Col Johnston

The Johnston tradition was carried over from the old Northern Division Club to the new Northern Districts Club by Colin and Alan Johnston (sons of Will C. Johnston) and by Basil Johnston (son of Harold Johnston).

Colin Johnston began his competition cricket career at the age of 13 playing for Northern Division C grade in 1930-31. An astute Mercury reporter noted: “A Promising Boy … One of the most promising young bats at present in the District is Col Johnston, who is playing with Northern Division Third grade team. He has done well at High School and with his Club; he has even twice played right through the innings. Against Louth Park on Saturday last he went in first and finished with 62 not out in a total of 119. Young Johnston has shown admirable qualities for an opening batsman. He is a left hander and has an excellent defence. He watches the ball well and, when making a stroke, meets the ball with a full bat and gets behind it. He has shown he can stick it in a critical position.”

After another season in C grade he made his A grade debut in 1932-33 and soon established himself as an opening batsman and wicketkeeper. From 1935-37 when he went to Sydney to learn the basics of the shoe trade he played with Mosman Club.

On his return to Maitland he captained the A grade team and for the next three seasons (1938-41) headed the Club’s batting aggregate and average. It was during this period that Col scored his first century – 128 against Branxton in 1938-39 – and made the highest score of his career – 196 in that memorable match against Branxton in 1940-41. In one of those strange quirks of cricket 1940-41 was also the season when he scored his one and only “pair of specs” (two “ducks” in the one match).

The pre-war period also marked the start of his representative career. He played his first district match in 1934 and after representing Hunter River at Country Week in 1938-39, was named as twelfth man for Combined Country.

Following the suspension of the local competition in 1941, Col had a short stint with Stockton for the remainder of the season and then played with the Maitland team in the Newcastle competition from 1942-47.During this time he figured in some fine opening partnerships with Mick Hinman. In one match against Stockton at Lorn, Col and Mick put on an opening partnership of 216 in 118 minutes, with Col ending up with 131.

Col had some fine batting figures in the Newcastle competition – 467 runs in 1943-44; 466 in 1944-45; and 596 in 1945-46. Further representative honours also came his way when he was selected to play for Newcastle against a Metropolitan X1 at the SCG in 1944 and against South Australia in 1946.

In 1946-47 he was named as captain of the Combined Country team to play Metropolitan at the SCG. He scored an impressive 141 not out for Combined Country and gained high praise from the Sydney press. Following on this innings he was chosen for N’SW Second X1 to play against Victoria at the MCG in December 1946. Shortly afterwards he played for Northern NSW against Wally Hammond’s MCC team at Newcastle and captained the team after Reg Beatty withdrew following the death of his father after the first day’s play. lt was a proud moment for Col as his father had captained the team that played against Arthur Gilligan’s MCC team in Maitland in 1925.

So, in 1947 when Col returned to play in the local Maitland competition and took on the position of first President of Northern Districts Club, as well as the captaincy of the First grade team, he brought with him an impressive background of experience in competition and representative cricket. That background was to bear fruit not only in his own personal success but in the immense benefit to the Club in the years ahead.

In the first season of district cricket (1947-48) Col headed the Club and District aggregate with 508 runs including two centuries at an average of 56.5. He scored a further two centuries in representative matches to take his combined total for the season over 1000 runs and for the second consecutive season represented Combined Country against City.

For three consecutive seasons from 1953-56 Col headed the Club and District aggregate with 756 runs, 346 and 573 respectively.

Under Col’s captaincy the first grade team during the time of district cricket (1947-56) won five premierships and three finals. The 1955-56 Annual Report paid him the following tribute: “He contributed fully to the team not only as a batsman … but also in the manner in which he captained the team. His record in being skipper for the four successive wins is in itself a fine marking stick on which his ability as a captain could be measured.He gave the team all he could on all occasions and the team as a whole responded really well to his calling.”

Col continued to captain the first grade team until 1964-65. He held the position for 22 years and during that time the team won 11 premierships. He again headed the District batting aggregate in 1958-59 and 1960-61, scoring over 500 runs in each season.

On stepping down from the captaincy. Col had written: “Of course in the few playing seasons left ahead of me, I will play when ever chosen.” That “few playing seasons” was to extend to 1980-81 when he finally drew stumps after notching up the remarkable record of fifty one seasons! After giving up the captaincy Col played first grade for another four seasons.

There were still glimpses of his former days of batting glory. John Cox, his successor as captain, wrote in the 1965-66 Report: “lt was pleasing to note that Col Johnston was second in the average with 33.0 and with an aggregate of 430 runs. Certainly a smile will come to many old supporters when they remember his figures of previous years but I can assure you that Col’s batting is still a pleasure to watch when he gets going and I think that everyone will agree that his innings of 62 against Easts in the second round was reminiscent of the days when he was really in the groove.”

After 1969 Col moved down the line through seconds and thirds to finish his playing days in fourths with some of his former first grade tearn mates. The 1980-81 Report of the fourth grade team noted: “Col Johnston was not quite as successful with the bat this year but he enjoyed each game. We all look forward to his participation each Saturday, and his advice to the younger players does much to improve their performances.”

It has been calculated that during his long cricket career Col scored over 15,000 runs in first grade cricket, including 24 centuries.

In the prime of his career he regularly captained Maitland District teams in the John Bull Shield and Coal Board Cup competitions, the Hunter River teams that participated in Country Week, and the representative teams that played against numerous visiting sides, such as the Chegwyn X1’s and Miller’s NSW Shield team in 1955. He also toured Tasmania with a NSW Country team in 1954-55; went on an Old Collegians World Tour in 1960-61; and toured NZ with Peter Philpott’s X1 in 1970-71.

Besides his deeds on the cricket field, Col put a tremendous amount of work into the administrative side of the Club. He was Secretary of Northern Division Club (1937-41); President of Northern Districts Club (1947-55); a Committee Member (1955- 72); and Club Patron (1977-89). ln addition on the wider level he was President of the Maitland and District Cricket Association for a record 19 years (1955-73) and President of the Hunter Valley Cricket Council for a record 18 years (1956-73).

As a result of his work for cricket Col was honoured in various ways:an MBE in 1977 for his services to sport and the community; Life Membership of Norths Cricket Club, the Maitland and District Cricket Association and the Hunter Valley Cricket Council; the naming after him of the pavilion at Lorn Park where he played so much of his cricket; the renaming of the cricket complex at Mt. Pleasant Street as the Johnston Reserve; the presentation of a special plaque by the NSW Country Cricket Association for his services to country cricket; and a Tribute Night accorded to him by the Association in 1989 in recognition of his services as a player and administrator for over 50 years.

Behind Col’s participation and involvement in cricket was a boundless enthusiasm for the game. ln his own words he was an “obsessed cricket fan” – one for whom cricket was a passion – not just a game to be played or a sport to be administered but a way of life.

Those who knew Col and have heard him reminisce about cricket would appreciate that he was a real cricket enthusiast who had a wealth of cricket knowledge and who was deeply imbued with a love of the game, its history and traditions.

On the field Col was a determined competitor with a “never say die” attitude, no matter how seemingly hopeless the state of the match might be. However, while he played the game hard, he always played it in the best sporting manner. “When you play, you play to win, “he used to say, “but when the game’s over, that’s it” – it was time for a handshake and a convivial drink.

Later in life when reflecting on his long cricket career, he was able to say that he was proud of his years in cricket but prouder still that he was not aware of having made one enemy in all those years. He was grateful, too, for the enjoyment and satisfaction that he had got out of the game and for the many friendships that cricket brought his way.

George Wolstenholme Senior, one of Col’s close friends, aptly summed up Col’s career: “Col’s magnificent record both on and off the field, his dedication to the game he loves and his leadership qualities can only be an example and indeed an inspiration to all cricketers of all ages. I’m sure in years to come the name ‘Col Johnston’ will be a Legend wherever cricket is played or discussed within this district. He will certainly remain a legend in the history of Norths Cricket Club”!
Alan Johnston

Alan Johnston started his cricket career with Northern Division in the early thirties while still at High School. He played in B grade in 1932-33 under the captaincy of his uncle, Harold Johnston, and the Club report mentions him as taking the most wickets.

After a few seasons in the lower grade he soon established himself in A grade as a batsman and off spin bowler. In 1936-37 his A grade batting average was listed as 16.2. The following season’s Report noted: “A.Johnston, not showing his best form until late in the season, won the aggregate and finished second in the averages with 299 at 27.1 besides getting the side’s best score with 79. However, his best innings was against Robins when, in drizzling rain, he scored a faultless 57. Johnston’s bowling fell right away, taking only 8 wickets for 232”.

In 1938-39 Alan gained his first representative honours when he played in an inter-Association match against Gloucester and was also in Hunter River’s Country Week team.

In 1940-41 he finished seventh in the district batting averages with 304 runs at 27.6.

During the war period he played in the early stage with Stockton but later enlisted and as a lieutenant in the army with the 21st Machine Gun Regiment served overseas.

In 1946-47 he played with the Association’s team in the Newcastle competition and then returned to play with Northern Districts Club under the new district format.

During the nine seasons of district cricket (1947-56), together with his brother, Colin, he was to be one of the main batting strengths of the Club. In fact during this time it was a case of either one or the other being top of the Club’s batting aggregate and average – Alan topped the aggregate and/or average four times while Col topped them the other five.

In two of those seasons – 1948-49 and 1951-52 – Alan headed the District aggregate with 538 and 482 runs respectively.

The 1948-49 Report gave high praise to his batting achievement for the season: “A.Johnston was the Club’s most reliable batsman and his figures are the best in the figures of all clubs. For 12 completed innings he scored 538 runs without the scoring of a century. This speaks volumes for his consistency and when one considers that the majority of innings were played on poorly kept grounds which kept scoring to a minimum, his eventual tally is hard to imagine if conditions had been in favour of scoring. His best effort was probably that versus Raymond Terrace when he scored 60 and 52 both not out. The match was played in shocking conditions for any grade of cricket with grass knee-high. Undoubtedly had a good scoring surface been provided he would have topped the century in each innings.His bowling was useful at times although he was not used overmuch.”

The Report for the previous season (1947-48), when he scored 447 runs at an average of 44.7 including a century against Central,claimed that “his best effort was undoubtedly that in the Final – also against Central”. In that final,which Northern won by 4 wickets on the fourth day. Alan with scores of 44 in the first innings and 52 not out was “the sheet anchor” and figured in two vital partnerships with George Wolstenholme Senior that helped the team recover from a very difficult position.

On the representative scene Alan was in the Hunter River’s Country Week team for four consecutive seasons from 1946-50 and also played in the local Maitland team in the two matches against Chegwyn’s X1 in 1946. In 1955 he was selected in the Hunter Valley team to play against Keith Miller’s NSW Shield team but unfortunately had to withdraw because of injury and his place was taken by another Northern Districts’ spinner, David Rutherford.

In the early post-war period Alan also represented the Association in the John Bull Shield and Coal Board Cup competitions. In 1950-51 in the Coal Board Cup final against Gunnedah at Cessnock, he featured in a vital last wicket partnership that brought victory to Hunter River: “On this occasion, two of our players, Alan Johnston and Keith Smith, were responsible for a last wicket stand of about 30. Incidentally on this occasion, Alan Johnston scored 60 not out of 110.Against a really good attack, his innings was a magnificent effort. Completely chanceless, he scored all round the wicket, hit hard and farmed the strike astutely. lt was easily the best innings seen last year from a Hunter River player.”

With his off-spinners Alan was also a useful bowler. In the period up to 1956 he regularly took 15-20 wickets each season. However, after 1955 more bowling success came his way and in the two seasons from 1956-58 he took 45 and 46 wickets respectively. The 1956-57 Report noted that his bowling “with greater opportunity improved considerably and this compensated … for the loss of Rutherford in so many representative games”.

In 1958-59 he underwent a knee operation that put him out of action for half a season. Although restricted in his movement, he came back to record some very good performances with both bat and ball in the seasons prior to his retirement from first grade in 1968.

In 1961-62 he headed the Club and District bowling averages with 15 wickets at 6.0 and in the four seasons from 1963-67 took 20 wickets or more each season. He scored 291 runs in 1960-61; 365 in 1963-64; and even in his last first grade season (1967-68) still tallied a respectable 232.

Alan also again put in some outstanding performances in finals.In 1963-64 in the final against Combined City he shared a “match-winning partnership” with John Cox. In another final in 1966-67 against Eastern Suburbs he figured in an “excellent middle of the innings partnership” with Robin Cotton and then “completed a great double with his bowling” which led to his captain, John Cox,commenting:” … although he did not finish with a great number of wickets, I doubt very much if the ‘Younger One’ of the Johnstons has ever had a better performance in a Final.”

Alan was also involved in- the administration of the Club. He served on the Executive Committee from 1947-55 and 1961-67 and was Club President from 1955-61. In recognition of his long period of service to the Club both on and off the field he was made a Life Member.

After stepping down from first grade, Alan played a couple of seasons in seconds before finally retiring during the 1971-72 season,bringing to an end a distinguished career that extended over forty years and one that proudly carried on the Johnston tradition.
Basil Johnston

Basil Johnston, son of Harold Johnston, was the third Johnston whose cricket career spanned the old Northern Division Club and the new Northern Districts Club. He joined Northern Division in 1936 at the age of 12. He later recalled that as the sport was so popular at that stage, he was lucky to get a game at the weekend and often had to be content with filling vacancies in C grade.

The 1938-39 Report shows that in C grade he took 2 wickets for 60 and had 14 innings for 59 runs. After leaving Maitland Boys High School in 1940 and working for two years at the Sydney firm of Farmers, he joined the Army and served four years in the coastal artillery and anti-aircraft units in New Guinea.

After his discharge from the Army, he returned to work in the family shoe business as a director and branch manager. He started playing cricket again with his old Club in the 1946-47 season and is mentioned in the C grade report as scoring 105 runs at an average of 26 and taking 5 wickets for 37.

From 1947-53 he played in second and third grade with Northern Districts. The 1947-48 Report noted: “B. Johnston, a very safe outfield, also will do better in future seasons when he overcomes his anxiety to score too quickly. He could probably pay attention to his bowling with good results. “The advice appears to have been heeded for the following season, after being dropped to third grade for the second half of the season, he finished on top of the third grade batting averages with 228 runs at 28.5.

After showing some form in second grade, he was promoted to first grade in 1953-54. He spent four seasons in first grade before going back to captain the second grade team from 1957-65. He then continued playing with the Club in second grade up until 1972.

Although his performances did not match those of his cousins, Colin and Alan, he had some very good seasons in second grade.

As the opener in 1958-59, he scored 414 runs and took 16 wickets. In 1963-64 “having his best season ever”, he topped the batting aggregate and average, finishing with 587 runs, including a century at 36.6. He followed this up in 1964-65 with 412 runs at an average of 27.4.

In a second grade match against Easts in December 1969 when the team amassed 397 he scored 97 and figured in a third wicket partnership of 121 with Colin.

On four occasions he captained Maitland second grade representative teams that played against Newcastle. He was also active in a number of other sports. Cricket was his first love, but he played baseball, golf,squash and tennis and was a keen fisherman.

Basil was actively involved in the administration of the Club. He served as Treasurer from 1950-56; as Secretary from 1956-63; and was Club President from 1963-73. In return for his long record of service, typical of the Johnston tradition, he was made a Life Member of the Club.