Cricket was a popular sport among Ballarat miners since at least 1853. One of the first cricket matches was between the Canadian Gully and Gravel Pits teams on Boxing Day 1853, the losers paying for dinner at Bath’s Hotel (now Craig’s).
It wasn’t until 25 October 1856 that wickets were pitched at Mopoke Gully (now the Eastern Oval). Daniel Sweeney and Henry Davies were present when the club had its first practice on 29 October 1856 on the flat near the present Eastern Oval. One of the bats used was hewn from a solid piece of wood which was described as a ‘solid lump of red gum weighing many pounds [the] handle and blade in one piece’. Withers also describes a ‘treasured rude lightwood bat’ one of the first used by the club, as being in the pavilion at the Eastern oval ‘for some time’.
Many local cricket matches were attended, with Ballarat players like Goujon, Watson, Lowther, Saunders, Cox, Davis, Morris, Sherrard, Wade and Moore participating. The first match with another town was played on 20 February 1857 between Ballarat and Geelong. The scores were Ballarat 59 and 96, Geelong 69 and 5 for 24 so that the match ended in a draw.
Notches made in sticks counted the runs made, fields-men played in stockinged feet, and all bowling was underarm. A bowler was not allowed to bowl more than two overs in succession, nor change ends more than twice in each innings. At the end of an innings the wickets could be pulled up and pitched in another spot, and when the batsman was out, the bat could not be touched until the new batsman came in. Umpires were also not allowed to have a bet on the match!
In March 1862 the English eleven played the Ballarat twenty-two, the scores being England 155, Ballarat 122 and 107 the match ending in a draw. The Victorian eleven paid a visit in January 1863, the game continuing until ‘the men in the field could not see the wicket’.
During the 1870s there were ‘shady fish ponds with big trees’ on the eastern side of the oval, while a big wooden building comprised the grandstand. A skittle alley made of interlaced sticks and thatched roof was alongside, and next to this came the Bowling Green.
The cricketers used to play skittles on rainy days, their favourite drink of beer being provided by the Lewis’s Pavilion Hotel, reportedly the only fully licenced hotel on a sports ground in Victoria.
On the banks of Jim Crow creek at Cricket Willow Australian cricket bats have been produced from some exceptional willow trees for over a century. Cricket was played on Tinetti’s (Cricket Willow) hill in Shepherd’s Flat (which is between Daylesford and Franklinford) from early gold rush days.
The famous Crockett bat was first made from the willow trees in the area. Test umpire Robert Crockett was officiating at the England Australia match in 1902 when he happened to talk to the English captain Archie McLaren about the manufacture of Australian cricket bats. Six months later McLaren was to send the first willow cuttings out from England. They arrived in a steel tube but only one cutting survived the heat of the equator. This precious willow cutting was taken to Shepherd’s Flat where Archie’s brother James nurtured it.
Many years later many mature willow trees grew at Shepherd’s Flat. From these willows the famous Crockett cricket bats were made. It is important when and how the trees were cut for timber for the renowned bats. Cricket greats such as Warwick Armstrong, Lindsay Hassett and Norman O’Neill were wielders of the Crockett willow. The firm of R M Crockett & Son was sold to the Slazenger Dunlop Group and the trees at Shepherd’s Flat were felled.
However, farsighted Swiss/Italian Aqualino Tinetti saved a handful of the willows along the Jim Crow creek, and in recent years the Tinetti family, now in its fifth generation in the district, make Cricket Willow bats at Shepherd’s Flat.
The Tinetti family have also created a cricket oval, museum, billiard hall, and bocce court at Cricket Willow from a paddock that was previously strewn with rocks. Once again the Shepherd’s Flat landscape is filled with willows.
On Easter Monday 28 March 2005 a family cricket day was held at this picturesque oval in the shadow of Mount Franklin. Teams of six players made up of brothers, sisters, mums, dads, and friends took part. Games commenced 11 am. There was plenty of fun for all ages including cricket bat workshops.