I was up at cricket training in the Otway Ranges, new to the team, so they put me on the bowling machine while everyone else slapped and tickled in the nets down the far end of the paddock beyond the oval.
They were the best nets ever, backing onto the very edge of the ranges ridge, overlooking the world, nothing but never-ending flats and blue mountains and volcanic tabletops beneath them. If you looked down, on a crisp day, in a big league, you could see almost every opponent’s oval, specks spread out across forever.
We were all there for different reasons. Some, like Rory, loved the game.
Others loved bowling or battling. Others were mates, not killing time, but living life. Hanging out through cricket. I’d only ever hit the ball sweetly once in my life, when living up Far North, in the Daintree. There was a social match, the Cow Bay locals vs the Cape Tribulation tourist crew. Ten runs and you were out. Barbie and band after the show. A corker of a day.
I know I can’t play, so swang the bat, giving it everything. Played the same shot for bouncers, wides, and underarms. That’s the trouble with cricket. In footy you can have no skills, and just run into packs and hurt yourself. Hell, you’ll get votes. In cricket it leaves you a human pack mule for those good at the game.
But we were all pack mules, and I let rip. There was this sweet crack, then I heard the ball fizzle and it cut through the bowler and to the boundary.
God, that fizzle! It must be what batsmen live for! Addictive.
But that was a long time ago. Now I was back down South, in the temperate bush, talked out of work for an arvo, to train, to be talked out of bush work on Saturday, to play.
Again, I wasn’t going to kid anybody. Rory loaded up the bowling machine, I tilted my head skyward, ran, eyes wide shut, and launched at sixes or outs. I guess I was attacking like that out of frustration. I wanted to love the game like my mates did. Have the skill for it. The patience. Maybe, if I hit it sweetly enough, I’d conquer the game. Own it. Maybe I’d find that sizzle again.
Swinging and missing and hitting felt great. The coach mumbled “Lost cause” and drifted off, there was nothing he could teach me.
That half hour was superb, what cricket’s about, for me anyway.
Footy is short, hard and intense. Cricket has a flow to it, even when you’re giving everything. Cricket is talking small shit while waiting to bat, or idling in the outfield. The thing that’s so magical about the game is that it destroys time. If you give into its flow, it lasts and lasts. And summer lasts with it. Days under a lazy sun take forever, in the best possible way. If you’re at a family do and it’s on the telly, barbies don’t end. It gives flat beaches colour, shitstir and motion. On the radio, it makes open roads the sweetest things. Test matches can be dipped into and out of like lazy rivers. One day matches can be a yobbo’s Christmas. A tree with booze and cheer and barracking and an endless supply of fours and sixes under it.
Caught in that timelessness, I relaxed without losing my anger, and heard the CRACK of sweet contact! The ball rose and rose, over the fence, bending the world with it, finally coming down with a fair old crash on a car bonnet.
Everybody down the other end turned. I held my hand up, calling:
“Don’t worry, it’s my ute.”
Shit, that’ll teach me.
Come Saturday, I gave up work, the coast, women, to be in the sweet flow of something timeless. To be up in the mountains, playing cricket. I wasn’t given a bowl, and was sent in to bat with one ball left in the innings, and eight runs needed for victory.
I aimed for the bonnets. Everybody’s. But snicked a single. Game over. These things never happen when you mean them.
That was years ago. I’ve played a few times since, but will never forget that ball rising, and, more so, the lazy river’s flow of moments either side of it.