Three and a half years ago, I donned the whites for the first time in over a decade as I took to the cricket field representing Clifton Hill’s 5th XI and began to forge a new nickname for myself – Chicken Man. (You can read the full story of that here.)
I had only wanted to play for a bit of fun and to try and convince my kids to play cricket too, but it wasn’t long before the competitive side of my psyche emerged from a long slumber (more on that awakening here). I decided I’d keep playing until I (a) won another flag (having last been part of one in 1986) or (b) died, whichever came first.
As I type these words it is apparent that I am not dead yet. And I have not yet played in another flag. But the time is nigh. This weekend, the Clifton Hill 4th XI, of which I am a regular member, will take on Wyclif in the Grand Final of the Merrell Shield. I don’t know who Merrell is or was but I do know that I want his or her shield.
My three and a half season journey has been the proverbial roller coaster ride. I’ve scaled the heights of our Second XI (for one match last season) and plumbed the depths of our Sixth XI. (Not depths really, there are some pretty good old-timers out there playing at that level – a one-day comp.) But most of my games have been in our Thirds or Fourths – probably about right for a 48-year-old bowler of inswinging “dibbly dobblies” who can hang around with the bat when required. (There are times when my ego tries to convince me that I can still play good, consistent cricket at a higher level than this, and other occasions when my body asks my ego who it thinks it’s kidding. I’ll let you know who wins that battle as time goes on.)
At one point in that period, I even “branched out” and captained the inaugural (and thus far only) Footy Almanac XI to an honourable loss against the Overland XI on a sticky Sunday wicket in Brunswick. (My captain’s report on that match can be found here.) Part of the Footy Almanac XI on that occasion was one David Bridie who, as fate would have it, is a regular member of Wyclif, our adversaries-to-be this coming weekend.
David’s musical commitments mean that he is a doubtful starter for the Grand Final, which is a shame. As much as I enjoyed playing with him for the Almanac XI, it would be an interesting experience to cross swords (or in this case cricket bats) with him. Circumstances have dictated that David and I have not met on the field of battle since the Almanac XI played. Clifton Hill and Wyclif have met twice this season for one win and one loss apiece. They were our only losses for the year. I was part of the first win, a one-day match which David missed due to touring commitments. Wyclif won the return match. David was part of that game but I was not, having briefly been elevated to our Third XI.
(Side note: My elevation to the Third XI that match was the result of a number of players being unavailable on the Australia Day long weekend. I was the second-top scorer and took 3/37. It was enough to earn me another ‘man of the match’ award – Chicken Man lives! – but I was back in the Fourths the following match.)
My time at Clifton Hill has been successful on a personal level. I took my 100th club wicket in last week’s semi and have won a few awards along the way. Far more importantly, I’ve met many wonderful people and made some great friends. Although my “win-at-all-costs” side has resurfaced in my time at the club, the over-riding pride and happiness I’ve derived in that time has been via the friendships and being part of the club spirit. Whether we win or lose over the coming two Saturdays, I’ll celebrate the fact that I gave my all and rejoice in being part of a truly wonderful cricket club.
But between now and that moment I’ll be fighting like hell to win. And I know that Wyclif’s David Bridie, if he plays, will be doing exactly the same thing. Bring on the Grand Final!