Inside the SCG scoreboard (part 1)

SCG, 1974/75

For cricket-mad Peter Newlinds, a Year 10 work experience spell at the Sydney Cricket Ground led to two summers inside the classic SCG scoreboard, shortly before it was replaced in 1983.  This extract is from Peter’s 2018 memoir about being a sports broadcaster, Around The Grounds.

The old SCG scoreboard was one of those grand structures unique to the game of cricket. For most people it was the first thing they looked at when they walked into the ground. It was a storyteller, its imposing presence at the Randwick end of the ground keeping spectators and players up to date with the state of play for close to sixty years, until it was replaced by an electronic board in 1983. Any photo that you see of it now is perfectly stamped with those clear white name boards spelling out the essential story of a game at a moment in time. Manual scoreboards still operate at major grounds around the country, and they are quaint and really nice to look at, but for me they don’t evoke the purpose and clarity of this beautiful building on top of the Hill.

SCG, 1974/75

It hadn’t taken long into my time with the ground staff for everyone to work out that I was a pretty keen follower of cricket. More than that: I was all over it. In the way of the keen teenager, I had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the game, its history and the players. Sometime during that 1980–81 season someone suggested that this passion for cricket, combined with my youth and agility, made me a good option to join the scoreboard crew. I wasn’t going to say no to a job that would basically allow me to watch days and days of cricket from one of the best seats in the SCG.

The scoreboard was essentially a two-storey concrete building accessed by a long staircase at its rear with a door firmly locked shut at the bottom. Inside it felt like the size of a substantial house, though I always felt it was more like a castle. The scoreboard foreman was Jack Bryson, an old-school operator who was strict but not unkind. The scoreboard was certainly his castle, and in regent style he was always stringent about who was allowed to breach its walls. Sometimes friends of mine would ask if they could visit but Jack was never keen on the idea, while on one occasion two police officers basically invited themselves in. Undaunted by the uniforms, Jack told them in no uncertain terms to turn around and get out.

The board was managed from two levels connected by a steep, narrow staircase, with most of the action taking place on the lower level. Its operation on match days was the responsibility of a team of about six ground staff, led by Jack. This group’s job included everything needed to maintain the board during play, including setting up and installing the players’ nameplates, updating the batsmen’s scores and the bowlers’ figures and, of course, keeping the current score up to date. It was a quiet, focused and industrious workplace, though there was plenty of ongoing cricket chat. The only time the pace really picked up was at a change of innings, when we had only ten minutes to move the long, narrow – and heavy – boards, each featuring a player’s name, from the bowling side of the scoreboard to the batting side and vice versa.

1965. Photo by Robert McFarlane. Sourced from National Library of Australia.

The top job in the scoreboard involved identifying the fielders. Each player had a light beside his name and when the ball was fielded, an operator would push a button to activate the relevant light. That, of course, required that the operator was able to identify each player, which is not always easy when everyone is wearing cricket whites. During my time this job was the domain of Peter Devlin (PD), who I had got to know through lunchtime net sessions during work experience. Peter was a very good first-grade cricketer for Randwick, and later went on to be the head curator at North Sydney Oval. He was the only operator allowed to do the job because of his accuracy and his focus; Peter didn’t talk much. My usual role was to maintain the current batsmen’s scores and total score.

I also had to operate the lights indicating which batsman was on strike. This was a task that also required good concentration, if not at the same level as PD’s. You had to learn pretty quickly how to pick one batsman from the other for each partnership: a particular bat brand, subtle differences in mannerism or a certain gait were all useful cues. Other operators looked after the bowling figures, dismissed batsmen, overs bowled and so on. I would work for two sessions of a day’s play and have one session off. My downtime was spent on a long, elevated sofa directly beside the sundries total, which I kept updated during that time. The view was not only private but panoramic, straight across the ground to the handsome green-roofed pavilions of the members area and beyond to the evolving skyline of the city.

Around The Grounds is available from Bad Apple Press.

Coming soon: Part 2.

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