Almanac Book Review: The Rules of Backyard Cricket by Jock Serong

 

Brothers Wally and Darren Keefe were born less two years apart, brought up by their single mother in the mid-70s after their father, once a local footy champ, departs the family home. Mum (always “Mum”) provides for the family by running “a very tight bar” at Yarraville’s Commercial Hotel.

 

Port Fairy author Jock Serong’s second novel is narrated by the younger brother, as Darren finds himself with limbs cable-tied and mouth gaffer-taped in a present-day car boot. As he struggles to free himself from this uncomfortable circumstance, Darren’s life story unfolds.

 

 

“You’re seated on a plastic-strip beach chair in a suburban Melbourne backyard. Fernley Road, Altona. It’s 1976. February, late on a Tuesday afternoon.
Two small boys, shoulder-lit by the late sun of daylight saving, are playing cricket.
The smaller one, batting, is me.
Darren. Daz. Dags. Scrawny, short, cheeky grin and a thick clump of mustard-brown hair. I’m in school uniform, the small grey squares of a grade two. I’m red-cheeked with defiance but grinning. Standing my ground because I’m being accused of cheating. My reflex in such situations, then and now, is to deny everything then laugh it off. Dimples deep, teeth out. Lean on the bat. Point at the bowler’s crease, tell him to get back to work. Later, I’d see Viv do that and I’d swear he stole that move from me.
My accuser, casting thunderstorms my way with ball in hand, is my older brother Wally.
Grade four, older by nineteen months. About four inches taller at this stage, and undoubtedly stronger. If it comes to blows I will lose. Wally is my idol, and yet my inverse in all respects other than our shared obsession with cricket.”

 

 

The brothers’ rise through the traditional cricketing pathways is laid out breezily in the first few chapters. Melbourne touchpoints such as the February 1983 dust storm, a visit to a perceptive Hope Sweeney for cricketing footwear or a fearsome Cupitt St bloke called Dennis, give colour to the tales of microwaved tennis balls, hand-mower accidents and the fights, always the fights, in the Keefes’ backyard warzone.

 

As the cricket becomes more serious, so does Dazza’s story, tracing an arc through prodigy, media fuelled bad boy and (spoiler alert) brother of the Test captain, until the day that his on field smart arsedness drastically alters his career prospects.

 

Eye opening tales of sex, drugs, spot-fixing, corruption and underworld connections, are threaded together with clever facsimiles of cricketing characters and events both off and on-field. Readers familiar with the era will find themselves nodding along knowingly. That his eventual resurrection as a TV commentator seems inevitable rather than alarming is in itself a sad reflection of modern times.

 

As the pace picks up towards the end, a still naive Darren reveals some unexpected insights into the goings on at the Commercial and confirms the old adage that you shouldn’t trust anyone wearing a bomber jacket.

 

Or anyone else for that matter.

 

The Rules of Backyard Cricket truly is a ripping yarn, highly recommended even if the last thing that you read was your team’s scorebook.

 

Four and a half sweaty abdominal protectors (out of five).

 

About Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt

Saw my first SANFL game in 1967 - Dogs v Peckers. Have only ever seen the Dogs win 1 final in the flesh (1972 1st Semi) Mediocre forward pocket for the AUFC Blacks (1982-89) Life member - Ormond Netball Club -That's me on the right

Comments

  1. John Butler says:

    Swish, that’s a ranking system I’m amazed no-one else has attempted. Why were David and Margaret wasting their time with those stars?

    The title of this book, and the knowledge it was a thriller, had me intrigued.

    This review has tweaked me further.

    Thanks

  2. Luke Reynolds says:

    Sounds great Swish. Will definitely check it out on the back of a four and a half sweaty abdominal protector ranking.

  3. Swish,
    I read this book about 12 months ago and threatened to review it for the Nac but never got around to it. So, many thanks for doing so.
    I really enjoyed this book, and also Jock Serong’s first book “Quota’. i have not yet read his latest.
    I thought the childhood scenes were vividly painted, but I was frustrated by Darren Keefe’s gormlessness and found myself questioning if someone in that position could be so naive? Much of the other stuff rang very true, though.

  4. Grand stuff Swish. “The Box”. Has a nice ring to it. Now that the ABC has dumped Jennifer Byrne and the Book Club

  5. Good one Swish.
    I read this one.
    And I’m with you all the way.

    A lot of the nefarious goings-on were a little too easy to believe (as being possible).

    Well played, J Serong.

  6. Colin Ritchie says:

    I read the book twelve months ago or so, fab read, totally enthralling. Serong’s two other books are as equally page turning. Cracking review Swish!

  7. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    Thanks folks. I’ve got Jock’s other two books on the radar. I might have to call the Patent Office re the new rating system. I was thinking of coming up with some icons to go with the ratings, but wasn’t sure what half a box should look like. Maybe I could have asked Bumble Lloyd.

  8. Sean Gorman says:

    Swish – this is uncanny – I literally finished reading this an hour ago. I reckon the first three chapters are great then it gets a bit predictable. Enjoyable to read but predictable. I also feel the issue regarding the daughter seems to be not dealt with with any real immediacy (I’m trying not to give the plot away) given the gravity of the situation. The last couple of chapters are excellent.

    cheers.

  9. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    Thanks Sean; appreciate those perspectives.

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