There’s something about the gentle lilt of Test Cricket radio commentary that puts me at ease. It conjures up feelings of summer, of hot days driving along far-reaching highways, of getting back into a stifling car after a day at the beach, of driving down to the shops late in the afternoon, parking the car and then hopping barefooted over a scorching bitumen to run into the shops for an ice cream or a cool drink. I’ll even drift off to memories of slow drives home from work, wearily staring at the occasionally moving bumper bar in front of me as I crawl home after another day at the office. For it doesn’t matter where you’re going or where you’re coming from, cricket on the radio means summer, and summer means cricket on the radio.
Cricket matters to me. And based on all the usual discussion and debate about the current state of Test Cricket in the last couple of weeks, cricket matters to this country too. This incessant chatter about what’s wrong with the game, coupled with a recent viewing of the documentary Death of a Gentleman, has left me hoping that Test Cricket in particular can rise above the conjecture and prosper for many years to come.
My earliest memory of cricket should have caused me to shy away from game for ever more. Perched on the verandah of my Grandparents’ farm house, I became a somewhat accidental spectator in a game of cricket amongst my uncles and older cousins. As I sat there trying to make sense of this odd game, Uncle Jordo deftly worked the ball off his legs and the ball seared towards my unsuspecting noggin. Clearly oblivious to the pain that awaited, I just sat and watched as the ball cannoned into my head – causing a big bump and plenty of tears.
First aiders came from everywhere and I was soon laid out on the couch inside, ice on the head and many a concerned face crowding around to make sure I was okay. Uncle Jordo sauntered in and said “thanks for stopping the ball from breaking the window”. It was mild consolation. This was hardly the spark of what would become a long lasting love affair with the game of cricket.
Another, yet thankfully less demeaning, early childhood memory is of Grandpa trying in vain to teach me how to bat out the front of my childhood home in Greensborough. His huge, tough and weathered hands completely enveloped mine as he helped me perfect the grip and, in the process, unwittingly became the first of many to attempt to improve my batting.
It was out the front of that same house that I would spend the following decade serving my cricket apprenticeship. The MCCG (Mari Close Cricket Ground) was a cauldron of intimidation as my brother stormed down the steep gradient that was the pitch and hurled balls and verbals at me in equal measure. Being five years older than me, he held a distinct advantage and seemed to see it as his duty to intimidate, frighten and belittle his delicate little brother.
Night after night he would charge down the hill, dismiss me in under a minute and then I would bowl for what seemed like hours as he slogged me to all corners of the neighbourhood. Getting desperate, I’d inevitably lower myself to trying to get him out via the ageless “six and out” rule, tempting him into the big shot that I knew he couldn’t resist.
As with all backyard/street cricket venues, the MCCG was home to many local rules – each filled with nuance and an ability to be adjusted to serve a particular purpose. Hooking the ball over our house was out, unless you could find the ball within two minutes. Hitting the ball down the drain was out, unless the ball could be found. Hitting any cars on the full was out, resulting in Dad’s rusty old Datsun Sunny (regularly parked at short leg) being nicknamed “Boony”.
Yet Boony wasn’t the only big name to take the field on the MCCG. Every December my family would assemble a replica Nativity scene, complete with rustic stable and metre-high nativity figurines lovingly made by us with chicken wire, polystyrene balls and left over fabric. Set up at fine leg, the key players in the first ever Christmas would occasionally be threatened by a well struck leg glance.
That was until the day the Virgin Mary held onto one of these shots and I, as the batsman, made a very sorry departure from the crease. Considering her inability to move her arms (not to mention her lack of hands) it was a truly remarkable catch. So, when I read online a few years ago that some history boffin had found evidence of Jesus playing a primitive form of cricket in his youth in Nazareth, I was not surprised. With those bloodlines he’d have been mad not to.
Watching the Aussies in action has always been a strong feature of the cricketing summer. Rushing home from school in the afternoon to catch the last session of the day’s play, walking into the old Olympic Stand at the MCG for your first ever Boxing Day Test, or kissing the Rip Curl logo on your baby blue corduroy cap after making your first backyard ton just because you’d seen “Slats” do it when he made his first hundred… alright, maybe that was just me.
To this day, every time I watch a day/night game during an Australian summer it reminds me of crowding around the little TV in our cabin at a beachside caravan park to watch the canary yellows, with the clear highlight being Michael Bevan’s four off the last ball against the West Indies to win the game on New Year’s Day in 1996. Since that magical night, the Australian cricket team, in all its forms, has had a firm hold on me.
So, despite the seemingly constant chatter about the future of the game, I really hope that the next generation, and the generations after that, will have the opportunity to fall in love with cricket. I hope that they can create their own memories of long Australian summers where cricket plays like a comforting soundtrack in the background. Summers of listening to the commentary on the radio as they drive to the beach, following the fortunes of the national team and adjusting their backyard strokeplay to avoid an agile Virgin Mary at fine leg in the backyard. After all, they’re just some of the reasons why cricket matters.