My favourite unsuccessful Queensland XI of the 1980s

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I’ve written a number of pieces for this site that allude to probably the most traumatic sporting event of my childhood – events, rather: the consistent failure of Queensland to win the Sheffield Shield in the 1980s.

This wasn’t a phenomena new to the 1980s, of course – Queensland choking was an integral part of Sheffield Shield lore, being particularly notable in the 1950s and 1970s when they came second with agonising regularity: three times between 1957-62, and four times between 1974-78.

But in the 1980s Queensland really stepped it up a notch.

All fans know the drill.

They’d have a terrific team, full of international representatives and players good enough to play at a higher level, come bursting out of the gate at the start of the summer and head the Sheffield Shield table, then start to fumble after New Years, wind up losing a key games from an impossibly strong position thanks to a career-highlight performance from some hack, make the final but outside Brisbane (which meant they had to win the game outright as opposed to just draw), get in a strong position at some stage then blow the game.

From 1983-84 until 1989-90 Queensland made five Sheffield Shield finals out of seven, more than any state, but couldn’t win any of them. Over that time, WA won four Shields and New South Wales three – which is why to all true Queensland cricket fans those states will be forever the evil empires.

We lost another one in 1992-93, just for kicks, but it was the 1980s ones that really burned.

In the interests of I don’t know what, therapy, maybe – I thought I’d put down my all-time unsuccessful Queensland team of the 1980s.

A few things about this team.

I’m focusing on the 1980s, which means a lot of fine players don’t make it – Sam Trimble, John MacLean, Peter Burge and the like.

Also, I’m excluding anyone who was part of the successful sides of the 1990s, no matter how much defeat they tasted beforehand – like Trevor Barsby, Allan Border, and Carl Rackemann.

Finally, they must have played in a Sheffield Shield final, so no, say, Martin Kent.

Anyway, here’s my 11.

1. Kepler Wessels

Wessels later enjoyed domestic tournament success for Eastern Province in South Africa so I thought about crossing his name off the list and replacing it with Andrew Courtice, but dammit I couldn’t go past Kepler. No one quite exemplified failed Queensland Shield campaigns as well as the South African – the fact he was imported, his brilliance at domestic and international level, his heartbreak in Shield finals.

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He played in the 1984-85 tragedy (after missing 1983-84 by virtue of being in the West Indies) but for Kepler the 1985-86 final would’ve been even more devastating.

He’d been run out of the national side, stuck around that summer to captain Queensland, led them to the final, scored 166 in the first innings, took two wickets with his bowling in New South Wales’ second innings… but was unable to see us triumph, as the Queensland attack was thwarted by the batting skills of Peter Taylor, Murray Bennett and Bob Holland (Bob Holland, for crying out loud!).

Sigh.

He did get to deliver a great end of match speech saying, “I want to thank the ACB for forcing me out of the Test side and giving me the opportunity to play with the best guys I’ve ever met.”

It was his last first class game for Queensland, though he still had a lot of cricket left to play in South Africa.

2) Robbie Kerr

For a number of years he was the next big thing but never quite got there. Took part in four finals, doing the “half century in the first innings, not much in the second dig” thing a few times, like a true ’80s Queensland cricketer.

3) Greg Chappell

One of the greatest players in the history of the game. Chappell’s skills with the bat and ball (and caching hands), along with those of Jeff Thomson, took Queensland from a side that came last 11 seasons out of 13 during the 1960s and early 1970s to one that came second four times in the 1970s.

Chappell gets in this side because of his efforts in 1983-84. He’d retired from international cricket that summer so didn’t go to the West Indies and could play with Queensland in the final. He made 85 as Queensland put on 431… and somehow managed to lose the game with their second innings of 154 (Chappell making a score of 1). It doesn’t get more Queensland than that!

Greg Chappell

(Photo by Matt King – CA/Cricket Australia/Getty Images)

It was Chappell’s last first class match but he hung around after retirement from cricket to help select unsuccessful Queensland teams through the 1980s, before getting completely out of the way, after which they finally won. Make of that what you will.

4) Greg Ritchie

Ritchie’s been cancelled now but in the 1980s no one embodied Queensland cricket more than the batter – talented, exciting when on song, exciting when not on song, full of unrealised potential, perhaps overly fond of XXXX.

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His most memorable Shield final came in 1987-88, not so much for what he did during the game but beforehand, when he was charged by the police with offensive behaviour on the flight to Perth (the one where Ian Botham put a passenger in a headlock for complaining about boorish Queensland behaviour).

According to one account, Ritchie was playing a tape recorder loudly on the plane – though Allan Border says he and Ritchie were discussing how the latter could get back in the Australian side and Botham kept interjecting, and this prompted a passenger to complain, leading to the headlock.

Border also claims the federal police were called because Queensland players “had been a bit messy in their eating habits” at Tullamarine (which Border called “the pie and pastie incident”… it must have been very messy for the police to be called).

Border says Ritchie was “totally distraught” by his charges, so much so he didn’t want to play in the final and just wanted to go home. The charges against Ritchie were dismissed.

He later led Queensland to an untypical Sheffield Shield final in 1989-90 – untypical in that they pretty much lost it from the get-go, as opposed to blowing it half way through the match.

5) Glenn Trimble

I’ve already written about the career of Trimble, unfairly famed for one ODI bowling session, when he should be remembered for taking part in four unsuccessful Sheffield Shield finals in the 1980s. His efforts in the 1985-86 final – scoring 112 then 0 – was particularly Queenslander-y.

6) Brett Henschell

A very good Queensland cricketer, a bits and pieces all-rounder who always could be counted on to get runs or take wickets when needed. Well, almost always. His one Shield final was in 1985-86 when Henschell scored two useful knocks with the bat and took three wickets… but it just wasn’t enough.

Generic cricket ball

(Steven Paston – EMPICS/Getty Images)

7) Trevor Hohns

I had a lot to say about Hohns as a selector but he gave yeoman service to Queensland as a player over a long, long time (like, really long – from 1972/73 to 1990/91). He did help select the 1994-95 side but I think anyone who was part of so many losing Queensland sides through the ’70s and ’80s deserves inclusion in this team.

He scored 103 in the 1984-85 final but couldn’t take any damn wickets. His second innings of 59 gave us a chance in 1987-88 final – but, again, not enough. Hohns was emblematic of Queensland efforts during this time: really good, just not good enough to win the damn Shield.

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8) Ray Phillips

Solid Queensland keeper, originally from New South Wales, who in hindsight should’ve gone to the West Indies in 1984 as Rod Marsh’s replacement (if they didn’t want to pick Steve Rixon) and/or should’ve replaced Wayne Phillips in 1985 (when in doubt, always pick a Queensland keeper). In the 1984-85 final Phillips scored 53 and 47 and took eight catches. Retired, like Thommo, after the 1985-86 final.

9) John Maguire

I’ve written about the honest toiler before. Played in the one final, the agonising 1984-85 defeat. In New South Wales’ second innings Maguire dropped Peter Clifford off his own bowling when Clifford was 37 – the batter went on to make 83 not out and win NSW the game. Life is not fair, especially not for Queensland cricketers in the 1980s.

10) Harry Frei

Definitely one for the diehards. This German-born brickie’s labourer and former Footscray VFL player was a late bloomer: he made his first class debut for Queensland at 31 playing England in 1982-83, scoring 57 off 37 balls and taking five wickets.

He became a beloved member of Queensland sides in the early ’80s – I remember him being a cult figure (I think it was the moustache and German heritage) and he played in two Shield finals, briefly bowling left-hand spinners in the 1985-86 one as Queensland desperately tried to get those last wickets.

11) Jeff Thomson

Thommo seems like such a natural Queenslander it’s always weird to remember he came from New South Wales – indeed, he was first selected for Australia while representing that state in 1972-73 – but he only really became the Thommo we know and love when he moved north.

Thommo helped turn Queensland into a solid second-place side during the 1970s and was key to many a heartbreaking ’80s campaign. He captained and took seven wickets in the 1983-84 final, grabbed six in the 1984-85 final, and three in the 1985-86 final.

I bet his 0-41 in the second innings of the latter particularly haunts him – his last first class game, traipsing off the field with 0-41 as Queensland were unable to take those last two wickets. Sob.

Eventually Queensland won in 1994-95, breaking the hoodoo. But those of us who came of age in the 1980s will never forget the trauma of supporting Queensland in that time. And I’m sure it must have been ever harder for those who played.



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