It’s love for the game

With a few exceptions, almost all the players of that era (1950s and 1960s) continued to play club cricket after they retired from first-class cricket in a bid to “put something back into the game.”

In an era where both the State and Test players in Australia are well rewarded, very few well-known cricketers stay on to play club cricket after their retirement from first-class cricket. A few players become commentators; lesser still are the ones who try to earn coaching diplomas in an attempt to continue with the game. Very few, unfortunately, think of the debt they owe to cricket and try to give something back to the game that gave them the opportunity to develop thei r natural skills and win great honours.

I am, of course, speaking about club cricket, and particularly club or district cricket as it is known in Sydney.

In the period I was fortunate enough to play, New South Wales won the Sheffield Shield nine consecutive years — 1953-54 to 1961-62. It was probably NSW’s strongest and proudest years. During this period, we had the unique experience of watching some of the greats of Bradman’s Invincibles such as Harvey, Miller and Morris blending in with youngsters — such as Alan Davidson, Ian Craig, Richie Benaud, myself, Norm O’Neill and Brian Booth — who played a major role in Australian cricket after Bradman and his greats retired.

It was also an era when it was said that if you didn’t make the NSW team by the time you were 20, then you probably wouldn’t. The youngsters mentioned above were all teenagers — Ian Craig and I were only 16 and Norm O’Neill 17 on debut.

With a few exceptions, almost all the players of that era continued to play club cricket after they retired from first-class cricket in a bid to “put something back into the game.”

Some of these players are still active, and in Sydney currently there are four of them, all over the age of 70, coaching club teams. They are Peter Philpott, Brian Booth, I and Englishman Barry Knight, who had the good sense to marry an Australian girl and set up home in Sydney in the late 1960s or early 1970s.

What a fount of knowledge they have, having been in the game from the end of the Bradman era to the full-time, well-paid modern era. What keeps them in the game for such a long time?

It is certainly not money, but the great love they have for cricket, the pleasure and satisfaction they get from helping the youngsters to enjoy the game and improve their skills, and the satisfaction of giving something back to the game.

These men continued to play until they were over 40 and did their clubs proud. The only reason I was able to come out of first-class retirement and enjoy that fabulous series against India in 1977-78 during the Kerry Packer period was that I had played 10 years of club cricket with success.

Perhaps the greatest illustration of love for cricket, and wanting to give something back to the game is Barry Knight. A fine all-rounder for Essex and England, Knight toured India, Pakistan and Australia twice. In first-class cricket he has scored 13,336 runs (average: 25.69) and claimed 1089 wickets (average: 24.06). His devotion to English cricket was evident even though he was dropped 17 times.

The England selectors’ penchant for changes at the time was disgraceful, and Ray Illingworth, now a legend, was dropped 18 times before he became an honoured and famous captain by leading England to a magnificent victory in Australia in 1971. He captained England on 31 occasions with great success.

Brian Booth was a gentleman. He was a professor of physical education and an Olympian having represented Australia in hockey at the 1956 Melbourne Games. He was also a class cricketer who captained Australia twice and was my vice-captain for many years. He was a permanent member of the Australian team from 1961-65 and toured England twice — in 1964 as vice-captain — in addition to India, Pakistan and the West Indies. In 29 Tests, Booth scored 1,773 runs (average: 42.21) with five centuries.

Booth’s dazzling footwork made him one of Australia’s most consistent batsmen and a magnificent player of spin bowling. His devotion to his club team, St. George, was legendary and he held just about every position in the club, from president down.

Peter Philpott may well be one of the most travelled cricketers of all time. He was a wonderful all-rounder having scored 2,886 runs (average: 31.36) and taken 245 wickets (average: 30.31) in first-class cricket. He was a superb leg-spinner, and it was unfortunate that he had to play second fiddle to the great Richie Benaud, both for Australia and NSW.

Peter was both lucky and unlucky in his career. He was lucky to have played in NSW’s greatest era when they won the Sheffield Shield nine times in a row. However, he was unlucky that his career coincided with one of the strongest periods ever for wrist spinners in Australian cricket. Besides, the batsmen in those days were fine players of wrist spin.

How good a bowler was Peter Philpott? While I don’t like to make comparisons, I would say he was as good as Stuart MacGill. And he could put MacGill in the shade as a batsman and fielder. MacGill has taken 198 wickets in Tests in an era where the batsmen don’t play wrist spinners well. Such is sometimes the luck of the draw.

A school teacher and a cricket coach, Philpott has plied his skills in various parts of the world including England, South Africa, New Zealand, India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Singapore. He first played in the Lancashire League as a teenager for Ramsbottom. He continued in the League for seven years, playing for Ramsbottom and East Lancashire.

Philpott taught mainly in private schools in Australia, England and South Africa and was also the cricket coach. It is estimated that he has spent over 60 seasons as a coach in different parts of the world.