A True Blue for Life, by Paul Amy
It had been a good night, but it was 10.30pm and close to wrapping up. Prahran Cricket Club president Phil Williamson rose to announce there was one final presentation, and an important one: a life membership.
Former Australian player Julien Wiener listened intently. Wiener, 56 and captain of the Second XI, has an acute sense of Prahran's history, appreciating the towering contributions of life members such as Sam Loxton, Bob Parish, David Jukes, Dav Whatmore, David Mandie, Ian Crawford, John Raglus and John Malligan.
Williamson began with generalisations that gave no clue to the identity of the new life member. Then he got specific: this Prahran product had been one of the privileged few to go on to play for Australia. ``The penny dropped,'' Wiener said. ``He was talking about me.''
He said his heart fell to the pit of his stomach, which fell to his feet. ``We all have little episodes in our life when things are just a complete and utter surprise,'' he said. ``This was total, fair dinkum shock. If you ask the guys around the club they'll probably say I can usually string a few words together when I have to. But I was a blubbering mess.
``The club has been a big part of my life for 40-odd years ... To be recognised like that just blew me away.''
Wiener says he'll be forever indebted to Prahran, as much for teaching him life lessons as helping him reach international cricket. It gave him ``an amazing amount of opportunity''.
Advice from 1948 Invincible Loxton still rings in his ears. It took in cricket and standards of behaviour, a sort of code of conduct well before it was enshrined by the ICC.
``I can't understate what that was worth,'' he said. ``People like Sam Loxton, Bob Parish and David Mandie had a great and positive influence on my life. That's what I'm most proud of.''
Wiener played junior cricket at Brighton Union and Brighton Grammar before joining Prahran. The club was experiencing lean times and had brought in Kevin Harwood from Melbourne Grammar as coach. Harwood would admit he was no great cricketer but he had the ability to make players strain and strive for their best. Soon the firsts were playing finals cricket.
Harwood told Wiener he needed to get fitter. The batsman responded by running to training from East Brighton. The route is etched in his mind: Hampton St to Nepean Highway and along Orrong Rd (these days Wiener stays fit by running messages for Ajax coach Bernie Sheehy in the VAFA).
Starting in the thirds, he quickly rose to the firsts and at 21 was selected to play for Victoria. In 1979/80, the season in which World Series players returned to the establishment fold, the right-hand batsman played the first of his six Test matches, starting out against England in Perth with scores of 11 and 58 in a home-team victory.
The Australian team included AR Border, GS Chappell, KJ Hughes, RW Marsh, DK Lillee and JR Thomson. Later that summer JM Wiener negotiated a new ball delivered at rocking speed by Andy Roberts and Michael Holding. Colin Croft and Joel Garner had second dibs. Touring Pakistan five weeks later, he played Tests at Faisalabad and Lahore, hitting 93 in the second match against an attack led by Imran Khan. Then he was dropped, never to return.
``I wasn't there for as long as I planned for, but, oh God, it was just fantastic,'' he said. ``Nothing has changed. It's still the pinnacle of dreams for young cricketers, to represent their country.''
Although he is widely known as a Prahran player, Wiener had stints at Ringwood, Hawthorn-East Melbourne and Northcote. He left the True Blues before 1983/84 season, when they won the premiership on the back of a blazing Dav Whatmore century. Wiener compensated by taking Northcote to a flag in 1986/87, defeating Collingwood in a grand final remembered for the Mankad incident involving Ian Callen and David Emerson. Returning to Toorak Park, he played the last of his 102 First matches in 1994/95. Later came stints as Second XI captain, split by a spell as a Victorian selector.
Last season Wiener led the seconds to the grand final, making 17 not out from No 10. Where once he went out first, now he's happy to come in near-last, the tale of age reflected in the tail of the batting card. His role is more about preparing players for the top team.
``It's great fun being out there with terrific young people and trying in some small way to help them be the best they can,'' he said. ``It doesn't get much better than that.'' Former president Crawford said the Seconds XI players were ``in awe of Julien's ability to teach our great game and they hold him in the highest esteem''. He said it spoke volumes for Wiener that at 56 he continued to play and put back into a game in which he'd reached the apex. Athough he didn't play all of his cricket at Prahran, Wiener said he'd never lost contact with the club and was always made to feel welcome. He started District cricket at Prahran and is happy he will finish it there. In the middle were days of baggy green caps and sharing grounds with the likes of Boycott, Richards and Miandad. But names such as Parish, Loxton, Mandie, Crawford, Raglus, Whatmore, Malligan and Jukes resonate as much.
``I'm now associated forever with those great people who have made the club what it is,'' he said.
``In the world of District cricket, and I'm going to say Victorian and Australian cricket, they are massive characters who gave up way, way more of their time than I ever did.
``To be bracketed with them, a group of givers, means so much. Just thinking about it now puts a shiver up my spine.''