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Sport’s quirks of fate

Alex Paull Roar Rookie

By Alex Paull, Alex Paull is a Roar Rookie

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7 Have your say

    It is early October, 1935. South Melbourne’s champion spearhead Bob Pratt is preparing for his third consecutive grand final.

    With Collingwood counterpart Gordon Coventry’s illustrious career winding down, Pratt had been the preeminent forward of the past three years, having booted 103 that season and a record 150 goals the year before – a record which is yet to be beaten.

    Two days out from the centrepiece of the 1935 season, Pratt alights from a tram and is struck by a brick truck – ironically driven by a South Melbourne supporter – suffering an ankle injury and lacerated legs.

    As the truck collides with the champion forward, his, and consequently South Melbourne’s premiership aspirations crash with a thud.

    South Melbourne lose to Collingwood by 20 points two days later.

    Neither Pratt’s replacement, Roy Moore, nor charismatic centre-half-forward Laurie Nash kick a goal, and while the Bloods fronted up to Collingwood in the grand final the next year for another loss, South Melbourne would only play one more grand final before relocating to Sydney in 1982.

    What’s the point of this historic tale, I hear you ask?

    Well, imagine if Pratt had stepped off the tram a mere 10 seconds earlier. He lines up on ‘the Prince of Full-backs’, Collingwood’s Jack Regan, kicks five in a relatively low-scoring encounter, South Melbourne wins.

    Pratt then plays out his days with the Bloods, instead of leaving in acrimonious circumstances in 1937.

    Maybe the infamous bloodbath of 1945 is merely a tight tussle, maybe Leo Barry’s mark 70 years later is spilt.

    In what may seem as an inane exercise – turning back the clock and basing our lives on what-ifs, it curiously embodies what we as sports lovers do.

    We are at the mercy of time in its fluid brilliance. We can’t change it. But imagine if we could.

    As I write this, the first Ashes Test at Trent Bridge has drawn to a close in controversial circumstances.

    Controversy through the use (or lack thereof) technology may have cruelled Australia’s chances of victory, or it could have prolonged the inevitable.

    Wunderkind Ashton Agar’s miraculous innings could have been stopped in its tracks on six, with the tightest of stumping calls.

    Stuart Broad caresses a ball to first slip and stands upright, staring down the bowler with all the innocence of Ivan Milat, as the umpire’s left finger refuses to budge.

    Moments that could have gone either way to deciding a nation’s fate, to ensuring one or two less sleepless nights for those back in Australia.

    Moments that infuriate us but endear us to sport as a whole. Decisions that make us scream to the heavens until we’re hoarse.

    But that is sport. Essentially, it is a series of moments and decisions which impact on us as enthusiasts, and with one momentary lapse of reason, we find ourselves begging for the time back.

    We ride these moments like a cork on the tide.

    As Australians we were pushed deep into the abyss by Broad’s non-dismissal, yet just as easily we are brought back to life by the reprieve of Agar.

    Time is a fluid, ever-changing beast, and there are a myriad of examples where moments and decisions have shaped the present.

    While the process of dealing with what-ifs is futile, it is simply how we review the past.

    And just like Bob Pratt’s misfortune shaped the immediate and not-so-immediate future, so too will the first Ashes Test at Trent Bridge.

    Whether we look back on it with the same interest as Pratt’s almost 80 years ago remains to be seen.

    But as sports-lovers, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

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    The Crowd Says (7)

    • July 17th 2013 @ 8:30am
      Savvas Tzionis said | July 17th 2013 @ 8:30am | ! Report

      Thats a very good counter factual story. I hope no old time South supporters read it! They will surely get depressed.

      btw…. Pratt left at the end of 1939, not 1937.

    • Roar Guru

      July 17th 2013 @ 11:40am
      sheek said | July 17th 2013 @ 11:40am | ! Report

      Then there’s the other side of the coin. Sometimes the unexpected will fill us with overflowing joy.

      Back in 1974, holding the Ashes, England arrived in Australia confident they would retain them. Their team was solid without being spectacular. But was considered strong enough to do the job, despite missing it’s two best players.

      Opener Geoff Boycott, dropped earlier in the year for slow scoring, had taken himself into self-imposed exile (for three years). Aging fast bowler John Snow (the tormentor of both 1970/71 & 72) had been overlooked.

      There was depth through the team even without these two champions.

      But despite the resurgence of Australia, they had their own problems.

      The mighty Dennis Lillee had suffered a back injury that would have ended the career of most other players. He had sat out first-class cricket for 18 months as his back mended.

      He declared his fitness to resume his first-class career in late 1974, but no-one knew if he would once again be as fast or as good as he previously was.

      Jeff Thomson had played his test debut in 1972/73 with a broken bone in his foot, took 0/110 & was then unceremoniously dumped. He was unwanted by NSW for all bar the last match of the Sheffield Shield season of 1973/74, when he exploded, taking 9 wickets against Queensland.

      For the 1974/75 season Thomson was signed to Qld with our own Roar expert David Lord brokering the deal.

      In 1973/74 against NZ, Australia had used Max Walker, Gary Gilmour, Geoff Dymock, Tony Dell & Alan Hurst against the Kiwis with mixed results. Part of England’s confidence hinged on them fearing little from this collection of pacemen.

      For the opening test of 1974/75, the Aussie selectors punted on both Lillee & Thomson. Australia batted first & England, confident Lillee was “finished” & Thomson was “overblown hype”, happily started a bumper war on the Aussie batsmen.

      Lillee opened the bowling for Australia & while he was sharp, he was still working his way back to full pace, which would take him half the series to achieve.

      But it only took the opening over from Thomson for England to realise they had started something they couldn’t win. Thommo was faster, much faster than they had been led to believe. He was in fact, frighteningly fast.

      For the first four tests Lillee was amazingly consistent – 2 & 2, 2 & 2, 2 & 2, 2 & 2 wickets in eight innings of four tests. He picked up four wickets in each innings of the 5th test & a single wicket in the last test before quitting with a heal injury, to finish with 25 wickets in six tests.

      In England in 1975 he was back to his very best, capturing 21 wickets in four tests.

      Thomson captured 3 & 6 in the 1st test & followed with 2 & 5, 4 & 4, 4 & 2, & 3 in the first innings of the 5th test. On the rest day of the 5th test, Thommo injured his shoulder playing tennis, didn’t bowl in the 2nd innings & missed the final test.

      In England in 1975 he bowled reasonably well in conditions unfamiliar to him, capturing 16 wickets in four tests.

      In 10 Ashes tests, Lillee captured 46 wickets, while in 9 Ashes tests, Thomson captured 49 wickets. The following summer against the Windies, Thomson took 29 wickets in six tests & Lillee 27 wickets in five tests.

      Over two wonderful Australian summers & one English summer (which also included the inaugural world cup), Lillee & Thomson both played 15 tests each, capturing 73 & 78 wickets respectively.

      As a young high school leaver in 1974, these remain some of my best sporting memories.

    • July 17th 2013 @ 2:41pm
      Chairman Kaga said | July 17th 2013 @ 2:41pm | ! Report

      Wasn’t the driver of the brick truck a Collingwood supporter? What was thought around the traps back then is John Wren, famous Collingwood president and illegal bookmaker/gangster, paid someone to skittle Pratt in order to smoth the way for a Magpies flag.

      Pratt was the greatest of the full forwards. You also need to take into consideration they played less matches in a season back before the 1970s.

    • July 17th 2013 @ 6:23pm
      Floyd Calhoun said | July 17th 2013 @ 6:23pm | ! Report

      Isn’t that Pratt incident enshrined in folklore? I’ve heard a recording of a Collingwood old timer recalling that a Pies player was asked how they might win that particular GF a few days before, and he replied ‘if Pratty gets hit by a truck’. Jokingly of course, but that’s exactly what happened!

    • July 17th 2013 @ 8:43pm
      Floyd Calhoun said | July 17th 2013 @ 8:43pm | ! Report

      Having done some research, that’s not quite the story. Close though. It was Harry Collier who said we (Collingwood) will win, if there’s no Pratt. He didn’t mention a truck. Still, his wish came true. Anyway kids, Always check the traffic when alighting from a tram. Especially the day before the Grand Final. Probably cost South the flag, who can tell?

    • July 17th 2013 @ 11:25pm
      pope paul v11 said | July 17th 2013 @ 11:25pm | ! Report

      I think Atherton’s decision to declare when Hick was 98 falls in this category.

      They went out a bit flat and Taylor and Slats put ’em all over the park. That period of unexpected low morale cost them the test I reckon.

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