Book Extract: ‘A View of Australia From Fine Leg’

Match 7 – Narrandera Cricket Club, Saturday 11 January 2020



Not that long ago it seemed that everyone played cricket. Teams were always full and competitions were thriving. Times have changed. Getting young people to commit to a full season of cricket is a challenge, particularly in the bush. Part-time jobs, the lure of the ‘big smoke’ and numerous other factors make it a hard slog. It is the passion, hard work and commitment of quality cricket people who keep the game alive. In the New South Wales Riverina region, I saw a proud cricket community fighting the good fight.


In Melbourne on Friday night, we jumped in the car against the backdrop of the bushfire crisis sweeping the country. We had done our research and the latest update indicated that there were no fires in our intended path that should cause us concern. I love my cricket and am fully committed to the project, however, there was no way I was going to put us in the path of danger.


A pleasant drive through the countryside was interrupted as we were about to reach Wodonga. The emergency warning cut like a knife across the radio – a new grass fire was out of control just outside the border city. Police and the Fire Brigade were not yet on the scene, and we were advised to prepare for the worst. In the space of thirty seconds, we were suddenly in strife. We soon spotted the flames which were way too close to the highway for comfort. I could see them. I could smell them.


In that moment I was scared like never before. My immediate thoughts went to what if… thankfully, the kids were in Melbourne and not with us. I looked at Mrs D and we both had the same fear in our eyes.  The radio told us that we could not outrun a fire and, if it got too close, we were to simply stop the car, duck down low and hide under a blanket. I could not comprehend this option.


The fear of not knowing what to do and what might lie ahead was very real for a few minutes until we could exit the highway to the safety of Albury. If the wind had been blowing in the direction of the highway, things may have turned out very differently. For a few brief and scary minutes, I became aware of the unpredictable force that is a bushfire out of control. In my naivety, I had thought that if I couldn’t spot any trouble on a map a few hours earlier, then we had a guarantee of safety. How wrong I was. I’m not sure what the world record is for sculling a Carlton Draught stubby, however, I gave it a decent crack when we arrived at the hotel in an effort to calm the nerves.


I awoke on Saturday morning to blue skies, comfortable temperatures and a great day for cricket. The weather in Australia never ceases to amaze me. We set off from Albury to Leeton where I was to play an away game for the Narrandera Cricket Club.


Narrandera is a small town of about 4000 people at the junction of the Newell and Sturt highways, adjacent to the mighty Murrumbidgee River and about 100 kilometres from Wagga Wagga.


As a Wagga boy, I knew the region well. In my last match in Narrandera 25 years ago, I was playing in a junior representative carnival. I got future NSW player Dominic Thornely to dolly a caught and bowled back to me, which I subsequently dropped, when he was on 5. Luckily, he didn’t make me pay and was dismissed soon after for 126!


I played this away game in Leeton which is located about 30 kilometres from Narrandera. Leeton Cricket Club’s home ground is Mark Taylor Oval as he was born in Leeton. This also provided a pleasing synergy given that Taylor played a lot of his junior cricket in Wagga for the Lake Albert Cricket Club, where I first played and fell in love with the game.



A quick look at the deck suggested that the 45 degree temperature on Friday had done some damage. The cracks were not quite as wide as the Peshawar wicket in Pakistan where ‘Tubby’ scored his brilliant 334*, but wide enough to suggest that I would be able to get the ball to move off its axis if I got it in the right spot.


I played First Grade again for the first and only time this tour and it felt good to be back on the main stage. Things were tough in the competition. Not too many years ago, Narrandera used to have several teams in its own competition, however, the region now has only a three-team competition comprising Narrandera, Yanco and Leeton. Some of the Riverina’s best cricketers have come from this area and the decline in playing numbers was a shock.


Brent Lawrence was my skipper for the day, a proud Narrandera local who has given his heart and soul to the club over the years. He debuted in first grade in 2002 and is still here 18 years later. The club person of the year award is named in recognition of his father Peter’s contribution to the club.


Between both teams in this match, there were a lot of kids playing aged between 15 and 18. This could be their only few seasons in the local Seniors before they head off and then, hopefully, the cycle starts again. Rather than lament their departure, I sensed a real pride in the senior players who have played a part in their cricketing education.


The rest of the boys arrived – Chop Sullivan, Big Brodie Perram, Anthony Craig the wicket keeper and so on. I soon got the feeling that this was a good crew, that delicate mix of banter and blokes who were keen to have a red-hot crack and play some decent cricket. We got sent in and I was a tad apprehensive when I saw Adrian Axtill in the Leeton line-up. Just when I was leaving Wagga 20 odd years ago, he was one of the quickest blokes going around. He was a very talented player who went to the ‘big smoke’ in Canberra to further his cricket. These days, he was back home passing on a lifetime of cricketing experience to kids lucky enough to share a field with him.


We made a good start with Chop, Brento and Anthony knocking up some runs. I made my way to the crease at 3 for 70 odd. Axtill was waiting for me but, thankfully he’s just seam up off a few paces these days. I knocked a few around before making the error of edging one. The next pill had a bit of extra pace on it (every ex-tearaway has a few when they need them), I was late and slow on it and lost my off peg. At least I walked off knowing that I got dismissed by a quality bowler. We get rolled for a little over a hundred.


A good start by our bowlers had Leeton on the ropes early at 2/2 and we kept control for the majority of the match. Brent’s off-spinning darts caused some chaos in the middle order. I managed to extract some sharp turn. I’d been giving the ball a rip on this adventure, rather than reverting to the methodical darts I used to go to in my hey-day. I managed to sneak a few. I thought of asking Cricket Australia to advance me two million dollars to drop this pitch into the fields for my remaining three matches.


We got the win. I spent the last few overs chatting pleasantly to a young Leeton kid (all of fifteen years of age) who was out doing the mundane square leg duties. You couldn’t meet a more polite lad. He told me that my teammate Chop is actually his high school PE teacher. I was sure that both were keen not to concede bragging rights at Monday morning assembly. I wished the young man well on the rest of his cricketing journey, just as mine was nearing its end.


The match was played in a great spirit. Throughout the match there were times to be serious and also times to have a laugh at your own expense. The kids in this match were learning how the game should be played.


There is simply nothing as refreshing as an ice-cold beer after an honest day’s cricket. The teams mixed in the grandstand and shared stories of the day and yesteryear, and the Leeton Cricket Club made a donation to the cause which was greatly appreciated. I got chatting to Axtill and it turned out that we have a few mutual cricketing mates picked up over the years. Similar to Brent, he is fighting hard to keep cricket going in Leeton.



The beers flowed at the Charles Sturt Hotel in Narrandera later in the evening. Families mixed with sunburnt cricketers and locals in search of refreshment – a great community feel. The club generously ran a raffle for the cause and, all up, we raised close to $500 for Gotcha4Life. This was a brilliant result for a small country town and speaks volumes of the people involved.


It was soon 9.00pm and we still had to make the two hour drive back to our hotel in Albury. The roads were dark and the wildlife active so it was a challenging drive for Mrs D. We chatted non-stop and simply enjoyed the opportunity to converse. In our busy day to day lives, the opportunity to just sit and chat in depth only seems to come up in the car – this has been one of the great unexpected benefits of the adventure. We made a promise to do more family road trips in the future.


I’d had a brilliant day. I witnessed first-hand all that was good about community bush cricket. It would be easy to just sit back and say that it is all too hard and just let the competition fade away. Those blokes on the field (and the administrators) were fighting tooth and nail to keep cricket alive so that they and, more importantly, the next generation can enjoy their moment in the sun playing this fantastic game. I hope these guys keep at it. Hats off to my friends.


To purchase a copy of the book on my epic adventure playing 11 games for 11 clubs last season, while raising funds for mental health for only $20 (all profits going to the Gotcha4Life Mental Health Foundation) visit




To return to the Home Page click HERE


Do you enjoy the Almanac concept?
And want to ensure it continues in its current form, and better? To help keep things ticking over please consider making your own contribution.

Become an Almanac (annual) member – CLICK HERE
One off financial contribution – CLICK HERE
Regular financial contribution (monthly EFT) – CLICK HERE



To find out more about Almanac memberships CLICK HERE

About craig dodson

Born in the sporting mecca that is Wagga Wagga and now reside in Melbourne with my lovelly wife Sophie and son's Jack and Harry. Passionate Swans supporter and formally played cricket at a decent level and Aussie Rules at a not so decent level! Spend my days now perfecting my slice on the golf course and the owner of the worlds worst second serve on the tennis course.

Leave a Comment