Howzat? Kudos for Kids’ Cricket

By Glen Natalier


I live in Bichel country. Driving into the town of Laidley, in the fertile Lockyer Valley of Queensland, you will pass Bichel Oval. A little further on you can’t miss the sign advertising Kev Bichel – Painter. Go to church and you will probably see Colin and Anne Bichel and their family sitting across the aisle. And on the golf course one is likely to meet up with Bichels of various names. Look in the slim local white pages and there you will encounter eighteen Bichel entries. But most locals will agree that the most famous of the Bichel clan is Laidley’s favourite cricketing son, Andy Bichel – a many-times baggy green wearer, selector and present-day cricket coach.

Andy Bichel no longer lives here but his name and legacy live on. Bichel Oval, home of the local Blue Dogs Cricket Club, with its turf wicket, picket fence and well-grassed outfield is a quality country cricket venue. Cruise past on a summer Saturday and you are likely to see crisp, white flannels on the cool, emerald arena. Or stop for a few minutes and hear the thud of red ball on willow, the shout of Howzat? or the thunderous applause for a boundary well struck. Well, perhaps not thunderous, but the heartfelt applause of the few spectators who have accompanied their loved ones to the match.

Yes, cricket is still well and alive in Laidley. Let me share some of the excitement with you. The excitement which one can see on the faces of our next generation of Blue Dogs. Sit with me and watch the unfolding of an under-age cricket match.

I live opposite the High School oval, a large area, which has a cricket pitch in the middle of it. It is not well-tendered turf like that on Bichel Oval, but unforgiving concrete, greened and somewhat softened with an artificial carpet. During cricket season it is used for the district’s under-age competition. My office window overlooks the oval so I am able to avail myself of an air-conditioned, grandstand seat whenever I feel up to it.

Come eight o’clock on a Saturday morning and an official-looking chap arrives with an armful of witch’s hats. He surveys the scene and then proceeds to position the red and orange markers in an oval shape around the central pitch. The distance of the markers from the pitch varies from week to week. I would like to think that it varies according to which age group would be playing that day. I feel, however, that the distance is determined purely by the “official” laying out the field. But it is a job that must be done. Let’s face it. They do a similar thing at the MCG. Never used to though. Oh, for the days when an out-fielder could be impaled on a picket fence!!

But to get back to Laidley High School oval where in the meantime a few parents have arrived lugging packs of iron tubes and sheets of plastic covering. Their burdens grow, after a lot of discussion and considerable toing and froing, into temporary sun shelters. I often wonder why they ever bother with these for they are seldom used, and then only by the scorers. Most parent-spectators prefer the shade of the leafy trees which line one side of the oval. (Incidentally, it is these same trees that keep the warmth of the winter sun off my veranda!) And the nine year old cricketers and their younger siblings? One can’t expect them to remain sitting under a sun shelter when there is a large oval to run around on.

The players are now arriving, being driven to the venue by Mum or Dad, often both. One must admire the dedication of these parents in “sacrificing” their Saturday mornings to the cricket gods. And this often with a temperature of 35 degrees plus, and dripping humidity. Maybe Dad is, in this way, reliving his frustrated cricket career, or perhaps there is a secret hope of having parented another Andy Bichel.

The young teams are gathering, often with a girl member or two. A cursory glance reveals that these are no ragamuffin groups. No, indeed! Each player is fitted out in the team’s uniform – some solely white, but most adding a bright colour. Headwear, I am pleased to say, is always a necessity. I am a little sorry to say that at times it does lower the overall standard. Some have opted for a cap whose colour does not always match the team’s colours. Others sport a floppy white hat. Other white hats show obvious signs of starching to the brim. Then there is always a number of good, old straw hats – the farmer’s friend.

And their kit! I remember playing age cricket and the whole team had one bag of equipment, and not bulging with options either. I clearly remember on occasions to quickly take the pads off when given out so that the next batsman could quickly put them on. On other occasions ONE pad (on the leading leg) was considered sufficient. This policy cut down on LBW decisions. “You’ve got to hit the ball, Son! Not let it hit you.”

But these boys! Nearly every one of them comes out of the car struggling with his own cricket bag. It is as though the bag maketh the batsman. It seldom works that way!
The coin is tossed and the game begins. It’s great to see but at times a little embarrassing to watch.

These flannelled youngsters have obviously spent many hours watching their heroes on TV. Here is this young fellow, short, with the stumps reaching to his belly-button. He is walking back to his bowling mark – yes, they all meticulously mark out their run in – very intent, deep in concentration, flicking the ball from hand to hand Brad Hogg style. Clearly a learnt behaviour. He runs in, bowls and the ball misses the concrete strip. He eventually has the ball returned to him via four pairs of hands. Undeterred, still deep in concentration, he steps back to his bowling mark to deliver his next missile. One must admire the application of intent here.

Then there is the indispensable short mid-off whose main job is to relay the ball back to the bowler. Without fail he will rub the ball vigorously on his whites, turning the upper thighs brown. I’m not sure the well worn, no longer red ball responds at all to this treatment. I am sure however that his mother would disapprove of this pointless polishing.

And the sad-looking batsman who has been given out LBW. He looks hard at the umpire’s ominous finger, then down at his pads. He then lifts his bat and looks at that. Looks again at the umpire and slowly makes his way back to the team’s headquarters dragging his bat behind him, slowly shaking his head. All his actions have had their origin on TV.

At the raising of the umpire’s finger there would be joy unbounding for the fielding team. Players would converge from all corners of the field with congratulatory shouts and high fives and form a middle-of-the-pitch huddle. What is spoken there I have no idea.

These and many other scenarios from the big time are played and re-enacted during the four hours of intense competition. This isn’t just a game. This is a cricket match.
The game progresses. The players are enjoying themselves impersonating their TV heroes but actually playing cricket. Parents are happily chatting and enjoying a few beers from the esky before lunch. More importantly, they are showing family support to the youngsters.

Game ends and there is a rousing cheer from both sides. The players line up and an exchange of hand shaking follows. Then it’s time to pack up the gear bag, drag it back to the car and head off home.

The game for today is over, but not forgotten. Fred rues that rash shot that cost him his wicket. Alan is still annoyed that the other batsman called for a run which wasn’t there. He was just getting his eye in too. He will sure make more than five next week. Matt was excited that he was given a bowl. This will mean more practice in the back yard.

Each boy had his memory of the game he actually played. It’s great to watch the big-time players on TV and dream. They will keep doing that. But to be out on the hot field with the flies, friends and striking a hard, well-worn cricket ball with one’s own bat, that is something else. That is the real thing.

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