John F Dettmann Snr

Legends of shires – John Dettmann Sr

John F Dettmann Snr

The record book shows John Dettmann scored just 5 runs less than 13,000 at nearly 23 runs per innings. Nearly half of these were scored in A Shires, over 4,000 before the mid-fifties at an average of around 33. He took over 1,000 wickets, more than anyone else by streets. He is still the only player to score over 10,000 runs and take over 1,000 wickets in Shire cricket. More than 500 of these wickets were in A Shires. He probably took 250 catches for the club. The records show 149 with 13 years of records missing. He could field anywhere.

Dettmann was Treasurer of the club from 1948 to 1961, Secretary from 1961 to 1966, President from 1968 to 1982, his retirement year. He first represented Lane Cove officially as a Longueville Junior in 1930 although he remembers fielding as a substitute for a Lane Cove team in short pants a couple of years before that. He probably played cricket for Lane Cove from 1928 until 1982 with only the war years and grade years interrupting that period. He was made a Life Member in 1955.

John Dettmann was Lane Cove’s great all-rounder.

When he was a very little boy, he eagerly awaited Saturday evenings. Whenever his dad’s cricket team was playing he knew all the players would come back to his place after the game for a yarn and a drink. When they arrived he would listen for hours to all the stories, wide-eyed with wonder. To make sure he stayed up as late as possible he would hide himself in dark corners or, if his mother was well aware of his presence, he would occupy his time usefully by picking up glasses, changing the needle on the gramophone or holding someone’s snooker cue. All the while listening to his heroes, absorbing the colour, the atmosphere, of his father’s wonderful game.

The stories he heard were of bat and ball, of great catches and great bowling, of flying bails and towering sixes, of balls spinning sideways and flashing boundaries. Finally, and never of his choosing, he went to bed and dreamed about this game of sheer magic.

When he was big enough to go to the local cricket oval he discovered that all this magic really did happen. He actually saw the balls spin and swerve. He saw the big sixes hit and the diving catches taken… and he saw the colour! When his dad first took him to the Sydney Cricket Ground and he saw Bill Woodfull silently leading the cream-covered Australians out onto the rich green sward, the magic just poured out into all his senses. He was captivated for life. When he saw Harold Larwood run in to bowl he knew he would never again see bowling so fast. He was certain the ball hit Duckworth’s gloves with a dull thud before he saw the little puff of dust rise from a spot on the pitch. He knew he wanted to bowl as fast as Larwood. When he saw Stan McCabe hit the English bowlers all around the ground he knew he just had to bat as freely as McCabe.

Against the grey background of school and home duties – all real, not magic – the willow and leather, green-and-cream world of cricket made a flying magic carpet that in his daydream could carry him away from less exciting worlds whenever he fancied.

When he grew up and stood tall, with arms and legs now strong and capable, with wrists strong and flexible, the magic made him want to hit the ball as hard as he could, bowl as quickly as he could and catch the flying leather as often as he could. He would play cricket, he thought, forever.

So it was that John Dettmann played cricket for almost three score years. Way past the time his batting average was at its peak and way past the time his bowling average was at its lowest. Those who began playing with Lane Cove after the mid-fifties never really saw John Dettmann playing cricket.

As a teenager he led the B Shire batting and bowling averages. Then he went to Gordon for 3 years, reaching first grade. Returning to Lane Cove, with war on the horizon, he shared the 1939-40 bowling honours with the ex-Shield player Norval Campbell, taking 47 wickets and the A’s to another premiership.

In 1940-41, he was Lane Cove’s youngest captain and led the team through an undefeated summer, scoring 3 centuries in his 698 runs at an average of just under 50; taking 68 wickets at the remarkable average of just over 7.

He returned from the war in 1947-48, taking 46 wickets and scoring 415 runs. His 104 in 47 minutes against Roseville and his 95 in just over an hour at Rothwell were considered the two finest Shire innings of 1949-50. In this season he scored 648 at a 40 average and took 57 wickets, nearly half the total taken by the team. At 35 years of age, having missed around 8 years of Lane Cove cricket through his grade years and the war, he became the first Lane Cove player to score 4,000 runs, take 400 wickets.

Most of his team-mates of the time reckoned his 95 against Burwood in 1949 was his finest batting hour. Up against the Shire cricket’s quickest bowler, he drove and cut, hooked and glanced a magical innings while all around him wickets fell.

In his youth he was Dettmann of the flashing blade. At school his coach had told him “If the ball is going to hit your wicket, stop it. If it’s not then either leave it alone or hit it hard”. This teaching suited John because that’s what the magic told him, too. It also suited those strong wrists. If he decided to hit it, it didn’t matter where the ball was. When they were young men, Mark Metzler once said to him “Your trouble is you play too many shots”. John Hollander said much the same thing. Once at Epping, he walked down the wicket to warn Dettmann of the dangers involved in the hook shot.

Just as his bowling had that last minute “whip” of the arm and the wrist, so his stroke-play had a last minute “whip” of the bat, the wrists. The bowler was ready for the ball pushed gently back along the wicket when suddenly it went searing past him. If Dettmann saw the pitch of the ball clearly enough it was never too late to smack it. This was his idiosyncrasy or more aptly in painter’s language, his “gesture”. It was also the “carelessness” many saw in his batting at its prime. But it wasn’t careless as the opposite of careful. It was careless as in carefree, rapturous. It was the magic calling him.

Once at Roseville he went to glance an overpitched quickie’s ball on the leg-stump. At the last split-second with the bat almost on the line of the ball, he changed his mind, whipped wrists and bat through the line toward mid-wicket. The ball landed on the roof of the Roseville pavilion. Spectators couldn’t believe their eyes.

In that 95 at Rothwell, he wrist-hit Ken Astridge, who Burwood reckoned was just a foot behind Lindwall, straight down the wicket for four between a deep mid-off and a deep mid-on, both on the fence. Neither got near it.

He tried always to be balanced, to move his feet into the right position. But John’s Achilles heel was that he too often didn’t watch closely enough the ball coming out of the bowler’s hand. For that reason he was always better against speed than spin. Once at Pennant Hills against ex-Sheffield Shield leg-spinner Hughie Chilvers, he dispatched a short-pitched wrong-un sweetly to the boundary backward of square. Chilvers, walking back to his mark, said to his mid-off “He picked it, I’ll stay with the leggies”. The next ball landed on exactly the same spot and John gave it exactly the same shot. This time it took a top edge for an easy catch.

The fast bowling combination of Dettmann and Dolman was clearly the best new-ball partnership the club ever had. Like Dolman, Dettmann bowled from a short run-up – 13 paces. He felt that anything further was wasted effort. From the same approach he bowled a “slow” ball; the slips claimed he smiled as he did so, but it sometimes took a wicket.

Unfortunately they only twice had full seasons together when near their peak. In 1951-52, they almost bowled the A’s to a premiership without any batsmen. An exaggeration, of course, but the captain that year (John Hollander) did describe the batting as “deplorably weak”. Dolman and Dettmann took 125 wickets between them that summer, fittingly at the identical average of 11.78. Dettmann also scored nearly 400 runs. The team was just pipped by Epping in a no-finals year which many believed to contain the highest quality of cricket reached in Shires to that time.

His 6 wickets for 3 against Burwood is documented elsewhere. This was when he was bowling at his quicket with the final whip of that steely right wrist giving him very deceptive pace. At Sutherland about the same time  (the early sixties but bowling slower now that he was in the B’s) he took 4 wickets in 4 balls. The first two beat the bat with sheer speed and hit the stumps. He thought the next bat would be better prepared, having been warned by his predecessors, so he stopped half-way through his run, went back to his mark, came in and hit the stumps again. He repeated exactly the same actions with exactly the same result on the fourth ball. In two consecutive years he hit the stumps with the first ball of the season. He took 5 hat-tricks in all.

He was a capable, confident captain. He was always a keen student of the game, of other teams and his own. Young players joining his teams were at first uncertain, finding him reserved. Much of this genuinely-reserved nature became exaggerated in their minds merely because he was pre-occupied with planning his next moves on the field of play. They quickly grew to recognise this and his expertise and thereafter did his bidding without question. He first captained Lane Cove in 1940 when he won a premiership and last captained a team 25 years later.

The above text was taken from the Lane Cove Centenary book, 1893 – 1993.
In 2005, John F Dettmann Snr was inducted into the Shires Hall of Fame.

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