June 4, 2010

Ron Fergie’s eternal affair with a game called cricket


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

One of the most fascinating aspects of cricket is the association of lovely characters with it. Unlike quite a few other sports, it’s not restricted to the athletes. There are many flavours of cricket and its so many characters immortalizing the sport.

The 85-year-old Ron Fergie, now living in Australia’s capital, Canberra, is one of the most adorable characters to be associated with the gentleman’s game. His fairy tale could be a source of motivation to many individuals. His example of courage and fortitude should inspire people.

He was unable to walk because of a disease in his hip joint from the age of seven to 10 but only a couple of years later he had captained his school cricket and football teams and he went on to play first grade cricket in Perth, Western Australia.

At the age of 25, after his left leg was severed early in the cricket season, he played out the same season wearing an artificial leg. In fact, reportedly, he kept playing and enjoying club cricket until he was 72!

Having missed key cricket years while serving overseas, he was dropped from North Perth’s strong first-grade side, which included five then current or past West Australian State players.

On November 5, 1949, in his next match in a second-grade game at Perth Oval, he had responded with a century and again dreamed of playing for Australia. He was in high spirits as he left the oval on his motor bike, but at the first intersection a drunk driver hit him at speed. Fergie landed in the middle of the floor of a shop 60 feet away from the impact, his leg so badly mangled that it was amputated that night.

Perth Oval was in sight from the hospital balcony and on the following Saturday, the second day of the match, his team lined up on the oval at afternoon tea time to wave to him, while he waved back with a bed sheet. Perhaps they were saluting a career cut off in its prime, but before that season was over, he was playing again!

The leg, however, did not heal properly and he had to undergo a second amputation at the end of that season. At first he played with a wooden leg, hinged from a thigh strap and hanging from an over-the-shoulder harness.

The artificial leg restricted him to fielding in slips at first, but he adapted well to wicket-keeping and batted with a runner. He was sufficiently agile that not much of the fast bowling got through him, even on one occasion when a very quick bowler did his block and sprayed 17 successive no-balls past the batsman.
The versatile character that he was, Fergie went on to play first grade, as an opening batsman and wicket-keeper, with several Canberra clubs and was still playing first grade into his 40s.

Because of several overseas assignments he was not able to play continuously. He lectured in economic statistics in Tokyo for two years in the 1970s, followed by four years as National Statistician for the newly-emerging nation of Papua New Guinea where he played in the same team as his son Bob.

He played two seasons in Wellington, New Zealand, and some social cricket in Japan and Jamaica. In Japan, women were posted around the boundary to toss the balls back.


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