MCC library volunteers Ken Williams and Ray Webster. Photo: Jason South
Cricket fanatics Ray Webster and Ken Williams set out 13 years ago to write brief biographies of all first-class Australian cricketers since 1850.
The Melbourne Cricket Club library volunteers thought they'd finish in a year but it's become an epic partnership. And they've discovered it's not about the cricket.
They've found a Hollywood movie star, a Eureka Stockade participant, a murder victim and war heroes.
And among the 3500 entries, Mr Williams says they're less interested in the Don Bradmans and Dennis Lillees than in giving life to the obscure names on those old score cards.
Before World War I, Sir Norman Gregg represented NSW three times as N.M. Gregg, but as an ophthalmologist in the 1940s, he discovered the link between rubella and birth defects.
In 1890, NSW wicketkeeper Sydney Deane missed touring England after a squabble between NSW and Victorian selectors.
But fame as an actor awaited: Deane made it to Broadway in musical theatre and from 1914 to 1924 starred in 39 Hollywood films including Treasure Island and Last of the Mohicans.
NSW batsman Claude Tozer was a doctor who in World War I was severely wounded in France.
After the war he resumed his cricket career and was selected to be NSW captain for a January 1, 1921, match against Queensland, but on December 21, 1920, was shot dead by a deranged female patient.
Victorian off-spinner Frank Thorn was famed for dismissing Donald Bradman for five in a 1939 match against South Australia, thwarting Bradman getting the record of consecutive first-class centuries. Three years later, while serving in World War II as an RAAF pilot, Thorn was shot down by the Japanese over Papua New Guinea. He and his three crewmates' bodies weren't recovered until 2008.
In 1858 batsman Alfred Black represented Victoria in two matches in Tasmania. But four years earlier, he and his brother, George, were key agitators in the Eureka uprising in which about 30 people were killed.
Black died in 1859 in a Ballarat mining accident, aged 23.
Mr Williams' favourite story is of Henry Allison, ''a very obscure cricketer who played a couple of games for Tasmania in the 1850s'' who ran off to the US with his sister-in-law.
He settled in the Washington state wilderness, abandoning in Australia four children and a huge debt. Allison changed his surname to Race, his mother's maiden name, and had six sons. Race became a wealthy farmer on Whidbey Island but in 1881, aged 52, was gored to death by a bull.
Mr Williams and Mr Webster hope to publish the first of six volumes of their A Dictionary of Australian First-Class Cricketers - surnames A-G, pre WWII - early next year. There are two other researchers on the team: Rick Smith of Launceston and Warwick Franks of Bathurst.
They are thinking of limiting the whole project to the years pre-2000 to stop having to add players.
Mr Williams is hopeful of an end, ''if I live long enough''. ''Every year of the past 10 years, we've said, 'next year we'll finish it', and the year's gone by and we're not getting any younger.''