Day 2: cricket in Summer Australia

Tuesday night and the cool has descended on the summer-baked Darling Downs. The kids are asleep in the old farmhouse, having swum all afternoon in the Oakey Swimming Pool, the site of many of my childhood adventures.

They won’t know this sort of tiredness again (until they are parents). Or tomorrow.

The pool remains the same, except for some new fountains in the toddlers’ pool which, it seems, from the sign out the front, are the result of the National Economic Stimulus Package. I’m very glad that the economy has gained such a kickalong from three six foot high coloured mushrooms, and two caterpillars, all of which spout beautifully clear, if not a little warm, water.

At the gate, the man who looks like a close relative of Jacques Kallis, squints into his Sudoku. He has a large Teutonic head, a tight T-short, and old Reeboks. Harshe Bhogle’s voice smiles from the old trannie on the shelf which also houses a few aquatic accoutrements. The Australians are three for not many.

Warner is out. I have mixed feelings about this. I have been bemused by the change of discourse from commentators who should know better. The Hobart century against the Kiwis was admirable, but I still reckon he’s going to have to be the luckiest bloke on the planet to average 38 in Test cricket.

The Teuton’s helper, possibly his daughter, takes over. He takes his radio and his newspaper and sits by the pool. He’s taking “Squad”. The Oakey Squad is called The Barracudas. Two young free-stylers are befriending the black line. Olympians have to come from somewhere.

Apart from the taller gum trees and a few ornamental gardens, and a plumbing system which seems to run the water over the roof and back into the pool (to counter the diurnal temperature fluctuations), the Oakey pool is as it has always been, since 1967. Although the NO HEAVY PETTING sign of days gone by has been removed, which either means there is little risk of it, or we’re a more tolerant society, even here in Oakey which boasts some of the strongest One nation booths in the coutry.

It took years before I understood the sign, and even then I was in no danger of violating the local council’s by-law.

Ponting and Clarke are in the process of consolidating. Theo and Anna, wolverine-hungry, are ripping at their Twisties.

In the 1970s it was highly unlikely I’d be at the pool if the Test were on TV. Mornings consisted of brekkie, “See yu Mum”, and off round the corner on the treadlies for a swim and a few bombs off the big board. All with one eye on the clock. You could jump out of the water at 7 minutes to 10 and still be home to hear Norman May and Frank Tyson call the opening batsmen’s walk to the centre.

And that was the day really. Stuck to the vinyl divan, watching the cricket.

The kids don’t move in their beds.

Theo has not noticed cricket on TV yet. But he is only four. He has started to take an interest in the bat he got for Christmas. Less interest in the ball. But he’s not one to tidy up either, or wait for others to sit down before he starts his dinner.

I fall asleep in the night-cool of insects and possum-thumps and with the smell of the rainless country about. Sydney is a long way away. Melbourne: a whole weather system from us.

Wednesday, and the morning could not be more Summer. Sydney is now in our kitchen (again) thanks to the ABC which could be construed as being part of the system of program promotion, but really is just what a lot of people are thinking about at the moment. What happens at the SCG this morning?

I am fairly confident the Australians will struggle during the first hour against a refreshed attack, and that early wickets will make this the fluctuating Test I have anticipated.

As we prepare to drive back to Brisbane I take the time to watch the opening overs. There’s not much from the Indians. Either Clarke and Ponting have improved, or the Indians aren’t up for the contest. Clarke looks settled, and apart from the chance of a miscued pull shot, or a leading edge, Ponting also does it easily. Ishant nips a couple back, but the Indians build no pressure.

The family gets in the car and it’s cricket on the radio. The runs come easily and by the time we’re driving through Toowoomba Clarke and Ponting are cruising towards centuries. It seems they are scoring easily and quite quickly. Clarke with the open face (as commentators are now describing the technique which sends the ball from third man to mid-off) and Ponting with the closed face of the man who can work the ball from straight hit to fine leg. Does this make them a fine combination?

Clarke posts his century, a tremendous skipper’s knock. Ponting can’t get there by lunch and as the Australian batsmen walk off to warm applause at the cricket ground, the nation peers into the fridge for ham and tomato and cucumber and the Rosella sweet mustard pickles.

We drive through Grantham, the small town which was washed away about this time last year. Some houses have been re-built. Others remain roofless, or Picasso-like on their stumps. One has a hand-painted sign, completed in the style of a septuagenarian Italian landlord: FOR SALE $30,000.

We turn where the pub used to be. Into Armstrong Road. Towards Uncle Stan and Aunty June’s. Another of those places of my childhood. They copped it in the flood, but they survived.

We park in the shade, and are met by Aunty June. Uncle Stan is under the house putting felt ear-pieces on QANTAS headphones. He’s helping the local sheltered workshop catch up. The cricket fills the cool under the old Queenslander.

“I thought you was gunna be here by 10,” he says. “I’ve boiled the jug nine times.”

“Kids,” I say.

He shows us the height of the flood, marked on one of the walls. The flood is clearly still at the front of his mind, a defining element in his life.

“I just want to hear Ponting get his hundred,” he says.

We all go upstairs to the table at which we have sat many, many times. There are old photos and pieces of bush art with aphorisms: IF NOAH WERE WISE HE’D HAVE SWATTED THOSE TWO FLIES.

We see Ponting dive for the crease on a snowy television.

“Damn Channel 9,” Stan says. And offers no comment about Ponting. Cricket just is.

We have lunch, then walk around the garden which has recovered incredibly well. Or they have worked hard to get it back to its former glory. I suspect a bit of both. The rainforest. The rose garden. The hibiscuses. The citrus grove. The golf green. Palms. Veges. The mango tree. The original back shed (which survived the flood). All backing onto the 50 acre small crops farm.

We say farewell, and head back to Brisbane, and Ponting has just been dismissed. Hussey swats a few as we go past the golf club in Gatton, where Ian Baker-Finch won a tournament I played in, and the Australians are right on top.

When we get back to Brisbane we go to the in-laws who haven’t grown up with cricket. The kids have the TV so they can play Formula One video games. I am lost.

But I reckon I know what happened. Clarke was in complete control against a feckless Indian attack, and played a superb captain’s knock which must be given the recognition it deserves. In sport the notion of victory and defeat are key, and if you defeat your opponent the way Clarke did today then you are entitled to claim that victory.

That is the personal dimension. Clarke and his men will continue to win the team victory as well.

It is now past midnight and the kids are asleep, having swum themselves to exhaustion again.  I have the brown forearms of the Queenslander, swimming-pool finger-nails, and too many grey whiskers on my chin.

I am having a beer under the fan, grudgingly acknowledging the Australian performance.

But happier to celebrate the place of cricket in this continent’s Summer.

 

 

 

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and footyalmanac.com.au He has written many columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted j.t.h@footyalmanac.com.au He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids - Theo10, Anna8, Evie7. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition is to lunch for Australia.

Comments

  1. The photo in this morning’s newspapers of Ponting holding up his arms with dirt smeared down his shirt and a grin on his face like a kid who’s just farted in church, is a ripper. It will be the cover of a book one day.

    Now, if we can just get Marsh and Khawaja to make a few test runs………………………

  2. John Butler says:

    Khawaja needs to be picked before he can make any Dips. Something which Marsh may be hastening.

    JTH, I know what you mean about those grey whiskers.

    But take heart from Punter.

  3. JB – yes I’m aware of that. He may well be opening later in the year. I reckon he has a good test future if luck goes his way.

  4. John Butler says:

    Dips, I’m not convinced that Australia has completely abandoned its Chosen Ones method of selection.

    And it doesn’t appear that Khawaja is chosen before others. It will be interesting to see.

  5. John Harms says:

    Agree on the Chosen Ones approach. However, the new factor is J. Inverarity. It will be interesting to try to detect his philosophical influence.

  6. Khawaja was very stiff to be dropped.
    Was not given as good “a run at it” as others.
    He (and Hughes) took the fall for the Bellerive disgrace.

  7. If CA persist with the current fixture set-up, in future summers we
    will never see mid-series changes to batting line-ups, regardless
    of how the incumbents are performing.

    Or they could pick the team on the basis of 20/20 form, and that has
    not really helped S Marsh.

  8. Anyone willing to back a draw in this test? – Dravid and Tendulkar make big tons and hold the Aussies out.

  9. John Butler says:

    Dips, I reckon India will be done and dusted by the time Australia finish batting.

    Stick a fork in ’em. Unless it rains A LOT.

  10. John Harms says:

    Halfway through the Test match and the draw is $4 with TattsBet (Live Betting).

  11. John Butler says:

    Huge ask for Sehwag here. Bowled 23 overs himself. 163 overs in the field. Big mental task.

    And what would Gambhir be thinking?

  12. JTH – very surprised a draw is so short. I would have thought 8s or 10s.

    Does Headingly 1981 still haunt the Aussies?

  13. Damo Balassone says:

    Flicking between ABC and then to SEN in drinks, lunch and tea breaks: how refreshing to hear the tones of Smokie Dawson again. What a voice!

  14. Aaahhh!!! Smokey Dawson an all time great

    Like Dick Mason who one day observed in a slow period of play at the “G” in a Shield game

    A flock of seagulls pass overhead…(pause)
    Umpire Collins looks up at Square leg….(pause)
    But keeps his mouth shut

    I rest my case

    And also….Cloooookkeeee!!!!! with a mighty purchase of the pigskin

  15. Anyone with the monicker “Smokey Dawson” is definitely
    an all-time great !!

  16. Damian Balassone says:

    Any relation Darren?

  17. Peter Schumacher says:

    Hasn’t Khawaja been given enough goes at this level, and whilst I am at it not a believer in Warner either. Ed Cowan? Don’t know but fast becoming a non believer in him too.

    Geoff Lawson scoffs at the idea of a NSW bias in team selections but I do wonder sometimes.

    Having had my spew I must admit that I have no idea who might replace these players.

    Now to commentators, O’Keeffe is a national embarrassment. and should have been replaced years ago. Kiwi Morrison has got off to a really good start though in my opinion.

  18. Peter Flynn says:

    Harmsy,

    I’ve marked Warner’s asymptote at 40.

  19. John Harms says:

    PJF, You’ve got me. I’m trying to think of the modelling [y=f(x)] which would give an asymptote at x=40. Or are you suggesting his average will approach but never reach 40. If it’s the latter I’d mark his asymptote below 35 mainly because I want the axiom Atherton’s average > Warner’s average to hold true iff I’m drawing breath.

    btw The Hyphen sends his regards. Family Harms lunched with them at Peachester today.

  20. Peter Flynn says:

    Regards to the great Hyphen.

    I meant mean.

    Did you end up informed with the Darts?

  21. John Harms says:

    Have read widely on the darts. Also found that my brother Mick, a new customer of Foxtel, is an instant convert.

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