Cricket returns to Robbo

Laker, Boycott, Tendulkar, Dev, Taylor, Waugh, Lawson, Slater… Not a bad list of names to have dug their spikes into a Country NSW cricket ground. On Sunday top class cricket makes a return to Robertson Oval in Wagga Wagga when NSW host the Vics in the Sheffield Shield.

We don’t do formalities in Wagga. It is not Robertson Oval, it is simply known as Robbo to the locals. All roads have led to Edward Street for any cricket match of significance since 1878 when 22 men of Wagga took on an Australian 11 in a two day match, as a trial in preparation of the tour to England later that year. The Australians, under Dave Greogory, won by an innings and 117 runs. While Wagga had 22 players (I assume not on the field at the same time!) it appears from the scorecard we only had two bowlers. The Australians made 260 from 162 overs with some chap named Thompson sending down 73 overs and Douglas 44! I am assuming Thompson was the Skip and Douglas his best mate. First change would have been warming up for a while.

In the 30s,50s and 70s the MCC took on NSW Country teams. Boycott made a 70 odd and Laker once took a bag. The WSC caravan and its Cavaliers made a visit in the 70s as did the Kiwis.

There is an interesting story to the Victoria vs NSW match this week involving Chris Rogers. Chris is the nephew of the late Derek Rogers, arguably one of the best local cricketers to play in the Riverina in the 70s. Rogers, a local schoolteacher (originally from Leeton) tragically died in 1979 along with two Wagga teammates Mick Larkins and David Mumford who were killed in a car crash travelling back from a representative match at Hilston. Derek also had a close connection to Geoff Lawson who turned out for Rogers Lake Albert Cricket Club. Chris’s father John (Derek’s brother) turned out for NSW and was a handy cricketer in his own right.

I played for Lake Albert from 10 years of age until my early 20s when I moved to Melbourne. A former opening batting partner of mine, Stephen Stapleton is now the curator at Robbo. A quick look at the forecast and it is mids 30s for the next 10 days so I’m guessing it will be hard yards for Stappo to keep the deck from cracking up for the Shield game.

As a young kid growing up in the 80s my earliest memories were of going to Robbo to watch Lake Albert play. Michael Slater was playing for Lake and I remember asking for his autograph following his selection in the NSW U19s.
“No problems mate, this is my first autograph”, I remember him saying. I can still hear the spikes on the Giant men as they marched down the concrete steps of the grandstand onto the turf. Buckle pads, GN Powerspots, creams not whites, the smell of oiled bats in the sheds… I fell in love with the game at Robbo.

Another highlight in the sporting calendar at Robbo back in the 80s were the old Toohey’s Cup matches. Essentially Wagga played Albury in a mid week one dayer and the NSW shield team was split across both sides with local players. This gave the top local players the chance to mix it with best and us country folk the chance to see our heroes in the flesh. A great concept.

As a teenager I got to turn out in one of the matches in the dinner time break in the early 90s. Basically the best under 16s players in Wagga played against each other in a 15 over slog fest.. 15 overs before the main game and 15 overs during the dinner break. We fielded during the break and I’ll never forget playing in front of a few thousand people. Even signed a autograph on the fence for some 8 year old. I’m sure that autograph went straight to the Wagga tip.

In the ‘adults’ match Steve Waugh got bowled first nut by local quick Greg Cox. Silence in the crowd. As Steve makes his way to the sheds a young bloke yells out from the crowd to break the silence, “Well batted Steve”, Waugh looks up in disgust and mutters something under his breath. Probably not how Steve wanted to spend his Wednesday night. Mark Taylor was bowling nude nuts at one end when a local smashed one back, dislocating his finger. He rushes to the sheds where we were getting changed following our match, he yells out “Hey guys, anyone know how to put my finger back in?” No one volunteers as the risk of permanently stuffing up the NSW Captains finger is a risk they don’t want to take… Oh the days when sports science didn’t rule the game…

I remember the Indians coming to town in the early 90s and wagging school to see Sachin Tendulkar turn out against NSW Country. I think he was 16 and barely could see over the stumps yet you knew you were watching something special. Kapil rolled a few over. Kris Srikkanth got bugger all then walked over to the local servo to grab a Cornetto. The memories.

I was lucky enough to play in the first local club day night match in 1996. I remember walking out to bat at about 9pm and seeing the white ball in the black sightscreen so clear. Not clear enough evidently as the ball was next seen taking out my off stump. At least I share something with Steve Waugh. We both got first ball ducks in a night game at Robbo.

I got to turn out a number of times for the Lake firsts over the years at Robbo and each time was special to me. I appreciated what had gone on before me. Heck you got to sit in a grandstand before batting, a rare treat in the country. There were no hundreds or stand out moments for me. A few wickets and a few runs here or there. It didn’t matter. I was just happy to walk the turf that the Giants before me had.

Robbo has changed over the years. There was a massive redevelopment a few years back and the GWS Giants have played practices matches. The ground has been widened and I’m told the surface is top notch. This week when the Blues and Vics come to town will be another notch in the grand old ground’s belt…

 

About craig dodson

Born in the sporting mecca that is Wagga Wagga and now reside in Melbourne with my lovelly wife Sophie and son's Jack and Harry. Passionate Swans supporter and formally played cricket at a decent level and Aussie Rules at a not so decent level! Spend my days now perfecting my slice on the golf course and the owner of the worlds worst second serve on the tennis course.

Comments

  1. Luke Reynolds says

    Great stuff Craig, love that Sheffield Shield will be played at some great country venues like ‘Robbo’ while the World Cup is on. Have been to a fews days at the Eastern Oval in Ballarat to see Victoria play in the past, very sad that no Victorian venue is deemed up to scratch at the moment, and that the Bushrangers will be playing ‘home’ games at Alice Springs and Glenelg.

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