The Footy Almanac Manning Clark Cricket Lecture delivered by Dan Brettig.

On a day when, if you’d won the toss you would have bowled (such was the humidity earlier-), Dan Brettig delivered the fifth Manning Clark Cricket Lecture at a dinner at the Clyde Hotel. He carried on the tradition beautifully with an entertaining, insightful speech followed by a series of questions. The depth of his knowledge was clearly evident in his responses to those questions. That’s why he enjoys the position he does in the world of cricket analysis and writing, of matters both on and off the field. He currently writes for cricinfo.

He spoke on a number of topics relating to Australian cricket since 2007. This is the timeframe of his 2015 book Whitewash to Whitewash. Everyone at the dinner received a copy. (Thanks Dan for providing copies at such a reasonable price – enabling us to include one in the cost of the dinner.) I recommend this book. Copies are available by emailing us here at the Almanac in the first instance [email protected]footyalmanac.com.au

It was terrific to have Sebastian Clark, Manning and Dymphna’s oldest son, join us and say a few words. And to have A.P. Sheahan, who was our speaker for the dinner last July (during the Lord’s Test), with us too. By coincidence Paul and Sebastian were colleagues at Geelong College. Thanks also to Adam Collins for saying a few words, although far too many of them were about Hawthorn.

That we were in an old stomping ground of Manning’s – the arts and university hub which is Carlton – was also appropriate, so it was good that the provost of Trinity Campbell, Campbell Bairstow made the trek across the uni grounds with his wife Jill Gregory. They were suitably fed and watered once they arrived. Campbell is a footy and cricket lover from the wheat belt of Western Australia but, unlike his cousin Mark, Campbell won’t get the nod of the Australian Wool Team selectors. Jill barracks for Melbourne.

Thanks also to Angus and staff at the Clyde, and to Spud and Tex as well.

Dan follows on from other speakers Gideon Haigh, Ed Cowan, Brian Matthews and Paul Sheahan.

Here is the text of Dan’s speech:

 

 

On the invitation of Gideon Haigh, I went down to the nets the other week to train with the Yarras. As Gideon could attest if he were here tonight, and as Adam Collins will attest because he is here, I wasn’t much chop.

My leg breaks were years out of practice. My shoulder, arm and wrist only barely remembered what it was like to twirl the ball down the wicket. I’d always been one for “higher and shorter”, only this time the arc was such as to have me threatening the roof of the net more so than the batsman. I walked away feeling sore and humble, but also grateful. That torturous hour or so took me back to childhood, and the reason I loved cricket in the first place.

There seemed nothing so magical as bowling a leg break, getting it right, and watching the resultant mayhem at the other end. I spent endless hours bowling to my dad or anyone else who’d face me. One well-pitched ball could make up for the countless others that didn’t come out right.

For being so entranced by leg spin I suppose I should thank Shane Warne, but it was actually his spin twin Tim May who was my first cricket hero. I grew up in the north of Adelaide, and May’s selection for the Adelaide Test against the West Indies was the first time a South Aussie had made it into the Australian Test team since I’d been aware of cricket.

We were down at a holiday unit in Port Elliot near Victor Harbor that week, and I watched May’s remarkable match with dad in between trips to Horseshoe Bay, Goolwa and Granite Island. We sat transfixed as the final afternoon unfolded, my nine-year-old’s optimism set against dad’s insistence that the thing couldn’t be done. In the end he was right, but not by much!

Over the next few years the game became a growing obsession. We lived in Valley View, near the vast Thomas Turner Reserve. It had four ovals, each with matting covered pitches, and there was always one free for dad, my brother and I to play on after school. We never pretended to be anyone else, but there was no doubt I tried to take after Warne and May. Phil Tufnell certainly couldn’t compete – the one time I saw him bowl live for the Englishmen against South Australia, one slipped out of his hand and dribbled out onto the next pitch, whereupon Paul Nobes smacked it to the cover boundary.

January 1995 brought twofold excitement – a first ticket to a Test match, and the “Spinners Are Winners” clinic with Warne and May a couple days before. I remember a lot of talk about “the Cullinan ball” and Peter Sleep overseeing hundreds of kids trying to bowl leg breaks after the spin twins had decamped to do their own training. May had actually just played his final Test match, and was replaced by Peter McIntyre. From the concourse seats in front of the Sir Donald Bradman Stand, dad and I watched another farewell of sorts – Mike Gatting’s final Test hundred, which one banner was to immortalise as “Mary MacKillop’s second miracle”.

Childhood memories of cricket abound:

The annual hunt through Adelaide bookstores looking for that year’s Wide World of Sports Cricket Yearbook.

Getting one back on dad’s pessimism when Michael Bevan robbed the West Indies in broad floodlight at the SCG.

Sitting nervously in the television room of my high school library watching McIntyre and Shane George win SA’s last Sheffield Shield – thanks for keeping it open, Mrs Grace!

Going to Adelaide Oval for a one-dayer between Australia and Pakistan, where Saqlain Mushtaq flummoxed the Aussies by unleashing his doosra upon them for the first time. That memory comes with added pain because I failed to slip, slop, slap. Australia’s batsmen were red-faced for the afternoon, but my legs were crimson for a week.

Hearing Tim Lane shout “SIX!” on the radio when Ian Healy deposited Hansie Cronje over backward square leg to win the epic Port Elizabeth Test of 1997. Moments later I ran out into the lounge room to watch the remainder of Channel Seven’s half-hour delayed coverage into Adelaide.

Having mum and dad turn off the TV on a school night in 1999 with South Africa none for 40 odd in the World Cup semi-final. I furtively switched on the clock radio next to my bed just in time to hear the BBC commentators’ awed reaction to Warne’s ball to bowl Herschelle Gibbs. I tried to go to sleep, then returned to the living room around 6am to watch the rest of the game on VHS before school.

And pestering another high school teacher, Mr Schumann, to let a few of us watch the last half hour of the Gilchrist/Langer chase in Hobart.

It was around this time that I’d begun reading as much as I could about the game. My favourite books included the Alan Ross/Patrick Eagar account of the 1989 Ashes series, Tour of Tours, which married terrific photos to the pithiest of commentary from Ross. I was also wowed by Letting Rip, in which Simon Wilde’s first and last chapters put me in the very crucible of fast bowling, first the West Indians of the 1980s and then Wasim and Waqar a decade later.

But the two tomes that stayed with me more than any others did so for their frankness, taking me underneath the skin of the game to see everything – good, bad, indifferent – underneath. One of these was The Cricket War, by Gideon, which showed me a world of cricket politics and intrigue running parallel to the game on the field. A lot of it went over my head the first time I read it – I think I had to ask dad what “bollocks” were – but certain passages never left me, like the one about Martin Bedkober, who died after being struck in the chest during a club match in Brisbane.

The other book that I couldn’t shake was Border and Beyond by Mark Ray, which dissected Australian cricket in the age of Allan Border in a way that enhanced my understanding of the game, and gave me a much more “grown up” view of what went on. I’m pretty sure it was the first time I’d ever read a cricket book that had swearing in it. When Ray related the story of the 12th man Tony Dodemaide thinking Justin Langer “has a bit of shit in him” after delivering fresh gloves during the 93 Adelaide Test, I can remember looking up from the page to see if anyone was reading over my shoulder. I was a sheltered kid!

I had loved cricket for as long as I’d been old enough to understand and play it, but Ray’s work was the first one that got me thinking it might actually be a fun thing to write about. Border’s tantrums, the Machiavellian presence of Bob Simpson, the machinations of the Australian Cricket Board, and the duels with the West Indies leapt off the page at me. They provided context and colour to the world I had heard about mainly through the more honeyed tones of Channel Nine.

If this sounds like a loss of innocence, it had the opposite effect. Rather than being repelled by the ideas Border and Beyond threw out there, it only added to my fascination. Cricket was three-dimensional, human and real, not just a television image, a breathless newspaper story or a radio broadcaster’s description.

I paralleled some of the struggles depicted with my own in junior and club cricket for Tea Tree Gully, Modbury and Para Vista Lutheran. One season at Modbury I was playing alongside another leg spinner who happened to be the club president’s son. After playing in premiership teams the previous two years, and landing my share of leggies, I got two overs that season, and felt the sorts of frustrations that were more bearable in the knowledge that far better cricketers than me had also faced them.

So I’m grateful to Mark for writing it, because otherwise I’m not sure I would have finished up writing about the game as I have. Whitewash to Whitewash was an unabashed attempt at revisiting that sort of era-spanning, politics and personality delving work, and I hope that in years to come it will hold up the way Mark’s has.

Looking now at the game through adult eyes, I still have moments of childlike delight in it. Most these stem from spin bowling, because it was the part of the game I fell in love with first, and the one I’ll always have extra time for. I love the fact that even in the age of Twenty20, spinners have found ways to thrive, despite their demise being predicted with every stage of cricket’s expansion from one format to three.

I think a good test of the game’s direction is to weigh up how much opportunity there is for all types of cricketers to prosper, and at the moment I do have doubts about the way bowlers have been increasingly marginalised by bat technology and playing conditions. I also think the greatest corruption risk the game runs is to give professional cricketers a surfeit of matches they have the chance to become apathetic about, so scheduling is something that needs constant examination, by administrators and journalists alike.

That being said, the most important thing for anyone involved in cricket is to be able to ask themselves ‘what am I here for’. If the answer is more to do with money, fame and personal advancement, then they know they need some time away. But if they can honestly say they are in it because they love it, then they cannot go too far wrong. As for me? I’m involved because as a child growing up in Adelaide there was something magical about the game, and about bowling a leg break in particular. I may have lost the muscle memory, but the same spirit informs my work. Even if these days it is more about landing the right phrase, instead of the right ball.
Daniel Brettig White Wash

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and footyalmanac.com.au. He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids - Theo13, Anna11, Evie10. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition is to lunch for Australia.

Comments

  1. Looks like it was a great night. I reckon every South Australian cricket fan of a suitable age can tell you where they were in the last hour of that shield final as McIntyre and George blocked our way to victory. I was working at John Martins, Marion (another SA institution), dashing over to the TV department every 5 minutes, expecting the worst. Great memories.

  2. Peter Young says

    Nice speech which rekindled memories of a few cricket moments I’d forgotten. One of them: I came out of cricket retirement in my mid-30s after a 10-year gap and played under a gnarled, leathery captain who took heaps and heaps of wickets bowling offies. Knowing he’d been at the club more than 25 years, I commented that he must have taken 100s of wickets. Nope – bowled his fingers raw in the nets for 25 years without getting a bowl in a game until he was asked to drop down to the 4ths and take over as captain. As captain, he finally got a bowl and bowled us into the finals!!! My immediate ambition was to be made captain one day but the years – and demands of answering media calls all day and night – finally caught up. So I undertook a different type of spin! Chiz PJY

  3. From David Forbes (via email):

    Professor Clark delivered the Newman College Daniel Mannix Memorial Lecture in 1985 on the subject of John Curtin (as I recall). He travelled down from Canberra to give the lecture and stayed in the college that night. I had the responsibility of looking after him. I remember the next morning I had breakfast at a small table in the college dining room with him and the late Fr Des O’Connor SJ, who probably was not a fan of Clark’s history. But Clark and Fr Des were chatting like old friends about the Carlton Football Club as I sat there blankly. One of them asked me “aren’t you interested in football David?” I replied “yes, but my knowledge of Carlton in the 1930’s is a bit limited”.

  4. Terrific night. Looking forward to reading the book.

  5. Yes Dave thankfully was working about 10 mins away from the Adelaide Oval at the time and snuck away from work and watching McIntyre & George with quite a few others who must have done the same thing. I remember running out to the pitch at the end of the match and souveniring a clod of dirt which Daniel probably remembers being dutifully stored in a jar on top of his bedroom cupboard. It obviously needed to last a long time give our Redback record since!

  6. Luke Reynolds says

    Thanks for the text of Daniel’s speech. Really disappointed I couldn’t make it, Thursday night during cricket season is just too hard to make it down to the city with coaching/secretary roles at cricket training.

    Whitewash to Whitewash is a superbly written account of Australian cricket during the time it’s set. Read the whole book on the train trip up and back from (ironically) an Almanac lunch last year. Highly recommend that book to anyone who hasn’t read it.

    Big fan of D.Brettig’s work on cricinfo as well, they really have assembled a great team of writers on that wonderful site.

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