A bumpy guess says it’s been 10,629 days since I last fronted for the Kapunda Cricket Club.
Moreover, 90+ years, collectively for Tommy, Puggy and I. With Hollis and Stef also donning the drawstring creams we average over fifty. Years, not runs. My cousin Froggy is our captain. He’s played cricket continuously for nearly four decades.
Nuriootpa’s number 2 oval is scandalously slow, and the eastern side caravan park will come into dreadful context later. If I bowl, I fear for the Millards and the elderly gents in white singlets shuffling with their toiletries bags to the amenities block.
Winning the toss, we bat and make a bright opening. Coming in at three and four, Tommy and Puggy (another cousin) bat together. They’re watchfully cautious, but the scoreboard is glacial. From our gazebo an informative voice (possibly mine) inquires, “You chaps know it’s a forty-over innings and not a five-day match?”
Across the afternoon there’s marginal opportunity to sledge the opposition for we’re too busy sledging each other.
I bat for a few overs with Stef.
For many of our teenaged years we spent a summery week down at Port Willunga. There was relentless, fierce backyard cricket with his cousins Nick and Adam. Despite the therapeutic presence of a taped tennis ball this often disintegrated into a physical fight.
Once this tumbled onto the street. Of course, the brothers were at it like a mobile MMA bout, and Stef, spectating bemusedly with me in the January dusk said, “Should we start throwing a few punches at each other, just to fit in?”
Batting is about partnerships. Stef and I do this by scrambling some byes and keeping the scoreboard, as IM Chappell would recommend, ticking over. We turn some easy twos into panicked singles. We urge Kapunda’s score toward the century. It’s great fun to spend time in the middle after many, many years.
We have a mid-pitch chat. With widening eyes, Stef says, “I’m going to start swinging.” I like his thinking. The ancient leggy tosses one up. On this hard wicket, he extracts ridiculous bounce. I get after him. Like an Adam Scott lob wedge the ball is instantly vertical.
I’m caught mid-pitch by the keeper. For a duck. Can you believe it? A beautifully-compiled duck. Like the slaughtered buffalo in Apocalypse Now, I stagger towards the non-striker’s end, and know, preternaturally, that I should’ve paused inexplicably, allowed him to pass, dropped my shoulder and then decked him, accidently.
Having made just over a hundred, we take the field. Our tally is Invincibles-like given that a few weeks’ back we were rolled for 21 after being 7/7. And that was with the captain and oldest player, Dr Max, making 18. If he’d made zero point zero it might’ve been truly, profoundly hideous.
The next two hours are fabulous fun.
We spend it laughing, largely at each other. There’s a Grand Canyon between my cricketing memories and the rotund, slow-motion parodies trundling, and on this warm Barossan afternoon, listing about in the outfield like matinee ghouls.
Tradition dictates that we establish a Schooner School. In this a dropped catch equals buying everyone a beer while claiming one earns a cup from each participant. Tommy and Puggy argue that I owe all a beverage for my undeserved duck. Froggy shakes his head and says no; the rules must be as they were in 1987. Blood is thicker than beer. Six of us sign the verbal contract.
We take a solitary wicket, dropping three catches which, of course, is great for the Schooner School but not our cricket. After one grassed Kookaburra I giggle rhetorically, “Do you blokes want wickets or free beer? What’s wrong with you?” Today is a celebration of contemporary failure and not just a nostalgic reunion with our sunny past.
I bowl from the northern end, which is acknowledged rightfully as the difficult, or as I call it, the heroes’ end. After one exotic and ragged nut, Froggy completes a decidedly athletic and unthematic manoeuvre on the mid-wicket fence to save a certain four, heaves the ball back in to me, and yells at the batsman, “Don’t try to hit my cousin for six, pal!”
The day is going magnificently. Towards the end of my third over I’m cooked. Stef hollers, “You’ll be good for fifty overs, Mickey!” I reply, “Well, yes, but maybe over three seasons.”
As a team, we strangely only sustain one injury, if embarrassment, humiliation and self-satire are ignored. Having been forcibly, if not brutally removed from first slip, Puggy is banished to short mid-wicket when one of my deliveries is punched in his vague vicinity, and with the elegance of a land-locked sea mammal he flops belatedly at the ball, and in an alarming gesticulation which will forever haunt those who saw it, rises ashen-faced, grabs inexactly at his groin and cries, “I’ve done my groin.”
At Nuriootpa number 2 most of us read this as a clear medical sign that he had, in fact, done his groin, at least in a musculature sense. Puggy subsequently spends the rest of the match, evening and financial year hobbling like a knee-capped, low-level gangster in a C-grade mafia movie.
The net result of this groinal misfortune is that he can’t replace me as scheduled at the heroes’ end. Froggy asks, “Can you keep going, Mickey?” I nod yep, assert that my groin is fine, and from cover point Hollis quips, “Heart of a lion, heart of a lion.” Much laughter. A little bit of wee nearly comes out.
We share a post-game beer with our Nuriootpa opponents, including Horrie Moore who enjoyed sustained infamy as the Barossa’s premier fast bowler. As is often the case in sporting demonology he is a ripping bloke.
Stop-overing at old mate Chris Higgins’ Greenock Brewery, it’s bursting with happy Kapunda people who are there for a 50th. We invest an animated hour, and as ritual commands, each fetch a paper-bagged longneck for the arduous fifteen-kilometre expedition back to Kapunda.
In Hollis’s Prado are five blokes who’ve triumphed with the stellar sum of six runs and so we endure the ruthless, unforgiving Greenock Road and Thiele (named for Colin) Highway before decamping, more or less permanently, to the historic Sir John Franklin Hotel, located on Kapunda’s main street, which is conveniently named with the Google-friendly nomenclature of Main Street.
At half-eight it is time for spoofy. With nine players it means the potential number of coins is twenty-seven. Given the fiscal incentive to
cheat engineer the result (the loser buys everybody a beer, so there’s little change from $100) Dan is summonsed to record the live data: Goose- 12, Puggy- 16, Froggy- 17, Tommy- 22, Whitey- 9, Hollis- 20, Stef- 23, Mickey- 19, etc.
If you’re from Kapunda and haven’t suffered a spoofy final with Goose Mickan then local mythology suggests you’ve not lived, or felt existential pain. I sweat through two finals with my (read: everyone’s) old nemesis and we share the (dis)honours.
There’s continuous handshaking and back-slapping and affirming cheer. My fellow veterans and I vow this to be an annual event. We conspire that a 2020 away fixture at Greenock would be ideal, and schedule a late-spring, high-altitude training camp in Denver.
I love being back home.