Cracks and Sizzles

 

 

 

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.

Simple.

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.

Fuck that.

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.

Comments

  1. You didn’t get to 20/20?

    My boys are playing in the same team and had their second win last week. Only 5 on the field for the first over, but ended up with an extra number towards the end. It’s a modified 20/20 game where if the batsman is out, the team loses 5 runs but stays on until his allotted balls are faced. (All players get either four overs or face an equal amount. So in this case because we had extra, if our last batsman scored a run, he would trudge back to face the next ball while the runner, would return to the bowlers end).

    Simon was second top score and Benji had the impressive bowling figures of 2 for -2. (Not sure how that works for the bowling averages. Every -1 run scored he gets a wicket?) The highlight; Benji bowls, batsman hits to Simon and takes off for a cheeky single, Simon swoops in and takes the bails off.

    They have played the last couple of games up at Cooroy in the Sunshine Coast hinterland. On an oval surrounded by gum trees and wilding hills to the west. I suspect there is a creek around there somewhere too. The grass is getting crispy and aching like we are for some decent rain. The clubhouse does a roaring trade in burgers, chips and chiko rolls. Although last week I was craving some fish and chips so dodged around the corner and found the local version. Better than our beachside home fish and chipperies.

    The community hall was putting on a movie night and the town while not exactly electric was feeling communal. People were about and not just the local layabouts. There was a bit of spirit about it.

    Loving being back in Australia!

  2. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Matt as a cricket tragic loved it and totally get the time bit there can be afternoons when your fielding when a minute seems like a hour and vice versa in the same arvo such ar the ebbs and flows of th game . The game by the very nature of it encourages bullshit and practical jokes as you have time to execute . The tactical side of the game is what got me at early age also always enjoy making a run or taking a wicket
    I filled in for Pembroke last sat in a game in which we managed to win in the last over which still gave me a huge buzz
    Thanks Matt

  3. My 98-99 cricket tour of Australia took me to some fantatstic cricket ovals and facilities.

    Your mountain nets sound fantastic.

    I played at Eudunda-Robertstown CC in the mid-North of SA. Wheat country. Nets were downwind. Farmer-boys bowling off 17 metres. Sharp. “Last six” meant last six balls and when that was called the batsman had a crack at hitting the school dental van which was parked permanently at long on.

  4. Loved it Matt. Particularly your description of the “perfect shot” that flows effortlessly from the bat. It is like a ‘grail quest’ that keeps me coming back for more, most commonly with golf these days.
    On the rare good day maybe 50% flow from the club and fly with an energy and grace that seems to come from outer space. I always marvel at how could that come from my swing, and why so rarely.
    “Its a mystery or a miracle” is my most common thought. Most days it randomly happens on 5% of my shots, and I have no idea of how to recreate it. But it is what keeps me coming back.
    I keep thinking “surely one day they will all be like this”. Faith is belief in the absence of proof.
    In cricket I played a few D Grade games for West Torrens in the SACA when David Hookes was on the verge of State selection. I used to watch enthralled in the nets at how the ball flew from his bat with such little effort.
    Everyone said it was “timing” but I never could understand what that was. It was some miracle of physics that somehow connected leverage, momentum and mass in a quantum way that multiplied the return for effort.
    How it works is still a total mystery to us stamp collectors.
    I wonder if Phil Hill can explain it for me?

  5. Earl O'Neill says:

    Lovely piece, Matt. Almost enough to make me love cricket again.
    I’ve lost a lot of my affection for the game over the last few years. These days I can walk 20 minutes to beautiful Petersham Oval and catch the Randy Petes once a month. That experience fits with your article more than any Test match ever will. Thanks for writing.

  6. Mr Earl O’Neil,
    I act on behalf of the Assistant Under Editor of this august publication who takes your “Randy Petes” reference to be a direct and slanderous assault on his personal character.
    Mr Baulderstone instructs me to sue for damages, though he will accept a private introduction to “Perky Girl” as full settlement.
    Yours,
    Downright, Lye and Soo
    PS He agrees with you about cricket, so there was no need to make it personal.

  7. Mark Duffett says:

    My memories of Eudunda-Robertstown CC are not quite so fond, Harmsy. I scored a golden duck at Eudunda, playing for Riverton-Tarlee colts circa 1984. Lost off stump, or was it middle?

  8. Mark

    Played a lovely game in 42 degree heat at Riverton with the cockatoos circling and the northerly blowing the harvest dust. Very happy to be at first slip while Mr Molynieux ground out some runs. We’d made 250 on an uncut outfield. I reckon they may have got them.

    Your off stump wasn’t sent cart-wheeling by me – that’s for sure.

  9. Thanks for the comments, gang!

    Gus, I would be the first batsman ever to get a negative ton!

    Harmsy, Did you ever hit the van!? Last six, brilliant! To me, that’s the stuff the Almanac is about!

    Pete, “Mystery or miracle” indeed!

    And Earl… WHAT is a Randy Petes? Haha.

  10. Luke Reynolds says:

    Great stuff Matt. Great to read a cricket piece from you. Is it Beech Forrest’s Ditchley Park you are referring to as your training/playing venue?

  11. Yep! Your onto it Luke! What a beaut little oval!

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