There may be a few surprises in store for past and present members of the Strathfieldsaye Cricket Club when they come together for the club’s Night of Nights at the All Seasons Hotel this evening.
Strathfieldsaye’s biggest social event will be highlighted by the naming of two best XIs from its Bendigo District and Emu Valley Cricket Association eras, plus the launch of a new book detailing the club’s fascinating history.
Strathfieldsaye Cricket Club: 134 Not Out has been pieced together over the past two-and-a-half years by author Darren Rodda.
Rodda’s research for the book uncovered many surprising facts about Strathfieldsaye which even many at the club didn’t know.
Many consider Strathfieldsaye to be the newest club in the BDCA after joining from the Emu Valley competition in the 1984-85 season, but that’s not the case.
“Actually, the BDCA commenced in season 1903-04 and Strathfieldsaye played one year in that first season in the B-grade,” Rodda said.
“Golden Square also played B-grade that year, Kangaroo Flat and BUCCs (Bendigo United) played in the A-grade. So together with those three teams they’re actually the oldest, if you like, in the BDCA.”
One of the more important discoveries by Rodda was how old the Strathfieldsaye Cricket Club actually is.
Before his research, the club itself had no idea when it was formed.
“Strathfieldsaye in those days by horse and cart was a long way from Bendigo, so a lot of the matches weren’t reported,” Rodda said.
“The best we could come up with was a pretty obscure reference in the Addy to a match against Elmore on New Year’s Day in 1878, so that’s why we settled on 1878 as the starting point for the club.
“Between there and basically 1950 Strathfieldsaye mainly played socially, so matches were only fairly rarely reported.
“So coming up with those records was a bit of a challenge and, of course, all the people involved have long since passed away.
“So I just had to put a story together the best way I could from reports in the Bendigo Advertiser, in particular.”
Rodda also encountered some difficulty in re-telling the club’s seasons in the Emu Valley league from 1952 to ‘84 as the scorebooks have gone missing.
What is known is that Strathfieldsaye was one of the competition’s foundation clubs, mainly through the driving force of the club’s first life member, Ron Somerville.
“He was the one who was looking for a higher-standard of competition. Initially, there were only three clubs – Strathfieldsaye, Emu Creek and Sedgwick – then teams were added over the years and it became the competition it is today, but it had fairly humble beginnings,” Rodda said.
The Somerville, Ryall and Bowles families dominated Strathfieldsaye’s history and helped keep the club together through some difficult times between the 1920s and ‘70s.
“Sometimes nine or even 10 of the players were from one of those three families,” Rodda said.
“For all but just a couple of years over that 50 year period a member of the Somerville family was captain.
“It could have been called the Somerville cricket club, rather than the Strathfieldsaye Cricket Club, because it was a real family affair.”
With few clubs involved at the beginning of the EVCA it might be expected Strathfieldsaye was a dominant side in the competition’s early years.
But, in fact, it took almost 25 years for the club to win its first premiership and there is a surprising lack of top division success throughout its history.
“They played for more than 20 years before they won one, in 1976-77, just a couple of years prior to that they were a hair’s breadth away from disbanding because they hadn’t won a game for two or three years and they hardly had any players,” Rodda said.
“They went on a bit of a recruitment drive as a last-ditch effort to stay alive, got a few players and two years after that won their first flag. Not only the first flag in 20 years of the Emu Valley competition, in fact it was the first premiership they won of any type in almost 100 years of existence.”
That first premiership was the beginning of the club’s most successful top division era, which saw it compete in six grand finals in eight years for three flags.
The success precipitated the club’s move to the BDCA to push for stronger competition, while it also wanted to establish junior teams, which the EVCA didn’t have.
“They struggled for 15 years (in the BDCA), the A-grade made the finals once in that time and were well-beaten in a semi-final. Then they won an A-grade premiership in 2000-2001, they beat Maristians in a rain-affected match,” Rodda said.
“They hoped it was going to be something big for Strathfieldsaye but, actually, it turned out to be a bit of a false dawn.
“They’ve played in about 15 or 16 B and C-grade grand finals and won about eight flags since then, but they’re still searching for that elusive second A-grade premiership.”
Originally an Eaglehawk cricketer for 20 years, Rodda wrote a book about the history of the Hawks for its 150th anniversary in 2006.
But such is his intimate knowledge of Strathfieldsaye since researching his book that he was asked to help select the EVCA and BDCA best XIs to be named tonight.
Two players at short odds to be selected are Tom Bowles and Robert Herbert.
Although Bowles’ stint at the club was brief, he was an outstanding player through Strathfieldsaye’s EVCA era.
“As far as the Emu Valley period goes, although they finished the late 70s and early-80s as the dominant team, it’s hard to go past a bloke called Tom Bowles who played in the early to mid-1960s,” Rodda said.
“There’s reasonably regular references in the Addy to him being the best batsman in the Emu Valley league during that time.
“In 1966-67, I think it was, he made over 600 runs, including a couple of centuries and took around 30 wickets as the opening bowler. In amongst his bowling he took hat-tricks in three of the first five games.
“After that season he left Strathfieldsaye and went to Golden Square, made 83 in his first match, 128 in a semi-final, played in a premiership in his first year and a couple of years later took out the BDCA batting average. He’s hard to go past as Strathfieldsaye’s best player in that period.”
In Rodda’s opinion, Herbert is the cricketer who stands above all others.
“Strathfieldsaye’s best A-grade cricketer – head and shoulders above second place – is Robert Herbert,” he said.
“He was a left-arm medium-fast bowler and a top-order batsman. He’s the only bloke to achieve 2000 runs and 200 wickets, he’s won the batting average three times, bowling average multiple times and is the only player to win the club champion five times.
“The other interesting thing about Herby is that he’s had some stints away from the club, but he’s been there at the right times.
“He’s the only player to play in all four of Strathfieldsaye’s A-grade finals so far. The first was in 1987 and the most recent in 2008.”
Rodda’s book will be a centrepiece of tonight’s event, which will be attended by 260 people and feature cricket larrikin Kerry O’Keefe as guest speaker.
Strathfieldsaye president Brent Yates said Rodda’s research has given the club a stronger identity.
“We wouldn’t be able to put this together without his effort and his work. To find the history of this club was more the unknown than the known,” Yates said.
“To now be able to find some of this unknown history, it’s awesome. We’ve always regarded ourselves as a young club – there’s a lot of it we didn’t know.”
Rodda, who now lives in Melbourne and spent many hours in the State Library poring over historical copies of the Bendigo Advertiser for the book, was yesterday helping put the finishing touches to tonight’s event.
“It’s fantastic that the club has organised a reunion on this scale. To incorporate the book launch into that, it’s very pleasing from a personal point-of-view,” he said.
“I enjoyed doing this one just as much as I did for Eaglehawk. I wish them (Strathfieldsaye) all the best in the future, they can run second to Eaglehawk as often as they like.”