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Mates for ever

The launch of a book celebrating one of the great Sheffield Shield victories of all highlighted the 50-year reunion of Victoria’s 1966-67 champion team, organised by the Australian Cricket Society. KEN PIESSE and MARK BROWNING are the authors:

Against all odds cover hi-resDifferent times, different eras… when Victoria’s Sheffield Shield team gathered at the MCG’s Tavern Bar to celebrate its against all odds victory in April 1967, each team member was given a tie-pin as a momento of one of the great domestic seasons of all.

Three years later when they repeated their success, the players received a set of VCA cufflinks.

‘We didn’t play for the money. How could you for $28 a match,’ said Paul Sheahan at the jubilee year reunion of the team on Friday.

The rewards from cricket in the swinging ‘60s may have been meagre but 50 years on, the feeling of fraternity remains and 11 of the squad attended the Australian Cricket Society wintertime nostalgia event at the Kelvin Club.

Only a few were missing, captain Jack Potter who now lives in New Zealand a late withdrawal with illness.

Those present included internationals Sheahan, Les Joslin, Alan Connolly and Ken Eastwood plus old favorites like John ‘General’ Grant, Peter Bedford, John Swanson and Nigel Murch.

Among the guests were Potter’s old teammate Eddie Illingworth and his schoolboy mentor, 91-year-old George Murray, who had taught Potter at University High.

As part of the event, the Australian Cricket Society published a 96-page celebration booklet Against All Odds, written by Ken Piesse and Mark Browning. Just 221 copies were available — No. 221 being sent to Potter, as a tribute to his career-high score with the Vics.

In his foreword, Potter says no-one had given his young Victorians a chance of winning the Shield, given that five of its best players were absent in South Africa.

‘Sitting in on the Victorian selection committee for the first time (in October 1966) was eye opening,’ he said.

‘To my great surprise and pleasure, “The King”, Jack Ryder, asked me who I wanted in my team. It threw me a little as I hardly knew or had seen little of most of the younger players in contention.

‘I nominated six automatics: Connolly, Grant and Bitmead as bowlers, Eastwood and Sheahan as batsmen and ‘Slug’ Jordon as the ‘keeper. The rest of the team I left to the committee to select. They then asked me, with only three bowlers, how did I expect us to dismiss opposition teams in four-day cricket?

‘I suggested to them that I would tie up one end with Bitmead (who they hadn’t heard of) and I would alternate Connolly and Grant at the other. Connolly could also bowl off his short run and tie up the other end while Grant rested after opening the bowling.

‘They were underwhelmed — to say the least. Teams at that level were supposed to have five batsmen, four bowlers, a ‘keeper and an all-rounder…’

Each of the players spoke, including Bob ‘La La’ Bitmead who was one of three chosen for New Zealand after the 1966-67 summer. His economy rate that year was 1.8 runs conceded per eight-ball over!

He had started as a medium pace bowler, operating off the wrong foot before slowing down and becoming a key in Victoria’s giantkilling Shield performance.

From rank outsiders to Shield champions, Against All Odds is a fascinating story — the book comes complete with signatures of most of the living players, adding to its collectability

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