John Edwards was a fine fast bowler for St Kilda and Victoria. Several times Club Champion & winner of bowling average with the Saints, Edwards played 32 Shield matches for the State, taking 85 wickets @ 29.46. He captained St Kilda for 7 years, including 1961/62 premiership.
Edwards served St Kilda as a VCA Delegate for 20 years and as a State Selector for 12 years. He also Managed the Australian Team in 32 Tests and 68 ODI’s in Australia.
Outside his direct cricket involvement, Edwards took 35 international tours in 29 years to 42 different countries including every Test tour to England since 1975.
Player, captain, selector, delegate and president, John "Darkie" Edwards was an institution at St Kilda where his warm and uninhibited love of the club constantly bubbled. The club's all-time wickets record holder with 586 - plus 104 in the seconds - Edwards captained the 1961-62 premiership team, the first at elite level in almost 30 years.
From Scotch College, Edwards lived in Orrong Rd. and from the age of eight would catch the tram down Dandenong Rd to watch the Seasiders. He debuted in Scotch's first XI in 1942 and in St Kilda's No.1 side, aged 17, in 1944-45. The previous year he'd been a member of the club's unofficial second XI premiership side.
His earliest games at St Kilda were as a 13-year-old in the third XI in 1941, before a back injury interrupting his progress.
In 18 first XI seasons Edwards averaged more than 30 wickets a year, including a personal-best 57 (at 11.03) in 1954-55. The following summer he made his maiden appearances for Victoria and was considered unlucky by some not to have made the Australian touring team to England.
He swung the ball sharply from a relaxed run of 12 yards, a platoon of leg slips devouring anything air-borne. When the rules were altered in the mid-‘50s allowing only two behind square leg, Edwards was forced to attack the stumps and vary his pace more and he was immediately more effective. Peter Hosking opened from the other end and they formed a lethal combination buoyed by Jack Hill's fast top-spinners and Norm Lynch's wafty, accurate leg-breaks.
Hosking, one of his closest mates, invariably fielded in Edwards' leg trap. "We'd have two there and before the law changed, sometimes three." Hosking said. "He swung them so prodigiously; he rarely had a traditional offside slip."
Victoria's Sheffield Shield team, too, was a beneficiary and for five seasons, having played his first game relatively late at 27, Edwards effectively blocked an end and enjoyed some days of inspiration, like against Queensland in Melbourne when he took six for 18 from 16 unchanged overs on a near-flawless batting strip. At one stage he had four for none before conceding his first run in his fifth over.
Against Prahran one day he bowled 32 unchanged overs and in Brisbane for the Victorians had 29 overs in a row and still had enough energy to break into song in the rooms that night. His batting, too, could be handy like the time in the mid-‘50s when St Kilda was 9-8 against Carlton and Edwards (40 not out) and Hill (32) added 81 runs in a little over an hour in bowler friendly conditions on a holiday Monday.
At 183cm (6ft) and strongly-built, he had steam and stamina. As St Kilda's captain for seven years, he led with humour and good cheer, being known to pen his batting order on order of arrival, or occasionally yell "11 to 8 against" when a particularly tough catch steepled into the clouds. Players who dared apply for a clearance would be told, at the top of Edwards' booming baritone voice that if they didn't want to play at the club, "then we don't want you anyway!"
He served as a club delegate for more than 20 years and was a state selector for 12. Later, as one of the first to host overseas cricket supporter tours, he became Australia's first full-time manager, developing an unbreakable bond with the players of the period. He loved Dennis Lillee, in particular, and lengthened his nickname of "Fot" to "Lord Fotbury". At Australian training, well into his 50s, when net bowlers were sparse he'd take his coat off and send down big-swinging innies off several paces with a smile as wide as the wickets. In 1981, respected Sydney writer Geoff Prenter said: "In 22 years of sports writing I can't recall a manager who commands so much respect."
Lillee said he was "one of nature's great gentlemen, loved by all."
"He was simply the best manager of Australian cricket teams in my playing days. Unflappable at all times, he loved his role and the players loved him. He left no stone unturned to keep the players happy."
Edwards' best Saint analysis was seven for 43 against Carlton in 1949-1950. His haul of five for 27 against Prahran in 1955-1956, his first representative season, is also fondly remembered. He bowled 31.6 overs, 14 of which were maidens. "His marathon effort... must be one of the most courageous bowling feats in the history of the club," said president Ralph Smith.
Prahran's Val Holten said he made 40 that day "but it would have taken me four or five hours, so well did John bowl".
"I just couldn't hit him. In the end our best chance was to get runs at the other end."
Teammate Bill Young said Edwards at his best could make the ball virtually talk. "I played against (Alec) Bedser only once but I always rated John a better bowler than Bedser."
Edwards could always see the lighter side and roared with laughter during a club game in heatwave conditions when North Melbourne captain Dick Maddocks, carrying some unscheduled drinks out, complete with a cold towel over the top, unveiled 13 glasses of ice cold foaming ale. "Talk about a sight for sore eyes," said Edwards.
Edwards loved reminiscing and telling tall stories and true, like the time Neil Harvey, normally a teetotaller, literally saw double after over-imbibing during a friendly match at Nuriootpa, deep in Adelaide's famed grape country. "We kept filling his glass and he kept downing ‘em," said Edwards, breaking into deep laughter.
"Ninna (Harvey) missed the first, was cleaned up by the second and was back with us in no time. It was quite a day."
Edwards was made an honorary life member of St Kilda Cricket Club in 1962.
From “DOWN AT THE JUNCTION THERE'S A CRICKET GROUND” by Ken Piesse
(c) Ken Piesse 2005. Reproduced with the kind permission of the author.