CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS; THE S.S.S.C.A Christmas Eve Street Criggit Invitational

I can’t recall a single ‘holiday season’ in the last 25 years that I haven’t had to work through the Christmas/New Year period. In fact, I’ve found myself working most Christmas days in recent years. With Christmas Day being just another day in the office for me, I’ve probably lost a little ‘Christmas spirit’ in the last six or so years.

So this year, I’ve thrown financial caution to the wind, put the foot down and will be taking some time off during the Christmas and New Year break. Knowing that I have some time off for the Christmas break, I’ve found myself recalling some of the ‘traditions’ I used to have that have fallen by the wayside.

One of my favourite ‘traditions’ was Ivan Hutchinson’s Christmas Movie Guide. Ol’ Ivan was the doyen of movie reviewers for mine, and anyone presently between the age of 50 and 35 would remember days playing hookey from school and watching Ivan introduce the midday movie on Channel Seven. Each year, Ivan would host a one hour special featuring trailers and his critiques of movie ‘blockbusters’ that would hit the screens in time for the summer holidays, like Gremlins, Ghostbusters, The Last Starfighter, Conan The Destroyer, Red Dawn,  and The Woman In Red (remember Kelly LeBrock lads?).

Speaking of school holidays, with the school year usually winding up a week or so before Christmas, from around the age of 12, my friends and I were all allowed to go in to the city from suburban western Melbourne by train without someone’s parents or older brother/sister chaperoning us under the guise of ‘christmas shopping’. Hell yes, good times!

Our trains to the city from Werribee in those days were V/Line trains and after arriving at Spencer St Station, we’d haul ass onto a tram and head straight to the Bourke St Mall.

We’d spend hours at Myer in the sporting goods and then the toy departments – predominantly looking at modelling kits and Star Wars figurines. This would be followed by a movie (on Ivan Hutchinson’s recommendation, of course) at cinemas that don’t exist anymore, like Hoyts Mid-City, the Capitol, Greater Union in Russell St, Hoyts Cinema Centre and even the Forum when it was predominantly a movie theatre.

The movie was followed by a feed at Macca’s (Werribee didn’t get a McDonald’s until 1987, so this was a big deal for us, k?) and then back home, knackered as the excitement of the day wore off.

My favourite tradition though, was always Christmas Eve.  Until you’re seriously expected to buy people presents or contribute with helping set up the house for an army of guests the next day, Christmas Eve is an excitement all of its own. My sister and I were largely left alone, except for one unbreakable commitment: 7pm mass at St Peter’s church.

Christmas Eve mass invariably fell smack-bang in the middle of our street cricket tournaments. Starting around 4.30 or so in the afternoon the Degenhardt’s would grab their rubbish bin as the stumps, a milk-crate from our house was sequestered as the bowler’s wicket, some lengths of wood from the Gamble’s house were used to block the drains and a street ‘criggit’ match involving most of the kids (and a few drunk Dads and uncles) in our street would begin. And yes, it was criggit. We were in Melbourne’s west. Anyone other than an international cricketer who referred to cricket with the hard k sound in the middle was clearly from the other side of the West Gate Bridge and never to be trusted.

Teams were random. The toss was always a cricket bat spun into the air with the choice of roofs (the ridge of the blade) or flats (the face of the blade). As with any self-respecting street criggiting body, we had our house or ‘street’ rules, if you will. Depending on the number of players, there would be a combination of the following policies;

1)   Everything out on the full (i.e letter boxes, Mrs Cotter’s garden beds or ANY garden beds and trees, Mr Drew’s car, Mr Football’s fence (Mr Football was NOT a term of endearment for Mr McPhee) etc, etc, was instant dismissal.

2)   Tippity run; for the uninitiated, if ball touches bat, you have to run, no matter whether the single is there or not. There was no square-leg umpire, just the batsman or the ‘keepers word, invariably leading to some of the best punch-ons I have ever seen. Having played drums in punk rock bands and played footy in Werribee, I’ve seen a few donnybrooks. The run out disputes were sometimes worth the price of admission.

3)    ‘Any wicket’ – fielders choice of which set of stumps to hit to run the batsman out. Its antithesis – running wicket – is self-explanatory. This often (but not always) avoided the colourful fall-out from tippity run.

4)   Everyone has to bowl. Everyone has to bat. Also self-explanatory.

Matches that invoked the holy trinity of on the full, tippity and any wicket were brutal and often went about 10 minutes an innings. The more conventional tippity run and any wicket was preferred, with no tippity run, running wicket and no on the full about as rare as rocking horse shit. All in all, the house rules of the S.S.S.C.A (the Sandpiper Street Street Criggit Association) were appropriately observed.

The standard was always pretty good. Paul and Jamie Degenhardt were outstanding cricketers and but for the love of the punt (Paul) and a dodgy lower back (Jamie) they could easily have been district grade cricketers. Paul was more than handy with the bat and Jamie was your express opening bowler. Both were world class-sledgers and certainly gave much better than they got.

The Drew Brothers – Darren and Anthony – were honest triers. Darren was the thinking man’s cricketer; always seeking to produce crafty offies on the hallowed bitumen of Sandpiper Street and always looking to build an innings by placing the ball through mid-on (A.K.A Smith’s front yard) or cover point (A.K.A my old man’s rose bushes). Anthony was always the last picked, his mandatory over was eagerly awaited by any struggling batsman and his turn at the crease was never dull. Short, always, but never dull.

Mark Gamble’s forte was the round ball of Soccer, so his cricket prowess was best described as being an outstanding soccer player. Mark had two older brothers you did NOT want to mess with. Mark was ALWAYS welcome at Street Criggit outings.

Like Mark Gamble, Brett Cotter had an older brother you didn’t want to mess with, but upping the ante somewhat, Brett’s Dad, Bruce, was one not to be trifled with either.

Our street at one time had a hoon problem. Hotted up VK Commodores, HZ Kingswoods and XB Falcons would come screaming up our street all day and night, visiting the resident drug dealer at the opposite end of our street. One very warm summer night Bruce walked out in front of one of the hoon cars one night, forcing them to stop suddenly. After the tirade of abuse from the car’s occupants, Mr Cotter didn’t flinch. He simply said “come hurtling down this street while these kids are playing cricket again and you’ll be sorry.” Sure enough, after *cough* business had been concluded up the other end of the street, the same car hurtled back towards us at high speed. Hoon drivers were part and parcel of life in the S.S.S.C.A and we had our wicket removal procedures down to a fine art. This time however, as the car sped towards us, Mr Cotter calmly walks into the middle of the road. Only this time, he’s carrying a loaded 12-guage shotgun. Needless to say, the vehicle in question was never seen again and Sandpiper St was much quieter after that. The drug-dealing house remains to this day. Mr Cotter only recently passed on.

Scott Flannigan and I were honest plodders, but that was about it. I opened the batting for Glen Orden under 12’s for a while but the form in the conventional match setting rarely translated to success in the S.S.S.C.A and Scotty would have had a cabinet full of “Best Clubman” trophies if we handed them out, but we didn’t.

So as well as the regular cast, Christmas Eve street criggit matches would always attract Mark’s older brothers, Brett’s brother and the aforementioned Dads and associated revellers. I, always seemingly on the cusp of taking a valuable scalp with the ball, or set to notch up a match-winning ton, would invariably have to pull the pin at around 6.30 to go to mass. This created a spiritual schism that is yet to heal – so much so that on Census night, I describe myself as ‘recovering Catholic’.

Anyway, an hour or so later (depending on whether Father Dom went for a painfully long homily or a seven-inch vinyl radio edit on the joy-of-the-birth-of-our-saviour so he could nick back to the presbytery to watch Carols by Candelight), I’d arrive home from mass around and slot straight back into the game (god bless daylight savings). At least, that’s what I like to think. The reality probably was that the Dads, older brothers and blow-ins had had a skinful and called it a night and the extra fielder/bowler/batsman was welcomed.

The games would go on, and on into the night. Well into dark and well into the period where boosting one’s street cricket average took a backseat to ensuring you didn’t get hit in the nuts while facing a Jamie Degenhardt thunderbolt.

I can’t speak for the other kids in our street, but I know for me, these Christmas Eve street cricket extravaganza’s were meant to get me so exhausted that I would take little rocking to fall asleep once I got into bed.

But such was the excitement of the night, and the expectation of the following day that no matter whether you took a career best bowling haul, or smashed an unbeaten ton before everyone gave up and pissed off home, an early night was about as likely Jamie Degenhardt not aiming for your nuts with one of his patented thunderbolts once the streetlights took over.

Merry Christmas Almanackers!

About Steve Baker

Weapons-grade Grump. Quixotic. Jack of all Trades and Master of None. Ex-power forward for Melbourne Superules FC. Quoter of Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm at inappropriate moments. Gun-for-hire, sleep enthusiast, contrarian. Meshuggener. Nebbish. Kibitzer. The dude abides.

Comments

  1. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Enjoyable and entertaining read what a great way to spend Xmas eve ! remember games at the , Bishops tennis court with the Goldings , Pikes and Slacks and then the step up in standard at the , Palms holiday shack at , Victor harbor were always fierce battles where , David Palm ex , Norwood , Richmond and , West Perth facing the bowling of , John Hall ex , Norwood 84 Prem Ruckman to say this was competitive is a understatement .
    Unfortunately there does not seem to be the games played by anywhere near as many kids today for a number of reasons , bloody video games , kids safety etc which results in further problems of increased obesity , Kids social interaction skills etc this was , 1 of the reasons why I wrote the article , Why Cricket is dying I would love you to read and post your thoughts , Steve thanks for a enjoyable nostalgic read !

    bloody video games , kids safety etc which in it’s own way results in further problems obesity , Social interaction skills

  2. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Sorry for last bit above my mistake and bloody ,I pad

  3. Steve

    Great great read.

    I am an advocate of running wicket myself. No LB in tippity too of course.

    Once saw a mate of mine make 100 in the ten minute afternoon play period at primary school, kid could do anything in street cricket too.

    The Last Starfighter and Ivan’s midday movie, good good memories

    Happy Xmas too

    Sean

  4. Steve Baker says

    Too true Malcolm, would love to see more street cricket (and footy) games around the ‘Burbs being played. Maybe the new ‘burbs and cul-de-sac’s aren’t conducive to street games?

  5. Steve Baker says

    Dang Sean!

    I forgot no LB on tippity and Six and out as part of the S.S.S.C.A charter of rules! Although six and out is pretty much universal. We also had the if you hit it over the fence, you went and got it.

    A ton in ten minutes? Sounds like T20 came 20 years too late for that bloke!

  6. Oh “roofs & flats” man that gives me flashbacks to days when the SS was tossed over zealously in the air and you had to watch you weren’t clocked in the head before it even began. +1 for tippity and any wicket (which always made it tough when judging turnouts when thrown down at opposite end of runner) … Not sure about Sandpiper street but we also had a “one hand on-the-full” rule for ricochet catches off any road furniture, fence or unfortunately parked car. Tape balls were also abandoned after inflicting too much damage on the old school galvanized bins that used to grace our neighborhood … None of this hipster color coded recycled plastic numbers we get allocated nowadays … Thanks for the trip down memory lane

  7. Steve,

    I can hear Kerry O’Keefe chortling in the background saying something like: It sounds like Jamie Degenhardt never scored a nuts hit on you in an SSSCA match as you seem to still have alyaknackers!

    And for that, if for no other reason, let’s all have a Merry Christmas!

  8. Ah yes Samma, We tried one hand on the full for a while, but it never caught on for some reason. Tape balls were tried, also, but the bat dominated the S.S.S.C.A, so more time was spent re-applying the plumbing tape to the ball than actual game time!

  9. Well played Ian! Skull would have loved playing alongside JD. A ‘man’s’ cricketer – had no fear and was impossible to out-sledge. At 14 years of age, no less walked the walk, talked the talk. P Degenhardt vs J Degenhardt was like Ali/Foreman. The Selwood backyard was nothing compared to 13 Sandpiper Street.

  10. Luke Reynolds says

    Very entertaining Steve, great read about the great game in a very pure form. Enjoy your break over the Xmas/New Year period, it’s a great time to have off with the Melbourne and Sydney Tests on.

  11. Mickey Randall says

    Backyard/beach/street cricket unites us all. Brilliant piece! Apart from the incident featuring the shotgun, lots of familiar characters and stories here. I really enjoyed it.

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