My Mate Dave

 

The phone call came on a Saturday morning.

 

The car had run off the country road and crashed.

 

As I drove the short distance from home to the school cricket ground I kept thinking, “That was Dave’s brother Glen on the phone and not Dave”.

 

And I kept telling myself that what Glen had just told me couldn’t be true. I cranked the car radio up loud and Paul Simon’s “The Boxer” blasted out. And now, whenever I hear the song I think of that day. The lyrics are not all totally relevant to Dave, but some of them are.

 

I am leaving, I am leaving but the fighter still remains

 

There was something of a fighter in Dave, particularly when his eyes bore into you with that steely gaze. And there was also something very gentle.

 

As he did every week in the cricket season, David had prepared three ovals and three pitches for Saturday matches. He had help from his workmates but as we all knew, the responsibility was down to Dave. As usual, the surfaces had been prepared to the high quality we had come to expect from Dave in his skilled and absolutely reliable manner.

 

Two of the ovals stand alongside one another at the school. As I arrived, a Year 8 cricket match started on the Main oval and a softball match was playing on part of the other ground. I walked out onto the second ground and stood on the wonderful pitch that Dave had prepared in the days before.

 

And the tears came.

 

I watched the young cricketers running up and down the Main Oval in earnest endeavour. I watched the young softball players running over the grass that Dave had so carefully mown the day before. Because Dave did things properly. He didn’t just drive the tractor rapidly around the oval in circles like some. I looked at the slips cradle over by the practice wickets where Dave and his young son had sat together watching the cricket on a Saturday morning two weeks previously.

 

I looked at all these things.
And I asked why?
I did not have the answer to that question.

 

Later that day an Old Collegian batsman would score a double century on the pitch Dave had prepared. Where I had been standing. Probably the highest individual score by a batsman on the ground. It was totally fitting that it should be done on this particular day. The batsman is a student of the game with a passion for cricket detail – and he always appreciated Dave’s wickets. And Dave would have been pleased too. Because Dave always checked the Sunday paper to see how many runs had been scored on his pitches– a high total meant that the wickets had played truly.

 

When Dave started working at the school it soon became obvious that he was a very good curator. He did not have a piece of paper with qualifications. He had the knowledge in his head. He had a passion for cricket pitches and turf, and growing grass from bare dirt. He was a perfectionist in his approach with an intense desire to get things right; scarifying pitches, re-laying turf on bare patches, rolling and cross-rolling, using fertilisers as required and organising oval watering patterns. The immediate result of Dave’s toil was a spectacular improvement in the standard of the centre wicket area, the practice pitches and the turf cover on the oval. Sometimes, when people would tell him how good his wickets were, he would look at them as if to say, “Do you really mean that?” And they did.

 

It was my job to liaise with Dave concerning pitch preparation. Often this meant catching up on the run between lessons or at lunch-time. On many occasions he would be driving the huge, antiquated, noisy roller up and down the pitch. My arrival meant Dave would have to stop the engine because we couldn’t hear one another over the noise. This meant some inconvenience for Dave because the roller was more than a little temperamental and he could never be sure how long it would take to get the expletive deleted thing started again. But Dave always stopped, and climbed down. After our discussions the roller would be restarted, eventually. There would be much cranking and swearing from Dave, the roller would splutter and cough into life again. I have this lingering mental image of Dave, engulfed in a purple-blue haze of unburnt petrol fumes, mouthing words at me, ”You bastard, this is all your fault”. When Dave did get the roller going he made it hum. The sound has been different ever since.

 

Dave and I became friends. Apart from the odd occasion, we did not see one another socially away from the work place but nevertheless we established a firm friendship. We would chat to one another, standing by the roller, out at the practice nets or over at the green maintenance shed that was his base. After we had completed the cricket planning discussions, we would talk about many things. And Dave loved to talk.

 

In the clearing stands a boxer and a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down
Or cut him till he cried out in his anger and his pain

 

Dave told me about his life, and I told him about mine, and our friendship blossomed and my admiration grew. And we laughed together. Dave told me how, at a time when he was just drifting along in his life, he took a job with the local suburban Council and worked at one of the ovals, and how he then came to be put in charge of the pitches.

 

“What do I do now?” he said to himself.

 

What he did do was stick his head over the fence of the neighbouring bowling green and ask the greenkeeper to teach him about how he could make the turf grow and produce a better wicket.

Dave also talked about his family. Now and then, during the holidays or at weekends, his three young children would appear at the school with Dave, to “help” him. And his love for and enjoyment of his children was always obvious.

 

Dave and his family moved to the nearby country and he would commute to work each day. The high standard of his work continued. A plan mapped out to eradicate kikuyu from the square, dealing with pesky cockatoos, refurbishment of the practice nets and so on. At the morning break, Dave would generally sit and quietly listen to the conversation of the other workmates. But, as one said, when Dave warmed to a topic, he really let you know all about it.

 

The evening before the fateful day, Dave and I stood out near the Main oval pitch just after he and his fellow groundsman had finished their preparations for the weekend of sport.

 

And the wicket was magnificent.

 

Dave told me of his plans for the next month or so, of his preparations for the forthcoming annual three-day match with a rival school. Dave always saw this as the real challenge and test of his ability as a curator. He pointed to the strip of turf he was going to prepare for his first international match, between the Australian and England U19 teams to be held the next month. The school had secured the right to host the match, confident that Dave was equal to the task of preparing a pitch of high quality. Despite the fact that Dave was no longer with us, these matches did go ahead, because the foundation he laid was sure and true.

 

As we stood there in the late afternoon, Dave laughed as he recalled the antics of the SAPSASA Primary school cricketers who had used the pitch earlier in the week. And he was really pleased to hear that arrangements were under way for his son’s country cricket team to visit the school to play a game on one of Dad’s pitches in the last week of term.

 

Dave was a very humble man. He was a great person and although he may not have realised it he was rich beyond measure. Not because of the money he made or the power he wielded or his social status, but because he was a loving husband and father, and he was prepared to work hard at making a contribution to his community. Because he was prepared to do his best with pride and dignity.

 

The wonderful pitches prepared by Dave were built on the foundation of his honest, diligent efforts. They were solid and reliable and the bounce was true. Just like Dave.

 

The shape of the road is the road
There is not some other road that wears that shape
But only the one
(Cormac McCarthy)

 

 

 

About Peter Crossing

Peter Crossing loves the pure 'n natch'l blues. A conflicted Crows supporter and former resident of Canberra, he has enjoyed the fact that GWS brought an exciting style of Australian football to the National capital. He is a member of the silver fox faction of the Adelaide Uni Greys.

Comments

  1. craig dodson says:

    A superb tribute Peter.

  2. Absolutely brilliant Noughts

  3. Colin Ritchie says:

    Poignant tribute to an obviously well-loved human being. Thanks for the reflection Peter.

  4. Peter Crossing says:

    Thanks for your comments Craig, young Malcolm and Colin. Much appreciated. .

  5. Michael Harry says:

    A beautiful tribute to a great character and friend.
    Wonderful detail in the description of the art of preparing a wicket.

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