Bring back the great Australian backyard!

 

I have a theory as to why Australian Cricket is stuffed. It all comes down to the death of the great Australian backyard. Hear me out.

 

Like a lot of lucky kids born in the 1970s I grew up with your average Aussie backyard and an old man who liked to mow it religiously in his pair of Stubbies (sans sunscreen, shirt or hat). From a cricketing perspective this is where my love of the game started and flourished.

 

Every kid I knew in Wagga Wagga had a backyard of some description and we all played cricket after school. The sound of tennis balls being bludgeoned by 11 year olds wielding Gray Nic Scoops, Symonds Tuskers and SS Jumbos was the distinct sound of a mid-week afternoon in 1980s Wagga Wagga.

 

What about the kids of today?

 

According to my extensive research (48 seconds scanning Google) in the past 15 years the size of the average allotment in capital city outer suburban subdivisions has dropped from about 600sqm to about 420-440sqm. In what limited space is available people are going with expanded houses or entertainment settings, in sacrifice of a backyard. Whilst things may not be as bad in the bush, I am sure there has been some impact as well.

 

Who cares if you have more room to entertain friends, or an extra study, if your kid’s can’t execute a cover drive! You also can’t in my book beat watching uncle Reg (with a dozen KB Lagers under his belt) try and bounce out his 9 year old nephews on Christmas afternoon if you are genuinely looking to entertain guests.

 

If there is no backyard cricket, then there are thousands of hours being lost to honing techniques and learning how to play the game. You learn best by playing. The value of this can’t be underestimated. A whole generation of kids over the last 20 years have missed out on what all us old balding farts took for granted.

 

I don’t want my kids to suffer the same fate so I’m packing up Mrs D and the scallywags (aged 4 and 6) from the trendy inner west of Melbourne out north to the Diamond Valley, in search of the elusive dream of some neatly mown turf that I can call mine and use to help foster a lifelong love of cricket for the kids. The fact this has added $100k to my mortgage, is just minor details between me and my 97% shareholder the NAB.

 

Currently we live in a three bedroom townhouse (which we have rapidly outgrown) in Seddon and if we want to play cricket we need to head out to parkland or find some cricket nets. I’ve craved a backyard for years.

 

Our new piece of paradise is out in Macleod. When the real estate agent ‘Dennis’ was trying to marvel Mrs D with a description of the ducted heating and laminated floor boards, I was out in the backyard playing imaginary cut shots in front of a parade of bemused Chinese investors. I could see the vision of the new Dodson Cricket Ground for me and the scallywags.

 

The Dodson Cricket Ground (D.C.G) back in the day in Wagga Wagga was not huge, but not small. Unfortunately Mum fancied herself as a Gardener (Bloody Burkes Backyard!) so we had row and row of plants and trees acting as a road block for any cover drives. Not even Clive Lloyd would have been able to burst one through it. As a result the cover drive was rendered useless and I developed a Carl Hooper like tendency to whip balls off off-stump through mid-on, just to keep the backyard scoreboard ticking over. There is a direct correlation between this and that fact that 97% of my grade cricket dismissals were LBW attempting the same shot.

 

A good executed pull shot would rattle the asbestos in the roof and then return back to the field of play. I would sweat on the short ball.

 

The Barnetts backyard next door was rife with bindi-eyes and a territorial Blue Heeler. As a result you learnt quickly to keep the ball on the carpet and not go for the maximum. The fence was also slanting about 30 degrees and lacking any real structural integrity so there was always the risk of impaling yourself if you attempted to vault over it.

 

On the other side of the fence was Mrs Cruzsman, an octogenarian who wasn’t exactly a fan of top edges cannoning into her screen door. We learnt to roll the wrists on hook shots. We also learnt to sneak into the premises at dusk to retrieve stray balls, which would have served us well had either of us entered into a profession in break and enter.

 

Despite Dad’s fanaticism in mowing his strip, let me assure you, it did not play like the Adelaide Oval. The turf was K-Mart quality and balls would jag off a good length. A Lords like slope also added to the degree of difficulty. The three pace run ups were completely devoid of grass.

 

My childhood memories are dominated by backyard cricketing battles with my older (and more talented brother Brett). With a two year age gap I was ‘pushing it uphill’. Of course I always had to bowl first. Despite the early 40s temperatures I’d charge in for hours on end until the dinner bell rang. If I was lucky I’d grab a hit late in the afternoon and most likely be dismissed for bugger all and start the process all over again. It did not matter one bit. I lived for the afternoons playing cricket.

 

Brett would be wielding the Greg Chappell GC Master Scoop whereas I was left to fend with the considerably cheaper Greg Ritchie autographed knock off version. No disrespect to Fat Cat, but no kid wanted the grow up being the next Greg Ritchie (can you sense I’m still bitter at my parents for saving $20 on the cheaper model).

 

There were no easy runs at the D.C.G. We favoured using a tennis ball with very little fur coverage, which helped generate extra pace. Unlike the Cape Town trio we didn’t need to manipulate the ball any further.

 

I can only recall scoring one backyard century in my life. I remember forgetting to roll the wrists over a cut shot and hitting it over the fence to be dismissed for 98 one afternoon. As the red mist kicked in I threatened to kill my brother and then locked myself in my room for two hours… such was the prestige a backyard century held to me.

 

There was nothing better than inviting some mates over after school to play, then watching them spend an hour trying to adjust to the nuances of the field of play.

 

If we want to reverse the trend of having blokes averaging mid 30s propping up our Test middle order, then we need to get more backyard cricket battles happening in my book. I’m doing my part. Now excuse me while I go and devise my strategy on how to convince Mrs D that a concrete cricket roller is a sound financial investment.

 

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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. Colin Ritchie says:

    Ripper read Craig! Brought back so many memories. Growing up in the late 50s and 60s there was always a cricket match on in someone’s backyard or nature strip in our neighbourhood. After school, after dinner, and weekends we’d pick our teams, mark out the pitch and then we played for sheep stations! Very competitive! But a lot of fun.

  2. Citrus Bob says:

    Right on Craig! I personally was lucky enough to grow up on a farm so I made my own wicket, tennis court, goal posts etc. etc. My cousin and I had old milk cans for fieldsmen so we both became good defensive batsmen by keeping the ball on the ground
    My kids turned a small park into a cricket pitch in Pakenham with permission of Council. IF they and there mates played on the street (court) and in particular football they had to kick with their wrong foot. Most of the kids became good footballers. Always kids on the street playing sport and a fewbroken windows at home as well!.
    I now live in Mildura and you would not even know whether there was any kids in the street – let alone them playing sport. The houses – well they go from fence to fence front and back so there is no room to play sport.
    The big problem in this town? Obesity amongst the kids
    !!
    So who are the cricket stars in this town? still all the guys who came out from England to play 15 years ago and their countrymen today.

  3. You’d think that Australia, with all its open space, would have boundless acres of space for back yards. It did once. Not any more. When even country towns sprout estates with fence to fence housing you know the developers and councils have us by the throat. Look at Waterford estate beside Warragul – it’s obscene.

  4. Good read Craig. Steve Cannane wrote an excellent book “First Tests: Great Australian Cricketers And The Backyards That Made” which covers your topic but I love the personal insight. Recently searching for a new abode has highlighted much of what you mention.

  5. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    Parents of the Year goes to the Dodsons. Don’t forget the pop up soccer goals and netball/basketball ring and time to plant a couple of trees that can grow into goalposts. Bugger the outdoor kitchen.

  6. Mark Duffett says:

    Terrific piece, Craig. I used to be jealous of other generations, not so much now. We had it pretty darn good. More strength to your arm in the gift you’re giving your kids.

  7. Such memories. The backyard has been the inspiration for so much. Especially with sport. Our backyard is described in detail in Confessions of a Thirteenth Man. I had nothing between sqare leg and wide mid on because that’s where the church was.

    A map of our Oakey backyard appeared in The Australian – beautifully drawn by an illustrator – I must dig that out. My father read the Australian closely every day. On opening the paper that day he said to Mum, “Gee, that backyard is ridiculously similar to ours in Oakey.” He hadn’t read the story.

  8. Came for the nostalgia, was pleasantly surprised by a Carl Hooper reference. Brilliant work Craig.

    Agree on the importance of a tennis ball with a buzzcut – only way to go, unless you got the old electrical tape involved with a hemisphere.

  9. Good on you Craig. I’m a Montmorency boy – Diamond Valley region. We had the pitch down the side of the house . It’s design meant we became very strong on-side batsmen (fence close on the off-side). And tall bowlers had problems as they got hands caught in the washing line wires. Fortunately O’Donnells are not tall. Epic games played on that pitch. Five day tests, long grinding tons, Michelles, goldens, tempers, thrown bats – what fun! I reckon only bad luck prevented me from batting at 3 for Australia.

  10. Total waste of valuable green space Craig. Bugger the kids. Bugger Cricket Australia. What have they ever done for you?
    I see a gently mounded putting green, lovingly rolled every morning to PGA Stipmeter 13 speed and Turfmaster cylinder mowed to Victor Kiam Remington fineness. I see a large sandy cavern on the left where the kids can make sand castles (whenever you are not refining your Gary Player hole outs). I see a strong mesh net on the right (tell the wife its a passionfruit vine frame). I see lots of small white “holey” plastic orbs decorating the back yard (tell the wife they are prototype Christmas Tree Lights you have sent off to Stuart Wagstaff and Leo Port and Bubbles Fisher for the next ABC Inventors series). I see a future for you – joining me – on the PGA Champions Tour (bugger that Seniors word) and racking up the millions. What have Bernhard Langer and VJ Singh got that we haven’t (other than talent, fitness and coordination)?
    You know it makes no sense at all. But a man’s got to have a hobby. Bugger the kids. Bugger cricket.

  11. Keiran Croker says:

    Great read Craig. I was lucky to grow up with a large back yard, and two older brothers, out Ringwood way. Though trees, cloths lines and the positioning of a significant window restricted shot making. So much so that my cover drive never developed, in favour of a cut shot and wristy leg side play.
    I happen to know a number of people involved with Macleod fc and cc. Very good clubs. I occasionally go to footy games out there… good footy in the Northern Footy League.

  12. Was very lucky to have lived in a childhood with big sized backyards or sideyards. 260 Carlton Street (a drop punt or so from the Glenmore Bulls ground) for me had a good sideyard (as opposed to backyard) wicket where a wall was automatic cordon and a tree was placed in a strategic position at short cover (the clothesline was short mid wicket). Perhaps that’s why I could never play a square cut! I think the space is still there although I suspect the people living there would use it more as a parking lot as opposed to a cricket pitch.

    411 Stenhouse Street had a good sized backyard even if a little rough and uneven, complete with a floodlight for Day/Nighters and using a trampoline (a proper trampoline, not one with a cage surrounding it) as the cordon. I say had because it was redeveloped about 10 years ago on my Old Man’s second marriage and the house took up more of the space.

    Even in high school I still had the occasional hit, although that basically ended when a stray lofted straight drive went through the shed window and my attempts to fix the breakage with super glue was a spectacular failure…..

  13. Rocket Singerd says:

    Good piece Craig.

    Always good to read about sporting activities in Wagga

    I’m guessing it was Jim Barnett that lived next door?

  14. There is so much truth in this piece, Craig.

  15. Luke Reynolds says:

    Brilliant piece Craig, and as Swish said, magnificent parenting.

  16. Loved this Craig. So evocative of my childhood too. I recall playing cricket at my cousins’ and diving for a catch. Straight into one of my aunt’s rosebushes. Bad news for both bush and I. Didn’t attempt that again.

    Not wishing to detract from the fun nature of your piece, but I’ll bet that we still stack up pretty well against all of the cricketing nations in terms of backyard and park/oval access and size. I’d love to read more on cricket in India for kids- beyond those stock images of armies of young ‘uns in dusty urban spaces with dozens of games occuring concurrently. I imagine there’s a book or two out there.

    Well done on the parenting move to a bigger yard. Down the track you’ll be thanked on AB medal night!

  17. Craig
    Without wanting to detract from the delightfully tongue-in-cheek tone of your piece, there’s actually a serious underlying message here about our changing lifestyles and how this is influencing our participation in sports. I reckon your diligent research about the declining size of backyards is spot on and that there’d be a direct correlation between this trend and reduced physical activity in said backyards.
    See my recent piece on the subject
    https://www.footyalmanac.com.au/sport-as-entertainment-4-changing-lifestyles-and-declining-participation/

  18. Andrew Starkie says:

    We had a big slab of concrete outside the back door, under the laundry and TV room windows. I was Siddons and Lehmann on the Adelaide Oval road. I pillaged over Christmas, sending my younger cousins to the far flung reaches of the backyard chasing the taped ball. Uncle Basil’s underarm offies sent down while holding a stubby in one hand and sitting on the eskie wickets were harder to handle. He’s on dialysis these days so I reckon I’d be able to sort him out.

  19. Earl O'Neill says:

    Gidday Craig
    Cricket Australia here, “mate.” We heard you’ve been bragging about a backyard but have no record of you having submitted a ‘Statement of Intent to Notify’, let alone a ‘Draft Plan of Junior Player Workload’ and the several appendii It’s blokes like you that really get on our nerves, you and all the other “I’ve got a backyard and I’m gonna use it” types. As if constant practice and learning the fundamentals was in any way important, struth!
    You think High Performance Mission Leadership is easy, you try developing pathways for young fast bowlers without much fast bowling. You think it’s all about having “fun” and building “character”, eh? Another word out of you, sunshine, and we’ll send a brutal auditor over to your club.
    The Experts

  20. What lucky kids we were, growing up with room to play in our back yards. And play sport we did; every night!
    Living on a farm I was lucky to have a spacious yard area. We played tennis every evening in summer between the house and shearing shed. The shearing shed wall was also used to hit a tennis ball against . Mum and dad insisted on hitting practise as well as playing games . A netball ring was put onto the SEC post . High jump stands were made from steel droppers at athletics time . Dad made a putting green on the front lawn as the irrigation channel behind it formed the perfect sand bunker when dry. On Christmas day we had our annual cricket match. The major rule was ‘ Don’t break any house windows’
    I agree with your theory Craig. Enjoy your new space. .

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