Barry has been a hard man to catch lately. When he should be getting in, he’s always getting out. When he should be out, he’s in. A bit like Kevin Pietersen really.
So we set a trap for Barry as compelling as 2 short mid-wickets for Siddle bowling to KP, or a deep long on with Lyon tossing them up enticingly. Batsmen, like most blokes, are creatures of habit. When the pressure is on we revert to type.
St Pat’s Homeless Shelter in Fremantle has a games room at the back, with the sort of pool table that was de rigeur in front bars across the country in the 70’s, when most of these blokes (and a few ladies) were in their prime. I have never seen it unused. Filling in the days is the prime occupation of most around here, and there is still enough testosterone and banter to keep a ‘challenge table’ humming for hours on end.
The players are generally outnumbered 5:1 by the hangers-on recycling ”nah, go for the blue” and “you won’t pot that as long as your arse points to the ground” banter that they have been perfecting since Lillee and Thommo gave the poms curry in 74/75. The hangers-on are a mix of never have beens, and ‘not today’s’ with hands that won’t stop shaking until the third pot or the first cream sherry of the day. They have wandered in from a park or the backseat of a car, or a mate’s couch if their luck is in, for the free breakfast and a shower, if they are up to it and own a spare set of clothes. By 9am most have usually wandered off to find a quiet, shady park but something has been keeping blokes hanging around lately.
Most are amiable and up for a chat. Just been on the same bad luck streak since the missus and then the boss threw them out. Didn’t mean no harm.
The skinny, twitchy young blokes with the bad teeth are another matter. They’re always on edge and not good for much more than a ‘gidday’ and ‘can you get the doctor to sign me Centrelink form.’ But they’re still in a minority around here. Less ‘down on their luck’; more ‘doin burgs’ to test it.
At the rear is a TV room with a triple-stacked cordon of four slips and a gully, made up of recycled lounge chairs and recliners (always popular with the ‘sleeping it off’ brigade). Generally they are mostly empty. Judge Judy reminds them of home, and Dr Phil reminds them of me. But it’s a sell out this morning.
I sidle up to Barry with a casual ‘how’s it going?” Barry looks more startled than Matt Prior avoiding a Mitch thunderbolt from out of the cracks. “Been busy. Was gunna ring yer.” It’s a well-practiced reflex, like ducking a bouncer.
A month ago we had a couple of chats. Barry was desperate to see his kids, and that meant seeing his missus. They were trying to patch things up, and he thought she sounded keen over the phone, but the courts needed a letter from her if they were going to lift the AVO. Talk was cheap.
And desperate to get back on the cray boats that he’d worked all his life until he missed getting out of bed too many times last season. “The skippers a good bloke; reckon he’ll take me back.”
He was keen to talk to someone; maybe go to some AA meetings; or try that stuff that a mate had used for a while that made you crook when you touched the grog. That way he could show the wife and the skipper that he was serious. Not just talk this time.
But it’s a hard thing to find a really good reason to give up the most reliable comfort you’ve ever known in your life. So appointments got missed. Phone calls ducked, and usual haunts avoided in favour of a spot a few train stops down the line. Lying low. “While I work a few things out.”
But it’s lonely being on your own. In quiet parks where there are only seagulls trying to steal the bread you got from the food van. Particularly when there’s cricket (or footy in winter) on, and your mob is on a roll. Seagulls don’t understand when you tell them about Mitch’s thunderbolts or Warner’s flat bat sixes. That’s when you need blokes you know, and you sneak in the back corner while others are finishing breakfast, and pull your cap down low over your eyes for a kip until the telecast starts.
“No problems,” I dead bat his apology. “Anyone out?” They have been playing for an hour and I’ve been stuck at the weekly Corrections check-in of another client. The female official is clearly no cricket fan. Doesn’t she know this is a pivotal national day? Probably does, that’s why she’s dragging it out. Women?
“Nah, got a few past ‘em off the cracks, but they’re either doin too much or too little. That young Stokes can play a bit.” Common ground. Non-threatening territory. We watch in silence and disappointed anticipation for a few minutes.
“You know where to find me. Whenever you’re ready.”
“Yeah, gotta see the doc about a few things after Christmas. Might have another chat.”
I smile, thinking it’s about as likely as a Watto century or a straight sets Ashes win. Unexpected miracles are what we all live for.
I alternate between the doctor’s van out the front, and circuitous trips to the loo via the TV room for the rest of the morning. I catch the last 5 minutes before lunch. Prior is out, but Stokes and Bresnan are doing it easily.
Old Col with the rheumy eyes of the perpetually disappointed beaten in all the developed prints of his life says ‘these two’ll get another 50 each and then we’re stuffed.” The last 2 wickets to fall have put on 200 runs, so getting another 172 with 4 wickets in hand is no longer fanciful.
Thankfully the end comes quickly after lunch. In the third over back Lyon gets Stokes to sweep hard at a ball pitched well outside off stump. Haddin shows what staying down, soft hands and letting the ball come to you can do, and snaffles a fine catch. At 37 he is in the sharpest form of his life, just when his reflexes should be slowing.
Stokes has shown courage and the ability to concentrate and build an innings, where most of his elders and betters seem to have capitulated. They look worn down by too much success and too much cricket, which has dulled the edge that elite sportsmen need to sustain themselves.
Swann surrenders with a meek pop-up off Lyon that suggests he is thinking of chestnuts roasting before an English fire, more than roasting his own chestnuts in the baking WACA crematorium for 5 days. For whom does the bell toll?
In the next over Rogers takes a brilliant diving catch at mid-off to get rid of Bresnan. Good Mitch is nowhere to be seen. Bloody brilliant Mitch is back on display, and all the talk around the TV room is of how he always had the talent he ‘just had to get his head together’. This is a room full of experts on such matters. Regrettably the hall of mirrors doesn’t always produce the results you want. There is a large amount of persistence and hard work involved.
To paraphrase one of the recovery mottos I often repeat “talking about good cricket is complex but it’s easy. Playing good cricket is simple but it’s hard.”
With only one wicket left to get, the mood of the room is completely transformed. “I told you WE could beat ‘em back on our own wickets.” “WE just had to put a few around their ears and the poms always go to water.”
This is a remarkable transformation by an Australian team roundly disowned as THEM in the English summer. “THOSE blokes have got no idea.” “Drop the lot of THEM – I wouldn’t feed THEM.”
Victory has a thousand fathers. Defeat is an orphan. It’s Christmas. You’re broke. Your family don’t want to know you. But you’ve got a roof over your head at the shelter. And three meals a day.
Anderson inside edges a rising ball from St Mitch to Bailey at short leg. And we’ve won the Ashes. Backs are slapped. On the field, and in St Pats TV room. In 3 Tests and 14 playing days.
Unexpected miracles are what we all live for.
I need to do some work for the afternoon. There is a client to see at 3. A woman, so there is no point in even broaching cricket and the Ashes win. I collate my paperwork for our session.
One is a 10 pointed Recovery Star that clients use to rate different dimensions of their general well-being and life skills. It works well to give both of us a barometer for where the person is at and the trajectory of their lives.
The past 14 days of Test Cricket have moved the entire (male) Australian population’s score from 6.7 to 7.9 on the Recovery Star scale.
Australia 385 (Smith 111, Warner 60, Haddin 55) and 6 for 369 dec (Warner 112, Watson, Rogers 54) beat England 251 (Cook 72) and 353 (Stokes 120, Bell 60, Johnson 4-78) by 150 runs
Man of the Match – Steve Smith
*Non-cricketing names in the story have been changed to preserve anonymity.