Following an emotional first Commonwealth Bank Test win over India, Cricket Australia announced that Barry 'Nugget' Rees would accompany the Australia squad to Brisbane for the second Test
Australia’s Test cricketers gathered last Friday at windswept, suburban cricket park across the road from where Adelaide’s monolithic new hospital is taking shape for their first training session since the passing of their mate and teammate Phillip Hughes.
Perhaps due to its unpretentious surrounds, it was a hauntingly celebratory occasion as the core of the unit that had cried and consoled over the preceding week formed a tight circle to honour the memory of their “family member” one more time before returning to business.
And at the heart of the group in their Lincoln green practice outfits was a 70-year-old man smartly dressed in summer shirt, shorts, socks, sensible shoes and training cap, the ever-present Test match dressing room accreditation tag fluttering around his neck in the stiff sou-westerly.
Barry ‘Nugget’ Rees – as much a part of that Australian and South Australian cricket family as was Phillip Hughes and the two generations of players to have preceded him – had arrived at training and immediately wrapped himself around his great friend and national coach Darren Lehmann.
“He just loves Boof,” one South Australian Cricket Association insider whispered as the two men remained locked in an extended, wordless embrace.
“And Boof just loves him.”
Our great mate ! Showing his respects as per normal ! Love ya NUG , we all do!! pic.twitter.com/qxuX6Wb2jg
— Darren Lehmann (@darren_lehmann) December 3, 2014
There could few more authoritative or insightful guides to the dressing room at Adelaide Oval.
‘Nugget’ – or ‘Nug’ as he is more familiarly known to quite literally everyone in Australian cricket – has been an unofficial member of Australia’s Test, ODI and T20, an integral part of the West End Redbacks and an inspiration for the Port Adelaide Football Club for more than 50 years.
From the time his father arranged for the sports-loving then 18-year-old to pick up some work at the Adelaide sports store run by former SA wicketkeeper and one-time Australian Test skipper Barry Jarman.
A shop that was as much of an institution on the Adelaide sporting scene as ‘Nugget’ was to become.
Taking his nickname from his favourite player of the time – Keith ‘Nugget’ Miller, who Rees would refer to reverently as Mr Miller - Jarman recognised ‘Nugget’s’ charisma, quiet respect, intuitiveness and unswerving loyalty and introduced him to his SA teammates.
From there, the ongoing mutual love affair between cricket, cricketers and the boy whose path beyond school had been unclear until he was given the chance to sweep the floors, run errands and dust the sporting equipment at Rowe and Jarman Sports Store flourished.
And has remained ever strong.
Nugget's dad would pay for him to accompany the South Australian team when they took him to their bosom and on the road, a support that was taken up by his SA and Australian ‘teammates’ upon his dad’s passing.
A ritual at day’s end, as shadows descended across whichever Test match venue Nugget was providing help and encouragement from within the dressing room, would see him emerge in full team kit, bat in hand and followed by a team of willing bowlers.
‘Nugget’ would take guard on the outfield facing the dressing room, 50m or so inside the boundary, and despatch more deliveries than not to the pickets, announcing each boundary and his ever-mounting score.
Upon reaching his century he would raise his bat to the grandstands that echoed with his ‘opponents’ hearty applause, and at some venues his feat would be flashed up on the electronic scoreboard.
He has scored a century at every ground in Australia. Every time he has gone out to bat. Against some of the greatest bowlers the game has hosted.
He is the face known to so many television watchers, crouched forward in the front row of the famous Adelaide Oval dressing room with his batting gloves and Australian cap on, living every ball of a Test match.
He is in the celebration photos that commemorate some of Australian and South Australian cricket’s most-treasured moments.
He delivers a rousing coach’s address before and during matches. He is there with a cool drink and a reassuring word to any batsman who has returned to the rooms having failed, any bowler who has toiled without reward.
But ‘Nugget’ is so much more than a fixture within Australian team since that led by Ian Chappell, whether playing at home or away.
“Initially I was struck that this was a rite of passage to be in the same team as Nugget," recalled former Australian off-spinner and contemporary of the Chappell brothers in the 1960s and 70s, Ashley Mallett when he wrote his mate’s biography ‘Nugget’ – Man of the Century’ a few years ago.
“This was Nugget's team as much as anyone else's team. We just grew up with the idea that Nugget was part of the team, always has been.”
‘Nugget’ is more family than merely a friend to a roll call of the nation’s cricket royalty over the past five decades.
Even true-blue royalty. In keeping with his exalted position he has met Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II at one of her regular cricket-related meet and greets at Windsor Castle.
"And how are the corgis?" he disarmingly and charmingly inquired of Her Majesty as she made her way along the line of touring party members.
Glancing down at the dogs at her feet, she apparently replied: “As you can see Nugget, they are very well indeed.”
He is also a confidante as well as a character.
Anyone who has greeted ‘Nugget’ as he makes his way to or from the team bunker on training or match days and asks what’s happening inside the inner sanctum is familiar with his formatted reply.
“Sorry mate, what happens in the dressing room stays in the dressing room,” he says with due solemnity and fraternal respect.
It’s a code by which ‘Nugget’ has lived his cricket life.