Cricket writing: a winter international at Valleys

by Justin Kruger

 

We’re talking cricket…July…Albion, Brisbane. ‘Perfidious’, you might think, is the missing word here; maybe a few tales of procrastinating physiotherapists, batting glove changes and other dastardly deeds. But no, it’s mid-July in Brisbane, and I’m off to the cricket. A one day game at the Allan Border Field, Australia A v Pakistan A and a stiff sou’wester blowing. Climatically and phonically, a game maybe more suited to Cairns.

 

 The Allan Border Field is everything the Gabba isn’t. For one thing it’s tricky to find. My technique is to turn a way from the river at the Breakfast Creek Hotel and drive in diminishing concentric circles till I find something big and round. Invariably this is Albion Park, but the AB Field is near enough. There is a big grass paddock for parking. Gratis. You walk in past a small garden and a couple of security men. One of them chases me.

 

Sorry, mate. I’m supposed to check your backpack. Forgot. What’s that zip at the back?

 

Dunno. Never noticed it myself.

 

Okay, the ticket seller’s just up there.   

 

 The ticket seller asks me what I’m there for.

 

Ah, the cricket, I say, a bit confused.

 

There are a few other functions on today, he says. A couple of well-dressed women wander past. I suspect them of engaging in corporate activities. He sells me ticket number 8. The game has been going about an hour. Maybe it’s the eighth game of the season, I’m thinking.

 

 The AB field is grass embankments, white pickets, three dollar pies, a single manual scoreboard, players sitting on the grass padding up or wandering among the spectators (‘crowd’ would be pushing it). The last time I was at the Gabba was the second day of last season’s WA Shield game. There was a morning shower and security stood in their shelters staring at the hardy few outside getting wet. They weren’t letting anyone in a second early. I remember Martin Love’s parents offered me some room under a concrete overhang. It’s all concrete at the Gabba, unless it’s  plastic. The crowd was maybe fifty and all herded into the one section. If you wanted to anywhere else – to get behind the bowler’s arm for instance – someone was there to stop you. It was as if they’d tried to think of all the reasons someone might want to go and watch the game and systematically quashed them all. At lunch, though one of the WA players appeared with a plate of sandwiches and gave autographs and sangers to the kids in the front row. I hope he was severely disciplined. They would have been about ten bucks each at the canteen.

 

  Australia A are 0/60 when I arrive at the start of the eleventh over and I realise it is likely that I am actually attendee number 8. Not counting players of course. Or trainers, managers, sightboard attendants, pie-sellers and passing corporate types. David Warner is on strike and I’m keen to see him bat. I have made a lifestyle choice to live without a television (socio-economists call this choice poverty) and consequently have seen to date  only two balls of his career. This was on my Mum’s TV and I remember he hit the first ball over midwicket for six and was caught on the midwicket boundary the next. As it happens, ball one of the eleventh over disappears over midwicket for six and ball two is caught on the midwicket fence. Warner walks off and I’m left thinking I’ve seen all there is to his batting. 

 

  The Pakistani  bowlers are Fahad Masood who is short and grunts, and Mohammad Talha who is tall and doesn’t. The fielding is keen and remains so for the next half an hour or so. The Australian number three is Callum Ferguson who is sound from the start, apparently unfazed by the knowledge there is only one specialist after him, Adam Voges. The surviving opener is keeper Tim Paine who is batting as if he can’t wait for the fifteenth over, when according to one day etiquette, five fielders will drop out to the boundary and the pretence of trying to get the batsman out is abandoned. Unfortunately for him this coincides with the arrival of Wahab Riaz, a left arm seamer, to the crease. Paine isn’t trying much but Riaz has the ball fizzing past his edge a couple of times an over. Paine looks a bit challenged getting on the back foot to quality pace bowling. He does, however, milk the spinners mercilessly with a scooped lap shot to fine leg. Eventually, Pakistan’s captain Hafeez sets a short fine leg to counter it, but every time he forgets to set it, Paine is sweeping again and gaining in confidence now. Two sitters are dropped at deep square leg as he begins hitting out. Ferguson is not so lucky, caught off the spinners for a well-made 48. Voges replaces him, the fielding drops off some more, except on the adjoining field where Paine is regularly hoiking it. The boundaries are looking short and the pitch easy.

 

  Meanwhile the crowd has swelled to sufficient numbers to challenge the players. One of them looks about eight years old and wears a Brett Geeves shirt. There is another Brett Geeves shirt at the ground, this one actually occupied by Brett Geeves, who is busy with twelfth man duties. The kid’s father looks enough like Alistair Lynch to be Alistair Lynch. Jason Krejza and George Bailey saunter over to talk to him. The kid shakes their hands and looks impressed. Shaun Tait and Doug Bollinger wander around in earphones, obviously a fast bowler’s thing. Paine and Voges fall with the score about 250; Paine for a dominant 134.   Cameron White, Moises Henriques and  Krejza boost it to 316. It looks like a score that is always going to be safe.

 

 In the break, Australia A warm up in front of the crowd. Curiously, Cameron White does the most bowling and has the ball breaking fiercely on the outfield grass. He looks a fine bowler ruined by the invention of the roller. Tait has the crowd scattering with his two warm-ups, but most of the players are kicking a footy and trying the torp. I wonder how many of then know this was once Neumann Oval, home to the Valleys Diehards Rugby League side. I used to watch them on TV with my grandmother in Toowoomba, who loved watching their hooker, Hughie O’Doherty. ‘Oh, look at that villain, O’Doherty,’ she used to say, with deep respect and a touch of Irish tribalism.

 

  Bollinger and Tait both pick up an early wicket, though neither look particularly threatening. Bollinger is bending the ball in to the righthanders on the sou’wester, but the dead pitch is not helping any. He also keeps up a stream of comment from the boundary until a few hard chases shuts him up.  Khalid Latif looks solid in defence and imperious in attack to everything except the short ball. He is the backbone of the innings and while he is there, Pakistan have a good chance. Krejza comes on when Henriques strains a hamstring after three balls. Krejza bowls well and just as I’m thinking he should be in England puts two full tosses wide of leg stump. Throughout the innings,  Pakistan is ten to fifteen runs behind the Australians; like a racehorse, one out and one back.

 

 Latif reaches a hundred off about 90 balls, Ferguson is the only one to clap and is rewarded by catching him on the same score off John Holland. I wander to the other side of the ground to catch some sun on this wintry afternoon. Dave Warner is perched on the midwicket boundary singing along to whatever music comes over the loudspeaker. I wonder what it’s worth to put on ‘Suburban Boy’. The ground is small enough to catch most of what is said out there.  After drinks I hear Warner talking about the ice spray he’d had on a sore knee. Apparently it was cold. This is fantastic. Bollinger gets hit for a couple of fours and has a spray at the batsman. Resting on his twelfth man chair, Geeves wonders about the sledging techniques of athletes. ‘I mean, standing behind the blocks what would you say? Betcher I can beat you to the toilet?’

 

 Pakistan are about 250 and still only about fifteen behind Australia when they lose two crucial wickets. Kejza jags an LBW, then Umar Akbal gets a 150 k ball from Tait and hits at back at about 200k. Tait calmly pockets it and Akbal trudges off, looking back as if it’s all been an optical illusion. From then on it’s safe. Pakistan finish with 301, and I’m gone before the players reach the boundary. Two of them, I think who would look good in a green cap playing perfidious Albion. Their names are Wahab Riaz and Khalid Latif. Besides that I, too, have a crook knee, but it’s cold enough never to need an ice spray.

Comments

  1. John Sandy says:

    i love the “suburban boy” refernece.

  2. Peter Shaw says:

    LOL. After reaching for the dictionary to look up the word ‘perfidious’, I thought this article would take me a long time to read! A witty piece, much like the Krugs humour we know and love. I very much enjoyed the reference to your lack of ownership of a TV as a ‘lifestyle choice’, and because of this lifestyle choice you have only ever seen 4 balls bowled to Warner, very funny. I give the article your ticket number out of ten.

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