With the coming of each summer, fond memories are brought to mind, particularly of those salad days from the age of ten when I would eagerly set in place my preparations for the forthcoming cricket season.
Firstly, my pocket money would go towards the purchase of the annual ABC Cricket magazine. I would devour the profiles and details of all the current Australian Test players and the potential prospects for inclusion into the Test team for the forthcoming Test series. Of course, there were also the profiles of the players of the touring team. I would spend hours going through all these profiles so I could eventually determine, after much deliberation, my preferred and favorite players whose fortunes I would avidly follow throughout the series. Their successes and failures would be keenly felt by me.
And the fantastic thing about the magazine was that it had score sheets at the back of the booklet. I would select my own Test teams, including myself in the Australian team, and play imaginary games using my Test Match game as the means for determining results. Hours were spent in my own little cricket world. Remarkably, I would top both the batting and bowling averages for the season.
Secondly, early summer was also a time of practice, to sharpen up my own skills to be the Test cricketer I envisaged myself to be. With my newly purchased Stuart Surridge cricket bat, sold to me by former Test captain Lindsay Hassett at his sports store, I religiously oiled and knocked it in by hitting ball after ball hanging in one of mum’s old stockings tied to the clothes line.
“Straight bat, remember straight bat,” I would repeat over and over to myself as the upright bat made contact with the swinging ball.
At the time Richie Benaud was my hero and hours were spent ripping my leg spinners at the painted wickets on the back fence to perfect my skill in the art of the great bowler. I wanted to be like him. Dad said practice makes perfect, and practice I must if I was to ever have a chance of fulfilling my dream of playing Test cricket. A carefully mown strip of grass was my pitch and I bowled at those wickets continuously, commentating to myself in the voice of the doyen of cricket commentators, John Arlott.
Saturdays were spent watching junior cricket in the morning and the seniors in the afternoon at the Colac Cricket Club down by the lake. It is a beautiful ground and had a typical pavilion with wooden steps that players and spectators would sit on and I placed myself close to the scorer so I could keep up with the details of play. That pavilion later burnt down and was replaced by a more updated one but never had the same character or history as the old one. The ground had a relaxed feel about it and the appeal, I imagined, of those English village cricket grounds I had seen in pictures in so many books and magazines that I devoured at the time. It was a dream of mine to play cricket on one of those grounds in England, the birthplace of cricket.
So when the cricket season of 1963/64 arrived I felt well prepared, and I was also old enough to commence playing junior cricket. The excitement when I was selected for my first match was palpable, it overwhelmed me so much that I did not sleep in the lead up to the match.
Oh, I remember it well! Going in to bat at number eleven, fifty runs in arrears, I was going to be the match winner. Big Merv, ( I’ve forgotten his surname) a huge boy five or six years older than myself, with a run up a mile long charged into bowl, and boy did he look fierce, and a sudden fear overcame me, I hoped he was going to take pity on me as the youngest, smallest player on the field and not bowl too fast at me, but what if he didn’t? Thankfully, the oversized pads provided cover for my shaking legs!
You play to win of course, and big Merv let rip with a quick one, too quick for me and bowled me first ball, middle stump, sending it cartwheeling back towards the wicketkeeper. I stood there in complete dismay, first looking at my bat where the big red cherry should have been, then looking back at my missing middle stump, trying hard to hold back my tears wondering if my career as a cricketer was over before it had begun as my opponents whooped it up celebrating their win. I was devastated, cricket wasn’t meant to be like this!
I was dropped for the next game to give someone else a game, or so the coach said, but I knew, in reality, I was not good enough at that stage in my career.
So it was back to the ABC Cricket magazine and its scorecard for me; hopefully, I could make a century there.