This week I had a thoroughly enjoyable dinner and reunion in Sydney with South Australia's oldest living Test player, Gavin "The Ox" Stevens. Despite his physical presence, as highlighted by the nickname, Stevens is lucky to have survived this long, as he became extremely ill on Australia's 1959-60 tour of Pakistan and India and never played another first-class game.
Adding to the enjoyment of the evening, Stevens was joined by his former opening partner at Glenelg and South Australia, Ron Haddrick. Stevens was in Sydney to enjoy a performance of My Fair Lady and coincidentally Haddrick, one of Australia's finest actors, played the part of Alfred Doolittle in his youth. Haddrick probably enjoys the distinction of being the only person to have played at the picturesque Adelaide Oval and the iconic Royal Shakespeare Theatre.
Prior to our dinner, I came across an old photo (above), dated October 28, 1952. There in black and white on the "new" Glenelg Oval scoreboard were the names Haddrick, Stevens and Chappell. The Chappell was my father, Martin, and as I gazed at the photo I was struck by the talent in that club side. There were six Sheffield Shield players and, apart from Stevens, opening bowler Geff Noblet also played Test cricket.
It's amazing how success in a region seems to have a flow-on effect. Operating the scoreboard that day in 1952 was 13-year-old Don Rice, who went on to play baseball for South Australia and Australia. Alongside him was 12-year-old Bob Touhy, who became a successful professional golfer and respected tournament director. There was also a nine-year-old (obviously the most expendable), sent up the ladder to change the name of the outgoing batsman, who later played baseball alongside Rice and captained Australia in cricket on 30 occasions.
Having been regaled with stories by Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri about how they were encouraged by senior players in their youth, I'm aware this is not a situation unique to Australia. Gavaskar continued the trend by gifting a pair of his pads to encourage a young Sachin Tendulkar, so it's not hard to understand why Mumbai gained and retained a reputation for producing highly competitive cricketers.
On further reflection I pondered the effect of what today would be called mentoring but was simply good old common courtesy back in 1952 on sports-mad young kids.
In addition to Martin's part in siring three boys who all played Test cricket, he shaped both our attitude and aptitude for sport. However, he wasn't alone, as many of the names on that scoreboard helped and encouraged a number of kids in the Glenelg district. At that time there was also a ten-year-old running around the club named David Sincock, who went on to be a prodigious spinner of the ball for both South Australia and Australia.
At the regular Sunday Glenelg club picnics, the adults would organise a game of cricket with the kids before they got on with the serious business of tapping the keg and conducting a beer-sculling competition. To be not only recognised by these famous names in the district but also encouraged was a big boost to kids who had their own dreams of playing at Adelaide Oval.
I have fond memories of time spent in the dressing room with these players I looked up to, and it had a positive effect on my development. In addition to being good sportsmen, many of them prospered later in life.
In their midst were some great characters. I loved to hear tales of the end-of-season club trips. How Haddrick clambered onto the bar of a country pub to recite Shakespeare and then, in the interests of providing light and shade, club stalwart Howard "Sam" Starling followed with his version of "The Farting Contest".
Our reunion in Sydney was a chance to reflect on my good fortune in growing up surrounded by the strong smell of success. I'd love to say it made two old guys very happy but I'd be lying; it gave great joy to three old men.