Umpire rises to the occasion in televised SCG debut
REGIONAL BIG BASH: Tingles ran down umpire Bruce Baxter's spine as he stepped onto the hallowed Sydney Cricket Ground turf.
"I had a bit of a buzz walking out," the Clarence River umpire said.
"But it didn't last long. I had a job to do."
Baxter umpired the Plan B Regional Big Bash semi-final on Sunday between Wagga Wagga Sloggers and Orana Outlaws. It was his first trip beyond the stands of the historic venue since he ventured out into the middle with his dad at the end of a day's play during a test match in the 1960s.
The match was streamed live on the Cricket NSW website complete with slow motion replays which screened at the ground.
It's a rarety for a country umpire to go up against 'video evidence', but Baxter did not disappoint, called into action off the last ball of the Outlaws' innings when a direct hit at the bowlers' end found Matt Skinner inches short of his ground. Baxter wasted no time to raise the dreaded finger.
"I called it as I saw it," Baxter said.
"It was a direct hit which is generally a little harder to call, but I didn't think he made it.
"He wasn't real happy. But they showed a replay on the big screen and slowed it right down. I made the right call by about an inch. My fellow umpire Wayne Allan and I had a bit of a chuckle."
A big occasion, not just for players
THE opportunity to participate in a cricket match at a world class facility is not only special for the players. Baxter's two children and all his grandchildren were in the stands to witness the occasion.
"I think I had the biggest supporter group there," Baxter said.
"If there's anywhere in the world you want to umpire, it's the SCG or the MCG, and the SCG has a bit more history.
"Everyone at the ground had access to all the rooms, and we could see where the Australian players chuck all their gear."
But Baxter was not distracted by the fanfare. His astute concentration best illustrated by a peculiar incident during the aforementioned run out.
"My son said to me afterwards 'you caught the ball off the stumps'," the former South Services cricketer and keen lawn bowler and golfer said.
"I don't remember catching the ball, but I watched the replay last night and sure enough I caught the ball. At least it shows my reflexes are still okay."
Outlaws win Plan B Regional Big Bash
The run out did not prove costly for the Outlaws, who finished 7 for 183 and restricted the Sloggers to 155 in reply.
The Outlaws - whose coach Jason Ryan is the nephew of Yamba businessman Tim Ryan - went on to win the final later on Sunday night against Northern Rivers Rock, scoring 9 for 188 to 7 for 175.
SCG versus turf wickets of the Clarence Valley
Most weekends you'll find Baxter officiating GDSC Premier League fixtures at venues including Ellem Oval and McKittrick Park, which will gain unprecedented attention from the Country Cricket NSW community when the McDonalds Country Plate and Cup finals come to Grafton from December 28 to 30.
After getting a close look at the SCG wicket, Baxter gave his local wickets the tick of approval in comparision.
"Our wickets compare quite well actually," he said.
"The pitch was hard, but it didn't play as hard and fast as I expected. It didn't come on as much as I thought it would.
"There was not much life in it, but it was very true."
Could the 'maxi-over' be introduced here?
Baxter enjoyed the high standard of cricket on display, including a new rule being trialed in the Regional Big Bash which he could envisage being employed locally.
"In this tournament teams had a maxi-over, when everything off the bat is doubled. There are some other associations bringing it into their Twenty20 competitions.
"The two batsmen call for the over surreptitiously. They see who's bowling and once they call for the maxi-over the captain can't change that choice of bowler. There are more restricted field placements too.
"The maxi-over was the difference in the game I umpired. One side scored about four or five runs, the other scored about 24."
Blast from the past as Outlaws create history
On a personal note, I was delighted to see the Dubbo-based Orana Outlaws prevail in the second annual instalment of the Plan B Regional Big Bash.
And it's not just because I was part of the Clarence River side demolished for just 24 runs in the recent Country Cup match against a Tweed side containing a large portion of Northern Rivers Rock who lost to the Outlaws in Sunday's final.
Born and bred in Dubbo, playing for Dubbo Rugby Cricket Club and cutting my teeth as a sports writer at the Daily Liberal, I know most of the Outlaws personally and have certainly documented many of their cricketing achievements over the years.
Opening batsman Jordan Moran smashed 75 in the semi-final (which doubled as the Thunder Conference final) before Mitch Bower scored 52 to claim man of the match honours in the grand final proper.
Moran is a familiar name here on the North Coast. The attacking left hander grew up batting at the top order in representative sides alongside Phil Hughes and later represented Australia Under-21s at indoor cricket.
Now a NSW Country Cricket representative, Moran made a huge impression in Dubbo's Whitney Cup competition when he arrived as a young teaching student and joined Rugby Cricket Club about the time I returned to Dubbo from university in 2006.
I played for Rugby up until I moved away to Tamworth in February 2010. As captain of the second grade side, I continued to travel back and forth on Saturdays for seven weeks, vowing to play until our lowly fifth-placed side was mathematically out of the race.
An outright victory and a handful of bonus points later, we secured an unlikely final three berth and I hit the winning runs in the semi and grand finals.
Managing a side who had all but lost enthusiasm several weeks out from my outpost three hours away was no easy task. But countless phone calls with chairman of selectors Andrew Duffy and vice-captain David Hey ensured we had 11 on the park and a plan of attack come each Saturday.
One of the biggest challenges was coercing a seemingly disinterested but extremely talented teenage Mitch Bower to choose cricket over pig-hunting.
Mitch's dad Danny Bower was a highly respected cricketer for Rugby Cricket Club, Dubbo City and Western Zone for many, many years. He had died tragically in a skydiving accident in May, 2009.
Mitch was an undeniable talent back then. But it was understandable cricket was not always at the forefront of his mind.
The fact he and older brother Bradley Bower were both part of that premiership-winning side was one of my proudest achievements on the cricket field.
Now, Mitch is captain at South Dubbo Cricket Club and represented NSW Country last season.
Looking down from above, 'Boon' would be proud.