Cricket at Loch Sport again?

Venturing down to Loch Sport over the break offered something of a contradiction; it afforded the opportunity for relaxation and observation.

There was the usual activity of holiday-makers enjoying themselves, be it on the water, or off the jetty, while staff at the local supermarket seemed to be running off their feet trying to keep up with the sudden influx of people.

One canny local took full advantage, turning his garage into a neat little side-business; half ice creamery, half op shop.

Perhaps it is just me, but there is a distinct difference that separates Loch Sport from other towns.

We often say in the newsroom we could dedicate an entire paper to what goes on down there.

Describing it can be difficult, but as you make the final turn off from Longford-Loch Sport Road, it almost feels as though you are entering another country.

This was one of the last Victorian towns to get electricity after all.

Time has marched on since, and there has been huge growth in recent years.

The population swelled 25 per cent in five years according to census data, going from 814 in 2016 to 1021 by 2021. (Although many believe it is actually closer to 2000).

Local agent Gary Powers had 240 houses for sale in Loch Sport in 1998. In late 2020, he had 11.

The town has two service stations, and calls are being made for increased services, including a hospital and dedicated GPs.

With a reliable NBN now available, and more and more people working from home, outsiders have flocked to the area to set up home offices.

The last town to get electricity is now arguably the fastest growing in Wellington Shire.

Given the growth, I couldn’t help but think – is there enough people here to reform the cricket club?

Loch Sport already has a bowls club, a golf club, and social tennis. Could cricket complete the quartet of available summer sports?

The cricket facility is already there – well sort of.

The Loch Sport cricket ground, long since a ball was bowled.

There is an oval, there is clubrooms, and there is still remnants of a cricket pitch. There is even remnants of two cricket nets.

After playing a quick nine at the neighboring golf course, I wondered over to the old cricket ground for a closer inspection.

The sand greens at Loch Sport certainly made for an adjustment. You wonder how the local players go from sand to grass.

The cricket oval is still fenced, and on first glance I was taken back by just how short the boundaries were.

A quick look on MyCricket confirms what I thought – there was some big totals posted at Loch Sport.

Loch Sport enjoyed a bit of success in the lower grades of the Sale-Maffra Cricket Association.

In Loch Sport’s premiership season of 2004/05, the home side, competing in fourth grade, racked up 258 in one game and 331 in another.

That flag must have been a spectacle; Loch Sport winning reverse-outright after being bundled out for 59 against Wurruk in the first dig.

Loch Sport trailed the Toads by 16 runs, and were then set 158 ​​to win.

The match came down to the wire, and Loch Sport prevailed by just two wickets.

The success seemed to generate enough interest to field multiple sides in 2005/06. Loch Sport tried their hand in third grade, and put another in the fifths.

While the fifths struggled, collecting the wooden spoon after a winless campaign, the thirds performed well, although their season ended in less than ideal circumstances: They missed the Grand Final by one wicket and the minor premiership by one point.

Unfortunately, the postscript to this led to an abrupt winding up.

Loch Sport had a cricket club up until the early 2000s.

Loch Sport played only twice more the next season, before a Round 3 forfeit meant it was only a matter of time before the cricket team was withdrawn altogether.

Taking in the surrounds, a stillness circulated an oval that was home to matches played long ago, paired with clubrooms long abandoned.

There is no way you could play a game there in its current state. A dry surface with unkept grass make it a sight for sore eyes. Tire marks on the wafer thin pitch however perhaps indicate there has been some maintenance, as no invasive weeds have made their way onto the 22 yards. Doesn’t every remote cricket ground feature a thin pitch?

Fortunately for me, the clubrooms were open when I visited. Holiday-makers were enjoying a hit of social tennis. The tennis courts sit directly opposite the oval, with the clubrooms serving a dual purpose facing either side.

On entry, there was some relics from Loch Sport Cricket Club. A few deteriorating pennants, an honor board that hadn’t been updated since 1996, and even a spinning wheel.

The spinning wheel led me to discover Loch Sport was known as the ‘Stingers’. Surely a tongue-in-cheek reference to the mosquitoes that frequent the area. (I was eaten alive on the sixth trying to putt).

The rooms are named after Mal Marsh, whose name features prominently on the honor board, taking a row every year from 1982 to 1996.

While some might point to a median age of 63 in Loch Sport and think resurrecting a cricket club is wishful thinking at best, it might pay to look at things holistically.

Unlike traditional winter sports, cricket especially doesn’t require a lot of work to get off the ground

Many cricket clubs are born out of groups of people that happen to be in the same place getting together to field a team.

The tiny hamlets of Buchan in the east and Thorpdale in the Strzelecki Ranges each field one cricket team a week. Heck, even Walhalla has a cricket club.

Buchan has a population of 200, Walhalla has 20 permanent residents.

The team was known as the Stingers.

If Loch Sport’s population is growing by as much as everyone says; and you would expect more and more people to arrive once work to build Nunduk (the new luxury spa retreat) starts; surely there would be 15 or so people with some interest in cricket.

Even if the median age is 63, there is likely to be people in their 40s and 50s hovering around capable of at least being able to play fourth grade.

Leagues are always looking for ways to bring in new teams. I doubt the Sale-Maffra Cricket Association would be any different.

I’m sure SMCA players wouldn’t mind a bus trip to and from Loch Sport either. They were pretty popular back in the day by all reports.

Loch Sport, the town often referred to as a ‘hidden gem’, could still have a diamond waiting to be uncovered.

Cricket got up and left Loch Sport years ago.

But that doesn’t mean it can’t come back.

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