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Meanwhile in Westgarth Street

We have covered Preston's highly optimistic bid to join the original District cricket scheme prior to the 1906-07 season (Turf Comes To Preston) and Northcote's admission and subsequent promotion, but what of the background of the turf square at Northcote?

Like the other new clubs, Northcote teams were admitted to the Second and Third Grade on the promise of meeting the primary requirement for a club under the district scheme – the availability of a turf wicket.  

Again, there was nothing reported locally regarding Northcote's move to the District competition and anyone not following the Melbourne dailies would have had no inkling of the club's move to a higher grade until the Northcote Leader reported on a routine Town Council meeting held on 20 August.

"PARKS COMMITTEE - The Chairman of the Parks Committee, Cr. Thomas presented a report re preparation of the ground to enable the Northcote club to be admitted into district cricket and form a senior team. Moved that the sum of £25 be provided in the estimates of the ensuing year to cover the cost of preparing a portion of the ground about 30 yards square for such purpose".

It wasn't until 12 September that a report appeared announcing Northcote's intentions and it was noted that they would be able to draw players from Fairfield and Alphington (both then part of the Shire of Heidelberg), Preston and Heidelberg as well as Northcote itself - "the provision of a turf wicket one of the most important considerations".

"V.C.A. officials visited the ground some weeks previous and were surprised to learn there was such a magnificent ground to play upon … better than any ground they had visited outside the metropolis … without hesitation they passed the ground as suitable".

Northcote had played on matting for many years but a turf expert, Mr. Capewell of East Melbourne (the highly regarded curator at the Richmond Cricket Ground for over 20 years), confirmed the suitability of Northcote Park for a turf wicket in glowing terms.

His report to the V.C.A. after inspecting the Park suggested a turf wicket could be established quickly and at comparatively little cost given the nature of the existing surface and the fact that the preferred base for wickets - the prized black soil of the Merri Creek - was “within wheeling distance”.

Capewell apparently was so impressed with the material on hand that he suggested he “would be happy to take 40 loads at six shillings per load”.

The report concluded by revealing that work had started on laying the wicket and that would be available for practice "within a few weeks", but "a few weeks" proved overly optimistic.

The new season was scheduled to commence on 13 October, eventually washed out, but the Leader on the morning of the proposed opening against Brighton at Northcote Park revealed that the turf wicket "will not be available".

The work was carried out by Capewell in conjunction with the regular curator, Thomas Ahearn, and in fact the turf wicket was not used until a match against the Melbourne Second XI on 8 December, won by Northcote, 144 to 129.

Perhaps Capewell’s prophesies as to the eventual quality of the wicket proved a season or two premature.

Cricket followers were a little bemused at Northcote's success in their first season and considered the eventual runners-up Malvern a somewhat superior team.

The draw seems to have a significant impact with Northcote somehow managing to play ten of their 13 matches at home, and as “Observer”  noted:

“… most visiting teams have found the Northcote ground peculiar in that the ball keeps very low … it was hardly to be expected that a club that has hitherto played on matting should be able to get the best of turf wickets in the first season”.

(To be fair to Northcote, it should be pointed out that they had already won their three opening matches before the turf wicket was used).

Northcote managed to finish four points clear of Malvern (effectively two first innings wins), the margin a little flattering as they managed to grab points against the third-placed Carlton on the first day of the final round with the second day being washed out and other key games drawn.

Northcote’s thirteen matches gave them 20 points, resulting in four outright wins (+12), five first innings (+10), one first innings loss (-2) and three pointless draws (in mind and actuality).  

Preston and Gowerville Park (Home).

Preston and Gowerville Park

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