Lunch with Bob Cowper

by | Oct 30, 2019 | News | 0 comments

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The reunion of the 1969-70 Victorian team & launch of Bob’s Boys, Kelvin Club, Friday, October 25

Story by Keiran Croker

Cricket lovers of a certain vintage will have vivid memories of the first time a Test match triple century was scored in Australia. 

Over the course of a few memorable Melbourne days in February 1966, Bob Cowper’s score mounted to 307 against England. Included in his massive score were 27 threes as the outfield was so wet.  

Just weeks earlier he’d been Australia’s 12th man. Such is cricket’s roller coaster, even for the elite.

Cowper’s achievement re-cemented his place in the team before he retired from international cricket somewhat prematurely at the age of 27.  Before he left the first-class scene he would lead Victoria to the 1969-70 Sheffield Shield title.

Fifty years on this achievement was celebrated by the Australian Cricket Society at a springtime luncheon which attracted more than 140, including 12 of Bob’s boys from 50 years back.

Each of the team members present spoke of their season under Cowper which saw the Shield clinched by January. 

The achievement was made all the more outstanding as six of Victoria’s finest players – Bill Lawry, Keith Stackpole, Paul Sheahan, Ian Redpath, Alan Connolly and Ray Jordon – were absent overseas on an extended Test tour of Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), India and South Africa. 

Bob ‘Wallaby’ Cowper spoke of a number of pivotal moments within the season that saw the Vics achieve four outright wins and first innings points on another two occasions. 

Special mention was made of the ninth wicket stand between Graeme ‘Beatle’ Watson and paceman Rob Rowan against NSW at the MCG which was pivotal in an epic victory. 

Alan ‘Froggie’ Thomson delivered a fiery spell in Brisbane to smash the Queenslanders. Peter ‘Wheels’ Bedford spun out South Australia in Adelaide with five for 40 after Blair Campbell’s dodgy knee blew up. And a teenage John ‘Barrel’ Scholes delivered a brilliant second innings unbeaten 73 to seal the victory and the Shield in Adelaide.

For some, such as Rowan and Campbell, it was their first season of ‘rep’ cricket. Rowan hadn’t expected to play and had organised his wedding in January. Wicketkeeper Norm Carlyon stepped up for his only full season behind the stumps and figured among the best-performed keepers in the land, 15 of his catches being taken from the Frog.

It was a break out year for Thomson, then 24. He took 49 Shield wickets. And 33-year-old Ken Eastwood had one of his best seasons with the bat with 584 runs at 41.71. Both were to play Tests the following summer.

It was also an era of multi-sportsmen with Bedford, Campbell, Scholes and Watson all having played football at VFL level and Les Joslin in the VFA. Rowan and John Swanson managed to represent Australia in baseball in between the first and second Shield games… imagine that happening now!

‘Nooky’ Swanson’s fielding and catching was one of the highlight of the season. Against SA in Melbourne he took three stunning close-to-the-wicket catches, before lunch on Day 1.

Event MC and president of the ACS Ken Piesse said Swanson’s superlative catching and fielding was every bit as good as the finest fieldsmen of the modern era like Symonds, Ponting and Maxwell. 

For those interested in the finer details of each match and the characters that made up the Victorian team, Ken and Mark Browning have compiled an entertaining and informative booklet titled Bob’s Boys – How Victoria won 1969-70- Sheffield Shield.

Pictures from the time and the direct memories from the players make this 80-page booklet an excellent keepsake.

Fourteen of the lads signed copies: Campbell and Nigel Murch were too ill to attend. But the stories flowed, Blair famous for taking a shower in-between his overs at Toorak Park one very hot afternoon and Nigel for dating rising British songstress Dusty Springfield during his time with Northants.

Released in a print run of 307, the book is selling rapidly, Details here on how to ensure your copy.

After  our warm-up man of many voices Geoff Poulter took us all into a late 60s ‘time capsule’ with anecdotes from the time and some masterly John Arlott impersonations, Cowper was the first of a dozen of old Vics to speak.

Bob was widely acknowledged as a great captain and along with Keith Miller one of the finest post-war cricketers denied the opportunity to captain their country.

Among the guests were Sheahan and Stackpole and Ken Jacobs (son of Bill ‘Faigan’ Jacobs) who was assistant-secretary at the VCA back in those days. Les Joslin was represented by his brother Graeme. Les and Alan Sieler were both interstate.

The players lingered, the tall stories continuing late into the afternoon. It was marvellous nostalgia. And one of the great ACS events of them all.