Almanac Life: Cricket With My Sons



The following story was originally posted on this site almost eleven years ago. Note that Smokie went on to play in a premiership with his son John that very season. They recently celebrated a 10-year reunion. 





Cricket has consumed great slabs of my time over the past thirty summers. It’s cost me many life experiences: trips to the surf coast with mates as a teenager, weekends away with friends, long summer holidays with my young family. The only Derby days I ever attended were when the cricket was washed out. Now, at 44, with not too many more seasons left in the tank, I feel a sense of rejuvenation in my love affair with the game, because for the past year I have been playing with my oldest son, John.



How often have I heard the comments “I’m looking forward to playing a game with my son” or “I will retire after I play a game with my son” over the years? Is it a primal urge that drives us cricketers to want to play competitive sport with our offspring? To be honest, I never really thought much about donning the whites with my three sons; that is, until the prospect of it actually taking place began to loom.



John, unlike his father, was a relatively late convert to the gentlemen’s game. Always a rabid basketballer, he suddenly fell out of love with that sport, and of late had been more enthusiastic about all things cricket. Last season was only his second, but by mid-season he was expressing an interest in following up his junior match in the morning by playing with the adults in the afternoon. While his batting was very raw, his off-spinners were showing improvement. I was sceptical. But as chance would have it, our club had taken the punt of fielding a ‘fourths’ team: bordering on the social, it was a mixture of younger blokes who were not interested in training or pressing for the higher grades, older guys whose best days were well past, and juniors who were being introduced to senior cricket. It loomed as the perfect vehicle for my son to make his senior debut.



The afternoon arrived, and I could tell the young bloke was excited. Unfortunately he was run out for a duck by one of the older players in the team. As for his bowling, you could say he was marginally more successful. There is not much protection for a 13-year-old off-spinner on a postage stamp-sized oval. To his credit, John kept ‘tossing them up’  and was rewarded in his third over when one of the opposition batsmen, in his zeal to hit yet another six, advanced down the pitch and misread the flight. As wicketkeeper, I could hardly believe my luck. The fact that I knocked all three stumps over while removing the bails may have given a small clue that I was chuffed. As we converged to congratulate John, one of his much older teammates said: “Well done, your first senior wicket.” I hoped he would remember it as fondly as I do.



This season has brought with it some fresh challenges for both John and I. Our club had boldly taken the decision to field a Sunday team on turf. Nominally, this team would be the ‘thirds’, and would provide a reasonable standard and thus be a good fit for John as an introduction to turf cricket. For me, the main question was whether I was up to playing at a higher standard than last year. It didn’t matter. A season on turf with my son had to be embraced. In our first game together on turf, the stars almost aligned to provide the perfect fairy-tale.


With a dozen runs required off nine balls John, the No.11 batsman, shuffled to the wicket. His pads, gloves and helmet seemed many sizes too large. His gait was stiff and awkward. I was waiting for him at the crease. As his batting partner, I gave him a couple of words of advice: “Just get behind it, mate. Just get something on it. Play out these three balls and I will go for the runs in the last over.”


The dream finish was cruelled when the first ball he faced smashed into his stumps. As we made our way off the ground, I asked him what went wrong. “Dad, I was so nervous that my knees were shaking and I even forgot to take guard!” I had a little chuckle. “Just learn from it,” I said.


In the three games we have played together this season, I have allowed myself the indulgence of observing John from close quarters. We have batted together again, and much more successfully, and John has taken a few wickets, including another batsman stumped by his father. In the field, with his large floppy hat and slender frame, he could reasonably be compared to a large roofing nail. I acknowledge that it must be a strange experience for him to be playing with his father. I am forever attempting to strike a balance between being a supportive teammate (“well bowled, mate!”), a corrective coach (“get your front foot forward!”), and disciplinarian father (“there are certain things you should not be listening to in the changeroom”). It is not easy. The one question I keep asking myself is, “Will he look back on this experience fondly?”


My youngest son, Luke, despises cricket, which is both a puzzle and constant source of amusement to me. But my middle son Brendan is even more cricket mad than his older brother. The first two words he ever said were “ball” and “bat”. Having fielded as a sub a number of times this season, he was champing at the bit to play with his Dad, just as his brother was doing. As he was only thirteen, my firm response was that he was too young. However, last week the fifths were struggling badly for numbers. And despite the fact that I was selected to play on Sunday, I was also picked to play in the fifths. As was Brendan. He was ecstatic. “I’m excited about playing seniors, dad,” he said on the night before the game. I was too much of a man to tell him that I was just as excited as him.


A dry, dusty oval in West Newport is about as far removed from the MCG as you will find in suburban Melbourne. But that is where my thirteen-year-old son made his senior cricket debut last week. He scored three runs at No.6 and bowled two tidy overs of looping leg-spinners. Like his brother, he was run out in his first game. Departing the crease, our paths crossed as I strode to the wicket. I detected tears in his eyes. “Don’t cry. You’re playing with men now,” I said as I passed him. My mind flashed back to what seemed like only yesterday: visions of a toddler in nappies running around the back yard with a plastic cricket set yelling “ball, bat, ball, bat”.


Later that evening my wife asked if I realised why Brendan had burst into tears on being dismissed. “He was frustrated,” I said. “There was a run there, and the other bloke did not call.”


Brendan’s mother shook her head. “No. That’s not it at all, you fool! It was because he went out before you came in to bat. His entire reason for playing today was because he wanted to bat with you.”




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About Darren Dawson

Always North.


  1. craig dodson says

    What a fantastic piece, told with the authenticity of someone who has spent a lifetime involved with the game. I hope to tread the same path one day with my kids.

  2. roger lowrey says

    Well played Smokie. Luuvv the unusual and abruptly colourful likeness to “a roofing nail”. RDL

  3. Luke Reynolds says

    Beautiful piece Smokie.

    I’m a season or two away from playing with my oldest son. Can’t wait.

  4. Kevin Densley says

    Fine piece, Smokie! Held me from start to finish and tugged at the ol’ heartstrings here and there.

  5. A great yarn, Smokie! I didn’t get the chance to play with my son but, in our respective ‘careers’, we shared the same top score – 56 – although his was *, mine was dismissed. I laughed out loud at this particular line: ‘In the field, with his large floppy hat and slender frame, he could reasonably be compared to a large roofing nail.’ I’d kill to conjure up a line like that. Well played!

  6. That’s a great yarn Smokie. Special moments there. I think playing backyard cricket together might be as close as we get here! A couple guys got to play footy with their sons when I was in Kimba and I sensed how important it was to the dads- hopefully now, twenty plus years on the sons appreciate it too. Agree with Ian about the roofing nail image!

  7. Rulebook says

    Great stuff,Smokie update please re playing with you’re sons ! Huge to play in a flag together

  8. Smokie

    Love the story.

    I unexpectedly played with my son earlier this year. He and mates from school formed a fifths team with Kew, on the proviso it was all social and none of them would get called up to a higher team. He can play, as can some teammates but for others it’s hit and hope and an afternoon sledging each other.

    I went down to watch him with the dog, found he was manning the BBQ for the innings break having been dismissed for 2. Short version is they only had 10, I jokingly said I’d bat 11 and within 5 minutes I was kitted out in the boy’s gear, fixing the helmet and box whilst someone held the dog. Then I was in and whilst walking to the crease realized I hadn’t faced a ball in 15 years and had only played three social games since leaving school in mid 80s.

    After blocking and leaving the first few, I opened the shoulders, with a square drive that went for 4. Next over I put one way over the bowlers head for another before gloving one to the keeper.

    I changed, had a laugh with them, got the dog back and went home. My son got a fine from the team, for being outscored by his dad

    I wasn’t asked back, so pretty happy to have retired on that note.

    Luke, you’ll love it in a few years time, enjoy


  9. John Butler says

    Smokie, as someone who was run out quite a bit through my career, I can testify there are many reasons to cry in that situation.Even when you’re in your 30’s. :)

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