Cricket: Gaunt and Leigh’s campaign of carnage

When Footscray unfurled its 2013/14 Premier Cricket pennant during the inning break of their clash with Casey-South Melbourne on the first weekend of the new season the quest for back-to-back flags began in earnest. That their opposition, once domiciled at Albert Park, now based in the burgeoning South Eastern corridor of Melbourne’s outer metropolitan area, was the opening round opponent invoked memories for Dogs fans of a certain vintage of a golden summer that celebrates its Golden anniversary this season. The campaign is still remembered by many for the carnage inflicted by a triumvirate of tearaways who took their side all the way to competition decider.

Since joining the VCA in 1948, Footscray had advanced to the business end of proceedings just once during its initial sixteen season stint in the VCA – a one and done semi-final defeat at the hands of Hawthorn East-Melbourne in 1955/56. With the departure of the brilliant Ken Eastwood to sub-district outfit Williamstown (Eastwood had been appointed Captain-Coach at Point Gellibrand during the off season) the Dogs task to return to the post season got a little harder. The loss of its reigning club champion would be offset, somewhat, by the acquisition of fast bowler Tony Leigh. Leigh, who’d been studying at the Melbourne University, was returning to his original club after spending the first five summers of the swingin’ sixties with the Students VCA team.

The importance of a good start to the 1964/65 campaign was vital and when an unplayable Arthur Day (7/29) destroyed South Melbourne (65 & 2/1) on home soil in a rain reduced opening round fixture, the Doggies sported a perfect record. The Swans pursuit of the hosts competent total (6/153) was over just as it started. Mike Venes (35) was the Bullies best bat. Debutant Les Joslin failed to trouble the scorers but picked up both wickets to fall in the Bloods truncated second dig.

Fanciful flag thoughts were quickly put aside following a catastrophic collapse on campus a week later. Coming within an ace of being dismissed twice within a days play Footscray (49 and 9/95 at stumps) had somehow managed to take first innings points between two woeful efforts with the willow. Ron Gaunt (5/22) and Day (4/11) knocked over University (46) to give their side an unexpected first innings lead. Their excellent work was initially nullified, then redundant, when the Students chased down the necessary runs (2/130) to capture a rare reverse outright result the following Saturday. Their less than adequate attempts at setting University competitive totals to chase moved the doyen of District cricket scribes, the Melbourne Age’s Percy Beames, to pronounce in his Monday morning wrap “University shattered the belief that Footscray was strong in bowling”. A tad harsh considering the targets the attack had been asked to defend. It’s unknown if any of Captain Arthur Dean’s men read the cities daily broadsheet on Monday 26 October 1964 and took Beames’ criticism to heart. Less than six months later the legendary scribe would be presented  overwhelming evidence to suggest he’d been a mite premature regarding this late October statement.

The November schedule included meetings with three of the previous season’s semi –finalists and would determine whether the Bulldogs possessed the bona fides to challenge for a premiership. Fitzroy, runners-up seven months prior, played host to the Dogs at their pre-gentrified Brunswick Street den and whilst Neil Curwood (44) was impressive, Footscray (193) were far from convincing. A week later Tony Leigh (6/43 from 18 overs) snuffed out any hope the ‘Roys (147) had. Playing out time the Dogs (4/66).  It was the ‘Scrays second success of the week having chased down a moderate Tiger (9/122) target on Cup Day, the Dogs (5/128) prevailing despite the now obligatory early inning woes. Earlier that afternoon Polo Prince, with Ron Taylor in the saddle, saluted in the feature race down the road at Flemington.

With 22 points from its first four matches the Scraggers sat on top of the table, four points clear of University. Next up was a visit to the gorgeous Albert Ground, an oasis on the outskirts of the city’s Central Business District, to take on the might of the MCC. Melbourne (187) failed to take advantage of the Albert Autobahn as Leigh (6/59) picked up his second “six for” in a fortnight.  Adding 127 for the second wicket Venes (87) and Roy Watson (61) put the result beyond doubt the following Saturday, Footscray (245) cruising to victory and cementing top spot on the ladder.

The Bulldogs dispelled any doubts regarding their flag credentials when St Kilda made the cross town trek to Barkly Street. Having been a witness to the destruction Leigh had wreaked on opposition batting line-ups the previous month, an inspired Gaunt (6/41) decimated the Saints (80), their feeble effort passed (6/160) with a minimum of fuss. Joslin (45) & Watson (44) were terrific, their team now seven premiership points clear of the pursuing pack.

An excursion to the refined surrounds of Melbourne’s inner Eastern suburbs would precede the holiday hiatus. Gaunt (6/25) made short work of Hawthorn East-Melbourne (100) his outstanding effort including a spell of five wickets in seventeen balls. Whilst Gaunt was good, the home sides’ John Salvado was superb. Salvado (8/19 from 8.4 overs) blew the Bulldogs (44) away, only Mike Venes (10) managing double figures. In their second inning the original combine (4/136) declared mid-way through the second afternoon of play. It set the competition pacesetters a difficult, if not impossible, run-a-minute chase. Salvado grabbed four second inning scalps to give him match figures of 12/61, another dismal Doggie display (66) resulting in the team’s second outright loss for the season.

Despite the galling gaffe at Glenferrie, Dean’s men would’ve been chuffed to be sitting in pole position at the completion of their pre-Christmas commitments. Taking points in six of its seven starts, Footscray (34pts) led the MCC & Fitzroy (30pts) with Carlton (28pts) rounding out the top four. The stars with the ball were Gaunt (24 [email protected]), Day ([email protected]) & Leigh ([email protected]). Runs proved harder to come by with Watson (214 runs/23.77 ave), Venes (203/20.3 ave) & rookie Joslin (175/19.44 ave) providing the all-star attack adequate totals to defend. Mostly.

Commencing the second half of the schedule at Collingwood, Gaunt (6/37) & Leigh (4/49) picked up where they’d left off prior to Santa’s visit, the Maggies (206) becoming the first team of 64/65 to score in excess of two hundred against the competitions most deadly attack. Openers Venes and Vic Roach threw caution to the wind taking their side to 40 without loss at stumps. A fairly uneventful second afternoon in Abbotsford saw all the Bullies’ bats (231) get a start, Curwood (61) the headline act.

The visit of Northcote saw the ‘Scray (226) compile it best score at home for the season, Mike Venes (50) the standout performer. William Morris Lawry’s absence rendered the ‘Cotes vulnerable and that’s how it turned out, the Dragons disintegrating twice (123 & 143) on the second afternoon of play. Leigh (6/46) ruined the guests first innings and five bowlers shared the second innings spoils. Second time round the Doggies (3/41) managed to pick off the necessary runs for maximum points to increase its lead at the summit.

With four teammates back in the sheds and his team barely in double figures Les Joslin strolled to the middle of the Barkly Street arena to take on Carlton in the Australia Day contest. When the recently turned seventeen year old departed with an even century against his name the Dogs (219) appeared certain to celebrate the national holiday in the best possible manner. With a little under an hour to play the Navy Blues (9/73) were flat lining. Fast. Somehow Richie Robinson (50 not out) and Bernie Smith (12 not out) held out a rampaging Gaunt (5/39) and Leigh (2/30) to deny the hosts the points, finishing the contest (9/123). Still top, the Bulldog remained ladder leaders despite the stalemate.

Prahran came, Dean (59) saw them off, Leigh (5/56) and Gaunt (3/48) eventually conquered, the Two Blues (163) never challenging the target set by Footscray (205) and that was that. Well, not really. Playing out time the Dogs (62) crashed once again to raise doubts about its ability to post enough runs for its bowlers to work with. A month out from the finals and the batting woes continued to create concerns.

When Gaunt (6/59) knocked over North’s Number 11 batsman Alan Doble without scoring on the second afternoon of the penultimate home and away fixture at Arden Street the Roos (167) had failed to run down the Bulldogs (205) previous Saturday effort. The Dogs had another short stint at the crease (3/65) before time ran out. With 62 points in the bank, ten clear of its nearest rival St Kilda, a first past the post finish to the regular season was as good as guaranteed.

The Scrays dress rehearsal to the finals would involve a visit from reigning champions Essendon. The desperate Dons required at least first innings points, then had to hope results of other matches went their way, lest the curtain would be drawn on the clubs title defence. The day started well for the Bombers when they knocked over the home side (145), but any advantage dissipated following Tony Leigh’s four wicket barrage that left Essendon (5/89) in dire straits when stumps were drawn. John Grant, 23 not out at the end of the first days play, had other ideas. After slamming a match turning 92 from just 112 deliveries to take them to (220) and a handy lead, he ran through a shell shocked Bulldog batting card (105) taking six second innings wickets. Left with the simple task of scoring thirty odd runs to sew up a berth in the post season the visitors (2/31) duly saluted.

And the reward for finishing first at the completion of its 1964/65 VCA home and away commitments? Nothing less than a sudden death semi-final battle with perennial finalists Melbourne. The quality of the opposition, nine of the MCC XI were either past, present or future members of the Victorian Sheffield Shield team, was outstanding with Graeme Watson & Paul Sheahan both earning national team selection within three years. For their part the minor premiers boasted notables amongst the squad that would take the field for the historical final at the Western Oval. Arthurs’ Day & Dean had represented Victoria at interstate level, Roy Watson kept wickets for Western Australia in the late 50’s, Ron Gaunt made the last of his three test appearances for his country as recently as eighteen months prior, and in teenager Les Joslin the Bulldogs had a future Australian Test batsman.

And so to Saturday March 17 1965. Major news items earlier that week included the continuation of the Civil Rights marches across Alabama, bushfires raging through parts of Victoria including Gippsland and the semi-rural Northern Melbourne region of Eltham, and the third film in the James Bond franchise, Goldfinger, opening in cinemas across town. Upon arrival at the inaugural VCA semi-final to be held on the corner of Barkly and Gordon Streets, the Dogs and Dees were subjected to cold and blustery conditions, or what the locals would call another perfect day at the Western Oval. The MCC’s Ian Huntington took the initial honours by calling correctly and requested the ball. For the third time in less than a week the home side (160) failed to flatter with the blade. A 66 run third wicket partnership between Watson (40) and skipper Dean (28) the highlight, Joslin (19) and Curwood (21) combining for 29 runs for the fifth wicket but the tail fell away. Ian Gribble (3/22) the man of the moment for Melbourne as early honours went to the Establishment.

Whether it was stage fright, inexperience, favourable bowling conditions or a combination of all those factors, the hosts had failed with the wood. But, surely, the Puppies had come too far to roll over when it mattered most, hadn’t they? The response was emphatic. When Gaunt sent openers Brown (3) and Watson (2) scurrying, the warning bells were ringing loud. His devastating nine over spell (6/21) saw five of his helpless victims clean bowled. Magnificently supported by Leigh (4/25 off 7.3 overs – Carlyon, Crompton and Sheahan dispatched in one five ball stint), Melbourne (62) had been flattened. If not for a defiant knock from Huntington (25), St Patricks Day 1965 would’ve been even more embarrassing for the famous cricketing institution.

Most media protagonists were quick to write the season epitaph for the MCC. In his Monday morning wrap up of the weekends action the Sun News Pictorials’ Kevin Hogan reported:

Melbourne’s supposedly strong batting line up was helpless against the variation in pace, height and swing Ron Gaunt and Tony Leigh produced from the helpful Footscray wicket. 

Game over?

Not so quick. The Melbourne Cricket Club weren’t a benevolent society, the Empire would strike back. And how. At 5/60 in their second dig, a lead slightly in excess of 160, the West was wobbling. Watson (40), Leigh (20) and the tail combined to push Footscray (133) to an overall lead of 231.

Early inning trauma saw Melbourne tumble to 5/79. Five wickets stood between the Dogs and a date with destiny. Needing 152 runs in an hour and forty minutes it appeared time to run the Grand Auld Flag halfway down the pole. Young tyros Sheahan and Peter Bedford then commenced a death or glory dash plundering 80 runs in 56 minutes and all of a sudden the forgone conclusion had become, to borrow a phrase from election night commentators, too close to call.

Game on!

In their hour of need Dean called on Ronald Arthur Gaunt, and just as he’d done repeatedly over the previous six months, the 31 year old native Western Australian delivered in spectacular fashion.

Bedford (37) was first to go snapped up by Bernie Moloney close in. The product of Parade College barely had time to remove his pads when he was joined in the pavilion by a helpless Colin Guest who’d been trapped in front first ball. Advantage Footscray, the home crowd baying for blood, Gaunt on a hat-trick. Unfortunate number nine batsman McKenzie entered the cauldron and quite frankly didn’t stand a snowflakes chance in hell of surviving for any extended period. When his middle stump was uprooted from the first delivery he faced, Gaunt was mobbed by ecstatic teammates. It was the first time in their clubs decade and a half VCA tenure a Footscray bowler had grabbed a hat trick. When the celebrations subsided Gaunt put the result beyond doubt by ripping through the defences of the defiant Sheahan (66) – the sixth time in his last 7 trips to the crease he’d passed 50 – before wrapping up the match by bowling Roger Rayson the following ball and Melbourne (171) had fallen 61 runs shy of victory. Amazingly Gaunt’s haul of 6/21 the previous Saturday proved to be the “entrée” to his second day “main course” of 7/47, his match figures of 13/68 the finest one game performance by a Footscray bowler in the clubs 80 year history. More importantly, he’d spearheaded his adopted club to its first appearance in a VCA First XI Final.

In the other semi, Essendon’s quest for back-to-back flags ended when St Kilda comfortably accounted for the Dons at Windy Hill. First time finalist Footscray would face a Saint line-up that included five players  – Hosking, Lynch, McLean, Seccombe and captain Bill O’Halloran who’d been part of their clubs most recent flag three years earlier. It was the “been there, done that” factor that the learned gents of Melbourne’s fourth estate believed would get the men from the Junction over the line.

Batting first the upstart Bullies got off to a disappointing if somewhat predicable start. Openers Venes & Roach departed early and when Dean was forced to retire hurt early in his innings the responsibility of rescuing the cause fell to the reliable Roy Watson and rising star Les Joslin. Joslin, shaky early, survived a dropped chance and then benefited from a confident LBW appeal being turned down. The partnership reaching 59 before Mulcahy removed Joslin (29) triggering a mini collapse. Watson (44) Curwood (19) and Moloney (26) did the hard work but none of the other members of the top order were able to produce an innings of substance. At 8/156 survival until stumps appeared unlikely. Arthur Day (31 not out) received stout support from the tail to push Footscray (203) a total not as imposing as they would’ve liked, but taking into consideration the attacks record over the first fourteen games, defendable. However Gaunt, Leigh & Day would have to wait seven days to get a crack at the Saints when umpires Smyth and Collicoat upheld an appeal against the light prior to a ball being bowled.

Tony Leigh got the early breakthrough the Dogs were desperately seeking by removing McLean (2) in his opening over of the second days play. Leigh’s third over of the morning will rank as one of the more interesting of his decade long career, a 15 ball effort consisting of 5 no balls and 2 wides.  O’Halloran became Leigh’s second victim of the inning when he was dismissed off the final ball of that marathon over. Leigh snatched four of the first five wickets to fall, and when Tom Seal knocked over Ian Langford (44) St Kilda had collapsed to 6/95, then slipped to 7/113 when Maddox fell to Gaunt. Anderson combined with Hosking (19) to add 38 precious runs for the eighth wicket, then he and Mulcahy then scratched out an invaluable 37 run ninth wicket partnership.

Anderson (51) departed leaving his side 9/188, still 16 runs short of taking the lead, a single wicket in hand and precious little margin for error. Lynch joined Mulcahy and despite a couple of close calls nudged their side ahead, St Kilda (232). Leigh (4/81) was magnificent and Gaunt (3/77) picked up his 66th wicket of the season to tie a post war record. An unlucky Tommy Seal (2/27) deserved better figures after a number of chances from his bowling went begging. Quick runs were vital, Venes (25), Dean (48no) & Moloney (20no) did their best and when stumps were drawn Footscray (1/95) were still a chance to pull off the pennant.

The desperate need for runs early on the final day of the match was made a little harder when Dean departed without addition to his overnight score. Moloney (70) registered his best score in senior company, but after moving the score to 3/159, a lead of 130, the innings fell away dramatically with St Kilda skipper O’Halloran (7/53 from 14.3 overs) wiping out the lower order. A brave Watson, batting in the unfamiliar No 11 spot due to a broken hand joined Curwood (21) the pair taking Footscray (222) to a lead of just under two hundred.

With three and a quarter hours remaining the equation for an outright victory to either side was for St Kilda to score at roughly a run a minute, or the Bulldogs take all ten second innings wickets. Should the Dogs not hold up their end of the bargain, St Kilda would celebrate their tenth senior XI pennant as a result of its first innings lead.

Sadly not all fairy tales have happy endings.

The removal of Langford (0) and Seccombe (6) in quick succession raised the spirits of those faithful to the Red, White and Blue but when McLean (64) and O’Halloran (54) combined for a 96 run third wicket stand the end was nigh. Hosking (37) & Burke (17) steered the Saints (4/195) to safety, and a tenth VCA First XI flag.

Ron Gaunt’s effort of taking 68 wickets (average 12.67) during the 64/65 campaign remains a single season record at Footscray. Gaunt took over as Captain/Coach of sub-district club Yarraville the following summer before returning to the Western Oval for a second, and final, three year stint, from  1967/68 to 1969/70. He captured 226 wickets in 47 VCA matches for the Bulldogs. Sadly Gaunt passed away in March 2012 at the age of 78.

Tony Leigh retired at the completion of the 1967/68 season, his twelfth in the VCA. He took 181 wickets for Footscray and was named club champion in 64/65 as a result of his outstanding efforts with bat (298 runs/19.86) and ball (55 wkts/14.69).

When he called time on his wonderful 192 game VCA career in 1966/67 Arthur Day (29wkts/18.27 in 64/65) held the club record for aggregate wickets (513 at an average of 17.44) taken for the Footscray Cricket Club. Arthur is a current member of the clubs general committee. His aggregate wicket record still stands

Les Joslin was selected to represent Victoria in 1966/67 and made his maiden first class century later that season. In January 1968 Joslin made his one and only Test appearance against India at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

The Bulldogs would have to wait just over a decade for another crack at a title. The 1975/76 Final ended as their first appearance in a decider had with a silver medal finish. Sadly the Dogs hopes of an inaugural premiership were swept away by a familiar adversary in AP Sheahan, who smashed a magnificent 189 not out to help guide the MCC to the pennant. Fittingly when the breakthrough came in April 1980 Lindsay James’ men defeated the clubs 64/65 tormentor St Kilda.

Melbourne’s leading club cricket competition has undergone substantial change over the past fifty summers. Clubs have relocated, rebadged and/or merged. The competition has expanded twice and now boasts 18 teams. In 2014/15 Footscray will visit just one venue its 64/65 predecessor did – the Melbourne University in early January. Half a century on from the Campaign of carnage, Steve Chapman’s defending champs are 2-0 after the opening fortnight of matches,  a three wicket win over Casey-South Melbourne on opening day followed by an impressive eight wicket win at Ringwood. The upcoming double header this weekend, a Saturday clash with Northcote at the Hughes Oval and a re-match of last season’s decider at Windy Hill on Sunday, will give Chapman an indication of where his charges sit in the Premier Cricket pecking order.

Back-to-back? Why not!

Comments

  1. Some familiar names their Mic, even for an Adelaide boy of similar vintage. Eric ‘Fritzy’ Freeman worked in the Savings Bank of SA with my Dad. He went on the 1968 Ashes Tour with Les Joslin.
    I remember Eric doing slide nights of his 68 tour photos as fund raisers for local cricket clubs. Eric played 2 tests on that tour, but Les and NSW quick Dave Rennenberg played none.
    I can remember lots of photos of the ‘county games’ players partying, and Eric’s comments to the effect that they were the ones that got to enjoy the tour.
    Thanks for the memories Mic.

  2. Hello Peter.

    Test cricketer, fine footballer with Port, but when you mentioned Eric Freeman my first thoughts were of his work for the ABC (footy/Shield coverage) in Adelaide with Roger Wills.

    Thanks for your kind words.

    MCR

  3. Malcolm Rulebook Ashwood says

    Thanks Mic llove your passion for the srays and district cricket in general

  4. Warwick Nolan says

    Nice work Mic. Enjoyed the re-tracing of the season and it’s conclusion. A little early chronologically for me personally. Alan Doble was my under 19s football coach a decade later. He was a fine man.

    However, I would like to specifically acknowledge Ian Huntington who is mentioned in your piece. As a teenage schoolboy, he was a sports master at my school, although I wasn’t aware of his pedigree in cricket at the time. He invited 4 or 5 boys (we must have been only 13 or 14 at the time) down to the Albert Ground after school a couple of times for some specialist coaching. I can’t say whether it made a difference to my life or not but I always remembered the gesture.

    Oh, I should mention that I played local cricket for over 40 years.

  5. Hello Malcolm, thanks for the compliment. A close win today for the Dogs, might’ve dodged a bullet.

    Warwick – I was thinking of Ian when I got to the semi-final stage of the piece. It’s been over a year since the freak accident on the golf course that left him a paraplegic. There have been a number of fund raising functions for Ian, some great people have rallied for the cause. He sounds like a champion bloke, thank you for sharing the story of your time with him.

    MCR

  6. Bob Speechley says

    Really liked your contribution to the history of the FCC. It brought back a lot of memories for me. Kenny Eastwood going to coach Williamstown where I lived at the time. Tommy Seal who was a Willy boy and who was followed in the spin department at Footscray by Bert Guy who also went to Willy HS. An old colleague Gary Crane who was a scorer at the club for years and became a Life Member before he passed away would have been delighted with your article. I saw Ian Huntington playing in an Over 60s match a few years back and was disturbed to hear about his accident. I follow the District results religiously and was chuffed when they won their flag last season. Hopefully they can continue their success in 2014/15 on the 50th anniversary of the “Campaign of Carnage”

  7. Luke Reynolds says

    Mic, really enjoyed your throughly engaging recounting of Footscray’s 1964/65 season. Who would of thought back then that only one venue would still be used in that competition 50 years later.

  8. Brilliant stuff as always, Mic. Carn the ‘Scray!

  9. cowshedend says

    Ripping stuff Mic, loved the ‘helpful Footscray wicket’ reference, Watty the curator made no secret of the fact he used to ‘juice’ the track up, dogs had a cavalcade of quicks over the years, but a dearth of quality bats.
    Was Les Joslin’s brother Graeme around then?

  10. Another great article Michael. Some family names are embedded with the Footscray Cricket Club. Watson for example, the link between Barry, Colin and Roy. Similarily the Joslin name, Les and Graeme.

    Speaking of names embedded in the club history was Bruce Smith involved in the 1964-65 campaign?

    Glen!

  11. Good evening everyone – thanks for your comments

    Bob: Fair bit of traffic between Footscray and Willy over the years – the players you mentioned plus Geoff Horsburgh, Barry Watson &, Daryl Clemson to name but a few.

    Luke: I may have mislead you with my “one venue” reference – MU Campus is the only venue the 64/65 team played at that will be visited by the 2014/15 Dogs. The other venues that remain 50 years on include Windy Hill, the Albert, Westgarth (Bill Lawry) Oval, Toorak Park & the Junction Oval. Sorry ’bout that.

    Gigs: Hope to see you at MHO soon.

    CSE: Surely you’re not suggesting the locals may have been given a little assistance from the Western Oval deck, are you? Graeme Joslin made his VCA First XI debut in 66/67, and played his first senior game with the Footscray Football Club Rd 1 1969. Les coached Werribee in the VFA ( part of 1978 & 1979). Werribee shocked Sandringham in the Lightning Premiership Final in 1978, the Bees squad included a 16 year old defender by the name of Mervyn Hughes that day.

    Glen: I think Mr Smith was made a life member in the mid/late 70’s, so without a doubt he would have been involved in some way with the 64/65 team.

    MCR

  12. Peter Binns says

    Hi Mic
    Great stuff as usual, enjoyed the trip back in time immensely!

  13. Thank you Peter – warmest wishes for the festive season to you and your loved ones.

    I’d get good odds on the Dogs repeating at the minute following a very disappointing end to the first half of the season.

    MCR

Leave a Comment

*