Psst. Come over here. Lend me your shell-like ear for I’ve a confession.
I learnt more at cricket clubs than I did when undertaking my degree.
Now, this isn’t a criticism of my alma mater, or untoward praise of the gents with whom I shared a summery oval and a clammy protector, just a reflection from my current viewpoint.
And why shouldn’t it be?
Yesterday, the Plympton Bulldogs Cricket Club had its Under 12’s Presentation Night (Presso), and after twenty-odd years it was great to again be in a cricket community.
The wood-panelling was festooned with premiership pennants, and the dates on these were sufficiently regular and recent to confirm that we’d made a wise choice for our boys.
If their last flag had been in, say, 1953, it might have spoken of the club’s resilience and bright optimism in slogging away over fruitless decades, but as any mug punter will tell you, if I can mix speculative and seafaring metaphors, it’s necessary to have an earn or two along the journey, to keep the scurvy at bay.
Happy in their undisputed real estate at the corner of the bar were a couple chaps in red and black Bulldogs polo shirts. On the back, triumphantly listed, were their team-mates: Dogga, Perky, Kev, BK etc. In the roster were universal names, and a few quirky inclusions that also suggest a healthy and robust culture.
Glancing up at the TV to check the score from South Africa I see that everyone’s fourth favourite Test-playing, West Australian Marsh: the elongated Mitch (behind Rod, Geoff and Shaun) was assembling a tidy innings. He seems in danger of becoming a useful cricketer.
The family in front of me struggles to finalise their meal order as the kids are compulsorily indecisive. “But you said you wanted gravy. Are you sure? Once it’s on the schnitzel we can’t take it off. Lemonade or squash? You might just have to have water.”
If this was a pub there could be an impatient urgency, born of a commercial subtext, but this is a community, and the matronly manager runs both her till and club with the reassuring and unhurried calm of a pilot’s pre-flight announcement.
Each coach presents a trophy to all his players, and makes a considered, careful, encouraging, inclusive speech. The words are promises and handshakes. Most refer to their stapled pages, and these hand-scrawled notes are emblems of investment, beacons forward for a modest, suburban cricket club.
About an hour in, Alex’s coach cycles around to the bowling trophy. The audience has been respectful and attentive, only occasionally requiring a shrill whistle from an elder to refocus the boisterous pups by the bar.
The coach continued. “This lad’s only just turned ten. And after playing the first game in the Under 10’s he came up to our team.” I speculated silently on the recipient. “He always bowled a really good line and length, and across the season had over a hundred dot balls (each player only gets two or three overs a game).”
“The winner is Alex Randall.” And up from his plastic chair in the fifth row he went, boyish and shyly pleased, as his Mum and I both got a bit of dust in our eyes, simultaneously. We found each other’s hand, and after an exhausting week had a moment that suddenly reminded us again of the worth in those often hideous Sunday starts, the washing of grassy whites, and the nagging to pack away the sprawling cricket coffin.
Wandering back to the car along the balmy, twilight oval past assorted kids running and hollering and launching balls skyward I thought, not for the first time these past weeks, about the trajectory from childhood across the adult decades.
Situated along this arc there’s many gorgeous people competing for our loyalty and love – wives; husbands; kids; parents; friends. But in trying to best shape ourselves I’ve decided there’s another who I’ve forgotten, and who I now really want to impress: a golden-haired, perfectly-conceived boy who sees you exactly as you want to be seen.
My ten year-old self.
Meanwhile go and hug a cricket club, in all its ragged, clumsy beauty.