Thursday, 19 October 2023
Every year, Wisden Cricketer’s Almanack announces its five cricketers of the year. In early 2000, Wisden announced the five best of its nominated cricketers from across the years of the 20th Century. These five were selected by an international panel of cricket experts and chosen from a field of 500 cricketers in that century.

This esteemed list of cricketers was: 
+ Sir Donald Bradman Wisden Cricketer of the Year, 1931
+ Sir Jack Hobbs Wisden Cricketer of the Year, 1909 & 1926
+ Sir Garfield Sobers Wisden Cricketer of Year, 1964
+ Sir Vivian Richards Wisden Cricketer of the Year, 1977
+ Shane Warne Wisden Cricketer of the Year, 1994

In sixth place was Dennis Lillee Wisden Cricketer of the Year, 1973

On hearing this announcement, Former View Sports master Michael Punch reflected on the selection and realised he had the possibility of securing the autographs of these six outstanding cricketers and placing them on one bat. With the help of some friends, he set about achieving this dream.

Sir Donald Bradman was in the process of setting up the Bradman Foundation and a family member of Michael’s was arranging the legal work. Don was very happy to sign the bat knowing that it would assist St Ignatius’ College in building a new scoreboard on its main oval.

Sir Jack Hobbs had written to Michael’s father, Austin Punch, in 1923, suggesting he not travel to England to play cricket given the poor state of the economy. Austin played cricket for NSW during the 1920s. The original letter had been safely kept by Michael’s family, so it was simply a matter of transferring the facsimile autograph to the bat.

Sir Garfield Sobers and Sir Vivian Richards posed a challenge. However, a good friend of Michael’s and Riverview old boy, Sonny de Carvalho, was a close friend of many West Indian players. The timing was perfect as Sonny was about to embark on a world tour with the Australian Collegians XI as Tour Manager, which included stops in Barbados and London. Sonny agreed to take the bat with him and secured both signatures of these players. OIU Committee Member and tour player John McCann was at the dinner with Sonny and Sir Garfield in Barbados. “He was such a lovely, unassuming guy. The main attraction of that evening was also Wes Hall, the famous West Indian quick, who was last seen on the dance floor practicing his Rumba moves!"

Shane Warne and Dennis Lillee were Ambassadors of the Sony Foundation at the time, so Michael contacted his friend Denis Handlin (former CEO and Chair of Sony Australia) who arranged for both cricketers to sign the bat in Sydney. With the bat now signed by all top five players of the 20th Century and with the addition of the sixth best player, Dennis Lillee, Michael gifted the rare bat to Rodney O’Neil in recognition of his significant donation to Riverview, enabling the school to build the new Centenary Scoreboard.

In March 2017, Rodney and Judith O’Neil, together with Rodney’s brother Colin, presented the bat to Riverview for the College archives. In September 2023, the College agreed with Michael’s suggestion that the bat should be housed in a more public and official cricket environment. Gratefully accepting this generous offer, the SCG Museum arranged a handover event on Tuesday 26th September 2023, attended by the St Ignatius’ team led by Fr Tom Renshaw SJ, Rodney O’Neil, and friends James Rodgers (a former Riverview First XI Premiership Coach) and John McCann (a former Riverview First XI Premiership Captain). Also joining this ceremony was Simon Katich, former Test player and Captain of the NSW Cricket team (2003-2007) and his son Xavier, a Year 9 student at Riverview.  

The SCG Museum will proudly display the Wisden Cricketers of the Century bat during the 2023/24 summer season of cricket. Our sincere thanks go to Michael Punch, St Ignatius’ College, Father Tom Renshaw SJ, James Rodgers, John McCann and Simon Katich who have all played a part in allowing this unique piece of cricket history to be presented by the SCG Museum for the enjoyment of sporting fans and the broader community.

Michael Punch
Former Sportsmaster
St Ignatius College