The Legend of Chicken Man

Not over the Hill – Issue 1

by Andrew Gigacz

I’ve been known by many nicknames over the years. These days most people know me simply as “Gigs”. But at various points in my life, and for various reasons, I’ve also had the monikers Gene, Roy, Bop and, more recently in these tech-dominated times, Gigabyte and Gigalitre. (That’s what happens when you work in IT for the Victorian Water Register.)

But events of recent weeks have led to me being dubbed with a new badge – “Chicken Man.” Here’s how it came about.

It’s been something I’ve been threatening to do for many years. But it wasn’t until after Cup Day this year that I felt the time was right to act. After 12 and a half years out of the game, I decided to return to the cricket field.

To make sure I didn’t back out of this promise, I advised several people of my intention. This action served a dual purpose: firstly, it meant it would be nigh on impossible to back out of the decision now and secondly, it gave everyone I told a bloody good laugh.

But laugh as they might have, I would not be deterred. I identified the date I would attend me first training session a few days in advance. Even though it would be training only, I didn’t want to show up and make a fool of myself in the nets. I mean, what if someone filmed me on their mobile phone as my first ball landed two feet in front of me? I don’t want to have that sort of footage used against me when I’m Prime Minister (although somehow John Howard got through that ignominy to lead this country for a decade).

At 44 years of age, and more than 12 years away from a pitch, I’d need a few days to ensure the chance of any incriminating footage being captured was minimal. So on the Saturday prior to that first Tuesday training stint, with ball in hand I headed down to the Edinburgh Gardens nets at a time when not many were about.

A run-up wasn’t even a consideration at first. “Let’s just roll the arm over a few times and shake-out a few cobwebs” was my first thought. To my relief, there was almost no pain after that first delivery. I even managed to land the ball on a good length. So I picked up the ball and rolled a few more down. Not bad. Time to mark out the run-up. At the top, a quick glance around to make sure there were no eyewitnesses present. Then off I went and wheeled one down. Not much pace, but reasonably accurate. I went again; and again; and again. This was starting to feel pretty good. In the end, after about four overs worth of deliveries, I decided that would be enough for my first “secret” session”. On Sunday I increased my “load” to six overs and Tuesday, eight. Apart from some minor stiffness, my body felt pretty good. And those days had been warm; over 30 each day. I declared myself ready for The Comeback.

My sense of timing in choosing my first training day could not have been better – or perhaps worse. The mercury topped 36, making it the hottest day since Black Saturday in Melbourne. But I was undaunted. I rolled up to my local ground in Clifton Hill and with training underway, found someone of authority and asked him if Clifton Hill had room for another old hack. The answer, fortunately, was yes.

Before I knew it, I had ball in hand and was sending a few down to batsmen I’d never met. And soon after, it was “put the pads on” and my first batting net session in a dozen years was underway. I was pleasantly surprised by that session. Though my timing was awry, I managed to middle the ball most times and pick the right balls to leave.

Then it was back to bowling. At some point soon after, I learned that when you have someone batting at the other end, the competitive juices must start flowing, even if you’re not conscious of it. In striving just that little bit more than I had back at Edinburgh Gardens, I tweaked the old groin. Nothing serious but a little reminder that I’m 44, not 24, years old.

On Wednesday morning, my body was quick to remind me of what had transpired the evening before. Muscles long-since forgotten screamed out at me, as did some I was previously unaware existed. But I managed to back up on the Thursday and survive once more. Unable to stay for “selection” I was told not to worry, because I would receive a text advising me of which team I was in and where I’d be playing. While many things about cricket haven’t changed since I last played, this was a new innovation. I used to have to get someone to call me at home to tell me this stuff. Mobile phones were for the rich only when last wore the whites.

Sure enough, the text came at 9:46pm that night:

“Congrats. U R in 5th XI @ Fairlea East. Be @ ground @ 11:45. Bring Food”

So there it was. Clifton Hill has five teams and I would be starting at the bottom of the food chain. Still, that was no more than I expected. And the 5ths play one-day games only. That suited me just fine tom start with.

Saturday dawned warm and muggy. My return game would be a baptism of hot weather, if not fire. My old whites still fit me but I was lacking a bit in the equipment department. A quick trip to the local sports shop and I had new pads, new gloves and a new “Ricky Ponting” wide-brim hat. ‘Some of the kids I’ll be playing with won’t have even heard of a “Greg Chappell” hat’, I thought.

Fairlea East is a small oval tucked in between the old Fairlea women’s prison and the Eastern Freeway. The ground was small. My thoughts turned to sixes. Unfortunately, I knew that any sixes I would be involved with would have me as bowler, not batsman.

Our captain, “Rocket”, called correctly and batted. Rocket made me feel very comfortable in my first game. Not just with his friendly, welcoming attitude, but also because he was at least one player in our team who was older than me.

In my “heyday”, I had been a bowler who could hang around with the bat when needed. Usually batted around 7, 8 or 9. I got a bit of a shock when I saw the batting line-up Rocket had pencilled in. I was number 4 – second drop! “Must’ve looked reasonable in the nets”, I mused.

Wickets fell before too long and I was in. With my floppy white hat on, I strolled out to the middle. I’m not sure why, but I wasn’t nervous in the slightest. The first ball I faced drifted onto my pads and I flicked it down the leg side to the boundary. No wonder I wasn’t nervous. I felt comfortable throughout my innings. Not that it lasted long. With my score on 10, the bowler dropped it in short and I went for the pull. Completely mistiming it, I lobbed the ball gently to the player at mid-wicket. I was annoyed but satisfied. It just felt good to be out there.

We knocked up 186 in our allotted 40 overs; a reasonable total, I thought.

Our opponents, Richmond City, came out swinging. Our bowling attack looked thin. Sixes and fours flew several times per over. “Come on, Rocket! Give me a go!” I thought to myself. After the regulars got hit around a bit, my turn came at last. This time I did feel a bit nervous. And it seemed I had good reason. Though I thought I’d be able to outwit these players, they continued their onslaught against me.

But towards the end of my second over I found my range. The line and length of all those years ago came back. And most importantly, so did the swing. Never a fast bowler, I’d always relied on moving the ball around through the air, generally swinging the ball in late to the right-handers. Now, it was like jumping on the bike for the first time in years. Once you start peddling, it all comes back.

With my little in-dippers starting to work nicely, I slipped one through the gate and rattled the pegs as a Richmond City batsman made another attempt to put me over the fence. First wicket in over a decade. It felt good. Next over I almost repeated the effort, but the batsman got his pad in front just in time. It didn’t help him. Even though the umpire was a Richmond City man, he knew a plumb LBW when he saw one and raised his finger.

I knew I was OK from then on. I slipped two more between bat and pad before my stint was up. Final figures 4/44 off 8 overs. Not as economical as I might have once been, but then it was a small ground and cricket has changed a bit since my last spell. With Twenty20 the “in” thing, big hitting is now far more common than it used to be.

Richmond City passed our score with many overs to spare. It would have been nice to start with a win but I was happy to be playing again. And especially to get through the game. Mind you, Sunday morning saw me move possibly slower than I ever have since learning to walk.

Pleased with my efforts, I rocked up to training on Tuesday and Thursday with a spring – well almost – in my step. On Thursday night, the weekly text arrived. I was still in the 5ths. Maybe a hint of disappointment that the 4ths hadn’t called me up, but it was good that they would make me earn my stripes.

My second return game saw me back at Fairlea Oval. This time we bowled first. Rocket elevated me to first-change bowler, and I was generally able to reward his faith, taking 3/43 (all bowled again!) in my eight overs.

When our turn came to bat, I was penned in at number 5.

It was while I was waiting to bat that I first heard mention of the word “chicken” in the same sentence as my name. “What is this chicken business?” I asked. “Best player each week gets a chicken”, came the reply. “You might be a show, this week.” “Maybe not”, I said, “unless I can get my batting in  order”.

Amazingly, I somehow did get my batting in order. The timing started to come back and my defence was holding up well. In the end, we fell short of the target but I was there at the end, 47 not out.

As I walked off the field, I heard my new name coined for the first time. “Well batted, Chicken Man!” “Great stuff, Chicken Man!” Even just “Chicken Man!”

Back at the club rooms that evening, I learned that every Saturday night the captains of each side get up and say a few words about how their teams have gone on that day. When Rocket’s turn came, he made mention of my efforts. But he didn’t refer to me as Andy or Gigs. No, it was Chicken Man. And when 40-odd blokes hear that name there’s no going back.

I discovered later that I had actually been awarded the chicken the previous week also, but had left before the presentation.

And so, the legend of Chicken Man had been born.

It’s not the sort of nickname I’d ever envisaged being bestowed on me. But it felt good. Perhaps not the most flattering-sounding name I’d ever had but I accepted it with pride because I knew what it meant.

I also knew something else – that, in the wonderful but fickle game of cricket, one scoreless innings would see me quickly go from Chicken Man to Duck Man.

About Andrew Gigacz

Well, here we are. The Bulldogs have won a flag. What do I do now?

Comments

  1. Great stuff, Gigs…err, Chicken Man!
    You really have encapsulated the essence of what cricket means at the local level. Not winning, but merely being involved and sharing a comaraderie with mates old and new.
    Cheers
    Darren Dawson.

  2. Gigs – great comeback. What are you doing about the time of the Sydney test? The Aussies could do with a quality slow bowler.

    I look forward to hear your tales of conquering the 4ths.

  3. Phil Dimitriadis says:

    That’s brilliant Gigs. I haven’t played since 1997 and have been invited to play for the ‘Seniors’ ie Over 40s in January as I now qualify. Like you I used to bowl and have a slog down the order. In 2007 I played a game for OVERLAND VS 3RRR, captained by JTH. I bowled two overs of military medium and got run out for one coming in at number 3. Enjoyed the game, but couldn’t feel my legs the next day. Between ’90-97 I could bowl 20-25 overs in a day and still play socially on a Sunday. I’m tempted to give the ‘seniors’ a go. Your advice would be welcome!

    With your new moniker, you can now put yourself down as A.C.M. Gigacz on the scoresheet. Gives you a touch of class.

  4. John Butler says:

    Phil, I think you’re onto something with the score sheet.

    Gigs (sorry CM), I’ve entertained similar thoughts of comeback, but my knee isn’t of like mind.

    Make sure you have a good physio contact.:)

  5. Thanks Darren. I’ve got two boys who I hope will one day join me on the field, so I can enjoy some similar experiences to those in your wonderful story. For those who missed it, check it out at: http://footyalmanac.com.au/?p=6494

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