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Sharply observed mimicry of sporting commentary is a niche comic form, but from the late 1980s, Australian comedian Billy Birmingham took it to chart-topping ubiquity with a series of recordings that gathered his small legion of impersonations under the sobriquet The Twelfth Man. Most famous were his recreations of a goonish Nine Wide World of Sports team from that golden age of television cricket commentary in which an ecru/ivory/white/cream-blazered Richie Benaud led the likes of Bill Lawry, Tony Greig, Ian Chappell, and Max Walker. Birmingham had the vocal measure of all of them, to genuinely hilarious effect.

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Published in May 2023, no. 453

At the conclusion of the third women’s cricket test against England in 1935, Victorian all-rounder Nance Clements souvenired her name plate from the Melbourne Cricket Ground scoreboard. What she discovered on the reverse side of the plate, as Marion Stell recounts in The Bodyline Fix: How women saved cricket, was the name Larwood.

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Published in March 2023, no. 451

After nearly a lifetime of giving pleasure to those who read about cricket, Ray Robinson died in 1982. This collection of thirty-one articles which previously had appeared in various publications over a span of sixty years, has been admirably selected and introduced by Jack Pollard. Moreover, it is accompanied by a graceful and generous foreword by Sir Donald Bradman. Some pieces are better known than others. Certainly are those which first appeared in Robinson's hardbacked books. What we must particularly thank Pollard for is collecting some of that writing which was first published in not so durable magazines or newspapers. This commemorative volume therefore should delight many.

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When you bump into people who know Gideon Haigh – and that happens a lot in Geelong – they will tell you about his encyclopedic knowledge of cricket, his dedication to detail, and his casualness with money. I want to add to this list of his idiosyncrasies a delicious ability to turn the mundane into the magnificent. For this is exactly what The Vincibles is to we weekend warriors – a magnificent vindication of our very existence.

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Published in April 2003, no. 250

Braham Dabscheck reviews 'Bad Boys' by Roy Masters

Braham Dabscheck
Wednesday, 24 August 2022

Coaches and journalists are the high priests of sport. The former determine the liturgy; the latter explain, comment on, and provide judgments and recommendations for reform to the great unwashed. Roy Masters has performed both roles. He coached the rugby league clubs Western Suburbs (1978–81) and St George (1982–87) and has for two decades been a font of insight, mainly on rugby league, for readers of the Sydney Morning Herald. His journalism has combined intelligence, larrikinism and an eye for the absurd.

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Published in May 2007, no. 291

What would Samuel Johnson have made of sports writing? Not much, I suspect. He believed literature should strike bold notes of moral activism, of ‘Truth’ with a capital T, be an edifier, not merely entertainment. That’s asking a lot of sports writing. Or it may just be asking a lot of Australian sports writing. I mention Johnson only because I happened to be reading his Lives of the English Poets before I began this lump of a book. I know it’s quite an imaginative leap from Johnson’s book to a sports writing anthology, but they are both, in their own way, catalogues of dead and forgotten people and their forgotten deeds. Whoever remembers John Pomfret or Thomas Sprat, seventeenth-century stanza-makers once thought worthy of Dr Johnson’s attention? Who remembers Clarrie Grimmett or Bob Tidyman, sportsmen of eras past, once thought worthy of the Australian media’s attention? Not even Johnson, writing at his verbally ornate best, could make an enthusiastic poetaster like me to want to bother with the Pomfrets and Prats. As for the Grimmetts and Tidymans – I’m a sportstaster with a quick thumb for flicking tiresome pages.

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New Year’s Day 2002 marks the centenary of Warwick Windridge Armstrong’s Test cricket début for Australia. At the age of twenty-two, the promising all-rounder carried his bat in both innings on the Melbourne Cricket Ground against Archie MacLaren’s English side. Almost twenty years later, a much heavier and more famous Armstrong, then aged forty-one and nicknamed ‘The Big Ship’ because of his size, captained Australia for the tenth time in his fiftieth and last Test match, played at The Oval in London.

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The Australian summer was once again a story of Covid. Just as things were slowly reaching a state of ‘Covid-normal’, Omicron came along to present us with new, decidedly unwelcome, challenges. Despite Omicron, our summer did not pass by without one of its most defining features: sport. Many events went ahead as planned, not least the Australian Open tennis tournament.

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Published in April 2022, no. 441

The Australian team that won the 1991 Rugby World Cup must rank as one of our most charismatic national sport teams in modern times. The side that defeated England in the final at London’s Twickenham Stadium included several players now regarded as undisputed greats of global rugby: John Eales, Tim Horan, Jason Little, Michael Lynagh, and captain Nick Farr-Jones. There were also stirring ‘underdog’ stories: players who seemed to rise from nowhere that year to play starring roles, such as fullback Marty Roebuck and wing Rob Egerton. In Tonga-born flanker Viliami Ofahengaue, there was an early hint of the changing demographic of élite rugby players in Australia.

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David Frith’s slim biography of Archie Jackson reflects his subject’s tragically short life. When Jackson made his Test match début for Australia at Adelaide in the 1928–29 Ashes series, scoring an eye-catching 164, it was he, rather than the young Don Bradman, who instilled the most excitement in this country’s cricket-loving public. When Jackson was included in the 1930 tour of England, one ex-cricketer, Cecil Parkin, remarked that he was ‘a better bat than Bradman’, who had débuted in the same series as Jackson. This is but one example of the lavish praise that the gifted, though inconsistent, young cricketer received during his lifetime.

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