Almanac Cricket: Enough of Trump. What is it about cricket?
I cannot read about, listen to, or watch any more about that man! I fear what he is capable of and I fear for all those Blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, Jews, Gays, and other minorities who are likely to have their world turned upside down as a result of this man ruling their country. And who knows what he has in store for half the population – the women! What I find even more frightening, perhaps, is the sheer number of people in America who actually voted for him and not only believed the racist, sexist, homophobic rhetoric that came out of his foul mouth during the election campaign, but espouse those beliefs!
So, instead of getting too depressed about where humanity is heading, I feel I need to write something. Anything really – apart from politics – so I’ve chosen cricket; not the game itself, but of my emotional interaction with it.
What is it about cricket? The only times in my life when I feel truly relaxed is when I’m at a game of cricket. And I’m not talking about the “coloured stuff”. Preferably a Test match and preferably against the Poms, but any Test will do. I also love Shield cricket, when I’m one of maybe 100 or 200 people at the ground: seven hours of uninterrupted bliss (unless of course my team is being demoralized); a full day spent closely watching the various nuances of bat and ball, and never allowing myself to think of the million and one things I “should” be doing in my busy all-consuming life. I relax and don’t feel guilty about it! Why is that? And, what is it about cricket?
Even on holidays, especially when I was still working, I found it hard to relax. I’ve always needed to be doing something, fixing something, solving something, creating something, worrying about something. I’ve spent countless hours of my life attending relaxation classes, trying to meditate and attempting to keep mindfulness at the forefront of my analytical thoughts. Sure, all of these attempts have been extremely beneficial in many aspects of my life, but I’ve still found it hard to just simply sit still and relax. And cricket does that for me. And I’m still wondering why that is.
My love of the game – the five-day variety – began in Brisbane, when I was an adult and much older than most kids who have been instilled with the love of the game from a very early age. Although Mum liked the game she never exposed it to us as kids, or to the six girls in the family anyway. I can’t recall Dad ever talking about the cricket. We didn’t play cricket at my all-girls posh Catholic school, so my understanding of it was nil.
As a teenager, Mum and my younger brother would hog the television each summer watching the Test matches when they were first televised, much to my annoyance, and it wasn’t until shortly after I’d left London and arrived back in Australia that a good deed brought about my interest in the game.
Each year Marshall and I would drive from Brisbane to Melbourne for Christmas with the Courtins. In 1978, just before the Boxing Day Test, one of my sisters, Marie, (the traitor in the family who abandoned the Swans when they were sent off to Sydney and now barracks for Geelong) asked if I could do her a favour. The second of her children, Julian, aged eight, was a cricket fanatic. He had been promised he’d be taken to the first day of the Test – his first Test match, but at the last minute his Dad wasn’t able to go, nor was his Mum. Marie asked me to take him. I regarded it as a chore at the time, but a good deed for my sister, nevertheless.
I really had no idea what the game was all about, and I certainly didn’t know the rules. I knew that Australia played England and it was called the Ashes, but that was the extent of my knowledge. Although, from a very early age, I always read the back pages of the newspapers first, I’d never bother reading about cricket in the summer months. The only sport I was interested in and knew about was footy.
My young nephew was so knowledgeable – he explained the rules, the positions, and who the players were and by the end of the day’s play I was hooked, and so was Marshall. We found ourselves listening to each day’s play on ABC Radio driving back to Brisbane, and the following year we started going to the Shield games at the Gabba, eventually becoming Queensland Cricketers’ Club members.
Before becoming members, I would take time off work to go to the Shield games. It was always too hot in Brisbane to sit out in the open, and as I wasn’t into drinking with the boys on the Hill I sat in the Clem Jones Stand on the concrete steps. I’d take my binoculars and follow each ball delivered and each ball struck. I was mesmerized.
The Gabba was a wonderful place to watch cricket. The magnificent fig trees always caught my attention and the dog track had something special about it – it was unique. The Gabba also had “Happy Jack”. I’d never known him by his birth name, Jack Toomey, but he was a legend at sporting venues in Brisbane. He was always there at every cricket match played at the Gabba. His slightly stooped gait and the sombrero atop his head ensured his presence was felt and when he started dancing on the Hill the game became secondary and we occasionally missed a vital wicket, or a wonderful cover drive. He also loved his beer, and as the day wore on his dancing certainly improved.
Brisbane’s Courier Mail wrote in 1999: When he died in 1999, this man who was so familiar to so many people lay unclaimed in the morgue for months. Some accounts say two years, some say four months. And the records aren’t particularly detailed. A bunch of old Valleys (rugby league) supporters paid for a funeral and rugby league legend Wally Lewis attended.
Author and poet Rupert McCall attended and more than a decade later wrote: ‘But where did he come from? Legend has it that Jack Toomey once held down a cleaning job at QIT (in the days before the institute became a university). I also heard that something in life caused him to be ‘Sad’ Jack for a period, before he emerged joyfully in his Valleys jersey. The mystery of the man was as much the story as the antics that made (crowds) laugh’.
Of course, no one is a complete mystery. One day someone will do the research to piece together the full story of Happy Jack.
There won’t be any more Happy Jacks. For a start, there’s no room to move in our modern stadiums, unless you have access to a corporate box, and that’s not the kind of place Happy Jack would’ve been invited.
He was something of old Brisbane…But there’s a saying that you are not really gone while anyone can remember you — and there must be millions of people who remember Happy Jack.
Not only has the man himself gone, but the Hill, the fig trees and the dog track are all distant memories for those of us who lived in Brissie at the time – sad in a way!
Since moving to Sydney in 1998 to be closer to my beloved Swans, I still passionately follow the Queensland team and have not missed a Boxing Day Test since 1979. During the Ashes campaign of 2010/2011 Marshall and I drove to all five matches: Sydney to Brisbane to Adelaide to Perth to Melbourne and then back to Sydney. A dismal result however, a win in Perth being our only success that series.
I have missed the many Ashes Series in England as they are always in our footy season, and I never, ever, miss a footy season!
Despite loving the game in creams I must admit that I still don’t really understand the intricacies of it. I wish I did, and I marvel at the positioning of players in the field to certain people batting and bowling. I just don’t have an understanding of the subtle strategies that play such an important role in helping to determine the outcome. You need to have played it, I feel, to really comprehend the complexities – but I love it nevertheless.
The only problem I still have is an answer to my initial question. What is it about cricket?