left-hander at your home?’
“Not sure I will have a look,” he replied.
Hookes agreed to talk to Coward and a photographer snapped the happy couple by the mantel piece in Brien’s lounge room.
Denis tells the story pointing to the spot. His knowledge of the game and its people gathered as a player, coach, administrator and historian stretches from 1857.
The only piece of cricket memorabilia in his sitting room though is a wagon wheel of the record breaking 462-run partnership of Hookes and Wayne Phillips against Tasmania in 1987.
Watching the freedom Brien gave Hookes was a remarkable sight – the flashing blade bruising the pickets square of the wicket at Adelaide. He bought into the Favell-Chappell ethos of entertaining cricket that included risking defeat to claim victory.
In his second season for South Australia Hookes led all Sheffield Shield batsmen by averaging 79.
In February 1977 his scores were (v Victoria) 163 & 9 (v Queensland) 185 & 105 and (against NSW) 135 & 156. Then came his debut against England in the Centenary Test.
Hookes became the bright young face of World Series Cricket but in agreeing to sign, more than any other, he mortgaged his future.
Most stars in WSC had already had big careers but Hookes was just starting at international level.
The Packer players were banned from any form of establishment cricket. Forget ever playing at the MCG or Adelaide Oval again. The players had to train at school grounds.
“We allowed David to practice [at West Torrens] but the others wouldn’t,” says Denis.
“Glenelg wouldn’t even talk to Ian Chappell. Ian made contact asking if I could get him a clearance to West Torrens which I did.”
This is how we get to Richie Benaud and Austin Robertson sitting at Football Park with senior West Torrens officials.
The SACA told its district clubs they were not to include any WSC players. If they did they would be stripped of their points. It was in line with grade clubs around the country.
Packer’s people didn’t believe the ban would stand up in court and wanted to challenge it under restraint of trade laws. If successful it would allow all WSC players back into their clubs.
Trouble was they needed a club willing to risk its season for them.
West Torrens took the risk.
“We agreed we would pick David whenever available from WSC, likely be stripped of all points as a result and then let the case work its way through court,” says Denis.
It was a huge wager on a principle.
“I think that was the culture of the club. We were all close. We are all in this together,” says Denis.
That week of selection Andy Roberts dug one in short at the Sydney Showgrounds. David Hookes mistimed his shot and his jaw was shattered.
The test case fell through. In 1978 rapprochement with the establishment began allowing WSC players back at district level.
This week Denis Brien held a net session for junior boys and girls at West Torrens. The 76 year old still has spare gear in case any kids turn up short of something. He is club President but says he has seven jobs.
At one of the grounds he will visit this weekend there are sightscreens that were built for WSC matches at Football Park. There is a Hookes memorial. It is for both David and his mother Pat who served as a volunteer administrator at the club for more than two decades.