Cricket and the Country Member 

tarlee 2

Footy’s finished and I’m thinking about cricket. I love cricket stories.

I remember Fonz, from Kimba, telling me how his country carnival team was dismissed in Adelaide for two. Yes, the entire side.

Two.

I also recall Woodsy and Whitey in a grand final at Greenock. As the shadows spread, Kapunda needed a dozen with five wickets in hand. Rolled by four runs.

And, I think of Tarlee.

A farming settlement between the Barossa and Clare Valleys. Its oval is microscopic, utopian for batting, but a bowling Hades. Along one side wanders the Gilbert River, while just beyond, lies the rail line.

Saturday. Distant decades back, my first footy coach, Bruce Dermody, bashed the ball long, very long, and in a rare but happy junction between work and play, it plummeted into a moving train carriage. Bruce was a Station Master!

*

During the ’92 World Cup I remember Dean Jones hitting a six at Adelaide Oval against Sri Lanka. Not square at the Victor Richardson Gates or into the George Giffen Stand, but straight, towards the petty enclave of North Adelaide. The shot rose and journeyed past the seats and the path, and onto the grassy mound.

It landed among the folk under the Moreton Bay Figs. As Geoffrey Boycott might have said, “I don’t go that far for me holiday.”

*

Davo. We all need a mate called Davo. Tarlee had a fella called Jason. Davo was a sportsman; as a dashing centreman he’d won an underage association B & F. Where footy’s forgiving, the glaring nature of cricket can be cruel. He drops Jason on four. Simple catch.

Jason then bludgeons the ball repeatedly into the reeds along the Gilbert River. It drowns, often. He almost gets a triple century. But Davo responds by taking a hat-trick with his Thommo slingers. That’s a diverse afternoon. Like marrying a gorgeous girl. And then at your reception, she whispers, “ I’m pregnant. To your uncle.”

Stumps are drawn. Hours later, ghosts in cream dinner suits are haunting the streets, and pubs. No, look closer, these are not suits, but cricket attire! The same disembodied phantoms are then lured to the Tarlee Institute disco (cheaper drinks, but poorer skin care routines than the Ponds Institute).

The DJ is a farmer. The band is called Undercover. Of course, they include “Turning Japanese” by The Vapors. Their cricket whites survive the prickly outfield and muddy river, but the floorboarded infield of bundy and beer-slop is lethal; it has a Strontium-90 half-life.

*

Simon O’Donnell at the SCG in 1986. Flat-bats one into the top of the Brewongle Stand. Like Mooloolaba and Coonawarra, Brewongle is a comfortingly Australian word, murmuring of open roads, and backyards, and drifting eucalyptus. Now sirens to my equatorial ears, these are calling me home.

Brewongle, as is mostly thought, is not named after an Aboriginal term for camping ground, but rather for the former tea room run by two sisters within the old stand. Ah, myth and reality.

One Australian summer we’ll take our boys to Sydney. The Brewongle beckons.

*

Fifteen, brazen, bearded. Precocious in myriad ways. My teenage cousin Puggy played representative cricket with fellow Barossans Greg Blewett and Darren Lehmann. After mobs of runs against men, he made his A grade debut.

Nuriootpa’s opening bowler Horry Moore was broad, fierce, and scary-quick. A walloper from Nuriootpa, he’d sort this punk out. In competition, youthful self-confidence is always insulting. His red torrent began.

Crack! Puggy drove Horry’s third lightning bolt straight back over his head. Two bounces, under the fence, onto the road, with gravel scuffing the ripe Kookaburra. Who was this kid? He got 94 in slick time.

At season’s end he’d win the association batting aggregate. Puggy’s drive was a haughty declaration, an unworldly rebellion, and bluntly instructive of life being a string of little births and, for Horry that innings, little deaths.

*

Eudunda. As you drive across the last hill before descending into town, a bluish plain swims into view. This flat scrubbyness seems, on certain days, as a wintry ocean. As a kid I used to think, instead of this saltbush and mallee, it’d be wonderful if it was the sea. As it was, eons ago.

To the north, and by Burra Creek, is the unironic locality of World’s End. Snaking nearby we find Goyder’s Line, which shows where rain and soil might allow crops to be grown confidently. Goyder is still right.

A sleety, snowy gale there once forced footballers to scurry under the fence and huddle between the Kingswoods and Chargers. I was ten, and hadn’t seen such apocalyptic storms. World’s End seemed even closer.

Kapunda’s Bull Ant got some brisk runs one January at Eudunda (former club of mine Footy Almanac host, John Harms). He was a stylish left-hander, but, then again, ignoring Kepler Vessels, aren’t they all? Clipping one off his pads, it hurled high over the boundary, and clanged about on the clubroom roof like Glaswegian hail. It sat there.

In protest at the heat, ruthless flogging and distasteful realisation they were supposedly enduring this for fun, the locals all flopped on the grass. No-one moved to retrieve the ball. Mutiny. Finally, the bowler mumbled, “Well, I served up the poop, I better go fetch it.”

And he did.

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