Bowled over

Some time in November 1962, I decided to upgrade my living arrangements from squalid to moderately conventional. I was a teacher at a Melbourne suburban high school so it wasn’t easy to find time to look at likely premises. I spent fruitless evenings and weekends in St Kilda and environs touring an array of overpriced attics, damp, gothic basements and backyard sleepouts redolent of lust-tortured tom-cats.

Not long after the visiting Poms under ‘Lord’ Ted Dexter amassed seven for 633 at the MCG against an Australian XI, but some days before Australia beat them by 70 runs in the First Test at the Gabba, I saw an advertisement for a flat in Balaclava. It sounded ideal, but required prompt, weekday action. I had the first part of the morning free of formal teaching so I decided to take a look.

I was greeted at the front door of the flat by the agent, whom I instantly recognised. It was Jack Iverson. Taking up cricket at the age of 31 in 1946, Iverson had graduated from Brighton Thirds to Test Cricket in four years. He was that archetypal figure—the ‘mystery spinner’, as intriguing and romantic as the unknown lad from the bush who turns up unannounced for a practice game and belts the cream of the bowling all over the park. In the 1950–51 series against England, Iverson took 21 wickets at 15.24 runs per wicket, including six for 27 in the Sydney Test. Then he disappeared—back into the no doubt somewhat anticlimactic territory of Real Estate.

He was a big bloke, his bulk accentuated by a tweedy-looking sports jacket from the sleeves of which protruded those famous hands. I remember glancing at them: they were as huge as legend suggested. He was pleasant and welcoming. While we chatted—a conversation in which, for my part, I tried to avoid wide-eyed, ‘knowing’ references to his cricket career (which as a matter of fact I knew intimately) with the same pathological intensity Basil Fawlty brought to not mentioning the war—two more people arrived, a flinty-looking couple in their forties. Iverson then took us on a tour of the flat. It was perfect, but being new to respectable tenancy, I didn’t know what was supposed to happen next. It was obvious the forty-ish couple were equally pleased. Was I supposed to make a bid?

With an amiable smile and a flicker of amusement behind his eyes, Iverson simply said that he would see us at the city office in Collins Street. With a great show of nonchalance the three of us farewelled him and headed for our cars. Theirs was shiny and new. Mine was an FX Holden that ran on equal parts of oil and petrol and sounded like a tractor when it was not espousing long periods of Trappist-like silence. It seemed a strange way to manage the negotiations, but as far as I could see the flat would go to whoever arrived at the office first.

Having a lot of luck in the running along narrow, congested High Street, I barrelled into St Kilda Junction, threaded its chaotic criss-cross of traffic and settled into a roaring, blue-smoky negotiation with St Kilda Road. This route in the reverse direction was one I knew well, because most Friday nights I played snooker and drank beer at the University Club, 100 Collins Street, before heading for home in the early hours. So it was not as if I felt apprehensive about swift passage through city traffic, and Collins Street was familiar ground. I steered straight for the office, planning to work outwards from there for a parking spot, but as I approached, a car pulled out right in front of the door. I was upstairs to the first floor before you could say ‘Howzat!’, greeting Jack Iverson across a reception counter (how did he get there so fast?).

‘I hope you didn’t break the speed limit,’ he said with a quizzical, irresistible version of that amused look. I reassured him, produced all the necessary credentials, wrote a cheque and we shook on it. My hand disappeared in his.

On the stairs going down I met the couple coming up. She gave me a rancorous glance, and I had the impression that the husband was going to cop some flak for being such an unadventurous driver.

Thinking about all this much later, I concluded that part of the explanation for the rather extraordinary modus operandi was that Iverson might have been bored witless by the job and was introducing some spice into it. As well, though, I think he took a bit of a shine to me. Being fair haired and fair skinned, I looked about 16 (I was 25), and was almost embarrassingly transparent and guileless and quite obviously ignorant of the whole rich world of real estate and its protocols. Whereas the competition—the husband and wife team—were stony-faced (patently not cricket lovers) and probably a little presumptuous about their chances against such callow opposition.

That’s what I like to think, anyway. But maybe I have continued to be haunted by his wan, ghostly smile, by the memory of shaking that 19.4 overs, eight maidens, six for 27 hand, and by the knowledge that, some years after our brief encounter, Iverson walked out to the garage of his suburban home and shot himself. 

Brian Matthews is a writer and academic.

 

 

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