Barrier Cricket’s first SACA Country Championship

Etched in Barrier Cricket folklore is a band of men in white from the 1973-74 season. This squad of cricketers was the first Barrier team to compete in the South Australian Cricket Association (SACA) annual Country Cricket Championships. Across this event, the best rural talent from across South Australia competed, and from February 1974, the cricketers of Broken Hill engaged in fierce battles at suburban grounds in the city of churches.

Captained by Ian Fillery, the Barrier’s inaugural team at the SACA championships included Robert Barrett, Dennis Cetinich, James Daley, Geoffrey Delbridge, Alwyn Elstone, Dean Files, future Australian Country Cricket Hall of Famer Rodney Johnston, Donald Ogilvie, John Preston, Donald Price, Brian Reardon, Thomas Slattery (as Manager), and Peter Staker.

The team’s first-ever game was at Glenunga North Oval against the Eyre Peninsula on February 4. In a low-scoring affair, Peter Staker took impressive figures of 4/28, with their opponents being bowled out for 110. Unfortunately, the Barrier lads fell 30 runs short in the chase.

The team didn’t have to wait long for its inaugural victory. In the second game at Teachers College Number Two Oval, John Preston and Dennis Cetinich each took four wickets, bundling the Yorke Peninsula side out for just 69. After a half-century by Geoff Delbridge and 33 by Rod Johnston, Barrier declared at 4/127, sending Yorke Peninsula back in. The lads from “the leg” were 3/57 in their second innings at stumps.

After competitive performances and close losses to Upper North and Southern—the latter where Delbridge became the first Broken Hill player to snare a five-wicket haul at this competition—a second win came in round five (first day of week two) against Lower-Mid North, winning by three wickets. Skipper Ian Fillery made a half-century, and Don Price remained 40 not out when the opponent’s score was passed.

The round six match was another low-scoring affair against the Southeast team. The Barrier side bundled their opponents out for 119, with Peter Staker taking an impressive 5/38 and Dennis Cetinich chiming in with 3/25. Despite a defiant 33 from Rod Johnston, the Barrier side only managed 87 in reply.

On the final day, Murray Districts—who would later amalgamate with Barrier in the 2010s—defeated Barrier by 44 runs, with Don Price top-scoring with 45.

“Back in those days, there was a requirement for four players to be 22 years of age or under,” three-time title-winning captain and the first skipper of the SA Outbacks, Rod Johnston, explained. “We had six in that bracket in the first year. There was also a rule about no more than a couple of players over the age of 28. We received a lot of support from the people of Broken Hill and stayed in Adelaide for the two weeks.”

Johnston, who was the Barrier team’s leading run-scorer in their initial tournament, won selection in the Country Carnival team of the championship, which played a SACA state Second XI. The Country batted first and made 176 on Adelaide Oval’s Number Two Ground, with Ian Ravenscroft and Phil Verco making half-centuries. Future SA and World Series Cricket paceman Wayne “Fang” Prior took six wickets, including a hat-trick.

With Kym Harris and David Hookes both plundering half-centuries, the SACA side had an easy seven-wicket win. The Barrier team won their first Harry Meyer Cup title under the leadership of Rod Johnston in 1978 and enjoyed further successes in 1982, 1986, and 1990, with the last one captained by Wayne Caldwell.

Footnote – To celebrate the 100 years since the inaugural Harry Meyer Cup in the summer of 1924-1925, the SA Country Cricket Committee has commissioned a publication to mark this centenary. This special carnival has historically brought the best country cricketers from across the state to test their skills on Adelaide’s suburban grounds.

Peter Argent and Geoff Sando have been collating material and interviewing players for this publication. To ensure the most comprehensive version of the Century publication possible, the authors are seeking any annual booklets, photos, scorebooks, notes, and memorabilia from the SACA Country Cricket Carnival.

In the first instance, please contact Peter Argent at 0411178444 or via email at [email protected]. Alternatively, you can reach Geoff Sando at [email protected], regardless of how insignificant you may feel the items are.

Barrier Truth correspondent Peter Argent will be travelling to Broken Hill in November and is eager to meet with any former players, staff, or families face-to-face.

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