Ed Zelma
Feb 13 2022

Editor’s note – Ed Zelma played first grade cricket in NSW Premier Cricket for Gordon, St George and Eastern Suburbs.

In a first grade career spanning 1996 to 2010 Ed took 327 wickets at an average of 26.77. His best figures were 6 for 15 and he took 5 wickets in an innings on 10 occasions.

Ed Zelma shares his story.

I can’t quite put my finger on how I came to love cricket. Growing up in Enmore a predominantly Portuguese community, cricket wasn’t the main game. Dad would tell me that I used to like bowling to the painted stumps on a wall in Enmore High. My sisters would say that my love of the game drove them nuts, I would bounce a ball all day and hit things, anything.  We had a prolific grapefruit tree in the back yard, and I once managed to hook an unripened grapefruit right off the tree through the very large lounge room window with a broom stick. I broke a lot of windows and learned to replace them sometimes managing to do so without mum and dad noticing.  Having spent a big chunk of life on a cricket field, I don’t have a lot of handyman skills but replace a window yes, I can do that.

My favourite players growing up were Dean Jones and Allan Border. Deano’s 210 in Madras just about says everything about Australian cricket. I absolutely loved the Test matches against the West Indies. I remember feeling so nervous for the Australian batsmen as they would go out to bat and would ride their innings with them.  

I loved all aspects of the game, bowling, batting, and fielding. I was a small kid, so as the other kids around me grew and I didn’t, my bowling seemed a bit pedestrian. Small kids can bat though, and I took to being a gritty opening batsman modelled on Geoff Marsh and David Boon. For most of my early playing days I was an opening batsman, handy with the ball but not overly penetrative. I played in the local Gladesville District, we were a tiny association, and my memory of those representative junior days were one of defeat, probably compounded by being the captain for most of those matches. 

I had some pretty good success playing school cricket I was fortunate enough to have been picked in the First XI from Year 9. My voice was yet to break and was very much baby faced, I took to being the class clown in the sheds perhaps seen as the annoying little brother the older players just had to put up with. I went on to play with and against brilliant cricketers; including eventual Test players Matt Nicholson and Brett Lee. It was pretty crazy; helmets were seen as a sign of weakness, and I recall facing up against Binga and Nicho at full tilt with just a trusty cap. There were some players you knew would go on to great things. As it would turn out, I would be at the Boxing Day match in 1998 to watch Nicho make his debut for Australia against England!

I rolled into grade cricket fairly seamlessly from school I went to the Gordon Cricket Club. I had one ambition and that was to make first grade as quickly as I could. From first grade then the next step would be for the NSW Blues, simple. My youthful perception at the time was a bit warped, I would feel I wasn’t progressing fast enough. As it turns out at 18, I was playing second grade and on debut scored 130 not out. I would go on to make some reasonable scores in the reminder of the season. I just naturally assumed first grade would come just as easily. They say cricket is the great leveller, and sure enough it would be the case. For the next few seasons my performances were underwhelming, I floated between second and third grade. My mindset was changing too, from being happy go lucky to feeling like each innings was a matter of life or death. The amount of pressure I put upon myself was immense and my game showed it. During this time, I talked myself out of being much more than a grade cricketer, especially when you looked at the Blues squad containing half the Australian team.

At 21 I went to play cricket in England, Bolton League. It was so much fun, loved it. It remains one of my great experiences, meeting terrific people who remain great friends today. Eventually I would come back from England and be picked into first grade cricket. The reality was though I really stumbled my way into the team, which is not ideal considering what was to come.

First grade cricket is a great game, but I can tell you as a baby-faced young player without a bank of success to draw upon, it can put you in a really lonely place. Times have changed thankfully, but back then the cricket field was a brutal place for the uninitiated. I had moments of success but was inconsistent. I look back now, and I think I had good skills, but as most sports people will tell you, the most important ingredient is self-belief and resilience. I just wasn’t mentally equipped to deal with the stress and anxiety that comes with performing at such a high level. When you are street fighting 11 highly skilled and hardened opposition players the last thing you need is to be street fighting yourself. If I had the chance to go back in time, I would take the likes of Allan Mantle and Rory Darkins, brilliant people expert in attention control and positive thinking. I'm sure they would have done wonders for many players just like me. I am absolutely convinced that building the mental side of your game is the most fundamental part of being a successful cricketer.

In 1999 I decided to do something different. I packed up and went back packing across Europe with my best mate Ollie Barbagallo. The truth be told, I was just fed up with myself and needed a reset. I had graduated from university but the idea of now settling into a 9 to 5 job just wasn’t my thing. Again, it was such a brilliant experience, I totally disconnected myself from cricket with the day-to-day grind of keeping yourself fed and sheltered. It was a great learning experience. I returned just in time for the cricket season and something interesting happened. My first session back in the nets and I was bowling but instead of being a steady net bowler, the ball was coming with some good pace. No science to it, I just found myself able to swing the ball and bowl heat. I do believe my new found strength and conditioning was from my travels carrying a 20+kg backpack around Europe for a few months. The notion of using a gym to build strength had never occurred to me. My newfound speed also transformed the type of player I was. I went from a highly strung top order batsman to a much happier bowling allrounder batting in the middle order. I felt the natural order had been restored. My temperament, personality and skillset was a much better match. As it turns out that season, I was to be in the top handful of bowlers in first grade and notched up my first century. After years of fighting myself I was all squared away finally with the cricket gods.

From this point on, now in my mid 20s I had a new approach, a renewed love for the game, and the beginnings of a game plan I could build upon. I had long given up thinking about representative cricket, it was about just trying to be the best player I could. I decided that the best thing for me to do was prove myself at the then most competitive clubs. It was a toss-up between St George and Bankstown, I would choose St George. I figured that if I could break into a team containing Van Deinsen, Catalano, Pilon, skipper Ryan, Thomson, Turner and co. I would be doing alright. As it turned out I was picked in the first-grade side. Over the season I found myself in second grade – thankfully! We won the second-grade premiership, it was such an incredible experience. Down and out against Mosman at Bankstown Oval we got up and won it, it was a magic moment. Skipper Dave Thompson remains one of the most influential people I have met, two decades on I find myself using Thommies people skills!

I won’t bore you with what happens from here, suffice to say my cricket days were very happy days. I would return to Gordon and co-captain with Nicho the Stags to a grand final loss (to St George!) and then after a few more season to Eastern Suburbs were my wife Gen and baby Sophie resided. I was lucky enough to play finals cricket each season until my retirement. My mantra as a fast bowler was hit the keeper’s gloves as hard at the end of the day as the start. In my final two matches before hanging up the boots I would go on and take 11 wickets, I feel this was a pretty fitting way to sign off.

The things I look back on with a smile; getting meloned by Shoab Aktar the force of which taking my helmet clean off my head snapping my chin strap and going on to get 62, sharing a 10th wicket record breaking partnership of 114* with my good friend Steve Green previously held by Bill O’Reilly, winning a second-grade premiership, apparently being the first bowler to get Steve Smith out in first grade, a duck of all things. Steve would go on to make a century in the second innings. Yes that 16-year-old can play. Really though I loved it all.

Ed Zelma and Steve Green

The bowler I least like facing was Don Nash, Don had a special ability at great pace bowl both with swing and seam. I hated, like everyone else, having to play a length ball swinging away that jagged back into your ribs, I definitely didn’t enjoy that. I least liked bowling to Moises Henriques, I consistently seem to find the middle of his bat. I actually don’t recall a time Moey not getting a century when I played against him. I should add that I think I would have least liked to have played against David Warner. Over my time playing cricket I haven't seen a better batsman; his footwork, power and focus is immense. I am very lucky to have been in a side with him and I am so glad to see him (and Steve Smith, Cameron Bancroft) back playing at the peak of their powers after the appalling manner they were treated by Cricket Australia.

If I had to reconstruct myself I would have Steve Smith for his resilience, Corey Richards for is batting craftsmanship, Brad Haddin for his grit, Peter Nevill for his catching and personal hygiene, Steve Wark for his integrity and longevity, Dave Thompson for his people skills, Matthew Nicholson for his wisdom, Dylan Connell for his awesome off cutter, Kev Pillay for his joy, and of course the late Dean Jones for his attitude – I was there when he told Curtly to take off his white sweat bands!

Thanks Paul Ryan and stump to stump for the opportunity to reflect on these great memories. Ryano, was indeed my skipper who first picked me out of obscurity when I first landed at St George. Paul has always amazed me first as my first-grade skipper, with a young family, building the enormously successful Wizard brand through to today - he finds the time to reach out when you need it. I would love to take this chance to thank everyone who I had the pleasure of getting to know through my cricket days – it would be war and peace. So put simply I say to you all thanks for playing your part in making my cricket life so incredibly rewarding.

Take care


Back Row – Stewart McCabe, Moises Henriques, Steven Green, Tim Lang, Pat Rosser, Anthony O’Sullivan, Tim Laws, Chadd Porter, Hamish Solomons, Murray Bennett (President)

Front Row – Jon Dean, Steve Wark, Dean Burke, David Thompson (Captain), Kevin Pillay, Ed Zelma, Chris Johnstone

Ed Zelma
Played NSW premier Cricket for Gordon, St George and Eastern Suburbs