During that beautiful hour or so before dark when the light is golden and the world’s rough edges disappear the boys and I played cricket in the backyard. It was warm and still and the kids next door were having a pool party. They had a great soundtrack and sang along to Gang of Youths and The Smith Street Band. They even played Eagle Rock.
Max likes to bowl leg spin, that most difficult of the cricketing crafts. But he has reasonable control and can get them to bite and spit. With his blonde locks he’s not unlike a certain SK Warne. I encourage him. “Don’t try to bowl fast like your dopey old Dad. There’s millions of very average medium pacers out there. Keep the leg spin going!”
Our home is in a constant state of tennis ball crisis. An already modest backyard, it will continue to shrink as the boys likely stretch into six footers. We share fences with five properties and all have endured our friendly fire.
A couple months back the people behind us had their yuccas removed. They ran the length of their back fence and were quite tall. I came home from work and suddenly could see the eastern sky as that vegetative wall was gone. And on our lawn were about ten tennis balls and a toy or two which had taken refuge in the trees. I was surprised there wasn’t also a Jetstar blanket, a German motorcycle and the Best of the Jackson Five. They were big trees.
After a brisk delivery from Alex, Max edged one over the tree and into Mrs Hambour’s yard. Like Farmer Fred’s wethers we had no balls. Mrs Hambour is 97. She lives alone. She makes me laugh.
Earlier in the week when the temperature reached 46 degrees I rang her from work during the day just to check on her. She told me (again) of how she’d been recently hospitalised at the new Royal Adelaide following a fall during which she suffered two black eyes and hurt her nose.
“It was very nice Michael. They were good to me. I even saw one of those heart people- what are they called?”
“Yes, that’s it. And I said to him, ‘Don’t worry about my heart. It’s no good. Have I broken my nose?'”
The boys returned with two tennis balls and two chocolates each.
Having had a bat and a bowl I took up the prestigous position of umpire/ commentator/Dutch beer drinker in my chair under the patio at short extra cover. I channelled Australia’s finest all round broadcaster Tim Lane.
“Max comes in and tosses one up just outside off stump. Alex steps into it and punches it through mid off for four!”
The boys found it amusing, although, if truth be told, not as amusing as their Dad. I continued.
“With his characteristic loping approach Alex bowls and Max is defending this one back up the pitch. There’s no run.”
And then like all great commentators (real and backyard) I had to show the power of brevity.
“Edge. Gone!” I made myself giggle.
Being brothers there was frequent disagreement so I turned to more televisual theatre to help. Alex was sure Max was out LBW. It was irresolvable. So I made the TV rectangle with my fingers. We’d go to DRS (Decision Review System is a technology-based system used in cricket to assist the match officials with their decision-making). I began.
“Can I have side-on vision of the bowler please?” For reasons unknown I adopted an English accent for my third umpire duties. There’s probably some interesting post-colonialism going on here. Alex and Max had stopped fighting and were watching me and my recreation. “Yes, that’s a legal delivery,” I said to no-one and everyone, putting my hand to my invisible ear-piece.
I continued. “Can we go to Hotspot please?” The boys eyes widened. “Can you rock ‘n’ roll it please?” A meaningful pause. “Again… Thank you. No edge showing.”
I took a sip of beer. “Let’s go to ball tracking please.” We were getting close to the truth. “Yes, it’s pitching in line.” Another pause. “But the ball is going over the top of middle stump. Can you please reverse your on-field decision to not out?”
And do you know what? The boys nodded and returned to their positions. Dispute ended. I learnt something too.
And with this the game continued under the orange sky until we again exhausted our tennis ball supply and it became time for baths and then bed.
It had been a brilliant hour.