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Backyard Cricket

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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.

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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?”

“A cardiologist.”

“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.

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“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.

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“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.

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NYE in Adelaide Oval’s Bay 134

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Is there anything more disappointing than a soggy pie?

No, there’s not. The expectation of firm pastry and the meaty joy within was instantly ruined. No sooner in his seat and having slid his pie from its bag, it collapsed in our eldest’s lap like a Home and Away extra during a Summer Bay disaster.

Our members’ tickets are in Bay 134, at the bottom of the Fos Williams Stand, and about six rows from the fence. At about backward point it’s a top spot.

With noise and music and fireworks and the ceaselessly moronic countdown our innings begins courtesy of the hoopla-free off-spin of Johan Botha. He played for the Strikers and the Redbacks but is now with the Sixers. Every confected cricket event needs a villain, and Botha swishes his black cape for the crowd.

The civilised world’s favourite sporting Hodge opens briskly, as does his partner Jake Weatherald. We progress at a goodly clip, and when Dunk comes in he takes seventeen from one over of former wig salesman and current outlaw-bikie impersonator, Doug Bollinger.

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Is it possible to drown the week between Christmas and New Year’s with too much cricket, both televisual and backyard? With Alex and Max receiving a cricket set and some Zing bails, we’ve gone close.

Balls have lobbed over the northern, eastern and southern fences and into the neighbours’ like F- bombs in a Tarantino flick. Our house is on the western side of the modest backyard and balls: tennis, rubber and various assorted have cascaded down into the gutter like stones across a holiday-camp lake.

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Brad Hodge (at 42, the competition’s second oldest Brad) holes out, and to the wicket sprints Travis Head, hero of last year’s corresponding fixture. But his lean tournament continues and he’s rapidly back in the sheds.

Looking like a participant in a slo-mo beer advertisement is Jake Lehmann and he then takes careful block and three balls later is bowled for zero. Perhaps next time they should strap a set of pads to his moustache and just send it out for a slog.

When his stumps are disturbed and the bails flash and dance, the hoardings and screens light up with animated Zooper Doopers and I’m suddenly aggrieved for the great loss of 2016. Bowie? Cohen? Prince? Bah. Hang your head for the demise of the great summery ice-treat, the Sunnyboy.

I know the between-balls musical stabs are highly orchestrated, like elevator muzak and shopping centre soundtracks, but tonight’s seems improved with Wilson Pickett’s “Land of a Thousand Dances,” and The Black Keys’ “Lonely Boy.” A highlight is “Shout” by the Isley Brothers, although for me and many of my generation the iconic version of this 1959 classic is by Otis Day and the Knights, as performed during the toga party scene in Animal House.

The sun sets beyond the Chappell Stand and the Strikers go to sleep before Pollard and Jordan rescue the situation with some controlled bludgeoning. It’s a beautiful batting deck and I reckon we’re about twenty runs short. For the Sixers Sean Abbott is impressive taking a Michelle.

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Human creativity is eternally astonishing, and our boys find limitless ways to argue on the backyard pitch. A couple times this last week some cricket has even broken out between them. Mates who’ve brothers tell me it’s common.

Over Christmas lunch I ask Mum about my childhood cricket. “You’d come home from primary school and play every afternoon with Brett.” Brett was two years older and lived down the road. “Did we argue?” I ventured. “Like cats and dogs,” Mum replied, “You never stopped.” I was instantly reassured. I was normal.

During the break, there’s a win $500 if you take a catch competition for those caught on camera with a KFC bucket on their bonce. It’s criminally inadequate compensation. However, the security guard/ cult hero from the Strikers’ first home game joins in, and with his final attempt completes a nice overhead grab. It’s no John Dyson on the SCG fence in 1982, but still, it’s tidily done. We loves it. If KFC was available at Adelaide Oval I’d buy thirty-eight pieces, inhale them and wipe the grease through the hair of my loved ones.

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Hughes and Roy (Surrey import, not Slaven) get the visitors away brightly, but then the wickets fall regularly. Lanky Queenslander Billy Stanlake bowls with pace and penetration taking three, including that of Brad Haddin, who in stomping on his stumps, appears to have taken his midnight cups prematurely.

Test discard Maddinson arrives and departs limply. His year concludes bleakly, but with national selection logic proving impenetrable his two from eight deliveries may be sufficient to earn him a recall or a position on Turnbull’s front bench.

With O’Connor and Laughlin operating in tandem the Strikers are attacking with Anglicized forms of Gaelic, and this is effective as they snare four collectively. “Jump Around” by House of Pain, everyone’s beloved Irish hip hop collective (if LA’s a Belfast suburb) blasts out and O’Connor takes a sharp return catch from Abbott to make it seven for not-nearly-enough.

When the wickets aren’t tumbling, the bowling is so economical there’s more dots than a Morse Code Festival (email me for details). Like octogenarian Port Power fans clapping every single fecking disposal the crowd now applauds each maiden delivery. Our boys are really excited.

Sixer Sam Billings swots a couple into the western stand named for benefactor and KFC-devotee, Sir Edwin Thomas Smith, but with his departure the required run-rate accelerates like Zimbabwean inflation and the game is over.

Doug doesn’t even get to face.

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A few years’ ago, during the Boxing Day Test our eldest began shrieking from the lounge. “Dad. Dad! Come quick!” I burst in. What was happening? What had I missed? “What is it?” Alex looked up at me, his toddler’s eyes wide. “Dad, Peter Siddle’s about to bowl!” Ah, the enthusiasms of the child. Not many could get excited by that.

Not even Mrs. Siddle.

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In our car, we venture home and into the new year.

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The following is fantastic. Voiced by Richie Benaud it captures what we love about cricket and summer.