Almanac Cricket: Turning back the clock – a cameo return to local cricket

‘Harry, Lord Reserve Carnegie’ – Kate Birrell

 

Many years ago, one of my early contributions to the Almanac site was an article about at age mid-40s, I finally made the public announcement that I was unavailable for selection or consideration in the Australia Test cricket team.

 

I later retracted a component of that statement by recognising, with the beginnings of T20 cricket at that time, that I could still nick away from work at a reasonable hour and get an evening game in for Australia,  balancing a desk based Human Resources role and national representation with a minimum of logistical arrangements.

 

At the time, talent wasn’t the only reason for unavailability, more a growth in other non-cricket related commitments. Nonetheless, my desire to assist the national team was undiminished, even if it didn’t eventuate in (so far) being part of the 11 or the extended squad of high vis wearing bottle carriers that surround the team each match.

 

However, having recently made a small return to the crease, I thought it best to update the selection panel on my progress, just in case.

 

Some readers will know that the sporting activities of number one son were referred to in some of my past Almanac pieces. Now as a 20 year old, he and a group of ex-schoolmates have taken the traditional path of staying connected post leaving year 12 by creating a team and playing in a suburban comp. They joined a local club and committed to being the 5ths and not being promoted, wanting to stay as a unit having Saturday afternoon fun. A combination of some fairly handy school cricketers and mates who were nuffies, they banded together around the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, having more laughs than wins but not totally disgracing themselves or ever bringing the game into disrepute.

 

Having not sighted the lad for a few days, with my return home after a hard day in the salt mines not matching his evening shifts at the pub or social activities, I ventured one Saturday afternoon to their ground, just with the dog on the lead, wanting to catch a glimpse of him. I know several of his teammates through school and sporting teams and thought on a sunny day it was time well spent. I arrived to find him tending the BBQ for the impending innings break, discovering that he had a poor time at bat, single digits only but smile firmly intact. He’s a handy opening bowler, left arm approaching quick, and usually a fairly hard hitting middle order bat. But the seriousness with which he approached junior club and school cricket has been replaced by a more social outlook on the game and an innings cut short that would have resulted in fury a few years back was met with a shrug and grin this time around.

 

The team at this stage were 8 down, with a reasonable score thus far but very chaseable. I turned to one of his mates, a very handy opener and keeper and asked how he had fared. He replied that with a bad back he wasn’t playing and the team just had ten today. Next wicket to fall and they’d be all out, with a few overs to spare.

 

I am sure we have all blurted out words that volunteer us for activities or duties without really thinking through the repercussions or obligations of that generous but impulsive offer. Here was one of those occasions.

 

“What if I had a hit?” I said, standing there in jeans and holding a dog.

 

Expecting polite consideration but a “no thanks Ben’s dad, very kind but we’ll be right” sort of response, there was a pause whilst several of them considering the idea that it couldn’t necessarily be worse than the situation they were in. A quick check with the captain as to if a player needed to be on a team sheet or even a registered player to have a hit was met with no reply either way. The lack of any whites, knowledge of my cricket ability or the sheer folly of asking a semi-random dad to fill in were quickly assessed, seemingly ignored as barriers and the computer spat out an answer of ‘why not.’

 

Dog handed over, I ran to the change rooms asking son to strip down, found out (rather pleasingly) that his top and dacks fitted and was relieved to remember that for some reason I was wearing speedos under my jeans, not boxers. Thigh pad and protector then safely secured and helmet adjusted, I padded up and returned to the boundary awaiting who knew what.

 

In the brief time I waited, I reflected on when I had last played competitive cricket. Removing three social games with various employers for just fun and bonding, I settled on April 1984, my last game representing my school. Whilst that was a fortnight after my crowning glory of school cricket (run out for 45 after hitting 4 sixes on a small Melbourne Grammar Oval) I started to ponder on whether this decision was a wise one. It wasn’t the prospect of making a dill of myself and not troubling the scorers, it was more the threat of personal injury and what the hell was I doing, having come too far to back out now.

 

The opportunity for reflection ceased as a wicket fell and whilst the not out batsmen, knowing that they only had ten, started to walk off, I quickly came out to greet him. Peering through my visor I reminded Hugo that I was Ben’s Dad, to which he accepted as if it was a reasonable team plan, and resumed his spot.

 

Remembering to take centre and look around the field (yes, still 11 players, all in white, evenly spaced, good), I took in a breath, again thought what am I doing here and faced up. I couldn’t tell from standing at the boundary (which readers should note was a very long way from the pitch, really long boundaries both square and long) the pace of the attack, but realised that as there were only 4 overs to go anyway, I imagine it was their A team back to mop up.

 

In years to come, when the history of this season of the Kew 5ths is written up, Gideon Haigh style, I don’t expect this innings and the associated bravery shown during it to get a full chapter. But, it deserves more than a footnote of a brief few overs under an assumed name. If Ashwin and Vihari taught us anything in Sydney, it’s that the number of runs you make isn’t important. And as young Pant showed us too, the number of balls faced equally is of no overall meaning. (I recall that after Rob Quiney’s test debut, his 9 runs were described as some of the best 9 ever struck). So I felt in good company.

 

My son believes that each time this story is told, lavish extra dollops of mayo are placed upon it. The last time I regaled people with it he ended it by saying “but the bladder went through for a point” which I grudgingly acknowledged as a good clip, stolen from the Furphy ad.

 

Suffice to say, whilst I have always believed that a Greg Chappell on drive off the back foot is a thing of beauty, I have always been more partial to the square drive than the one through cover. So after leaving the first I faced and then in the next over feeling the satisfying sound of a solid defence running swiftly to mid-off, I opened the shoulders to delivery number 3 and dispatched one wide of point. It may have travelled in the air more than it should have and I have no recollection of how close it went to a catch, as I was frantically running only to be told by my young partner as I turned for the second that it had well passed the boundary (remember how far away I said they were?)

 

The next over saw me stare down a bowler with far more pace and after being circumspect with another leave and a solid defensive stroke, dispatched him (nonchalantly) high and handsome over long on, agonisingly short of the maximum (remember, very long boundaries on the straight drive at Willsmere Park, North Kew), leaving me thus far with a strike rate up abound BBL territory.

 

The next delivery was a searing and brutal short ball aimed at my ribs in which I could only get a glove to it in protecting myself, as the keeper took a spectacular catch down the leg side. (This might be where the mayo has been applied).

 

Not waiting for the umpire’s call, I walked, removing gloves and returned to the anticipated appreciation from my young temporary teammates. I didn’t raise the bat but appreciated the nods from those of them who clearly expected far less than what they saw in this lovely cameo. Swapping clothes again with the lad, I retrieved the dog and grabbed a well-earned snag in bread. Whilst my back didn’t crumble under the weight of constant pats, nor was I asked to pass on any tips, there did seem to be some grudging admiration that it all wasn’t a total disaster and that the brief partnership for the final wicket (dominated by me despite Hugo having scored a 50*) could just be the difference.

 

I anticipated the offer clearly coming to join them in the field to defend the (now larger than assumed) target we had set, but declined before it was verbalised to avoid embarrassment, finished a second snag and took my leave, wishing my new teammates best of luck in the field. Driving home, I reflected that the last 30 minutes had turned out a little differently (and better) than I had thought they may have when I left home, on whim, to catch a look at the boy.

 

Upshot:

 

Despite my modest contribution significantly increasing the run rate required by the opposition, the Kew boys couldn’t get the win.

 

Ben was fined by his team for failing to score more than his father.

 

I have told the story far too many times.

 

There’s been a review of the boundary placements at Willsmere.

 

I haven’t (as yet) been asked back.

 

I am re-considering my Test unavailability.

 

 

 

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About Sean Curtain

"He was born with a gift of laughter, and a sense that the world was mad". First line of 'Scaramouche' by Sabatini, always liked that.

Comments

  1. Good stuff,Sean a entertaining read ( yes with all those bloody drink carriers surely a phone call is just round the corner

  2. Luke Reynolds says

    “What if I had a hit?” Love it Sean, mayo and all.

    Regarding your Test availability, how do you feel about facing the new ball in South Africa?

  3. Thanks Luke

    Work commitments probably mean I am a bit tied to the MCG although an excess of annual leave means I could consider tests in other states.

    Think SA might prove an issues, a bit quick for me, although from your scores so far this season I’d be happy to have you ahead of me in the order taking the shine off the new ball from the Saffas

    sean

  4. Great stuff Sean. Another ton nipped in the bud by being a team man trying to pinch the strike batting in the last wicket.

    I know modesty forbade you but I also have it on good authority that the ball was “doing everything” both in the air and off the wicket; largely due to a mini temperature inversion and pressure trough that accompanied your journey to the crease.

  5. Agree Deanos. The Far Kew Doctor is well known around Willsmere Park and the bowler, clearly dropped from the 1s for disciplinary reasons, was for that over the perfect combination of Akram swing and Akhtar pace. Lucky to get a glove on it I’d say, but just happy for Hugo to get the not out. Team man that I am

  6. Grand stuff Sean. Glad you remembered the protector. “When forgetting your box was worse than forgetting your wife’s birthday.”
    I fear you are now at the final age of a cricketer.
    “Ultimately, there came the age when being a spectator was all that was left. One now perambulated the ground’s perimeter, “a magnificent silhouette in the dying sun”, relating grand tales of youth to anyone stupid enough to listen. This was the age when “sex, alas, was no more than a Latin numeral”.”
    Keep appealing against the dying of the light.
    https://www.theage.com.au/sport/afl/the-many-ages-experienced-by-your-average-football-club-supporter-20180803-p4zvfj.html

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