It’s 25 years since Queensland won its inaugural Sheffield Shield title.
And noting the milestone this morning, I couldn’t help but recall my own version of witnessing how that grand old Shield was finally sent north of the Tweed.
Given the run of success the state has enjoyed since, it may be hard for some to appreciate just what a significant moment this was at the time.
But this was 69 years in the making. The longer that went on, the more Queensland cricket became the butt of jokes across the country.
To understand it fully is to have a sense of the prominence of domestic cricket at the time. It was the mid-90’s. State cricket still had a profile, mostly on the back of 50-over games which drew big crowds. Sheffield Shield cherry-picked off it, but the four-day game boasted a global reputation as the premier long-form cricket nursery. It was the ultimate apprenticeship for test cricket.
Queensland cricket had become sport’s tortured bride. Consistently left at the altar, that theory grew legs through the 80’s when they came up short in five finals in seven years. Through the middle of the decade they had their hearts crushed in consecutive years by New South Wales, just when it appeared the curse was about to be snapped.
So when the time came in March 1995 for the Bulls to have another crack at winning domestic cricket’s Holy Grail, my friends and I made a last minute decision to abandon University, pile into the car and head south to Brisbane to sit on the hill and watch history unfold.
Now this is what I call a real education.
I don’t recall the drive down to be honest. But Rockhampton to Brisbane is a good eight hours or so. And funds were tight.
By week’s end, the bulk of the budget was spent over the bar as we joined the throng of Queensland fans savouring Australian sporting history.
There was Rupert McCall and his poetic prose. The wags on the hill channelling their own inner Barmy Army. I recall a “Five Days of the Final” ditty to the tune of “12 Days of Christmas” is especially memorable. In homage to the tons scored by Trevor Barsby and Martin Love I have vivid memories of the line “two slashing centuries” and the continual return to “and South Australia out for 214.”
There was the sigh and groan as the great Allan Border chopped on a trademark cover drive to be dismissed for 98. An anti-climax of sorts. AB had continued playing following test retirement in a bid to finally secure a Shield title for Queensland. Yep. There was currency in ticking off unfinished business in the domestic product, even for the legends.
The euphoric roar as Stuart Law snatched a caught and bowled late on day five to put the Bulls within reach. I happened to be in a queue for the bar at the time and inadvertently became part of one giant, collective hug and alcohol shower.
25 years on, it mightn’t make sense to some. But that’s how much it meant to Queenslanders.
Anyone who was there will never forget the elation as the final wicket fell. A young Jason Gillespie squirting an attempted drive off spinner Paul Jackson into the hands of big Carl Rackemann at point. The moment had arrived. The monkey was off our backs.
The fans stormed the field. Grown men were reduced to tears. The Queensland flag was held aloft and waved with pride. Police entered the arena on horseback to control the masses. There’s cameras everywhere. Every network. Imagine that these days!
After the game, we clamoured for a spot as the players celebrated with the fans. Rupert belted out poems. The players smashed through Holy Grail. The Hunters and Collectors classic would become the soundtrack forever linked to this iconic moment.
We were close too. I had a camera with me and managed to squirt off a few shots. Wade Seccombe and a young Matthew Hayden were front and centre. I remember big Mocca, arms aloft, chest puffed out, saluting from the Cricketers Club balcony. They had the whole state in the palm of their hands.
At some point, we bought the commemorative t-shirt too. What a day!
A few weeks later, the players took the Shield on a celebration lap of the state. Queensland was swept up in the moment for months.
I put a few of the photos together on a piece of card and headed to the airport with my mates when the team arrived. I think we might have even made the local news that night. The players signed it for me and it has sat in a frame as a personalised memento ever since. I dug it out this morning to mark the occasion.
It’s amusing to see the autographs given I’ve had a bit to do with a number of the guys who’ve signed it in the years that have followed.
Channel 9 commissioned a panoramic print. It shows fans rushing the wicket square in the immediate aftermath of the final wicket being taken. My parents bought it. Even all this years later, I can stand and look at it for hours and see something new and interesting every time.
69 years in the making, Queensland had finally secured its holy grail. I am glad I was there to be part of it!