When Lawry went long

Bill Lawry treated club cricket with the same seriousness as a Test match PA Photos

I opened the batting with Bill Lawry when he scored 282 not out for Northcote against Essendon to win the 1965-66 Victoria Cricket Association Premiership final.

I was a 22-year-old in my fourth year of grade cricket. Bill had just come off a hundred at the MCG against England that helped Australia retain the Ashes.

He batted for 509 minutes and faced 454 balls. It was a two-innings match, supposed to be played over two weekends. But the rules were that if there was no chance of getting both innings in, the match would be decided on whoever scored the most runs in their first innings. The first innings had to be played to a finish, though.

It took three weekends to finish this game. Essendon scored 514 for 9 declared, batting first. That's a lot of runs, someone said in our dressing room, after we'd come off. Bill didn't think it was enough, though. The wicket was good and he couldn't understand why they'd declared. "This is a grand final," he told everyone.

Earlier in the season, he had made a duck against Essendon. He's got a memory like an elephant, forgets nothing, and was determined to make up for this rare failure. Straightaway he started accumulating runs. Nothing flash, just like he was playing in a Test match.

That's what stood out about Bill. He played club cricket just as seriously and carefully as if he was playing for Australia.

I was dropped at third slip first ball, but was still there at the close of play. We had 98 by then. Bill said that if I didn't get out in the first hour the next day, we'd win the game. He also told me not to play back to their legspinner. The next day, just after the hour, I played back to the legspinner and was out lbw.

Bill didn't give a single chance in his 282, in almost two and a half days of batting. It was the same whenever he batted. Never looked like getting out.

"Earlier in the season, Lawry had made a duck against Essendon. He's got a memory like an elephant, forgets nothing, and was determined to make up for this rare failure"

Bill saw the ball much earlier than the rest of us, and at club level didn't appear to have any weaknesses. He judged the ball perfectly outside off stump. Even when the opposition had their state players, Bill dominated, simply by having complete mastery of his game.

Playing with someone that good inspired you to play better yourself. Our middle-order batsman Tom Ryan was a bit of a hitter, but for the final, Bill just said to him. "Cut that out today." Tom scored 82 and put on nearly 200 with Bill.

As a captain, Bill was a hard taskmaster, but people listened to him. He dropped me to No. 11 for one game because I questioned one of his decisions.

The final against Essendon was played at the Albert Ground in Melbourne, the Melbourne Cricket Club's second ground. I'd never seen it so full. As Bill closed in on the target, there was a 70-metre queue outside to get in.