My season as a Sydney Grade Cricket nobody

Reading The Grade Cricketers entertaining new yarn Tea and No Sympathy took me back to my single season as a Sydney Grade cricket nobody with the Eastern Suburbs Cricket Club in 2000/2001. A season that started with much promise and ended with numbing mediocracy. This is my story of trying and failing to achieve relevance.

 

I lobbed in Sydney in April 2000, from the Country sporting mecca of Wagga Wagga. I knew nothing of the cricket scene, other than the fact that the Eastern Suburbs Cricket Club was a short stroll from my workplace. I made enquiries with the club secretary via phone and was told that I should fax a copy of my ‘cricketing resume’. What I produced was the best piece of fiction written since Herman Melville penned Moby Dick.

 

I pushed the truth to the limits, made my selection in the Northern Riverina Under 19s team sound significantly more impressive than it was, omitted my glaring deficiencies in the field and made Wagga Grade Cricket sound like a small step below English County cricket in standard. No reference was made to the final game of the previous season, when I was perhaps the only nightwatchman in Wagga first grade cricketing history to be stumped with two balls left in the day after trying to hit his brother for six.

 

Not long after my fax arrived, I received a call from the club secretary inviting me to pre-season training at Centennial Park. No dramas I thought. On a beautiful spring Saturday morning I chucked on the Mangoplah Cookardinia United Goannas footy shorts and my Lake Albert Cricket Club vest and made my way to training. I arrived late. Eleven blokes were doing a warm-up lap. Where was everyone else? Shit turnout for a club training session I thought.

 

I waited for others to arrive. Nobody did. I sheepishly made my way up to club coach and ex-international hat-trick-taker Anthony Stuart. Like a starstruck teenager I nervously introduced myself. Anthony took one look at the footy shorts and prematurely receding hairline and justifiably my stocks took a dive. He informed me that it was First Grade squad training. Shit, that fax must have been REALLY well-written.

 

I introduced myself to the cream of the Eastern Suburbs Cricket Club. A few handy ex-Shield players like Mark Patterson and Adrian Tucker, and a collection of other players well above my pay grade. Just fielding and fitness today. I was in trouble and everyone knew it.

 

Pre-year 2000 fielding drills in Wagga essentially involved the Captain hitting catches to a semi-circle five minutes before the match started. I lived by the philosophy of a former senior player who liked to tell us there is no point being able to field if you can’t bat or bowl for shit.

 

I took more catches in the first 20 minutes of training than I had in the previous 15 years. It all looked so easy for everyone, yet I was grassing 1 in 3. The pace was relentless. The standard impressive. I was blowing hard. The harder I tried the worse things got. The blokes to their credit, were encouraging.

 

Ninety minutes later and I could feel the Grim Reaper approaching. The bats and balls were put down and it was time for sprints. Perfect, for a guy who was gassed, chaffing and couldn’t run 100m under 18 seconds at the best of times.

 

We did a series of ten sprints (over about 80 metres), each starting in a different position: lying on you back, lying on your front, kneeling etc. Last in every sprint had to perform 20 push-ups as punishment. After the ninth sprint the boys enthusiastically applauded my 180th push-up. I was the push-up king long before anybody had heard of Jake. For the final sprint I blatantly broke five seconds before the start and claimed victory. Nobody seemed to mind. I then proceeded to vomit for the next three minutes. I informed Anthony that I’d miss next week’s beach session at Bondi and reappear when the nets were put up.

 

I found myself selected in the Fifths to start the season. I thought I was actually quite stiff, as I thought my three training knocks of decent quality would have got me a start in the Thirds. It was a blow to the ego. My fifth-ball duck ratified the selectors. The next game I found myself in the Fourths. Obviously I had created an impression with the four balls I negotiated safely the previous week.

 

With no car, I had the ‘joy’ of navigating myself to games via public transport. I’d lob my bag on my shoulder and dodge the prostitutes and drug dealers en route to Kings Cross Station, for a train and bus combo to make my way to a ground in Balmain. I watched blokes my age head to the beach with attractive girlfriends, while I applied SPF 15 and hoped for a flat deck. I wanted to change places.

 

I found myself taking strike on a picturesque ground having met my opening partner ten minutes earlier, enough time though for him to tell me he had played Under 17s for NSW. I didn’t feel the need to inform him that I had made the Riverina Primary School Team for the State Titles (and averaged 12).

 

The foul-mouthed Balmain wicket-keeper was nice enough to tell me that the opening bowler standing 50 yards away was a former first grader, who was arguably the quickest at the club, however, played Fourths because he couldn’t be arsed training. I tightened the chin strap on my lid and prepared for battle.

 

The wicket-keeper was right. I played 98% of balls from my rib cage. I actually played pretty well and managed to top score. Not exactly Kim Hughes v the West Indies in the Boxing Day Test, however, a good showing against a decent attack. My stocks were back on the rise.

 

I strutted to Tuesday training (for the first time of the year) with the confidence and currency that only runs can provide. Pencil me in for the Threes this week!

 

As I prepared to enter the wasteland that is the ‘third net’ the firsts opener came up to me and said he was hitting them like shit so wanted to get form back in the lower grade nets. A swap was made and as I looked down the pitch I saw Anthony Stuart charging in with a new pill. I clung tightly to my Gunn & Moore like never before.

 

Here is how I navigated an over from a former International cricketer.

 

  • Ball one – Quick and outside off peg. Dodson leaves figuring any attempts to play will result in an edge or play and miss.
  • Ball two – Quick and outside off peg. Dodson leaves
  • Ball three – Quick and outside off peg. Dodson leaves in an exaggerated manner. Stuart thinks he knows what is going on.
  • Ball four – Quick, outside off peg, off-cutter knocking out middle. Dodson found out.
  • Ball five – Dodson swings wildly and misses
  • Ball six – Stuart decides not to waste his energy on bowling ball six

 

The other opener (can’t recall his name) is a nasty left-armer who spends five minutes peppering my ribs. I hold my ground and decide if he pitches one up he is going the journey. I can see it’s full and swing majestically punching it back over his head. My high point. I want to walk out on the spot – never to return. Soon after the toughest ten minutes of my cricketing life is over. I am glad I stood my ground for the session but understand my name won’t ever be called out for the Firsts.

 

I stay in the Fours for the next game.

 

I am at home this week and am in decent nick again making my way to 20 not out. My new opening partner had told me in broken English that he had played national junior rep cricket back in Sri Lanka. He obviously hadn’t mastered calling as he dropped one at his feet, called yes and smugly made his crease while I was run out by three yards. I hope he understood the flurry of expletives I hurled his way (to the amusement of the fielding side) as I trudged off.

 

Next game I find myself back in the Fifths. I need to spend more time drinking with selectors on a Thursday night.

 

I’m tossed the ball late in the day and manage to grab a five-for, in my second attempt at bowling the boring art in a match. Perhaps I can reinvent myself as an Offie and I’ll be partnering Mo Matthews in the Firsts by December?

 

Next week at training and Peter Roebuck is giving batting tips. After studying my form for five minutes he pulls me over for a chat. “Young man, you have a robust and solid technique off the back foot. As for the front foot, there is much work to do”.

 

Peter’s tone suggested there was in fact too much work that needed to be done for one man. He bid me a fond farewell.

 

I’m informed that I’ll be playing Sixth Grade this weekend! WHAT! I didn’t even know there was a Sixth Grade. Obviously top-scoring in the fourths, followed by a five-for in the 5ths over a three week period was a compelling case to get the axe. At that moment I started dreaming of Winter.

 

Let me be perfectly clear, Sixth Grade is where cricketers go to die. A mix of old blokes who have played seven seasons too long or young blokes that should trade in their Gray Nics for a skateboard. I hadn’t been less enthusiastic since Grade 8 Chemistry class. I meandered through a few games and just did enough to make myself feel like I didn’t belong here, yet not enough to actually prove the point.

 

Mid-season I found myself departing a Bondi Junction bus to be placed square in the middle of Mardi Gras festivities. As I dragged my Gray Nic bag (and broken dreams) through the crowd I thought of simply abandoning it. Perhaps some punter in the crowd might have appreciated catching my tattered Puma spikes if they were tossed from a float?

 

Around the club people called me mate or champ. Nobody knew my name. I knew few others myself. Greg Matthews called my ‘Tiger’ once and complemented the revs I got on the ball. That kept me going for a few weeks. It took me four months to reconcile why some blokes wore full whites to training?

 

Come January and I’d mentally checked out, mixing games in the lower grades with returns to Wagga to play – a place where I felt relevant in a cricketing sense.

 

I had been chewed up and spat out of the Grade Cricket system. Truth be known I wish I had made more of the experience: sought out coaches, formed friendships with teammates and explored the Sydney nightlife, and embraced the history and tradition of the club. I just couldn’t make peace with being an environment where I wasn’t one of the better players. So stupid, yet just the competitive nature I was wired with.

 

The name Dodson will not go down in the pantheon of the Eastern Suburbs cricket club like Wessels, Boycott, Greig, Roebuck, Rixon, Matthews, Haddin et al. Thankfully there was no My Cricket web statistics back in 2000. I experienced ‘the show’ and had a few adventures and misadventures along the way. I departed and continued my quest for cricketing relevance elsewhere…

 

About craig dodson

Born in the sporting mecca that is Wagga Wagga and now reside in Melbourne with my lovelly wife Sophie and son’s Jack and Harry.

Passionate Swans supporter and formally played cricket at a decent level and Aussie Rules at a not so decent level!

Spend my days now perfecting my slice on the golf course and the owner of the worlds worst second serve on the tennis course.

Comments

  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    Did you mention Cam Mooney in your fax Craig?

  2. craig dodson says:

    No mate, I figured pumping my tyres up to maximum inflation across two sporting codes may have been a bridge too far.

  3. Sean Curtain says:

    Very very good Craig

    Had a mate who did a similar thing in Sydney with hockey, faked up his Melbourne experience when he moved up there, got drafted into the 1s, and at training was completely found out against State and Olympic standard players

    Love the good natured feedback and support they gave you.

    Well done for having a crack, you’ve negotiated a test Bowler better than JTH did against Kaspa

    sean

  4. Good piece Craig.

    Clearly wearing the Mango footy shorts to training on day one lacked gravitas….

  5. Craig- I really enjoyed this. Lots of funny lines and observations on the personalities and curiosities of a cricket club life.

    Coincidentally I also reflected on Greg Matthews this week and how he was somehow connected to the Hoodoo Gurus’ “Like Wow- Wipeout”. Heady days.

  6. i used to like playing Easts out at Woollahra. nice view of the golf course. David Hourn with no knees, a mid-on specialist.

    for us in the student teams the afternoon teas were the go, but only when away eg at Hawkesbury. i would eat more in that 20 minutes than i would in the rest of the impoverished week. and then go back out and bowl…

  7. Loved it Craig. Funny, honest, brutal. I had a 4 (maybe it was only 3 – all in D Grade) game career at West Torrens District Cricket Club in the early 70’s. Wet spring turf wickets were eye watering to a country boy raised on concrete, matting and malthoid. Highlight was facing David Hookes leggies in the nets. Lowlight was trying to land my leggies against David Hookes in the nets (on the pitch or within the oval precinct). A modest career back in the parklands on matting ensued. Water finds its level. Cheers.

  8. craig dodson says:

    Sean – not sure I negotiated Stuart, rather I think my only claim would be that I survived without injury.

    Rocket – yep I don’t think the selectors at Easts took much interest in the Riverina Football League.

    Mickey – Mo was an individual, we can safely say that.

    Peter – I remember the golf course well, I was quite jittery fielding at fine leg, and going into the brace position when I heard a call of fore from over the fence.

    PB – did you take Hooksey’s leggies on, or pay respect? I hope you had at least one crack of trying to hit them into the carpark.

    I found my level in suburban turf cricket in Melbourne (level below grade cricket). Good standard and managed to play against Stuart Broad and an assortment of ex shield and random international players.

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