Cricket memoir: Dips’ finest hour

by Dips O’Donnell

 

On the eve of another Ashes series against the Poms, thoughts turn to cricket.

 

When I was growing up we had momentous cricket matches at home that lasted for several days. There was no apparent set time for these games, they simply stopped when either the fights got too frequent or the rain did.

 

Our cricket pitch was your typical backyard space, only ours ran down the side of the house, rather than across the back of the house. This presented several difficulties for the batsman as some of the more natural and potent scoring shots were thwarted by the existence of permanent barriers. For example, the whole off-side (the short boundary) was guarded by a fence and Dad’s vegetable patch. Therefore cover drives, cut shots and slaps through mid-off were all a waste of time. The ball either went over the fence (six and out), into the fence (easily fielded), or through Dads’ tomatoes (instant death).  

 

The on-side was not a whole lot easier. The side of the house guarded an area stretching from a wide mid-on down to a position forward of square leg. Of course you could always try a lifted pull shot over the roof of the house, but this was fraught with danger as our pitch often caused the ball to lift sharply off a good length (probably as a result of the tree roots that poked through the ground about two metres from the bat) meaning the chances of skying it were high. As is normally the case in back yard cricket, a one handed catch out of a tree, off the roof, off the side of the house or off a fence, was given out, so a skied shot always meant an anxious few moments as fieldsmen camped under trees or next to the house waiting for the ball to drop. 

 

Therefore, all that remained for a batsman was a pull or hook through square leg or a lofted drive through straight mid-on, and into the pine trees across the back fence. Needless to say everyone in my family was a leg side player of quite some power.

 

However, despite all these obstacles I made 189 one glorious afternoon in the summer of 1977 which, I believe, was never bettered. It was a masterful innings of power hook shots, sweeps to fine leg, and clobbering on drives into, and even over, the pine trees. My brothers tried everything including physical intimidation, but I simply could not be shifted. The six I hit to go from 96 to 102 is still regarded in my family as the biggest hit ever seen in our cricket matches. It sailed the width of our block, over the neighbou’rs fence at square leg (the long boundary and therefore not out), across their front yard and onto the driveway of the neighbour’s two houses away.

 

When we get together for family functions these days that innings still comes up in conversation, and one of the great criticisms is that I made my 189 against a depleted attack. True, my oldest brother had left home by then, and his left arm googlies that seemed to come out of nowhere from behind the clothes line, were great wicket takers. He was like Dereck Underwood: you never knew whether to play forward or back. And true, one of my younger brothers was experimenting with his Bishan Bedi’s and had yet to master the art of the slow turning ball. The result was that his deliveries arrived at the batsman in a very leisurely, looping fashion, and devoid of spin. I took great joy in dispatching them relentlessly into the pine trees.

 

But my counter argument has always been that my second oldest brother was at his tear away best. He bowled with a sling shot action like Mitchell Johnson and the sheer, terrifying speed of Jeff Thomson. His downfall, however, was that he was like Brett Lee; very predictable. Once my eye was in, his deliveries were joining Bishen’s in the pine trees.  

This was a break through innings for me. Up until that point I had been regarded by the family as a batsman of some ability, albeit with zero technique. I could make a quick fire twenty, but would then play a loose shot and regularly heard the tennis ball thud into the plastic rubbish bin that was the wickets. But on this beautiful summer’s day the cricketing planets aligned. The first fifty was a struggle but the next two and a half flew off my blade in record time. It was extremely liberating.

 

Sadly, the dismissal was as disappointing as the innings was magnificent. I was on 183 and looking at a double ton. My brothers were all approaching exhaustion and had run out of ideas as to how to dislodge me. They’d tried everything inside and outside the rules, even throwing sticks at me as the bowler ran in to bowl, all to no avail. The double ton was there for the taking.

 

My older brother decided to reintroduce pace into the attack, and stormed in off a short run. It was a surprisingly cagey delivery with a nagging length and just wide of off stump. I played a perfect forward defensive; head over the ball, bat close to pad, soft hands, but the ball reared up off a good length, took the bat’s shoulder and flopped pathetically over the off-side fence (the short boundary – six and out).

 

The celebrations at my dismissal were enormous. My brothers all came together in mid pitch laughing and slapping each other on the back, as I trudged off; head bowed and bat dragging through the dirt, around to the back verandah. We had an unwritten rule that once dismissed you had to leave the pitch pretending to remove your gloves just like the real cricketers removed their gloves on TV (we never wore gloves), and walk to the back verandah, which was the change rooms. It was a very long walk.

 

So if you ever find yourself at one of my family functions (we get a lot of blow- ins) ask any of my brothers about the day I made 189 in the backyard at Mum’s. They’ll tell you all about it.

About Damian O'Donnell

OK – which is the odd one out: Love the Cats and flannelette shirts, especially in winter. I get on extremely well with red wine. We just seem to hit it off. Love horse racing in Spring. Used to love cricket. Go to Stawell every Easter and contemplate life around the fire. Love water skiing, especially in summer. Love a great oil painting. Will read most things put in front of me. Thought ‘The Sorpranos’ was the best TV show ever made – by miles. Run an accounting practice in Melbourne’s suburbs.

Comments

  1. Pamela Sherpa says:

    Loved reading this Dips. There’s no tougher test of character than a backyard family battle.

  2. D.Underpants says:

    Great and accurate story Dips, although there were some rumours of match fixing being involved. Apparently Bishan Bedi had some connection with a particular Indian bookie of dubious reputation but these rumours were never substantiated.
    I guess this leaves your record innings intact!

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