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Test ump back to roots

Queanbeyan Cricket Club veterans Col Berry, Mel Johnson and Steve Bailey ahead of the club's 150th birthday celebrations.

Queanbeyan Cricket Club veterans Col Berry, Mel Johnson and Steve Bailey ahead of the club's 150th birthday celebrations. Photo: Rohan Thomson

He's stared down Dennis Lillee and always has a laugh with West Indies legend Clive Lloyd.

But the Queanbeyan cricket club holds a special place in the heart of former Test umpire Mel Johnson.

A who's who of past players and officials will reunite for the club's 150th anniversary celebrations this weekend.

Before he officiated in 21 Test matches from 1980-87, Johnson was the captain-coach of Queanbeyan from 1967 to 1970.

It would be the final club he would play for before a freak back injury provided the catalyst to enter the umpiring ranks.

''I bent over to pick up a packet of cigarettes and couldn't feel anything from my waist down,'' Johnson recalled.

''When I got out of hospital the doctors said you can bat, but can't bowl, can't move quickly and can't field, so there wasn't a lot left.''

After two years out of the game, he quickly rose up the pecking order and became one of the leading umpires in the country during a golden period of Australian cricket featuring Ian and Greg Chappell, Rod Marsh and Dennis Lillee. Johnson said his favourite memories involved mingling with players in a more casual setting to the more sterile environment of the modern game.

''Everyone sat around and had a beer and you got to know the players,'' he said.

''The Chappells, Marshes, Lillees … I still have a drink with them whenever they're in town.

''I think the players these days will leave the game not having any friends.''

More than 230 guests, including former Australian batsman Doug Walters, are expected for Saturday night's gala dinner at the Queanbeyan cricket club.

That will be followed by a Twenty20 match between the Mark Thornton XI and the Peter Solway XI on Sunday.

But before that, players of the past will be on hand to see if the current crop can defeat Wests/UC in the second day of their Douglas Cup match at Freebody Oval on Saturday.

Queanbeyan will resume at 4-84 in reply to Wests/UC's 178.

Games in all grades this weekend will support Pink Stumps Day, an initiative of the McGrath Foundation.

SATURDAY

Douglas Cup: Queanbeyan v West's UC at Freebody No 1, 10am; Eastlake v ANU at Kingston, 11am; Ginninderra v Tuggeranong at Kippax 2, 11am; North Canberra Gungahlin v Weston Creek at Keith Tournier Memorial, 11am.

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