So big ugly bruiser Keiron Pollard takes a skier on the boundary and everyone Down Under hails it as the greatest catch since Arthur Miller bagged Marilyn Monroe. Decent enough, but it doesn’t compare to Wally’s famous “catch that never was” at Adelaide on The Colonel’s ’56-’57 tour.
Wally had been having a rough old time. Since the breach of protocol in Rangoon, he had been confined to quarters with “swellings” and Matron, who had the presence of mind to pack her wartime gas mask for just such an emergency, had been the only one of the party to have seen him on the passage to Perth. When he emerged, blinking, with just a gin and tonic to comfort him, he’d lost a bit of weight and shook a little from time to time, but otherwise (alas) he was the same old Wally.
After the dingo incident in the upcountry match at Alice Springs, we were down to bare bones. (I think Matron fielded through the second day and made 47* in half an hour to win us the match against the Alice Springs Invitational Penal Colonists XI late on the final day. She was the only one of us in any kind of nick going into the Adelaide Test, but The Colonel was never one to listen to the Press and she only made Twelfth Man). Wally hadn’t played in the Alice Springs match and so missed the carnage on the first afternoon, so he was resting up in the company of his Adelaide bookmaker after the 13 day rail journey from Fremantle, when he got the surprise telegram from The Colonel telling him he was in.
Fishing out his only remaining presentable set of whites – well, you could only see the yellowing around the crotch from close up, but you could definitely smell it from the non-striker’s end – Wally was picked as a specialist Number 8 having reported that he was “seeing it big in the nets”. (The Colonel wasn’t sure he was seeing it at all, never mind seeing it big, but what could he do?)
We’d lost the toss and were soon in the field and chasing leather, as Digger McKenzie took a fancy to poor old Baldy Balderstone, who had spent the previous day sitting in a deckchair with just a handkerchief on his head loudly exclaiming that “If it were good enough for Wakes Week in Blackpool, it were good enough for South Australia”. He’d had a cold shower and a couple of cold beers before play started, but even a nip of Matron’s brandy in the morning drinks break had done him little good and Digger kept lifting him over deep square leg into an area of the crowd reserved for bare-knuckle bouts amongst the locals. (I made more backing and laying the locals down in Bay 13’s fighting area than I received in match fees in this Test – indeed, add in the winnings on the Melbourne Cup, and I did rather well financially that winter, even after the Tour bonus pool had gone to cover the rabies jabs).
Digger had already posted his half-century and Baldy was just about to be taken off, when another short ball (well, so short it bounced twice) was lifted into the deep just in time for Wally to finish making his point about Gallipoli to a larrikin and off he set, sprinting round the boundary. He took off – though some claimed that he was tripped – and flew through the air towards the ball, which he caught one-handed! Unfortunately, he landed square on the famous Oval picket fence, impaling himself and puncturing a lung. The reaction of the crowd to this mishap reflected poorly on their sense of sportsmanship – and the same could be said for most of Wally’s team-mates. He held on to the ball though and had the presence of mind to appeal, but, after a brief consultation, the local umpires turned it down and Digger went on to post his century just after tea,
Wally was back in Matron’s quarters (plenty of space there as Matron was now doing Third Man at both ends as she had the best arm in the party) and, after a bit of attention from an Aussie quack, Wally was passed fit to play on Day Two when he scored a commendable 3* in our 79 all out in reply to Australia’s 647-3 dec. Fortunately, rain washed out Days Three and Four and the play was abandoned early on Day Five due to a cane toad invasion, so we went to Melbourne still 0-0 with three to play.
Wally’s catch went down in folklore and, at the end of tour party, he was presented with the still bloody picket by Digger himself – I believe it might be in the Lord’s Museum to this day. The whereabouts of Wally’s whites is, mercifully, lost to history.
Hugh Fatt-Barstad was talking to @garynaylor999.