Jiminy’s Cricket

Junior cricket is back this weekend. For three matches. And if the Marrickville Bats (yes, that’s the team’s name!) win all three, they’re in the finals. I wouldn’t have thought, this time last year, that I’d actually be looking forward to the first Saturday of the re-season.

*

Some time towards the end of last summer, father and son talked cricket. The AFL season was pending and a statement had been made by the youngster about early retirement from the sport. Father was canvassing other options. The local cricket team had a couple of training sessions left for the year. The coach is a dad at school, two of their players are friends. So the Cygnet was invited to train with the team to see if there might be some interest.

In my crystal ball I saw long, long Saturday mornings, our only sanctioned family day spent grounded in front of repetitive 6 ball lots. Hours of them. Baked under open summer skies, my skin colouring like the thirsty grasses of local council playing fields. I’ll do the cricket, said Dad. I’ll look after training and matches.

As the season loomed, Dad was overseas. I played a non-committal hand at diluting the idea – nothing active and argued, just the possible missing of the sign-up deadline, the possible fizzling of the impetus; I waited to see if the thirst was great enough that the Cygnet would come by himself to the trough and ask me to fill it with water.

He did. The email came through that the Under 12s had one remaining spot. And we registered.

*

Dad did the pre-season Wednesday nights. Except one. I arrived at the ground to the warm hand shake of one of the Dads (and the assurance of Saturday morning coffee runs) but stumbled on, into that space between a posse of sideline fathers and the single mother in attendance. I didn’t know where to sit. On the side-screen roller, aside the nets, behind the picket fence on the hill. Footy may have started this way too and I had joined in the training as escape. That ended in a Junior Coaching Card. It was too soon to study again!

Training was about aesthetics to me, but not those of skill and shape and length. Rather a photographic collage of fence, afternoon sun and whites. And I confess that, after the nets session, when small bodies departed to the middle of the oval for a practice match, I sat on the hill with the nesting birds and the off-leash beagle and rubbed Christian Dior cuticle cream into my nails.

The debut Saturday was hot at 8am, at a park sandwiched between highway and river, a single eucalypt to shelter twelve families. The gentle process of hello and approach was filtered through the readying of the kids, muesli bars and hydration, strapping of pads, application of sunscreen, fitting of helmets – this new artefact called kit bag. As the kids dispelled across the field, the seasoned parents loosened their fold-out chairs, and set them at the boundary with the Saturday papers. We laid our picnic blanket at the end of the row; we had much to learn.

 

The Marrickville Bats take to the field (pic: Mathilde de Hauteclocque)

The Marrickville Bats take to the field (pic: Mathilde de Hauteclocque)

 

The hours unfolded in conversation. We told our stories to each other, hand picked, growing in revelatory juice as the overs rolled past, our intros affordably lengthened by the nature of the game. Someone took the orders for coffee. I recognised one of the kids in our team from footy. I had coached him at the Newtown Swans, and here he was a bit more grown up and tucked into all white. His mum, Y, had held tea parties on winter footy training nights, the wind zipping off Botany Bay, the ground gone damp beneath us, she and a handful of other mums would set themselves in a ring with thermoses and cakes and warm themselves with chatter. A glance their way often made me second guess the participatory road. When I saw her son, A, again that morning, Y enquired of him whether he remembered me from AFL. Yeah of course, he said. She was the only mum who ever helped.

I did nothing that Saturday morning, except sit on my blanket and watch. I watched in wonder as Jiminy (I can’t call him the Cygnet in this context!) took to the field with only a handful of rehearsals under his belt, adjusting the box as he went, swinging his bat beside him as if he had any idea how to take on their fastest bowler’s second spell. He was walking out to talk his way through things, to make himself understood in a language he had not yet learned.

The Bats had a win that first morning. Jiminy scored 2 and took a wicket. An unexpected feeling of enjoyment followed me all afternoon. I notched it up as the tender satisfaction of seeing the lines of my child’s life experience extending in new directions, taking my own along with them.

*

I was a late 70s, 80s kid, one of two daughters to a Frenchman who had developed an unlikely passion for cricket. My mind’s eye can still picture the dossier of photocopied archival documents linking some northern region of France, an order of monks, an unorthodox version of croquet and the modern game of cricket. God knows where they were cooked up from. He would bring them out at dinners and flap their histories at his Anglo guests, insisting with a throaty strain that the game was a Gallic invention.

I recall our standard family Saturday lunches, when the kitchen telly would play the summer tests while we dissected the charcuterie and cheese. My mother, Diana, would question the telecast. She would question the game, the rules, the obsession, the point. One day, he turned to her at the end of lengthy explanations, his face pained and incredulous and without any other way to explain, he pleaded, ‘Bert creeeket is liyfe Diane!’

He would corral me and my sister, his proxy sons, on school holiday excursions to the SCG, thermos of French table red tucked under his arm, with the promise of ice creams and a way to fall in love with the game. He went for the cockatoo yellow; we went for the grey and maroon. We saw promise in the West Indian men. Holding, Marshall, Lara and …Courtney Walsh!

When I left home and fell in love with footy, Dad would call from time to time to discuss Australia’s cricketing fortunes. I no longer watched. He would invite me to appreciate some recent unlikely victory. I had no idea what it was. I saw little grace and beauty in the gum chewing mob of Ponting’s late noughties Australia. Plus I was seeing someone else, faster, wilder, better looking!

I wondered during those first couple of weeks of Jiminy’s career if I could fall into the rhythm of cricket again, the laconic distance between thwack and catch. Whether there was some residual love for the game.

*

At the end of October, two matches into the season, Dad went overseas for a month. I’ll do all the cricket. I heard the phrase, echoing back to inaudibility. Not a lot of cricket to be had in Seoul and Montreal.

The Cygnet had fancied himself as a batsmen after thrashing team mum and dad last year in a south coast new year’s day special on the flats of a low-tide Gerroa. But the first few training sessions had his bowling arm in the lead; he was a spin bowler, momentarily encouraged across to pace by the coach, but returned to his natural inclination after a single session. During the first ODI v South Africa, I texted an old friend that I had a young spinner beside me. He replied: Always good to have a spinner in the family. Although you’d better prepare him for disappointment. Worse than being a Tigers fan, worse than being a golfer … the list is long. The coach sent through a YouTube link before the next game, a Shane Warne tutorial on five spin deliveries. Jiminy watched it twice and decided his natural delivery was a wrong ‘un. Warnie suggested perfecting the leg break and the slider before the flipper. Jiminy announced he’d try the flipper at the next training.

The season carried us from cloudy matches by the river through 30+ mornings on the open heat of Lakemba fields. The coffee run brought mangoes that morning but I was dreaming of Lebanese sweets. Games proceeded from a kind pairs format to a real-world ‘out you’re out.’ The Bats held a practice match on the bye weekend in readiness. With points on hiatus, Jiminy scored 7 and carried his bat.

 

Scenes from the cricket pitch. (pic: Mathilde de Hauteclocque)

Scenes from the cricket pitch. (pic: Mathilde de Hauteclocque)

 

I learned to score! If my father could see the book, he would surely agree that the English invented cricket. I hunted Officeworks for a perfect erasable pacer which might allow me to account for the 6 deliveries of a bowler’s oval in a 1cm cube. I began to know the kids, their individual physicalities, the bounce of some, the lope of others, the tight groined strut of the star batsman—made to be an Australian cricketer. Week by week we took the signposts and habits of the game into our family story. I learned to wash whites, to spray and soak and resort to the long cycle. Everything about cricket is long cycles. And I lay back on Saturday mornings, still on my blanket, and admired the purity of the game—asymmetry and poise, the patient geometry of the field.

The satisfaction became more and more legible as the weeks clicked past. With footy I was the driver and Jiminy was the passenger. But with cricket, he is turning the cart himself and I sit alongside. It’s perfect timing, magically in sync with the changing nature of our relationship. His grandfather is desperately grateful for the hereditary sporting alliance that has finally shown up in the skipped generation.

*

We have experienced a more attentive and nuanced summer of cricket. A new hero has been found in the form of Smithy, not only a fine batsman and young captain, but a leg spinner! We have watched overs and overs of spin, enduring those last sessions of the final two tests, glued in quiet fascination to ‘possibly might happen.’

Dad’s done multiple holiday nets sessions. I’ve done a night at the Bashings—a sports match which seems to be all about an audience having maximum chance to experience themselves as audience, wearing cardboard buckets on their heads, jumping, snogging, with cricket to fill in the breaks—a precursor to the end of civilisation. We’ve purchased rimless sunglasses at great expense. Knowing my penchant for a certain subcontinental bowler, Jiminy convinced me with Mr Yadav wears them.

As the Bats prepare for the resumption of Season 14/15, the fold up chair is lying in the boot of the car. It has a drinks cooler built into in one arm. A Gray-Nicolls kit bag lives under Jiminy’s loft bed. The parents are preparing a training schedule for the annual end-of-season Parents v Kids clash. Veteran dad, D, assures me that we’re not letting the kids win anymore.

 

About Mathilde de Hauteclocque

Swans member since 2000, Mathilde likes to wile away her winters in the O'Reilly stand with 'the boys', flicking through the Record and waiting to see the half backs drive an explosive forward movement. She lives in Sydney and raises a thirteen year old Cygnet.

Comments

  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    As Richie would say, ‘Marvelous’.

    Mathilde, you’ve made a rookie error grabbing the scorebook, that’s a job for life.

    And the Bats is a better nickname than the alternative.

  2. Mathilde- I enjoyed your yarn of how family and cricket came together. Great stuff. As Swish has referenced Richie in his comment I’ll add that as a patron of cricket in France, where he has often resided in the Australian winter, he’d be thrilled with how this is turning out. He’d also be delighted with the flashback to your father’s passion for the game too. Thanks.

  3. Thanks M de H. I will be showing this to The Handicapper. Love your father. And the image of the single tree. And other elements as well.

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