East Coburg Blues

By Paul Daffey

The day was beautiful, with clear sunshine beating down on a verdant outfield, which was the most that could be said for it. In a cricket sense the day was horrible. I was playing my second annual match for the East Coburg fourths. We (these things happen quickly) were expected to win but played like old wicketkeeping gloves with the stuffing gone. We had no stuffing. When the going got tough, we ate Tim Tams. And I might as well get it out of the way: I was the worst of the lot. So much for my fantasy of knocking up a quick 50 and soaking in the praise of all present at Jackson Reserve.

It started innocently enough. I fielded in the gully while our bowlers peppered the batsmen early and then got carted when the shine went off the ball. I had one chance, or more truthfully half a chance.  A hefty nick sped through the gap between slip and gully. And I mean sped. By the time I’d stuck out my left hand, the ball was almost at third man. My eyes were opened to the possibility that, at 45 years of age, my reflexes might be going.

Our target was a little over 200. I came in at No.4. Normally I trust myself to plant the foot down the wicket and smite the ball back over the bowler’s head. Or I play my other shot of smiting the ball over mid-off. (My wagon wheel is confined.) On this occasion, I stuck the foot down the wicket and looked like a goose as the ball swung from a perfect length past the outside edge. The next ball it happened again. The next ball I left. The next one I actually laid a bat on it. This was unusual. I faced a few overs in which the wicketkeeper and slips fieldsman were all but rolling around in giggling fits. A man can play and miss only so often without raising mirth.

At first I was embarrassed, but then I realised I was still in. I thought I might hang around a while, compiling a scrappy few runs while knocking the shine off. I was awoken from this reverie when the nasty quick who was in the habit of sending the ball past my bat tried a Merv Hughes-type leg-spinner slow ball. The temptation was to watch it for its slow-fizzing beauty, but just in time I jammed the bat down on to a ball that was about to york me. The slips fieldsmen frowned. “Great ball… good cricket all round,” they said. I blushed.

Finally, it was a slow one that got me. I was so bamboozled that I left it. The ball lobbed past me and tinkled into the off stump. “You didn’t try to hit it, mate,” the bowler said, very excited that his slow ball had claimed a victim. I walked back to the pavilion feeling disconsolate. I’d survived four overs only to make a duck. There were a few more than handy cricketers in after me, but they were dismissed cheaply as well. We sank to an ignominious defeat.

One of the more surprising disappointments of the day was the scathing review of the food we served up between innings.

“Where are the sandwiches,” asked the oppo’s captain, who found reason to be agitated most of the day. ”Chocolate bikkies… and no sandwiches!”

I’ve never understood the cricket custom of feeding the opposition. We ate the Tim Tams on our own.

One of the more enjoyable aspects of the day was the fact that our team featured five Pakistanis as well as Australians of Greek (Georgiou), Italian (Brisci) and Irish (O’Gorman) backgrounds. In a summer in which the arch-Anglo nature of Australian cricket seemed finally to be breaking down, as shown by the selection of Usman Khawaja in the Test team, it’s fair to say our team supported this inclusive direction. The oppo, Ascot Vale, featured a few players with an Irishman’s pale skin and sandy hair, which is not surprising in a strongly Catholic suburb that’s based near a racetrack, but their top-scorer was a Sri Lankan who plundered a half-century off us. It was a decent day for multiculturalism all round.

My favourite aspect of the day was chatting to Abdul, who fielded next to me at point. Abdul is a doctor who’s jumping through the necessary hoops to enable him to practise in Victoria. It was his first cricket match for some time. “It’s good to be playing again,” he said.

Abdul spoke of Pakistanis’ admiration for Australian cricket. He mentioned our structure in which players in the lowest competitions theoretically have the chance to advance through the various grades and play for the Test team. In Pakistan, it’s all very arbitrary.

He also praised Australians’ temperament. The gist of his argument was that Australians are tough. They put their heads down early and then play each ball on its merits. “Pakistanis try to hit a six every ball,” he said.

When I asked Abdul where he’s from in Pakistan, he said Kashmir. “Ah,” I said. “The disputed border.”

Shoaib, the wicketkeeper, chipped in, gloves resting on hips. “No dispute,” he said.

I realised the border is in dispute on the Indian side; Pakistani Kashmiris are in the country in which they feel they belong.

It wasn’t the first time for the day that I’d felt out my depth.



  1. John Butler says:

    Paul, at least you can say you “held up an end”.

    There have always been cricketers who took their sangas very seriously. Must be some sort of old country cultural throwback.

  2. Rick Kane says:

    Good read Daff, even though the chips didn’t fall your way. Love the insight and the gentle way you bring the reader into the bigger frame. Funniest line I’ve read in a while, “when the going got tough we ate Time Tams”. I hear you brother, I hear you.


  3. Daff,

    I am treating this as a veiled expression of interest in playing for the Almanac XI. IN which case it seems you are perfectly qualified.

    Was Abdul practicing cricket or medicine?

    And, finally, by coincidence the Goondiwindi cricket comp boasted a Pakistani quick bowlwer at the time Shoaib Akhtar was at the peak of his powers. In classic Australian style the goondi boys nicknamed him ‘B-Grade’.

  4. Daff, having returned to the cricket field last season after an absence of a baker’s dozen years, I shared your concern about loss of reflexes for my first few games. Actually, for the entire season and even the first part of this season.

    But a few weeks ago I was fielding at second slip and took a catch that would have landed on third slip’s toe (had there been a third slip).

    I’m weeks away from turning 46. The relexes are still there. It’s just taken awhile for them to sharpen up. One game a year might not be enough, I’m afraid.

    I suggest you join us at Clifton Hill next season on a more permanent basis.

  5. Daff – perhaps your job at the crease was simply occupation rather than runs? You could have accused all your team mates of failing whilst you bravely held up one end.

  6. You keep that up and you could get a gig as Captain of Australia, Daff.

    You have managed to meet two of the criteria. No runs and very poor strike rate.

  7. Rick 2#,

    when the going got tough at the Tassie Almanac launch Daff ate crayfish….and heaps of it.

  8. Paul Daffey says:

    Thanks for the feedback, people.

    Maybe whingeing about my reflexes was part of a general distaste for my failing physical powers.

    Sooking will get me nowhere …

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