They called him ‘The Frog’ and he hailed from Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, home of Bill Jacobs and the fabulous Harvey brothers. From Monday to Fridays he was a primary schoolteacher at St Albans North. Come summer Saturdays, he was a budding fast bowler on the rise. His third XI captain Don Arnall suggested at selection one night that he had a young bowler in his side who was fairly quick. He bowled with a high arm and sloped the ball back into the batsmen. Once he learned to land it on the seam, he could be anything. Within weeks AL ‘Froggie’ Thomson was playing ones and soon his mentor, ex-Stateman Eddie Illingworth, had conceded the wind.
Twenty-two wickets in his first three Victorian matches in the New Year of 1969 was just a taste of what was to come from the tall expressman with an action all of his own. Eleven came against Garry Sobers’ 1968-69 West Indian tourists. Even the internationals were caught unawares by the whirling windmiller who ran in straight and delivered front-on like no-one before or since.
‘People tried to change me but I wouldn’t,’ Thomson said of his unique action. ‘I’d listen, thank them for their time and keep on doing it my way. If I tried doing it their way I was worried I’d fall flat on my face.’
One of his northern suburbs neighbours, Betty Dempster, had seen the young Frog bowling to his mates in the street. She worked with Illingworth and an invitation soon followed for the teenager to trial at Eddie’s club Fitzroy.
At 188cm (6ft 2in) and 73kg (11st. 7lb), Thomson was pencil-thin but could bowl all day if he had to. And at high speed.
First selected for the Vics as a replacement for injured South Melbourne speedster Russell Cook in late January 1969, Thomson tore into the New South Wales top six in Sydney, taking six wickets on debut. Days later among the West Indians he defeated with his pace and bounce were Basil Butcher (in each innings), Steve Camacho, Joey Carew and Roy Fredericks.
His captain at Fitzroy, Jack Potter, said Thomson’s stamina and ability to take early wickets made him a captain’s delight. ‘As he matured he would hit the seam at fair pace and it would chase the batsmen off the wicket either on a length or if short, could prove difficult to combat with the lift he could generate. Bowlers at the other end would get wickets because many of the batsmen feared facing the Frog. He was a particular handful in the nets, especially on
underprepared practice wickets.’
A non-smoker and non-drinker, he was popular with the kids and like many of them, drank Fanta by the crate….
Pictured top: Norm Carlyon, Victoria’s wicketkeeper in 1969-70. Above: Graeme Watson and Les Joslin v NZ.
Excerpts from Bob’s Boys by Ken Piesse and Mark Browning, available in October 2019