Bedford the master blaster of Melbourne Country Week

Robbie Bedford liked a cool drink and a good time, and he loved making runs. His daring deeds with the bat during Melbourne Country Week were the stuff of legend, writes PAUL AMY.

He looked forward to it every February, taking annual leave from work to play.

Melbourne Country Week, the competition bringing players and representative teams from the bush to suburban grounds, was the highlight of Robbie Bedford’s cricket calendar.

There were qualifying matches from Monday to Thursday and hopefully a grand final on the Friday.

And if a premiership was won, there were sustained celebrations too.

That was how Bedford approached it, anyway.

It invariably worked out that way for the champion batter from the Mornington Peninsula Cricket Association.

After a two-year hiatus because of Covid-19, Melbourne Country Week resumes this month around Premier and Sub-District grounds in the metropolitan area.

It will be the 100th staging of the carnival.

In the history of Country Week, few players have enjoyed the success or standing of Robbie Bedford, an aggressive left-hander who made 23 trips to town and more than 3000 runs.

One of his seven centuries came in a final against Ballarat, 148 not out, in 2001.

A Weekly Times photograph shows him leaving the Albert Ground to a standing ovation, his head bowed, his bat raised, teammates applauding from the top of the Clive Fairbairn Pavilion.

Ballarat captain and wicketkeeper Paull Jeffrey had been Bedford’s teammate in the Victorian side that played at the national country championships a couple of weeks earlier, and the Ballarat players started chipping Bedford as soon as he walked to the wicket.

On 12, Jeffrey missed stumping him off a wide arm-ball that slid past his bat.

The Mornington Peninsula captain gratefully accepted the let-off.

His runs came off 97 balls. Two of his sixes rocketed on to Queen’s Road.

“Everything hit the centre of the bat that day,’’ Bedford says. “Probably the best innings I played, that one. A Country Week final, at the Albert, big crowd, good opposition, we’d been in a bit of early trouble …’’

Mornington Peninsula won the match, taking its sixth title in 10 years.

More than 20 years on, Jeffrey hasn’t forgotten the stumping chance, nor the display of batting that followed.

He says it was a “brilliant’’ hand from Bedford.

“He had this nothing-to-lose sort of attitude and he just middled them all,’’ Jeffrey says. “Sixes, fours, everything. He had a great eye. He liked a cool drink and a good time, and he liked making runs.’’

On day one of the same carnival, Bedford hit a century against Murray Valley, 138 not out.

He finished the week with 381 runs, winning his competition’s medal as player of the week.

Bedford received the same award in 1984, 1985, 1987, 1989 and 1993. Years later, the association named the medal after him.

Bedford played in Country Week premierships five times as a player and another seven times as captain.

“The friends I made, the flags we played in … it was great,’’ he says. “I actually had a few enemies in club games on a Saturday afternoon but when we came together as a rep team playing for the purple, for the MPCA, we were all the best of mates.’’

Between 1959 and 1984, Mornington Peninsula won only two Melbourne Country Week titles, a thin period for such an esteemed competition.

Across more than two decades, Robbie Bedford and his teammates more than made up for it.


Soaring Country Week achievements extended Robbie Bedford’s reputation beyond the grounds of the Mornington Peninsula but they were one element of his many years in senior cricket.

He played for Victorian Country against four international touring teams – India, the West Indies, Sri Lanka (twice) and Zimbabwe – memorably helping the Vics defeat the Sri Lankans in the last over at Hastings in 1989.

A year later Bedford played in a Mornington Peninsula-Gippsland zone match involving Victorian players – and blitzed a six-filled 200 not out at Mornington.

From the social club, colourful former Victorian wicketkeeper and under-age football coach Ray “Slug’’ Jordon supplied commentary for the Fourex beer-sponsored game.

Watching Bedford repeatedly crack the ball out of the ground, Jordon told the captain it might be a good idea to put one or two fielders on Main Street. Spectators chuckled as they got their Fourex fix.

Geoff Parker, then in the Victorian team, played in the game.

He remembers Bedford’s innings vividly.

“He smacked them everywhere,’’ he says. “Left-hander. Clean. I reckon he hit a six or a four to get his 200 then blocked the last ball of the innings, probably because he was knackered.

“I remember thinking, ‘This bloke is a very good player; why isn’t he playing in Melbourne with us?’’’

Brian McCue, himself a legendary cricketer on the Mornington Peninsula, also played in the match, as well as in a series of Country Week carnivals with Bedford.

McCue calls him the “most exciting player we produced on the peninsula in my time’’.

“He could bring attacks to their knees with sheer power and artistry,’’ he says.

“He had a glorious technique. It was a joy to watch him and play in sides with him.

“I saw him in a grand final against Shepparton at Carlton. We were chasing a fair score and Robbie put the game beyond doubt with a brilliant century. Guys who played with him for a long time saw so many innings like that.’’

For all the punishment Bedford gave the short ball, McCue says it was Bedford’s on-drive he most liked watching.

He says he’s never seen a batter play the shot so powerfully or productively.

McCue makes another point about Bedford: every time he went out to bat, there was pressure on him to perform, in club matches and Country Week.

Soon, he says, he would be turning the pressure back on to the fielding team with his bold strokes and sharp running between the wickets.

“He did the little things well, as well as the big things,’’ McCue says.


Robbie Bedford was six when he started playing for his local club, Karingal, on malthoid wickets in the under 12 team.

Backyard matches against his older brother, Peter, and future brother-in-law Russell Davies gave him a no-quarter-given grounding in the game.

From the start, he says, he always tried to go after the bowling.

“See ball, hit ball, and watch the ball bloody closely,’’ he says.

With uncommonly strong forearms and what he calls a “stinking eye’’, he hit the ball hard.

His first century came at the age of 12.

Bedford was in Karingal’s top team when he was 13; in his first game, against Rosebud on the back ground behind the shire offices, Davies hit a century, family bragging rights to echo down the years.

Bedford played in the under 14 Hatch Shield for Frankston and in the under 16 Dowling Shield for Fitzroy and Melbourne.

Leaning on the experience of batting on turf wickets at his school, Peninsula Grammar, he had a great time of it for Melbourne, making five scores in the 90s (but missing out on Clive Fairbairn’s standing offer of handing a new bat to any Melbourne player who made a century in series).

In District cricket matches for Melbourne after the Dowling Shield, Bedford batted at No.11 in the thirds and seconds.

He remembers that no one seemed to know who he was, despite his heavy scoring in Dowling.

He never returned to Melbourne.

“I was 16 and opening the batting for Karingal firsts. I just wanted to go back and play with my brother and my brother-in-law,’’ he says.

In November, 1990, the Bedford brothers batted together against Hastings.

A group of Hastings supporters sledged Robbie, by then the leading batter in the competition: “Bedford, you’re no good, you’re a prima donna.’’

The brothers put on 388 for the third wicket, a competition record. Robbie made 244, going out on the last ball of the day trying to hit another six, and Peter 135 not out.

“We were two for next to nothing and there were a few words said from both sides of the fence,’’ Bedford says.

“I was one of those players who, if I was heckled a fair bit, it made me go harder at the ball, but also concentrate a bit more. I wouldn’t let the bastards get me out.’’

McCue says: “Robbie is a player you just wouldn’t sledge. It would get his back up and away he’d go.’’

Two years later Hastings brought in Sri Lankan quickie Rumesh Ratnayaka as a professional player, and its supporters were quick to ask him to find another yard when Bedford walked out to bat.

He wasn’t wearing a helmet.

“They certainly fired him up,’’ Bedford says. “It was an interesting day.’’

Ratnayaka won their first battle and Bedford the second.

Bedford coached and captained Karingal and featured in three premierships with the club.

Later, he played at Long Island and Frankston YCW.

He also had a three-year engagement as a professional for Ayre in Scotland, where he made a double century.

Long Island had tempted him away from Karingal with a $5000-per-season offer, good money at a time when he had a young family and high interest rates attached to his mortgage.

Meanwhile, a District cricket club was getting off the ground in Frankston.

Returning to his local roots – he grew up in Somerville – former international Shaun Graf was appointed coach and captain.

And there was great expectation that Bedford, then 28, would join the club, Frankston Peninsula.

In the end he opted to stay in local cricket.

And he has no regrets: he was happy to make a new start at Long Island, assume the Country Week captaincy from Steve Johnson and keep playing for Vic Country.

His supporters are adamant Bedford would have been a big hit in District cricket, pointing out his many successes against quality bowling in the highest division of Melbourne Country Week and at the national country championships.

“It was not a problem. He would have done very well at District level, and it would have been a great start for Frankston Peninsula if Robbie had have gone,’’ McCue says.

“But there were other priorities in his life at the time.’’

Would he have made it? Bedford says there’s no point speculating on what might have been.

“Dunno. I really don’t know,’’ he says. “There were some pretty handy bowlers in District cricket. I faced some fantastic fast bowlers at the top level of Country Week for 20-odd years. But you’d be doing that every Saturday in District cricket, against ex-state cricketers and current state cricketers. Who knows.’’

Graf says he tried “very hard’’ to recruit Bedford, whom he calls a “Bradman of the bush’’.

He says it was disappointing to miss out on him.

“If we’d landed him, it would really have got the peninsula interested in wanting to send kids to the club, which didn’t happen for the first 15 years, because people viewed Frankston Peninsula as an opposition club,’’ Graf says.

“And of course we could have done with him as a player, as a No.6 or somewhere in the middle. He most probably would have murdered a couple of attacks if he was on a good deck and batting on a hot afternoon.

“But there might have been some inconsistencies with him, just through facing better bowling day in, day out.’’


Robbie Bedford played in his first Country Week carnival in 1984 alongside great Mornington Peninsula players like McCue, John Lillico and Jeff “Slugger’’ Slocombe.

He relished it straight away, the company and the cricket.

Under the captaincy of Phil Graf, Bedford kicked off with 245 runs from four hands and the first of his premierships.

It made for a happy bus trip back to Frankston, drawn out by a few stops at pubs along the way.

“Just bringing all the peninsula blokes together in one team and training with them and learning from them … it was an amazing experience,’’ Bedford says.

Two decades later, he felt the same way.

But a few months after his team lost the grand final to the Ian Wrigglesworth-led Sale-Maffra in 2005-06, Bedford was told his time was up.

The board of directors thought it was time for a change of leadership.

He was stung, believing he had earned the right to go out on his own terms.

By then, he says, some officials thought Country Week had become “Robbie’s club’’ and that he picked his favourites.

He counters that the team usually changed by six or seven players from year to year and the regulars were brought back because they were proven performers.

“It was never about being the best player. You had to fit in with the group,’’ Bedford says.

“Everyone has different personalities. I prided myself on getting a Langwarrin bloke to mix with a Karingal bloke and getting everyone to fight for the one cause and that was the MPCA. And it worked more often than not. If I did pick Robbie’s teams all the time, the records show I picked good Robbie teams!

“But, yeah, I was angry at the time. It was what it was. I had a bit to say about it and walked away fairly disgruntled. Time heals all wounds. I’m an MPCA boy through and through.’’


Ahead of the 2008-09 season, Bedford joined a club named Ferntree Gully Footballers.

As he did, he declared he had played his last game in the Mornington Peninsula association.

But five years later, closer to 50 than 40, he popped up back at Frankston YCW with his son Jason and stepson Levi McLaughlin-Dore.

He got a few 20s. By then his signature on-drive was going more through mid-wicket. The old magic had gone. Time had staked its claim on the champion.

One season was enough for Bedford. He was happy to have at least finished his senior cricket in the competition where he started it.

These days he spends his Saturdays watching his son and stepson play cricket and football, taking in a cold drink as he does.

As he goes around the grounds, he’s often asked about Jason, who will soon marry the singer and songwriter Tones and I.

Bedford jokes that he’s now known as “Jason Bedford’s dad’’ rather than the Mornington Peninsula cricketer.

That might change in February, when Country Week resumes and the locals recall his dazzling deeds.

Before joining CODE Paul Amy was a sports reporter and editor for Leader Newspapers. He was also a long-time contributor to Inside Football and is the author of Fabulous Fred, the Strife and Times of Fred Cook.

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *