The Goldfield Ashes – A Mexican view.

By Michael Howard

Coming from down south has meant I have struggled to take Queensland cricket seriously. It always seemed to me that of the good players produced, too many seemed more interested in catching barramundi, cooking paella or dressing up for TV than in forging truly great careers. The fact that it took a hardnosed foreign bastard like Alan Border to finally drag them over the line in a shield final was met by some knowing head shakes down our way.

When brother Rory headed to the tropics in the late 80’s, all was confirmed. A talented (if impatient) keeper/opener had meant our beers had been shared talking hook shots, cover drives, and one hand catches in front of second. With his new address came a different voice, too hot to play sport, but the jack are biting well, and a green paw paw salad seems to complete the dish well.

And so it went on for almost two decades. I visited many times, and whilst we fished and ate, we still talked of the gentle game. Indeed we shared a profound moment with two other cricketing brothers. The Howard boys, perhaps a hundred kilometres from the nearest soul, drifting to sleep under a clear Jardine River sky and listening to the trannie whilst the Waugh boys restored the glory of a nation in a raucous Jamaica.

It came as some surprise therefore when Rory, leaving 40 well behind him, announced he was back in whites. He still talked of barra, but now we heard of blazing square cuts (for a single in the lush outfields), dodgy knees, and very occasionally, the mythical leg side stumping. He had joined Millaa Millaa CC, who from the reports drifting down seemed to be to the Atherton Tablelands competition, what Geelong were to the AFL in the 90’s. I say no more lest I cry!

After a few seasons playing locally, he began to talk of the club trip away. Four hours to the south lies Charters Towers, once the richest town (per head) in the land. Now it is less known for gold than it is for its cricket – the Goldfield Ashes. As a young boy I devoured cricket literature, and though the memories are faint I remember reading the stories. Up to three hundred sides, pitches mowed into paddocks, and country boys being, well, country boys.

“Come up” Rory said, “Have a game”. When father Des made the trip as a supporter in 2011 and decided he needed to return the deal was sealed. 2012 would be the year. The word drifted through the family. The third brother decided he needed some cricketing culture, and a brother in law jumped on board. In a week we had gone from a quiet few days away to a fully blown family shindig.

On arrival in town we headed for ‘base camp’. The Bulls Rugby Union Club is where the Mountain Men call home for the carnival. We were introduced to ‘Rootsie’, who organises the trip, lays down the rules, and it would be fair to say can be reasonably colourful in his use of the vernacular. It would be also fair to say that this was one Queenslander who takes his cricket seriously. As the evening developed, and the numbers of people and drinks increased, it was made very clear. If you didn’t show for announcements at 7:30am, don’t bother showing at all.

Day one of the cricket was hot. The week just gone had hovered around the 40’s, with humidity nudging the 90’s. It had settled a bit, but shade was still eagerly sought. The Mountain men began well, both grades a win, and happy days back at base. Quick reports made and awards presented (The two awards handed out went to the unlikely named duo of Zac and Tac). Then the troops cut loose. As a foreigner you are always feeling the lie of the land, judging the length, and looking for the links and the chinks in the relationships on display. A night on the town followed. With a couple of thousand cricketers on the loose it could have been carnage. Instead good will was evident everywhere, and whilst our search for blues ended up at karaoke, Lochie in the pub freezer at the end of the night seemed to make all the walking worthwhile.

Day two was one of controversy. The traditional three 50 over a side games had been replaced with a modern version. Two 50 over a side games with a 20/20 in between. That left the middle afternoon free. The choices seemed to be the girlie bars, or an organised game between some has been sporting celebrities and a few chosen up and coming local lads. Rootsie was not happy. I won’t quote directly, but the general message seemed to be – if you have a good product, don’t change it, and who is interested in watching some other rather elderly gentleman play! He had some comrades with him, and threats of not coming next year drifted out. A long way to come not to play they said, though I suspect a compromise can be found.

The mountain men had mixed success. The senior boys defended 160, to be two from two and a chance to win the division. The seconds were gallant, but fell just short chasing 140. On these outfields you need to be able to hit long and in the air, which is not a skill us Howard boys have mastered. We won’t take all the blame, Scotty had more fresh air swings than Zorro, and here’s a new one for you – catches win matches! The afternoon involved beers, stories (sanders and private bits – not a combination I’d recommend) and laughter, and a bit of a look at those older gentlemen. The evening at involved a game of touch rugby, not one for us southern boys, except of course the brother in law. Forty in body, twenty in the mind. Hamstrings tearing really do make a Twang!

And so the final day arrived. The senior boys had drawn a side they had played the previous year, and from all reports the game had been fiery and ill tempered. They were quiet and tense, and the mood stayed grim as they lost regular wickets. One involved Dave Lep’s attempt to revolutionise the game. Batting three yards down the track to the loopy leggie might be good in theory, but there was one small flaw that Dave seemed to have overlooked. Dropping the bat as he lunged back towards the crease possibly didn’t help. With 36 over’s gone it was 9 down, and some gnashing of teeth could be heard. Then, in most unexpected fashion, Lochie and Johnno put their heads down and batted their way through the remaining 14 overs. 55 runs for the last wicket, and one could feel the spirits lifting. What had seemed like disaster now seemed like destiny. The afternoon was really a formality, and with the final wicket falling well short a championship win was completed.

The story of the day however came with the twos in the ‘dead rubber’. Put to the sword in the morning, lunch was taken with a depleted batting line up chasing 260. There would have been some long odds around. As Greg and young Matt put on a hundred for the first wicket, a feeling went from resignation, to jocularity, and finally to belief. The first wicket meant a hobbling old warhorse entered the game. After spending three days (and nights) telling anyone who cared to listen how much he hated batsman, Shanno then proceeded to construct a chanceless ton.  With the senior boys now watching on the festive atmosphere grew. On passing the mid 70’s to become the highest scorer for the club, he became the holder of an award named in honour of his son, the day after his son’s anniversary.  You don’t have to know people well to feel emotion for them, and human stories are the ones that make us ache. Shanno presents as a tough old bastard, but at that moment there was a lot of love in the air. Even Rootsie, doing square leg duties at the time admitted to a few tears.  On reaching the ton Shanno turned and walked off the park, leaving it to a few teammates to complete the rout. Overs and wickets to spare – it’s a funny game cricket!

And so ended the carnival for the Mountain men. Back to base for some club awards, and then to the main oval for the official presentations. The senior boys were recognised, and Shanno was named veteran of the week.  The grog flowed, and the stories were told. As the night went on the wise drifted off to bed.

Heading for home is always a double edged sword. After finally getting the rain promised tents were wet, and packing with hangovers seemed to go on forever. A final (thank god) BBQ breakfast and some farewells before the five Howard boys headed off. With two going north, and three going south who knows when we will share the same space and time again.  As for the Goldfield Ashes, well, we take our memories. Over 250 sides, 72 grounds – cricket, cricket everywhere. Bagpipes, drinkbikes, silly hats and blokes wearing ducks. And of course a couple of hardnosed old bastards who came to win. Who says they don’t take cricket seriously in Queensland?

Comments

  1. Beauty Mick,

    Should have gone.

  2. Peter Flynn says:

    Suicide slips MWH?

  3. Fantastic read.

  4. scott constant says:

    Well done Mick you have set the bar rather high.

  5. Damian Callinan says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed that

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