‘Keith Sherwill……Country Cricket Legend……’ by KB Hill

 

Every sporting town probably has its own version of Keith Sherwill.

 

‘Sher’s’ been gone ten years now, but for just on six decades he was the go-to man if you needed to know something about cricket in Benalla and its surrounds.

 

He was the champion left-hand batsman who gravitated to become a long-serving administrator and tireless servant of the game. His roles encompassed being a curator, compiler of records and statistics, publicity-machine, zestful promoter at junior level, and Selector/Manager of representative teams……….

 

Chances are most kids who were making their way in North-East Cricket would have taken note of this slouch-shouldered old-stager who’d shuffle along, fag in hand, brow furrowed; his mind seemingly occupied by a thousand and one things.

 

They may have been playing in a rep game which he’d organised, welcomed them to, and was keeping an eye on.

 

But if they happened to encounter him as their careers progressed, they’d have been introduced to the lighter side of him…… the Court Jester, who revelled in the atmosphere of the dressing-room……………

 

 

 

***

 

Benalla’s picturesque Gardens Oval was ‘Sher’s’ pride and joy. He lived just three blocks up from the ground’s Wedge Street entrance – a short jaunt on his trusty ‘chariot’.

 

“If he went missing we knew he was either rolling the wicket at the ‘Gardens’, or having a beer at the ‘Royal’, the Pub on the corner,” says his son Robert.

 

His affiliation with his second home began when he’d tag along to watch his dad Bill in action. In time he took over the score-book, then would occasionally fill in for Benalla when they were short.

 

But a knock on the shin from a cricket ball a few years earlier almost put paid to the budding Sherwill career.

 

“His leg became badly infected and he was transferred to a Melbourne Hospital,” Robert recounts. “The doctors debated about cutting it off, and only for his Maternal Grandmother intervening, apparently the leg would have been amputated.”

 

“He never spoke about it much, only to say how rapt he was when a few South Melbourne footballers came to visit him during his long stay in Hospital. My grandfather was a butcher and had an affiliation through business with the South President Archie Croft.”

 

“Red and White became his footy colours from then on…..both for South and Benalla.”

 

***

 

The aftermath of the injury was that football, which he also loved with a passion, was off-limits for ‘Sher’, even though he did sneak out and play a few games for Winton, unbeknowns to his Mum.

 

He became a regular in Benalla’s club cricket side at 14 and began to exhibit his obvious potential. His half-century in a semi-final that year helped them into the Final, and a resultant premiership.

 

There was a hush among those gathered at the Gardens the following season when he was felled by a delivery at a crucial stage of another BDCA Final. As players milled around, concerned for his welfare, the umpire officiating at the bowler’s end didn’t budge.

 

It was Bill Sherwill who, although privately fretting, felt he had been compromised by being assigned to a match involving Keith, and didn’t want to indicate any form of favouritism towards his son.

 

Runs flowed freely from ‘Sher’s’ bat as he reached his late teens. He made his first trip to Country Week in 1940 as an upper-order bat and finger-spinner. Benalla won its first title – a tight B-Grade Final against Dandenong-Berwick, at St. Kilda in 1946 – and he helped to swing the game.

 

At a Dance on one of his Melbourne Country Week sojourns, he met his future wife Dorothy. When he received the inevitable approach to play District cricket with Carlton they settled ‘in town’ for a brief period.

 

Keith didn’t cope all that well in the big smoke and, after he’d played in the ‘Blues’ 1947/48 Premiership side, they decided to move back home to Benalla for keeps.

 

 

A Benalla Premiership team of the late fifties.
Keith Sherwill and Ted Cleary are balancing the Shields.
Bernie and John Cleary are in the front row.

 

He didn’t elaborate on his individual highlights, but the dream season he shared with fellow Benalla club opener Frank Hogan in 1957/58, was certainly one of them.

 

They were an ideal combination. Hogan, who moved on to play footy and cricket with South Melbourne the following season, was a dashing right-hand stroke-maker and would, in due course, be included in the South Australian State squad.

 

 

 

 

Sherwill, the mollydooker, was more circumspect, and preferred to settle in before chancing his arm.

 

They shared six century and one double-century stands before the end of January, then continued their run-spree at Country Week.

 

Many of ‘Sher’s’ on-field highlights centred around the Gardens Oval. One yarn that he used to tell against himself involved a match against Goorambat in the days of the old eight-ball overs.

 

He brought himself on to bowl against his friend and keen cricketing rival Tom Trewin, who was well settled. The first seven balls of his over whistled through the elm and plane trees which gracefully ring the ground…… A couple even bounced onto the nearby band rotunda.

 

Trewin lost his footing attempting his eighth successive six, and was stumped by Benalla ‘keeper Barry Talochino, giving the under-siege Sherwill the figures of 1/42 after his first over……….

 

***

 

Trewin, a highly-respected Devenish farmer and the local member for State Parliament, was a cricket diehard. He served as President of the B.D.C.A. for 26 years………And for a good portion of his reign ‘Sher’ was his loyal Lieutenant.

 

The other member of this ‘triumvirate’ which guided Benalla cricket through a period of strength was Ted Cleary, a former wily, left-arm medium-pacer and astute judge of talent, who had worn the Victorian cap three times in his heyday.

 

 

The ‘Big Three’ of Benalla Cricket – Ted Cleary, Tom Trewin and Keith Sherwill.

 

 

The two ‘elder statesmen’ kept the energetic Sherwill – 10 years their junior – on his toes. At its peak, with the competition comprising three eight-team divisions, the BDCA was flying.

 

Benalla’s performance to defeat Kyabram in the 1979 ‘A’ Grade Country Week Final was, at that point, their best-ever effort. But two years later, after having won promotion to the Provincial Group, they over-powered Ballarat in the Final, to complete their rise to the top rung of country cricket.

 

‘Sher’ was there, naturally…….Just as he was whenever some extensive organisation was required to host matches at the Gardens, against Ian Johnson’s and Graeme Yallop’s visiting Victorian XIs, and the touring South African, West Indies and New Zealand Teams.

 

The biggest shot in the arm to local rep cricket had come three decades earlier, when the North-Eastern District Cricket Cup competition was formed.

 

Born to be stars: Graeme Trewin, John Cleary, Robert Sherwill, Brian Trewin and Graham Sherwill

 

‘Sher’, who had earned a spot in the Ensign Cup’s history-books as its first century-maker, acted as Secretary of the body for 41 years and, along the way, helped implement the Mac Holten Shield Under 21 competition in 63/64.

 

As an extension, he became the North-East Zone 8 delegate to the Victorian Country Cricket League, and was a VCCL selector for twenty years.

 

He undoubtedly had to put his job with the P.M.G. on the back-burner for a week each January to co-ordinate Benalla Junior Country Week, which he helped kick off in the mid-sixties.

 

The Carnival became the high-point of the season for the region’s junior cricketers and, in its initial years, would begin with a Clinic on the Sunday. Ian Botham and Merv Hughes were two of the big ‘names’ who were invited to assist with coaching…………..

 

***

 

‘Sher’ had been able to successfully combine administrative and on-field duties but, at the conclusion of the 1974/75 season, he reluctantly pulled the pin as a player at the age of 49.

 

He went out on a high as a member of the Diggers premiership team. Of all the on-field successes that came his way in cricket, this was his favourite, because his sons Robert and Graham were also members of the side.

 

He managed to combine his duties at Club, Association, Zone and VCCL levels with his propensity to promote all sport.

 

His column, ‘Sherwill Speaks Sport’ was a feature of the Benalla Ensign newspaper for over 30 years. He was a deft hand as the BDCA’s – and Benalla Football Club’s – official publicity officer, bringing the game to the forefront of Print, Radio and Television……..

 

 

But, of course, as such an opiniated public figure, he always came in for his share of criticism, particularly when dealing with different associations and their own agendas. And heaven forbid, in his role as a Zone 8 Selector, if he failed to find a spot for a Benalla player or two against touring sides.

 

“Dad always placed great store on the relationships he created through sport,” says Robert Sherwill.

 

“He often said that he made just as many – or more – friends with the opponents he’d fought tooth and nail against, than the fellahs he played with.”

 

“He saw all the big guns of North-East cricket at close quarters over nearly seventy years, but he couldn’t go past two all-rounders – Ray Maclaine of Euroa and Max Bussell of Wangaratta, as his favourites.

 

***

 

‘Sher’s’ monumental sporting contribution was recognised in 2002 when he was awarded the Bob Merriman Medal for his services to country cricket. This ‘gong’ also tied in with Life Memberships of the BDCA, Benalla Football Club, NEDCCC and VCCL, the Delatite Shire (Benalla) Citizen of the Year in 2001, and the Australia Sports Medal in 2000.

 

 

The marathon 55-year Sherwill stint as Curator of the Gardens Oval drew to a close three years later at the age of 81.

 

“I told them it was about time these young blokes learned how to make wickets,” he said. “Some of them don’t even know the dimensions of the crease.”

 

This pronouncement amused one of the youngsters who sometimes helped him tend to his sacred stretch of Turf.

 

The lad joked that ‘Sher’ had once mistakenly marked out the pitch more than a foot too long for an important club game……… then complained all day that ‘these young blokes can’t expect to get wickets if they don’t bowl a decent line and length’……………..

 


Keith Sherwill and his grandson Simon O’Brien, who went on to
play with St Kilda and Camberwell-Magpies. He is still with the Saints.

 

This story appeared first on KB Hill’s website On Reflection and is used here with permission. All photos sourced from KB Hill’s resources.

 

To read more of KB Hill’s great stories, click HERE.

 

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Comments

  1. Isn’t that last photo just beautiful – the game has history, it endures, it is full of both experience and promise, it looks to the future, it is an essential part of the culture we pass on to the coming generations…What a legacy!

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