‘The Nicolls of Whorouly……..’ by KB Hill

Coronavirus has had the last say on the WDCA finals. They’ve been abandoned without a ball being bowled.

 

It’s an untimely conclusion to a season which has been rudely interrupted by bushfire haze, heavy overnight rain, or 40+ degree heat.

 

There’s nothing unusual about Finals failing to reach their inevitable conclusion. Inclement early-autumn weather has often intervened in a competition that has spanned 125 years.

 

But permit me to explain the hiccup that came in April 1948, when Whorouly were sensationally punted from the Finals.

 

The Maroons, thanks to a contribution from the brilliant Nicolls, had overpowered St. Patrick’s in the Semi. Their total of 402 included a bludgeoning 130 from Wils Nicoll and 111 from his brother Ron.

 

The following Thursday, on Grand Final eve, a lengthy and heated WDCA Executive meeting decreed that Wils Nicoll had flouted Association rules during the season, and had thus been ineligible for the recently-concluded Semi-Final.

 

His ‘crime’ ?…….Failing to take part in a WDCA representative match against Albury, after being selected and agreeing to play…………..

 

The decision caused ripples of discontent throughout cricket circles and rankled Whorouly followers. But the man at the centre of the controversy accepted it on the chin.

 

His effective response was to guide his side to a premiership the following season – and continue to represent the Association for the next ten years………

 

***

 

Few families have played as significant a part in the WDCA’s long history as the famous Nicolls of Whorouly.

 

Their patriarch, William Wilson Nicoll, emigrated from Alyth, Scotland in the late 19th century. Excited by the prospect of a new life in Australia, he travelled firstly to Queensland then, in 1893, settled in Whorouly, with his wife, on a property they named after the town of his birth.

 

He was short of stature, had a troublesome hip and leg and wasn’t the sporting type. Nevertheless, he wholeheartedly encouraged his boys, who displayed an aptitude for cricket.

 

And he also made available some land, on which the Whorouly Recreation Reserve now stands.

 

His sons were all blessed with outstanding qualities as cricketers. Over the years debate raged as to who was the best of the clan.

 

Some say that Vic, who was tragically killed in a machinery accident in 1929, might have been the pick of them…..Ernie was another who had many admirers……Wils and Ron were powerhouses……

 

Whorouly 1922/23.
Vic Nicoll is 3rd from left (front row). Ern and Ron are far right (front row)

 

***

 

Ron Nicoll’s talent was obvious when he made his debut for Whorouly in 1922, aged 12. But his development was halted when he contracted diphtheria. Seriously ill and reduced to just ‘skin and bones’ at 4 stone, it was to be the best part of three years before he fully recovered.

 

On his first season back, he played with Everton, as Whorouly had disbanded for a year, but in 1926/27 the Maroons returned to the WDCA with a vengeance. The Nicolls played no small part in the premiership season, with Vic (649 runs, 39 wickets), Ernie ( 637 runs, 84 wickets) and 16 year-old Ron (492 runs and 40 wickets) contributing strongly.

 

Tall and rusty-haired, Ron stood upright at the crease. He drove and cut beautifully and was rarely mastered by the bowlers. It’s said that he could play what seemed like a routine forward defensive shot and the ball would scoot to the boundary.

 

That magnificent timing…….and a fine array of shots, were the key weapons in his armoury.

 

1938 was a Golden year for Ron Nicoll. At Melbourne Country Week his figures were: 112, 19 and 6/43, 168 retired, 70 and 74 not out. His tally of 443 runs is still to be bettered and helps explain why Wangaratta took out the ‘A’ Group title.

 

He scored 717 runs for Whorouly in the same season, including four centuries. His knock of 202 in a semi-final was described by the Chronicle as among the finest ever seen at the Showgrounds.

 

One of Ron’s most satisfying innings’ came three years earlier, when he opened the batting at the Gardens Oval with Benalla’s Tom Trewin, against an all-star New South Wales line-up. The pair added 91 before Trewin was removed. Nicoll top-scored with 65 out of the North-East XI’s total of 207.

 

Around this time he was approached by Richmond, who were keen to lure him to District cricket. But they were unable to drag him away from the farm.

 

A quality leg-spinner, Nicoll wasn’t afraid to toss the ball up, and possessed a handy ‘wrong-un’. His 322 wickets complemented the 6673 WDCA runs he scored.

 

Genuine and quietly-spoken, he was a popular figure in cricket circles and his love for the game had not abated after the War. He was a veteran by this stage and scored the last of his 16 centuries ( till a WDCA record) in 1950/51, aged 40.

 

His Whorouly team-mates knew the end was nigh in 1953. Whilst still batting well he did the unthinkable one day, and dropped a couple of ‘sitters’ in slips.

 

“ ‘Ginge’ has grassed one,” was the surprise reaction to the first. Shock greeted the second.

 

Ron made 14 and took 3/43 in his final appearance, the 1952/53 Final. He had played 190 WDCA games (and another 51 in the Myrtleford competition) and a good portion of these were as captain of Whorouly.

 

He continued to be a mentor to the Club’s up-and-comers. His three daughters, Beth, Shirley and June were all taught to bowl the googly and leg-break and adopt the correct batting stance.

 

His service to the community included 15 years as a Shire Councillor and two terms as Shire President. Whorouly’s Ron Nicoll Bridge honours his contribution to sport and public life………

 

***

 

Ron and his younger brother Wils gelled perfectly at the wicket, despite their contrasting batting styles.

 

This was best exemplified in a Wangaratta v Benalla Country Week clash at Collingwood’s Victoria Park in 1938.

 

Sent in on a dicey wicket, Wang were reeling at 2/1. The pair proceeded to put on 221 for the 3rd wicket. Wils was dismissed for 77 whilst Ron retired on 168 in a total of 378.

 

Ron was a craftsman at the crease, whereas Wils was murderous when in full flight.

 

Wils was slight and craggy-faced, spoke with a drawl and was completely bereft of style – the epitome of a ‘Bush Bradman’.

 

The story is told of the day he pushed open the white-picketed gate and sauntered onto St.Kilda’s Junction Oval in a time of crisis for Wangaratta.

 

An old weather-beaten hat was pulled down to shield his eyes from the belting sun. Black socks were tucked into his well-worn white dacks , and his trusty, heavily-marked pigskin-covered bat had seen many a battle……

 

One fieldsman sneered, within hearing distance: “Have a look at this bush yokel, will ya……..”

 

Wils’s jaw tightened, his eyes narrowed….. and the battle began…….

 

Two hours later, he returned to the pavilion, having plundered the bowling in his usual ruthless manner. His innings of 130 had set up an easy victory.

 

He was a run-machine. His tally of 10,710 club runs, amassed in the WDCA and O & K competitions from 1927 to 1961, was staggering. He also took 418 wickets with his medium-pacers and played 293 games.

 

He won the WDCA batting average five times in eight years during the 50s and finished with 20 centuries .

 

I witnessed one of the last of these – 178* at Tarrawingee. Yet to reach my teens, and pressed into ‘subbing’ for the ‘Dogs’ for part of the afternoon, the ball zoomed off the Nicoll blade, as I made countless trips to the boundary to retrieve it.

 

That was convincing enough for an impressionable youngster, but the thing that got me was that the old fellah smoked throughout his innings.

 

He would have a couple of drags between overs, then park the cigarette behind the stumps while he dealt with the Tarra attack……..

 

***

 

Peter Nicoll

 

Wils shared a 240-run stand with his 15 year-old son Peter in 1959/60, which gave every indication that the stylish left-hander would be a star of the future.

 

And the youngster certainly carried on the family tradition. His occupation as a stock agent took him away for periods of his career, during which he played with Richmond, Mansfield, Temora and in Wagga, but he managed to fit in 27 seasons with Whorouly.

 

After he’d negotiated the early overs and got into stride, Pete could turn on a batting ‘clinic’. If you happened to be driving past an Oval and spotted him at the crease it was well worth pulling over and catching half-an-hour of ‘Hollywood’s’ panache.

 

He scored 7561 runs and took 466 wickets for the Maroons, made 17 trips to Country Week, was selected to open against the West Indies, and played three games against touring Shield sides.

 

Ian Nicoll

 

His brother Ian became better-known as a footballer who came from the clouds. He was floating around with Whorouly Reserves, but within two years was stripping with Carlton in an MCG Final.

 

“I didn’t have the batting skills of Dad or Peter,” Ian once told me. “I just took the advice of my uncle Ron, who said: “Just give it a good crack, son.” and that’s what I did.”

 

His most famous contribution to local cricket folklore was the double-century he scored, which included 24 fours. His second century came up in 40 minutes. The fifth-wicket partnership of 302 that he shared with his cousin Lex remains a WDCA record for any wicket.

 

Lex Nicoll’s story is a triumph of courage and determination. The son of Ernie, Lex was tipped to be a champ of the future.

 

Lex Nicoll

 

On the eve of a 1951 footy semi-final, however, he woke up with a splitting headache, was rushed to hospital and diagnosed with the polio virus. “You’re lucky to be alive,” he was told.

 

Doctors informed him that he probably wouldn’t play sport again. But he set about proving them wrong.

 

Three years later, Lex returned to WDCA cricket and used a runner, as he was obliged to do for the remainder of his career. Opposition sides were pleased to see him playing at first, but soon found him an ‘immovable object’ in Whorouly’s upper-order.

 

He made 7 WDCA centuries and was part of Wangaratta’s much-lauded 1957 Provincial Country Week championship team. The 30-odd he made against a South Australian Sheffield Shield side in 1957 created a huge impression on the visitors.

 

But the locals were unsurprised by his fine knock.

 

After all, he was a Nicoll………..

 

Ron and Wils Nicoll

 

 

 

This story appeared first on KB Hill’s website On Reflection and is used here with permission. To read more of KB’s great tales of local sporting icons, click here.

 

Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.

 

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Comments

  1. I get the feeling that if an all-time Whorouly cricket team was selected, the Nicolls would dominate! Well done, KB, you’ve done it yet again.

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