My Pies debut against the Blues – a true story

This is not a work of fiction. But, like the ad where the boy tells his teacher that his dad played for Collingwood, it is both true and not quite what it seems.

It was January 1978, part of a glorious summer for a sport-obsessed 15 year-old, for it was one of two summers in which the cricket never seemed to end, with both traditional and Packer-style cricket on offer. As well as watching a truckload of cricket that summer, I also played more than my fair share. I was a modestly-talented opening batsman with a very limited array of shots, much more Ed Cowan than Dave Warner, albeit a right-handed version. What I did possess were strong competitiveness and determination, and combined with a pretty solid defence, I was enjoying a good season. I was captaining the Under 16s at my local club, Rosanna, who were leading the competition, and playing mid-grade seniors in the afternoons.

The last cricket weekend before Christmas had been a golden one for me. I made my maiden century in the juniors, and followed up with 87 in the seniors the same afternoon, a self-inflicted run out depriving me of a rare feat. As I sat home that evening, feeling pretty happy with myself, I received a phone call. It was from a schoolmate called Steve Cashen, a sporting child prodigy, who was captaining a cobbled-together team of locals (The Sparrows, yes, really !) in a carnival in Adelaide in a couple of weeks. Their trial game was tomorrow and one of their players had been injured that day – did I want to play in the trial game? Of course I did. I played, got twenty-odd and was now part of the team for the Adelaide trip where we would play a Perth team and two Adelaide teams.

It was a great trip which included my first experience of plane travel. The first game was against the Perth team and my run of good form and fortune continued, making a century. The manager of the team later described it to my mother as one of the more fortunate centuries he had seen and he was spot on. Amidst some very good shots were a bevy of edges that flew between fielders and multiple miscued hook and pull shots.

The runs were flowing, and the game must have seemed pretty easy at this stage, but one thing we know about the noble game is that it has many ways of biting you on the bum. I failed in the two remaining games, and we won the carnival on the back of a mountain of runs from Cashen.

Returning to Melbourne I had more cricket to play and acquired a new bat, another Gray-Nicholls. I was part of the squad to represent Collingwood in the Dowling Shield, the premier representative competition for Under-16 cricket in Victoria. Having spent much of my life at Vic Park screaming for the winter Pies, this was an enormous thrill. The Pies had enjoyed great success in this competition and this year’s squad was led by the son of a Collingwood Cricket Club stalwart. Our one intra-squad practice game hadn’t done much to clarify selection, with nearly every batsman retiring. Either our batting was very strong or our bowling was threadbare, only time would tell. Like most of the batsmen I got twenty-odd retired and was hopeful of being in the team for game one.

As it turned out I sat out the first three games and the team did poorly. It turned out that the bowling was threadbare and the batting was just fair. I was selected for the first game of week two against Carlton, led by Cashen, at Princes Park. I had had my first chance to use my new bat in a match in the Rosanna seniors on the Saturday afternoon before the Monday Dowling Shield game. I got run out first ball of the innings from the non-striker’s end – the dreaded diamond duck! When I turned up at Princes Park on the Monday, one of the first people I saw was a mate of Cashen’s from Carlton thirds, Bobby Ellis, who was there to watch the game. I had met Bobby a few times and while we chatted I made the mistake of telling him about the diamond duck.

When we inspected the wicket, we were alarmed to find it damp, indeed very damp. It had been watered after a game on the Saturday and some unexpected rain on the Sunday had left it sodden. Carlton not only had Cashen, they had a couple of good quicks, one of whom had already played district seconds. The wise old head who was our team manager counselled our captain, saying that, although the wicket was very damp, he should bat if he won the toss as the wicket would get more dificult to bat on as it dried out, as it wouldn’t completely dry over the day. Our skipper won the toss – and duly sent the Blues in, the collective trepidation of his top-order teammates outweighing the experience and counsel of the manager.

We did all right with the ball, as we should have on a track that held up and seamed all over the place. We couldn’t however dispense quickly of Cashen, and his half-century gave the Blues a decent score. When the manager announced our batting order I was surprised to find myself at number seven – I had rarely batted anywhere other than opening. I settled in to watch the start of our innings and soon had the pads on as wickets fell like ninepins, with their pair of quicks using the conditions to full advantage.

When it was for time for me to take the crease we were a perilous 5-26. I took block, perused the field placings and felt ready to go. The first ball was an outswinger pitched just short of a good length on leg stump. I pushed half-forward, it kept going toward off after hitting the pitch and took my off-stump flying out of the ground. It all happened so quickly, and as I slowly left the ground, the only thing I heard was a crack from Bobby Ellis “I guess you still don’t know if that bloody bat of yours is any good.” It was a master sledge!

Our innings was over quickly, so quickly that, despite it being a one-day game, it was decided that we would play the remaining time and the Blues would have another hit. The captain threw me the ball to open the bowling. I was a terrible bowler, but had captured some attention in the nets by knocking the captain over. After hitting a decent line and length in my first over, my second over ended ignominiously as a full-bunger on leg stump was dispatched one bounce over the fence (and this was a very big ground for junior cricket) and my spell was over.

My debut for the Pies had been a debacle. I got another game and played at Vic Park against Northcote where I did marginally better before falling to a brilliant catch. My form and fortune had deserted me, or perhaps more correctly I had used up at least the latter. I returned to play for Rosanna, regained some form before season end and captained a team that won a premiership in a heart-stopping finish.

While that premiership was clearly the highlight of my summer of endless cricket, it was also the summer which meant that I would always be able to say that I played for Collingwood. Upon reflection, my debut was a bit like a lot of Magpie experiences against the Blues around that time, starting with enormous anticipation but ending in desolation. Such is life and such is sport. Sometimes.

Comments

  1. ramondobb says:

    Steve, sad to see you didn’t get to “cashin” on the opportunity against the Bluebaggers. Great yarn and good to see that you skippered your team to a flag in the true season.

  2. haiku bob says:

    Great yarn Steve.
    I was out at The Great Temple this afternoon.
    You should have been out there today.
    Perfect conditions for batting.

    See you tomorrow!

    HB.

  3. Great read Steve – I could almost hear the sound of that off stump being rocked by the ball – probably having heard that sound myself all too often! Thanks for taking me back to that time of ‘double-cricket’ with some great WSC legends and the teams of Yallop and Border!. Go Pies, Tim

  4. John Butler says:

    I admire the detail of your recollections Steve.

    Most of my junior innings are just a blur. Mind you, that may just be a reflection of how forgettable they were.

    As for the Carlton/Collingwood thang, nuff said. :)

  5. Steve Fahey says:

    The one-ball innings that is at the centre of this piece is a bit hard to forget John !!!

    Thanks to all for their comments.

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