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The Ragged and Clumsy Beauty of Cricket Clubs

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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.

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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.

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The Catch

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Scorecards sometimes disguise the truth. 

Lillee c Willey b Dilley is among cricket’s most famous scorebook entries yet it’s a wholly unremarkable wicket, a mere 1970’s transaction at the WACA.

In the same group as the Indian spelling bee-worthy Chamundeshwarnath c Balasubramaniam b Ananthapadmanabhan at Visakhapatnam, perhaps.

Match 35 of BBL07 was likely to be remembered, if at all, for the Strikers’ import Colin Ingram swatting a handful of crisp sixes at the Docklands stadium in front of a languid Monday night crowd, the spectator numbers down like a late season MBL assignment with the Arizona Diamondbacks hosting the San Diego Padres on an airless August evening.  

This scorecard is essentially innocuous:

Bravo c Weatherald b Khan

Cricket might be a team game played by individuals but Bravo’s dismissal was a masterpiece of collaboration, a triumph of imagination that reminds us of sport’s capacity to thrill and surprise.

Among the Bucketheads and the Bruno Mars song grabs and the confected entertainment this catch, although probably insignificant in the broader context of the night’s result and the lengthened summer, was a moment to rival John Dyson on the SCG boundary and Glen McGrath at horizontal stretch in front of the members at Adelaide Oval.  

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Dwayne Bravo, the Trinidadian cricketer, lofted a Khan delivery high towards the Docklands’ angular roofing architecture and it began its descent at extra cover with journeyman carpenter Ben Laughlin cleverly netting the ball close to the rope, too close as is often the way, and as cruel momentum pulled him like iron filings at a magnet he somehow saw the blue flash of a team mate.

Jake Weatherald was inboard, but at a full pitch distance from the immediacy of the heroics. With Laughlin airborne and scorching at the line he flicked the Kookaburra towards his bluish colleague with the authority of a Federer backhand before diving into the turf, the first act of this drama complete.

Weatherald has had a modest campaign which has threatened, but not fired. He now became the Jagger to Laughlin’s Keef, producing an equally athletic manoeuvre to take the catch with a diving effort that, in this often-singular enterprise, demanded cooperation of balletic beauty as well as Zen-presence and advanced physical literacy.

It was a remarkable relay catch that even the most visionary fans of the last century could have scarcely conceived.

Football and cricket continue to evolve, and watching old grand final and Ashes footage are sometimes acts of almost ridiculous nostalgia so as to make these games often seem beyond the child-like in their structure and execution.

I can’t wait to see what happens next.

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Thoughts from my Caloundra Balcony

FM radio is illegal in Op Shops

Going to the late Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo is a waste of money for in Queensland dangerous and toxicologically startling fauna comes to you, for free, every minute of the godless day

By 2020 “GPS signal lost” will be the biggest killer of over-fifties in this country

I love our boys, but to teach them about privilege and perspective I’m writing a series of books with titles such as, “The Boy Who Died Because He Had To Listen To Triple J In The Hire Car” and “The Boy Who Died Because He Ate His Pavlova Slowly”

What does it mean that the small town of Murgon boasts ten churches of different denominations?

Bundaburg has the nation’s best Target, I think

How do I process the grief of buying my family a pepperoni pizza that achieved the astonishing, postmodern feat of being entirely free of pepperoni?

Country radio provides two truisms: David Bowie was boiled shite in the 1980’s and Neil Diamond was always great

Cricket conversations are fantastic: Is Peter Siddle one of your favourites? and, Dad, was it Lillee caught Dilley, bowled Willy?

At least every six months we should camp somewhere free of light-pollution, and sit about a fire, and stare up at the remarkable blanket of stars, and remind ourselves to live well, and to love fiercely

7

NYE in Adelaide Oval’s Bay 135

ZD

I’m calling it.

My fellow lovers of confected cricket, we need a national conversation. I ask this plainly: why has the Zooper Dooper been banished? In case you’ve not heard, it’s been replaced by a chewing gum brand for the BBL wicket celebrations. Won’t someone think of the kiddies?

-Dad, it’s really hot here in Adelaide Oval’s Bay 135 for this important NYE fixture. Can we have a sugary iced treat?
-No, have a stick of chewing gum.
-But I’m dehydrated.
-Chew faster.

I’m also reminded of my favourite graffiti, seen on a condom-vending machine: This is the worst chewing gum I’ve ever tasted.

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So, we’re underway in the traditional NYE 6.40pm time slot. Despite his early-tournament successes, former GWS Giant Alex Carey misses a straight one from Lalor. Shortly after fellow opener Weatherald also plays around one and travels back to the sheds.

Unlike Trump’s twitter-feed the Strikers are circumspect. When everyone’s favourite Colin, he of the tribe Ingram, comes out, all four batters have been non-right-handers. Thus far not a great evening for the sinistrophobics, and I wonder what’s the collective noun for left handers. A Hooksey, I decide.

Jono “Orson” Welles comes in, fresh from swiping a monstrous six at the SCG a night or two back, but he pops one to extra cover in a feeble dismissal which reminds me of PJ Keating’s description of John Hewson’s parliamentary performance: being flogged with a warm lettuce.

Lehmann the Younger contrasts with his dad who, despite his finesse, particularly against spin, always looked high-vis and Old Bushman Hotel front bar. With an ironic moustache upon his peculiar dial Jake is foppish and dandy; part Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, part Adam Ant, part Caddyshack gopher. Metrosexuality aside, he is dropped first ball and then twice more in collecting a useful twenty-odd. Brisbane’s inability to hold catches would prove to be a significant difference.

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Of course, the BBL isn’t only a cricket contest. It’s an ethnomusicological event with the between balls stabs central to the entertainment, but the playlist is now tired. I suggest themed evenings.

Sinatra

In the games leading up to Christmas let’s have only Yuletide tunes by the Rat Pack. What could be better than acknowledging a Bradley Hogg wicket than with an immaculately-phrased grab from a Frank Sinatra song? After all, they’re from the same generation.

Imagine the excitement of the punters gushing into the Gabba knowing that play will be punctuated with excerpts from Ripper ’76. Going from Supernaut to Sherbet to Split Enz. And to complete the experience why not get Molly to do the ground announcing?

But let’s also go beyond the rock and pop staples, to broaden the auditory appeal.

-Dad is it true? Is tonight Miles Davis night at Bellerive?
-Yes, it is son.
-The second great quintet featuring Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter?
-Of course! How could the Melbourne Stars now not win?

MIles

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Michael Neser bats with intelligent aggression in assembling forty, including a lusty blow which lands in an adjacent bay. Impressive Afghan youngster Rashid Khan arrives with mere deliveries remaining, hits a six (I’ll never use maximum: oops, too late), but then holes out in what is surely the most eventful two-ball innings conceivable.

In our final over Neser skies one, and a volcano of Heat fielders converge, but with home-town luck running nicely, its lands, splat, right in the crater.

As is now tradition with the Strikers batting first, they’re about thirty runs short.

*

Returning to the Eastern Stand as desultory half-time rituals take place across the turf our eldest asks:

-Dad, it’s hot, can we have a Buckethead?
-But these offer no protection. As hats they fail.
-Please!
-No. Every time one is worn, somewhere a koala gets an unpronounceable disease.

bucket

*

Brisbane Heat has a menacing batting line-up: think Goodfellas with Kookaburra Kahunas, but tonight they’re the ones getting wacked. Within the opening over Brisbane loses a wicket.

Lynn in, carn Khan. Gorn! The Heat’s most exhilarating bat is dismissed for a Mr Blutarsky: Zero…point…zero to the quickish leggie who, three games in, has the competition spooked.

The violet sky then hosts fireworks from across the river/lake in Elder Park and the booms and bangs echo and shake the Gavin Wanganeen Stand, and I wonder if the batters notice these seismic blasts. When former Striker Alex Ross is bowled the scorecard reads as a distinctly Under 9’s-like 4/15.

It’s still light and there’s a chance the game could finish early. I hope not for Adelaide Oval’s fireworks during daylight would lack spectacle and pizzazz, like bringing out a brussel sprout birthday cake at a Macca’s party.

Curiously, Heat allrounder Ben Cutting is out cutting (caught at gully) in what must represent a major disappointment to his family. Still his is a bright innings while those about him fall meekly.

Jake Lehmann takes his second smart catch out by the rope to remove Brendon ‘Baz’ (I prefer Mungo) McCullum for an atypically sheepish tally.

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province’s finest  strides out and playing the first ball Yasir Shah’s agonised leaping at the crease convinces me that he’s stepped on a piece of Lego.

Soon, it’s a numerically-attractive 9/90 and then all out. Tellingly, the Heat has not registered a single six. The Strikers head (sorry) to 2018 top of the table.

We enjoy the 1970’s disco funk medley and pyrotechnics and then drive carefully, west along Hindley Street.

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A brisk lunchtime in the Cathedral Hotel

hoggy

The satirical polemicist Voltaire once asked, “Is there anything better than a brisk lunchtime session in the Cathedral Hotel, on the first morning of an Ashes Test?”

In all matters philosophical and cricketing our French friend is accurate so I presented myself at the revitalised old boozer. It’s a Keith Stackpole jaunt from Adelaide Oval; our tremendous, alluring oval.

Friday night at the Adelaide Lutheran Christmas function (Catholics now admitted) Harmsey said, “Meet you at the Cathedral pub. 11.15.” I was enthralled and curious that the declared time wasn’t 11 or 11.30, but 11.15. This promised things exciting or dimly dangerous or both.

Whilst grateful I cling to a heady dream in which my ear is bent by this thrilling invitation: Meet you tomorrow in the _____ Hotel. Front lounge. 4.37 pm.

4.37. How good would this be? Who could resist such an exotic offer?

Strolling in from the misty wet the ancient Barossan adage swirled overhead, as it must for those with a connection to its verdant valley: One at eleven, or eleven at one. The Cathedral was bellowing; part matinée circus, part West End production. The Barmy Army merchandise card-table in situ, its custodians in throaty, summery cheer. Only 11.15? It was as if the pub had been throttling along for hours. Perhaps it had.

For me, an unsurpassed way to invest an energetic hour or two is to stand about a tavern’s table, by an open window, with a loose knot of like-mindeds, and trade cricket yarns: personal, public and apocryphal.

And so we did.

 

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Outside, a curiously impotent army of Warwick Capper number 39’s had mobilised, while inside, PJ Flynn and company attacked their fare (2016 Burgers of the Year, no less. No word yet on the 2017 winners- I’ll keep you posted) and the stories impatiently assembled.

Of course, after the obligatory SK Warne and IM Chappell anecdotes, we migrated to RM Hogg. When he played for Australia I was a kid who loved his ferocious bowling, and the hostility with which he steamed to the wicket; all Serengeti chesting, and scowl. He presented as one you’d have on your side, in a fight (Do cricketers have scraps and footballers have barneys?). Even his blonde locks flounced with anger.

Flynnie’s story went thus:

After his international career concluded Rodney played in Willowfest: the Australian amateur cricket championships, up in Mildura and Wentworth. Hoggy remained properly livid and fast. One afternoon his captain threw him the ball.

As he paced out his run-up a mischievous scorer, grasping the demon quick’s permanent volatility, yelled out towards the 123 Test-wicket veteran with faux ignorance, “Bowler’s name?”

From over my Coopers Session Ale in the Cathedral I could envision Hoggy’s lips tightening in a snarl. He didn’t bother to respond. But his captain did. “Hogg” came the reply.

Not done yet, the scorer chirped again, “One ‘g’ or two?”

As the yarns volleyed across our ales, a film-crew strode in and captured one of the Barmy Army, in staccato, bursting voice. By now the Wiz and his post-modern disciples had either departed, or been moved on by management. Perhaps Dr G Edelsten had invoked an injunction.

The Don DeLillo of cricket authors, Gideon Haigh, shared some probing insights on Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes and the outlandish turf wickets he’d encountered recently in Melbourne. As lunchtime pub entertainment and education, it was unparalleled.

I was asked of my earliest Adelaide oval cricket memory. It was the 1974/75 Ashes with Dad. On the scoreboard hill among fractured foam esky lids like Canadian ice-floe, and floppy towelling hats reminiscent of those draped upon Arthur Dunger, I recalled an over each from DK Lillee and JR Thompson. This closed the day’s play.

To my eight-year old ears the noise was a pyroclastic event. I was exhilarated by the vivid and escalating possibilities as they splashed across my bow.

My next Adelaide Oval experience, I recounted to Flynny, was one Sunday during a match against Tasmania in the 1982 Sheffield Shield season. Some Kapunda contemporaries and I had wandered in and taken our seats in the former Sir Edwin Smith stand. The crowd was dotted about like inmates in a TB sanatorium.

 

MH
I only recollect the spell of Michael Holding.

As accepted fast bowlers are athletes until they reach the crease, and Holding was supreme in his gliding beauty. Pace men such as Craig McDermott and Mitchell Johnson are menace and violence as they tear in. But the West Indian was noiseless and painterly.

With the Taswegian keeper back halfway to the Cathedral End fence, it seemed that at the moment of release the ball, instantly forty yards away, was being scooped across to second slip.

Neither the batsman, nor I, were optically able to track the fig. I became aware of a remarkable connection between mechanics and biology. This became metaphysical majesty. I was slack-jawed. We all were. I don’t know if Holding took a wicket during our short sojourn. And, in many ways, an edge or explosion at the castle would have spoiled this most bewitching of sporting vistas.

Time had passed, and all by that window had an engagement, so we left the pub. Across the road, an Ashes Test was waiting.

 

Wiz

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Fritz and fog: Twitter tales

 

My beloved Footy Almanac is running a series of writing competitions in which entries must be no more than Twitter’s new 280-character limit. There’s been some rippers. This week’s topic is Adelaide. More here

http://www.footyalmanac.com.au/almanac-writing-competition-almanac280-adelaide/

and on twitter using this hashtag

#Almanac280

 

fritz

 

The MCG has hosted happiness and towering achievement, and also catastrophe like 1997’s Iran match and 1982’s nearly last wicket heroics. But, 2011 saw unforgivable horror as Craig Willis said, “Ladies and gentlemen…Meatloaf.”

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 -This morning we’re finding Adelaide’s best fritz. Alan from Alberton’s on line 3.

– Hello. It’s Alan from Alberton here. John the butcher does a very tasty bung. Top quality sawdust. Nice.

– How does it fry?

– Good. But that late free against Port on the weekend!

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Having luncheoned on a pie-floater and butcher of West End draught at the Chappell brothers’ Leg Trap Hotel the HQ Kingswood now barges down Tapleys Hill Road with KG and static spitting on 5DN. Happy Proclamation Day!

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fog

 

Anaesthetized Blundstones on the torpid terrace. North London football under Dickensian fog. Throaty shouts and roast beef. Wembley arch from the homeward train. An afternoon.

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This unbounded sky is a cathedral. Low, promiseless hills guard the plains, and there’s the idyllic drone of the cricket as we move through an empty afternoon. Screen-doors flail. Home, with our Coopers and chops and distinctive vowels.

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Ghosts phantom about the curved stands: the Ricciuto, the Chappell, the Bradman. Echoes of roaring; grainy footage; men in hats. Frozen champions orbit the oval. Past and present embrace, but wounds can’t heal without rubbing: the chicken salt hoarding is gone.

 

 

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To Alex, our cricketer

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Dearest Alex

You wander back besides the pitch, and pass the stumps. I like that you’re relaxed, although now and then, you break into a little jog as if you’re keen to get on with it. You arrive at the top of your mark, and I bend forward as if being closer to you will help. It’s a symbolic hug, or a pat on your shoulder.

Your mum and I are on our chairs in the Sunday shade. There’s other parents and grandparents sprinkled about beside the school gym. Max is either hurling himself about at the playground, or having a snack. While he shows fleeting interest in the on-field action, we know he wants you to do well when he asks, “How many runs did you make?” or “Did you win, Alex?”

In our frantic and unavoidably scrappy lives, this time in our week is when Mum and I can sit under the immaculate pre-lunch sky, and chat about school and work, you two boys and our Christmas holidays. Without your knowing it you’ve yet again given us a gift, and this Sunday morning sacrament cloaks us in monastic calm.

In each game, you’ve bowled either twelve or eighteen deliveries with tremendous success. And having flipped the ball from one hand to the other with that instinctive confidence, that emerging ease with the red leather, you now clasp it in your fingers and palm, and pick out a point on the pitch.

Here we go.

Turning towards the batsman, your run-up begins, and Mum and I concentrate all our love onto you. Our hope and our pride are funnelled to the demanding biomechanics of what you’ll do in the next seconds. The expectation makes me squirm and spasm. It’s anguish and delight. What will happen? C’mon, Alex!

From beyond the boundary we gaze at you, leaning forward as you accelerate, and your long frame foreshadows the fast bowler’s menace. I remember someone saying, “Until they hit their delivery stride all fast bowlers are athletes.” How true this is! All at once I can see you in this moment, but also the wide-eyed boy you were and the remarkable man who’s coming too quickly.

Other boys display the poise of a collapsing water-buffalo, but there’s a singularity in your action, especially for a nine-year old. In cricket, as in so much of life, the best techniques are often those with an elegant simplicity; a marriage of aesthetics to mechanical minimalism. The ultimate example of this is Glen McGrath although your blonde hair is more Nick Riewoldt than Brett Lee!

Your Mum and I have long invested in cricket, and subscribed to its broad community, its teachings and its charismatic company. It speaks to us as it preaches to your grandparents, and we love how you also hear its sweet call.

Now coiled in your delivery stride, you release the Kookaburra at impressive pace and it travels the twenty-two yards to its fate. This crimson orb carries our aspirations. You’re making your way in the world, by cultivating your skills, making connections and embracing the offers and the challenges that fly in your direction.

Congratulations, for you’re a cricketer, as well as a loyal friend, a protective brother and a gorgeous son. It’s early in the innings, but it’s begun brightly.

Love

Mum and Dad

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