Book extract: A View of Australia From Fine Leg

 

 

 

The lightbulb moment occurred at 2.00am on Day 2 of the Second Test of the 2019 Ashes Series. Staying up to the wee hours watching the pulsating cricket on offer, I realised how much I missed the game and came up with an idea…

 

Ten games for ten different clubs across Australia during the 2019/20 season and then write a book about it. I climbed into bed at the end of play (3.00am local time) and tapped Mrs D on the shoulder to tell her my brilliant idea. Not particularly thrilled at being woken at such an hour, she simply replied, ‘You’re having a mid-life-crisis, go to sleep.’

 

Looking back, I think it was just my way of clinging onto that boyish dream of playing cricket – the thrill of hitting one in the middle; the adulation of ten teammates slapping you on the back after taking a wicket; a cold beer in the sheds after taking 2/72 off 28 overs, figures that can only excite an off-spinner.

 

At 41, life was great – beautiful wife, gorgeous kids, steady job, nice house etc. With all that, there was something nagging at me. A desire to have one last crack at doing something I used to love.

 

It would be too self-indulgent to make this just about me. I went through a very rough patch with depression in my early 30s. In a short period of time I lost my job and then broke up with my partner. It seemed like the end of the world.

 

I shut myself off. Life was excruciating for a period of six months. I was going nowhere fast.

 

Over the course of time, and with the help of many important people I recovered.

 

Life is now great, however, I have never forgotten those dark days, so it was a natural consequence to want to support a mental health charity through the project. I selected the Gotcha4Life Foundation.

 

Having played cricket for twenty years, I had a great network of mates spread across the country from whom I could ask a favour and hopefully turn out for their clubs.

 

Every club I approached said yes. All up, it was about 10,000 kilometres of travel to navigate Australia via planes, trains and automobiles! In the end we raised over $9,000 for charity.

 

In Game 5 of the adventure I turned out for the Northern Suburbs District Cricket Club in Brisbane and here is the tale…

 

I arrived at Norths’ home ground complex by taxi where I was greeted by Terry McSweeney, a tireless worker behind the scenes and the proud grandfather of club First Grade captain and current Queensland first-class player Nathan McSweeney. Terry looked me in the eye, shook my hand with a vice like grip and told me, “There is no way you are going home in a bloody taxi tonight, mate. I’ll drive you home.” Welcome to the Northern Suburbs District Cricket Club.

 

I was a tad apprehensive about pulling on the whites for a Grade cricket club, essentially the pinnacle of club cricket for the State. I had sampled Grade cricket in NSW a few decades and 20 kilograms ago and didn’t quite find my feet.

 

This match was pencilled into the diary as one to look forward to. I was to play for the Maher XI in Sixth Grade, a team which featured Queensland cricket legend Jimmy Maher and his son. As happens occasionally to us cricketers who push the envelope past 40, Jimmy had pulled a quad and a hamstring a few weeks earlier. In his words, “It felt like being shot by a sniper”. Unfortunately, Jimmy would not be able to make it out on the park. Instead, the Maher XI would be captained by Jimmy’s brother, Greg, an accomplished cricketer in his own right and a ripping bloke to boot.

 

There was a slight diversion to the usual pre-match preparation which took place when Channel 9 News and Queensland Cricket popped in to say hello and give my project some exposure. Norths’ finest cricketing export and current club Patron, the great Ian Healy, was on hand to give me a hand in front of the cameras and said a few words in support. I’d remember spending a few minutes chewing the fat with ‘Heals’ for a long time to come.

 

Other than lending me a hand, Ian was also looking over the fence (of Ian Healy Oval!) to watch his son Tom, who was wearing the wicketkeeping gloves in the Firsts. At that moment, he was simply a proud Dad watching his lad, just like thousands of others on any given Saturday.

 

I was surprised by the basic facilities at the club. A modest storage shed is the clubhouse and, other than the main oval, it’s all a bit rough around the edges. The players spoke about the character built by the surroundings and the rustic charm of the place. There were no airs and graces or sense of entitlement at the Northern Suburbs District Cricket Club. You just rolled your sleeves up and got on with the job.

 

I played on Geoff Dymock Oval, named after another club legend and former Australian representative. A bit of rain had fallen the previous night and got under the covers. As luck would have it, we were inserted on a ‘sporting deck’.

 

A few club legends aged over 40 were roped into playing as several regular junior players were unavailable. A few travelled quite some distance to help out. There were some impressive former First XI CVs in the bunch. Their hamstrings appeared to be slightly less than supple and the familiar scent of Deep Heat permeated the air. Banter flowed at an impressive level and side bets were made on likely performances or the lack thereof. The competitive gene will kick in when needed, however.

 

I was called to the crease at 3 for not too many. As seemed to be the case in every match I played, I was greeted by a ‘mature’ bowler who was putting it in perfect areas, even if with no real pace, and asked questions with every ball. If I missed – he hit! I longed to face a sharp kid who sprays them so I could at least have a moment or two of rest. As has been the case most of my career, I fancied the gap between second slip and gully – nothing beats the feeling of a perfectly timed guide that runs to the boundary. I got a few away early to settle the nerves.

 

Jimmy generously donated one of his old bats from his last season in first-class cricket for me to use for the duration of the tour before it would be auctioned off. It was hard not to laugh when I looked down mid-over and saw the word ‘players’ engraved into the shoulder of the wood. The middle of a ‘players’ Grade bat (albeit 10 years old) is still a thing of beauty. I also managed to knock in the edges during the course of my innings.

 

The Melbourne ‘summer’ had not prepared me for a long stay at the crease in the Brisbane heat. On about 20, I felt like calling for the defibrillator. I was sweating out fluids from a month ago and my heart was racing. It felt like five kilograms had fallen off me in the previous 45 minutes. On 25, my theory that there were plenty of gaps in the air finally let me down. It felt good to get a few in the middle and make a contribution to the team’s total. A number of other valuable contributions saw us knock up a very decent 7/233 of our 40 overs.

 

My lack of local cricketing knowledge was exposed during the tea break. A decade of playing in Melbourne had made me accustomed to the home side being given the task of providing afternoon tea for both teams. As it turns out, afternoon teas are not done in Brisbane Grade cricket. Bugger! Those three slices of vegemite toast I had at 7.00am were going to have to last me until dinner! After consuming 46 litres of water in lieu of food, I was good to head back onto the field.

 

As Bill Lawry would say, ‘It’s all happening!’ early on as Cam claimed two wickets with the first two balls! The hat-trick was avoided but the boys from the University of Queensland were scrambling for the pads. Greg took a superb one-hander in the slips shortly after and, at 5/36, the game was in our keeping. Cam took five while the opposition dug in and fought it out for the full 40 overs. I was called on for 7 overs of straight breaks and took 1/21. It was a thrill to watch former First Grader Andrew McIntosh roll out his leggies – such a complex task performed with such ease. Uni fell short of the target and we racked up a good win. It was a fantastic day spent with good cricketers and great blokes to boot.

 

After not eating for close to 12 hours, I positioned myself next to the BBQ tray and ate my own weight in snags in a few minutes. Those walking close by possibly assumed that I was in a professional eating contest, given the ferocity of my attack on the snags. In the space of five minutes, I went from feeling faint to unhealthily bursting at the seams.

 

I caught up with Freddie McFadyen, a mate of a mate and the connection that got me to Norths. Put simply, he played a massive role in the success of my project. Freddie was obviously a decent player back in the day. It took others, however, to tell me that he had played for the Australian Under 19s cricket team at the inaugural World Cup in 1988, was Tasmania’s senior coach for three seasons and also coached the Australian Under 19s. Freddie opened doors everywhere and no favour, big or small, was beyond his reach. The generosity and spirit of people like Freddie has made this project possible. These days, Freddie is a proud parent of Nug, a talented 16-year-old playing in the Firsts, and Connor, a former Australian U16s cricketer now on the Brisbane Lions AFL list.

 

My words of thanks to the whole club gathering were delayed slightly as when club President Paul Keller ran out of petrol on the way back from his game! The XXXX and sausages were consumed at a cracking pace, with all proceeds supporting my fundraising. This, combined with the raffle, raised $660 – a terrific result!

 

A Grade cricket club is a unique environment. It mixes seriously talented cricketers, some of whom play Shield and international cricket, all the way through to the Sixths, which features talented youngsters and those simply just wanting to have a hit. I saw at Norths that this created an environment that nurtured the elite and also provided a fantastic environment for community cricketers like myself.

 

I hope to be back at Norths one day soon where, no doubt, the surroundings will change with a major redevelopment soon to occur. Thanks to the support of Cricket Australia, Queensland Cricket, and Federal, State and Local governments, the Norths cricket grounds will be turned into an $18 million National Cricket Campus. It will be a hub for international female cricket, domestic first-class cricket, high performance programs and junior participation. Norths will still proudly play and call the hub their home.

 

While the new hub will be fantastic, what I learnt from my visit was that it’s the people that make the Northern Suburbs District Cricket Club such a place to remember. Cricketing stars like ‘Heals’ mix with volunteers like Terry, PK and the like. Shield players share a drink with Sixth Graders. The cricket is played hard on the field and the laughs flow off it.

 

I jumped into the passenger seat with Terry at the wheel and left Norths behind on our way to the city and my hotel. Terry and I got chatting. Terry is a Vietnam War veteran and spent time in my former home town of Wagga Wagga when he was in training. A handy Rugby League player back in the day, we discussed everything from local Wagga pubs and country footy legends to Terry’s reflections on the war. On the way, we also found out that Brisbane’s CBD has a few more one way streets than the last time Terry has driven there!

 

I collapsed on the hotel bed exhausted after a marathon day. My teammates had stashed a couple of XXXX cans for the road, one last act of hospitality! I cracked one open and reflected on a great day at the cricket. I arrived at Norths in a taxi as a complete stranger and left ten hours later feeling every inch a part of this fantastic club.

 

 

To read more about the adventure and purchase the book (with profits supporting mental health foundation Gotcha4Life) please visit – https://inhousebookstore.com.au/products/a-view-of-australia-from-fine-leg

 

 

 

 

Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.

 

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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.

Comments

  1. 25 with the bat, 1-21 off 7 overs, plenty of snags washed down by an unnamed number of XXXX, and $660 raised for Gotcha4Life is a fine afternoon’s work, Craig.
    My copy of your book arrived today and I’m looking forward to the read following your Norths appetiser.

  2. craig dodson says

    Thanks Pete, lets just say I was very select in picking an extract where I actually did something on the park! Hope you enjoy the read mate.

  3. Keiran Croker says

    Great read Craig. Cricket clubs are indeed a terrific place to connect. How do I get a copy of the book?

  4. Barry Nicholls says

    What a wonderful piece of writing.

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