Thursday, 12 December 2013

TSP's Obscure Moments in Sport #1

A series in which, if I don't give up after one, I'll explore otherwise pointless or inconsequential moments which represent highlights in my sporting life.

#1 - Tim Zoehrer makes his comeback - Sunday 16 January, 1994.

Last Friday night, under 'heavy refreshment' at a Christmas party with the cricket on in the background one suitably pissed guest issued a challenge to anyone in the room with half an interest in cricket (and that's about where I sit these days) to compile their all-time favourite cricket XI.

Well, who doesn't love a list? The rules were set out in more detail than should have been possible given the circumstances, but the most important clause was mine - it didn't have to be the best side you've ever seen in your life, because if it was everyone would pick the same side, it had to be one featuring the players you'd enjoyed watching the most in person or on TV. Sure, you had to be reasonably sensible and not pick Dwayne Leverock but as far as I was concerned that pretty much left the field open for anybody who had played more than a handful of internationals for a test playing country.

Or so I thought. After all I wouldn't have flinched if somebody had picked Zimbabwe's Eddo Brandes based on the 1994/95 World Series Cup and his foul mouth. Democracy and all that. So, it was much to my surprise when late Monday after my side was revealed there were universal howls of derision at my choice of wicketkeeper.

The common theme was how, from all the keepers in the world from the mid 80's onwards, could I have plumped for a 10 test player from an era were Australia were, quite frankly, shit? Had they bothered to look up his record in test teams (one win, five draws, three losses, one tie) there might have been an industry shutdown as I was kicked to death. It was a double blow to the community that while Adam Gilchrist - as did everyone else - that he was booted out from behind the stumps in the Supermercado XI to make way for the great man.

What they missed while concentrating on the obscure nature of the selection was that his inclusion was actually a bit of a scam, because I'd only ever seen him play one international match on television.

My fascination with the fiery (possibly insane?) Western Australian keeper and ex-WAFL footballer began somewhere during the summer of 1988/89. Before a vigorous round of hallway cricket at a school chum's house we were flicking through some sort of book featuring Sheffield Shield scores (not Wisden, I would discover the joy of obscure players in that later) and discovered that for some unknown reason this guy had bowled an over or two in a shield game.

At that age we were absolutely baffled. The major flaw, as we saw it, was that there was no point when you already had a bunch of bowlers. In retrospect it was probably along the same lines of pisstaking as when you used to see obscure county games in Wisden where a side were trying to buy a declaration and deliberately served pies to be clouted to all parts of the ground but at the time it was hard to comprehend that somebody else would simply don the gloves for an over - probably in an end of season game - and hope to get through six balls without copping a sharp edge to the face.

Ironically he turned out to be quite a handy bowler in the end (culminating in his five wicket first innings massacre of South Australia in 1991), but at this point he'd never even taken a first class wicket. Which didn't stop me adopting him as my chosen bowler and batsman for that day's hallway test. Presumably spectacular success was had and he instantly became my favourite player. Suddenly while everyone else was frothing at the mouth over Dean Jones on television I was left scouring the paper for Shield results.

By the time I jumped on board he'd already been ditched as Australian keeper, Ian Healy was firmly entrenched in the top job and in the days before the internet and Pay TV coverage of state cricket Zoehrer might as well have been a fictional character for all I knew. How I hoped that when the Australian side left for England in 1989 that somehow Healy would be pushed aside and the great man would get a run.

It was never to be, but what I didn't understand at that age was that there was more to cricket tours than just the games shown on TV. Tests and ODIs were the main event, but there was also a whole carnival of games played against a motley assortment of county sides, minnows and teams that sounded like they’d been named by a random generator.

While Australia thrilled to the sight of Healy playing his bit in a famous Ashes triumph, our Tim was toiling away against the Duchess of Norfolk’s XI (1 run), Sussex (11), Somerset (48), Yorkshire (1*), Warwickshire (0 as an opener), Lancashire (30), Oxford and Cambridge Universities (DNB), Scotland (2), Hampshire (42), Nottinghamshire (0), Kent (32), Essex (13 and 93 while opening AND his maiden first class wicket, a Mr BR Hardie caught by Allan Border), the Netherlands (6 and 3/33!), the Netherlands again (9* and 1/32 off 10) and Denmark (8 and 1/26 off 7).

For romantic purposes I'd like to think that I followed these matches through the paper, but the reality is that even if the results were buried somewhere between lawn bowls and greyhound racing results (they probably weren't) the demolition job that we were doing on the Poms took the focus off glory clashes like Australia vs Minor Counties. Sadly for Zoehrer loyalists everywhere Heals never suffered a mystery injury in a hotel lift and retained his place in all the important games.

Not long after the tour of England I lost heart for what was a seemingly futile struggle and transferred my affections to Timbo’s big hitting teammate Tom Moody. It gave me a good three years of watching him drop in and out of the Australian side before being temporarily joining Zoehrer in the ‘where are they now’ file, then gloriously bouncing back to win the 1999 World Cup

This cowardly refusal to fight on when all hope was lost caused me to miss Tim's Viking-like invasion of England in 1993 where he seemed to balance failing miserably with the bat at every turn with cutting a swathe through the batting lineups of minor league sides at what must have been a record rate for a keeper. How I wish at the time I’d known about his 1/3 against Warwickshire, 3/23 against a clearly bemused Ireland (all out for 89 chasing 361), 2/24 against Kent and 6/128 over two innings against Essex.

Still, Healy was again (sadly) indestructible and the gates were closed to Tim. In a way he should have been pleased to have even been included in touring parties considering his antics during the 1986/87 tour of the UAE. Considering his rubbish figures with the bat on the Ashes tour it was almost inevitable that he was done for.

Then something glorious happened.. to Ian Healy. One glorious throw by portly New Zealander Mark Greatbatch bruised his ankle – and with Phil Emery still 10 months away from his brief international career - a 32-year-old Zoehrer was forced to cancel a BBQ and front up at the WACA for a glorious homecoming. His first international match since early 1987. Maybe if the game had been somewhere else their keeper would have got the call-up instead - and thus we were denied Tim Nielsen, Darren Berry or Mark Atkinson - so thank god Greatbatch's hefty arm gunned down Healy days before the game in Perth.

Time has certainly obscured some of what happened that day, and it's only thanks to the magic of the Robelinda archive for uploading the surviving footage above that we have anything to remember it by, but I remember being transfixed to the screen all day. It didn't hurt that I had a tremendous sporting crush on the early 90's South African teams.

The details of South Africa's innings are a mystery to me now, and I can only recount them courtesy of the scorecard but things started well enough for the TZ powered Australians. Glenn McGrath did his bit by knocking Peter Kirsten's block off, but Zoehrer contributed by catching Kirsten's brother Gary off Mark Waugh and stumping Craig Matthews off Shane Warne (we are also thankful to Robelinda for bring back Bill Lawry's call that Matthews' footwork was "Like a waltz with no music") as Australia restricted the visitors to 209.

At this point, back when ODIs still meant something and there were no secondary channels to shunt them off to, 209 promised a close game and a bonus early night for the eastern states where Channel 9 would have to fill with an episode of Wings or Night Court. The Australians were obviously very keen on filler programming as they turned 4-92 into a thumping defeat.

At least, with Australia about to go tits up at a rapid rate, the crowd got to welcome the great man to the crease with what I'm glad I remembered correctly as a heroes reception - including a GOD sign which even I consider a bit over the top. He joined Damien Martyn – later to figure in Zoehrer’s sacking from WA after Tim tried to biff him – but their partnership lasted all of one run thanks to Martyn being dismissed for a duck which left the Aussies teetering on the brink at 6-93.

If it had been a movie (The Surly Wicketkeeper, starring Stephen Curry) he’d have guided the bowlers through the next 120 odd runs, we’d have won gloriously and he'd have recaptured the national job until history got back on track by Adam Gilchrist harpooning him a few years later. Instead he battled to 9 in partnership with Paul Reiffel, lucky not to get run-out by the usually deadly Jonty Rhodes after giving up having down the pitch, before copping a dodgy LBW decision to another member of my all-star XI Fanie De Villiers.

With the crowd hushed by the decision you can see him briefly thinking about decking the umpire, but the prospect of losing payments in what would undoubtedly be his last international innings must have got the better of him. He walked off, Shane Warne walked on (and then walked off again very quickly after being run out for 1) and the Aussies were dismissed just 17 runs later for a paltry 126. Three days later Healy was back behind the stumps at the MCG (I’d have gone if Zoehrer had still been there) and Australia went on to win the tournament.

It was all downhill from there. Western Australia signed the young Adam Gilchrist for the 1994-95 season, and already pushed down the pecking order Zoehrer was soon sacked after only the saintly presence of Thomas Masson Moody stopped him from belting Martyn in an argument . He rushed released an autobiography said to be a master class in bitterness and recrimination (which to my shame I've still not read) then fell off the face of the earth - apparently later coaching and playing in "The Netherlands". Which was not a patch on his 1993 appearance for the Scarborough Festival President's XI where he was dismissed for naught by the great Eddo Brandes himself.

Even Phil Emery had misty eyed retrospectives written about him in the mid 90’s, while Tim got short shrift – possibly because he was touring "The Netherlands" at the time - only appearing as a bit part player in bribery scandals and as support in every single article written about Adam Gilchrist for 15 years, before re-emerging for a comedy appearance alongside Bruce Reid in a 2005 Chairman’s XI vs South Africa match (had the chairman been drinking?). A search of the Fairfax archive shows that he’s only been mentioned six times in their papers since the start of 2008, and two of them were in quiz questions. The last time anybody asked him for his opinion was January 2006, and what he's up to now is a complete mystery.

At least we’ll always have Perth.

Next edition - Motor racing magic 

1 comment:

David Barry said...

I was a kid in Perth around that time -- I wasn't at Zoehrer's international comeback game, but one of my earliest cricket memories was watching Zoehrer drive Allan Donald for four to win the WA v South Africans World Cup warmup match in 1992.

I recall (though an almost twenty-year-old memory should be considered suspect) that Zoehrer made a very impressive take diving down the leg-side in the comeback game, and Ch9's Perth news used that footage pretty much every time they mentioned Zoehrer in a story for the next season or two.

I left Perth as a ten-year-old just after the 1994/5 season, still unhappy that WA had sacked Zoehrer for some New South Welshman. I think I might still be bitter about it, though Gilchrist did do better in later years.

Great to see the Robelinda video though -- it really was a glorious occasion to have Zoehrer back in the national side.