Christmas Day cricket with my in-laws has been a tradition for over a decade now. It started at my wife’s parents’ place, with a concrete pitch surrounded by wire netting. Various balls of the rubber, plastic and tennis variety, all taped up with duct tape to aid swing. There was always at least two and sometimes all three of the brothers, while their father would also play. We would play all afternoon and into the evening, pausing only for Christmas dinner. In recent years we have hosted Christmas at our place. No concrete pitch here, I mow a pitch into the grass with the ride-on mower, gradually working down to the lowest cutting setting on Christmas Eve. Having a clay based soil means the pitch is always hard, though a bit uneven. Which is how we like it. It’s a game of survival. There are no runs made, the sole objective is to bat for as long as possible.
Last year’s pitch was hard, uneven and had plenty of juice in it due to having a wet December. This year’s pitch was hard, flat and straw coloured after its final cut. Looked like a good pitch for batting, but something in it for the bowlers if you bent your back. I let everyone know that I had produced my finest wicket yet.
After lunch at my parents where only minimal cricket was played, we arrive home followed shortly after by my brother-in-laws Matthew and Adam. It will just be myself and this duo for cricket. Matthew has two young boys and so do I, but they are too young for our battle and not interested in just being fielders. Or leaving their new battery operated toys. So there is a batsman, a bowler and a keeper. Some props in the field that can “catch” you if hit on the full. Trees and plants are also out on the full. Two plastic balls will be used, a softer one for bowling off the long run, harder one for spin. The bat is half width bat with both sides shaved off. We head over to the pitch armed with the bat, the balls, stumps and a few cold ones. Cricket can be thirsty work.
Matthew bats first. He is the older of the brothers and was a very good bat back in the day, but now only plays on Xmas day. First ball of the day is bowled by Adam and Matthew skies a ball from an ambitious shot. Caught and bowled. My turn to bat. Just try to get my eye in. Adam bowling quite sharp with his left armers. Adam was a teriffic cricketer in his teens and early twenties. Genuine all-rounder, won the Pomborneit CC Division 1 team champion two years in a row before his boundary umpiring career took him to AFL ranks where he has officiated in 5 Grand Finals. As well as running in the Stawell Gift. One of three gifted young cricketers the Pomborneit CC has lost to the AFL. Scott Lucas was a hard hitting opener and brilliant fielder who ended up a premiership Essendon star. While Easton Wood, a promising young Western Bulldogs player, was a very sharp pace bowling prospect.
I get through Adam’s over. Most of our overs tend to go for 10-12 balls. He’s bowling sharp but surprisingly the pitch is dead. Low and slow. Im setting myself for a long innings. Matthew must be regretting his rash shot first ball. We remind him of it constantly. It’s Matthews’ turn to bowl. I survive his over of gentle mediums, even play a few drives. Adam is back on, getting easier to play his left arm quicks. He is cursing my docile pitch. He finishes his over with a couple of left arm chinaman’s that turn a mile. Spin might be the way to go on this pitch. Matthew is back on and as I comfortably work the ball around I start thinking that I will never get out. So of course Matthew gets one through my defence and bowls me. At least the metal stumps didn’t knock my beer over.
As we all take to bowling spin it gets harder and harder to bat. The ball is turning alarmingly as the pitch starts to resemble the dusty Premedasa Stadium pitch in Colombo, Sri Lanka. I haven’t turned off breaks like this for years. Nathan Lyon would love this pitch. Well maybe, he still might bowl too fast for it. Matthew has a few handy knocks while Adam shows his class and he gets harder to dismiss. New beers are required each time all three of us have had a hit.
As the sun sets we head inside for something to eat, presents and a few more beers. Christmas Day cricket is always competitive, hard fought and a lot of fun. Bring on Boxing Day. Planning is already underway for next year’s pitch.