Peter Newlinds continues his memories of working inside the SCG scoreboard when he was a teenager, 40 years ago. (See also, Part 1) This extract is from Peter’s 2018 memoir about being a sports broadcaster, Around The Grounds.
There was a telephone on the wall next to where I sat that connected the scoreboard to the outside world. One job I relished was to ring the dressing rooms before the start of a match and have the 12th man from each team give me the batting order. We also used the phone to check in with the official scorers to make sure all our numbers were in sync with theirs. (ABC Radio were always very willing to point out if a number on the board was incorrect.) Occasionally, in those days long before the internet, we’d receive a call from a media outlet wanting a score update.
I remember a BBC producer ringing a few times, their very English accent coming down the line. ‘None for 10,’ I told them one day. ‘That’s 10 for none in your language.’ ‘Oh, I see,’ was the reply. And there were calls from sundry others; after Greg Matthews started playing his father would call from time to time for an update. I always loved taking these calls. On another occasion, Ken Sutcliffe and a crew from Channel 9 came up to do a news feature on the board. ‘Not a bad school holiday job,’ was Ken’s remark to me. Even he was impressed.
In a quiet corner of the bottom floor, just beside the fridge, was a cupboard with alphabetically labelled pigeon holes. Inside each pigeon hole were several neatly rolled up canvases; every player who’d performed on the ground had one. Before any match, the canvases of all that game’s players would be removed, unrolled and stapled onto one of those long boards for mounting on the scoreboard. For this young cricket fan, the most awe-inspiring thing about this collection was that it included the names of not only current players but all past players – going right back to 1924.
Understanding what I did of cricket history, to look through these names – like Hammond and Hobbs, Sobers and Worrell, Benaud and Woodfull – was the best way to understand the significance of the experience I was having, not to mention the importance of the work I was doing. What more is there to do at a place as historic as the SCG than to ponder the people and events that have gone before? I was tempted to ask if I could take one of these artefacts home, but unfortunately I never did. I sometimes wonder what became of them. The only canvas with a known fate is that of Bradman himself. His canvas – which was missing when I worked in the board – is today framed in glass and hangs impressively at the western end of the SCG members’ bar.
Scoreboard life became a pleasurable and, for a sixteen-year-old, profitable routine. My earnings had a way of finding their way into the cash registers of record stores on the North Shore.
My dream existence as a scoreboard operator lasted until the end of the 1982–3 season, a time so long ago there were still rest days in test matches. The last major test innings I or anyone else saw from the board was that of the unlikely figure of English night watchman Eddie Hemmings. Eddie was an ageing, somewhat portly off-spinner who fell just short of the most unlikely of test centuries when he batted out time on the final day of the test in January 1983. That game never came to life the way the previous test in Melbourne had done, when Allan Border and Jeff Thomson got Australia within four runs of victory in one of the most famous fifth day finishes of all.
A few months after the close of that season I read a newspaper story about the impending replacement of ‘my’ scoreboard with a modern electronic alternative. It turned out that my last game inside the board had been the one-day match between Australia and New Zealand spontaneously organised as a fundraiser for victims of the Ash Wednesday bushfires.
For the next couple of seasons I did a bit of stewarding around the ground. It wasn’t quite the same, though I did have a side-on view of Allan Border’s team taming the frightening West Indies in 1984, not by matching them with force but with guile in the form of two home-ground spinners in Murray Bennett and Bob Holland. This was Clive Lloyd’s last test match and the last match that Alan McGilvray would spend behind the microphone at the SCG. Both events created a considerable amount of hype and sentiment. As a last hurrah it wasn’t a bad one for me, either. By January 1985 I had stopped working at the SCG.
In the end I only had two and a bit years of work with Jack and the others in the scoreboard, but it was interesting, exciting and gave me a feeling of success. Perfection really. Of course, I was still a teenager and there were occasional times when I would ring in and say I couldn’t work, the chance to play cricket with a few mates being the more attractive option. But when I was at work I was getting paid to watch the cricket, while doing a job that was, in social standing, a good few rungs above those most other teenagers got to do. It was also important: a job in which every moment mattered – not just the memorable ones – as did attention to detail and accuracy. I didn’t know it at the time, but on this count alone the job was very good training for a future cricket commentator. I could get used to this life.