Cricket: Love of the game develops into family adventure

By Darren Dawson

Cricket has consumed great slabs of my time over the past thirty summers. It’s cost me many life experiences: trips to the surf coast with mates as a teenager, weekends away with friends, long summer holidays with my young family. The only Derby days I ever attended were when the cricket was washed out. Now, at 44, with not too many more seasons left in the tank, I feel a sense of rejuvenation in my love affair with the game, because for the past year I have been playing with my oldest son, John.

How often have I heard the comments “I’m looking forward to playing a game with my son” or “I will retire after I play a game with my son” over the years? Is it a primal urge that drives us to want to play competitive sport with our offspring? To be honest, I never really thought much about donning the whites with my three sons; that is, until the prospect of it actually taking place began to loom.

John, unlike his father, was a relatively late convert to the gentlemen’s game. Always a rabid basketballer, he suddenly fell out of love with that sport, and of late had been more enthusiastic about all things cricket. Last season was only his second, but by mid-season he was expressing an interest in following up his junior match in the morning by playing with the adults in the afternoon. While his batting was very raw, his off-spinners were showing improvement. I was sceptical. But as chance would have it, our club had taken the punt of fielding a “fourths” team: bordering on the social, it was a mixture of younger blokes who were not interested in training or pressing for the higher grades, older guys whose best days were well past, and juniors who were being introduced to senior cricket. It loomed as the perfect vehicle for my son to make his senior debut.

The afternoon arrived, and I could tell the young bloke was excited. Unfortunately he was run out for a duck by one of the older players in the team. As for his bowling, you could say he was marginally more successful. There is not much protection for a 13-year-old off-spinner on a postage stamp-sized oval. To his credit, John kept “tossing them up” and was rewarded in his third over when one of the opposition batsmen, in his zeal to hit yet another six, advanced down the pitch and misread the flight. As wicketkeeper, I could hardly believe my luck. The fact that I knocked all three stumps over while removing the bails may have given a small clue that I was chuffed. As we converged to congratulate John, one of his much older teammates said: “Well done, your first senior wicket”. I hoped he would remember it as fondly as I do.

This season has brought with it some fresh challenges for both John and I. Our club had boldly taken the decision to field a Sunday team on turf. Nominally, this team would be the “thirds”, and would provide a reasonable standard and thus be a good fit for John as an introduction to turf cricket. For me, the main question was whether I was up to playing at a higher standard than last year. It didn’t matter. A season on turf with my son had to be embraced. In our first game together on turf, the stars almost aligned to provide the perfect fairytale.

With a dozen runs required off nine balls John, the No.11 batsman, shuffled to the wicket. His pads, gloves and helmet seemed many sizes too large. His gait was stiff and awkward. I was waiting for him at the crease. As his batting partner, I gave him a couple of words of advice: “Just get behind it, mate. Just get something on it. Play out these three balls and I will go for the runs in the last over.”

The dream finish was cruelled when the first ball he faced smashed into his stumps. As we made our way off the ground, I asked him what went wrong. “Dad, I was so nervous that my knees were shaking and I even forgot to take guard!”

I had a little chuckle. “Just learn from it,” I said.

In the three games we have played together this season, I have allowed myself the indulgence of observing John from close quarters. We have batted together again, and much more successfully, and John has taken a few wickets, including another batsman stumped by his father. In the field, with his large floppy hat and slender frame, he could reasonably be compared to a large roofing nail. I acknowledge that it must be a strange experience for him to be playing with his father. I am forever attempting to strike a balance between being a supportive teammate (“well bowled, mate!”), a corrective coach (“get your front foot forward!”), and disciplinarian father (“there are certain things you should not be listening to in the changeroom”). It is not easy. The one question I keep asking myself is, “Will he look back on this experience fondly?”

My youngest son, Luke, despises cricket, which is both a puzzle and constant source of amusement to me. But my middle son Brendan is even more cricket mad than his older brother. The first two words he ever said were “ball” and “bat”. Having fielded as a sub a number of times this season, he was champing at the bit to play with his Dad, just as his brother was doing. As he was only thirteen, my firm response was that he was too young. However, last week the fifths were struggling badly for numbers. And despite the fact that I was selected to play on Sunday, I was also picked to play in the fifths. As was Brendan. He was ecstatic. “I’m excited about playing seniors, Dad,” he said on the night before the game. I was too much of a man to tell him that I was just as excited as him.

A dry, dusty oval in West Newport is about as far removed from the MCG as you will find in suburban Melbourne. But that is where my thirteen-year-old son made his senior cricket debut last week. He scored three runs at No.6 and bowled two tidy overs of looping leg-spinners. Like his brother, he was run out in his first game. Departing the crease, our paths crossed as I strode to the wicket. I detected tears in his eyes. “Don’t cry. You’re playing with men now,” I said as I passed him. My mind flashed back to what seemed like only yesterday: visions of a toddler in nappies running around the back yard with a plastic cricket set yelling “ball, bat, ball, bat”.

Later that evening my wife asked if I realised why Brendan had burst into tears on being dismissed. “He was frustrated,” I said. “There was a run there, and the other bloke did not call.”

Brendan’s mother shook her head. “No. That’s not it at all, you fool! It was because he went out before you came in to bat. His entire reason for playing today was because he wanted to bat with you.”

About Darren Dawson

Always North.

Comments

  1. John Butler says:

    Lovely stuff Darren

    I’ve not had sons myself, but coached a group of kids from around the age of 10 until seniors.

    I got to observe many fathers coaching their own sons (and occasional daughter) and always thought it was a tricky balance to strike; in many ways I felt it was easier to be objective from my position.

    However, it didn’t stop me feeling vicarious pride when I got to play alongside some of them in senior ranks.

    Nice to hear Margaret’s still in good form. Say g’day for me.

    Cheers

  2. Andrew Fithall says:

    Excellent work Darren. I envy your opportunity. I have never played cricket but for some time have been trying to get 15 year-old Bill to come along to the Sunday morning basketball training sessions with the old blokes. He has opted to say in bed!

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