Pavlov’s Duck

A bloke recently explained to me why it is that summers as a child seemingly stretched out forever, whilst in adult years they seem to fly past like Vettel passing Webber.

His logic is simple. For a four or five year old kid a year represents about 25% of their life, however for a fifty year old bloke a year is but 2%. Therefore in childhood a year, a month, a week or a day is hugely more significant. Perception is everything.

On the same logic a long session of crease occupancy in the backyard cricket matches during the 1970s seemed at the time to be as monumental a task as Dean Jones’ 210 runs in Madras in 1986, when in fact it was probably a game played between Tarzan finishing on the TV at 4.30 and mum yelling out “Dinner’s ready!” at 6.30. Two hours as a seven year old is comparable to a good part of the day when you reach your 47th birthday.

Nothing was more devastating for a young batsman trying to establish himself in the brutal pecking order of older and younger brothers than the sound of tennis ball on plastic rubbish bin early in your first dig. It was always followed by a loud “yesssssssss” as your successful older brother needlessly followed through from the clothes line (which was the bowling crease) all the way down the pitch with fists pumping like Dennis Lille after dismissing Ian Botham. The provocation was extreme.

During those long hot summers we would rise from our beds, consume a mountainous bowl of cornflakes with sugar sprinkled on top (which in turn meant frequent visits to the Chinese dentists in Watsonia) and then go to the back veranda to decide the batting and bowling for the morning’s play. Winning the right to bat first was exhilarating and petrifying. Exhilarating because you had the opportunity to get in and make the whole morning session your own; petrifying because your older brothers were fuelled up on cornflakes and sugar and would be steaming like Garth Le Roux.

Before each days play we would sweep and water the pitch. The sweeping was very necessary to rid the turf of the gum nuts that dropped from the surrounding gum trees. The watering of the pitch was more contentious. Often the decision to water was vigorously debated. The opening batsman was usually opposed on the grounds that it would give the bowlers unfair advantage. We were never sure why watering gave the bowlers an advantage but the experts on the TV and radio always said it meant the ball moved around more. We assumed the same logic applied to a tennis ball in the back yard.

The pitch was an interesting piece of ground. Originally it was a natural waterway. Not quite a creek bed, but a low in the ground that turned into a small Mississippi whenever there was substantial rain. Over the years our old man had hauled barrow after barrow of clay fill and dumped it onto this ground in an effort to cover over the water’s natural flow. The result was a lumpy, hard, gum nut infested track. We figured if you could make a hundred on this pitch then test cricket would be easy.

Our cricket matches were very psychological affairs. If Ivan Pavlov had spent a summer in our back yard he may have renamed his famous theory “Pavlov’s Duck”. It was all about destroying your younger brothers’ confidence before it had a chance to blossom. Brotherly love this was not. We sought out and ruthlessly exploited any perceived weakness in each other. The short ball was always popular, the bean ball wasn’t ever banned, and the rule that you couldn’t bowl your fastest to a brother until he turned five was strenuously adhered to. Four years and 364 days old meant bowling Doug Walters googlies; five years and one day meant Michael Holding express.

This psychological battle ground spread into continual on field sledging. We constantly reminded each other how vulnerable were we to a short lifting ball off the tree root outside off stump, or the leggie that pitched on leg and finished at first slip (probably hit a gum nut on the way through). But if the bowler strayed to leg stump he could be whipped through the garden at square leg and down to the Del Din’s fence for four. Then it was the batsman’s turn to mouth off with a very audible “great shot” or “keep bowling them there” comment.

As I got older I developed the idea that I could put fear into my younger brothers simply by calling myself “The Great Man”, named after my cricketing hero Viv Richards. I would stride to the crease with a running commentary for all to hear.

“And here comes The Great Man” I would say “He looks in magnificent shape and is ready for a big innings today”. I had the gum chewing of Viv down to a fine art, and the arrogant resting pose between deliveries mimicking Viv who lent on his bat like a bloke waiting at the bus stop. The ultimate arrogant act was to belt the ball into the pine trees at mid-on and not even bother to run, supremely confident in the knowledge that a four would be called.

But in the end nothing beat talent. I was always a pretty crap cricketer, susceptible to the ball moving away outside off. My brothers called me “The Shuffler”. As they got older and better at cricket (far better than me) they “worked me out”. By my late teens I rarely got past a score with a 2 in front of it. These games were an essential apprenticeship for life. Just when you think things are going well and all is in order you get a ball that rises sharply off a gum nut.

This summer will fly past. The last year has represented 2.08% of my life. Next year will represent 2.04%. The theory of ever diminishing returns.


About Damian O'Donnell

I'm passionate about breathing. And you should always chase your passions. If I read one more thing about what defines leadership I think I'll go crazy. Go Cats.


  1. Peter Flynn says

    You’ve made a hungover man laugh. You are a ‘Great Man’.

    Where else but Geelong could you have a dentist called Dr Blood.

    The aim is for 1%.

  2. John Butler says

    Dips, first time I met you I was struck by the Viv resemblance.

    The savagery of sibling games in the backyard has been a bedrock of Aussie cricket: Harveys, Chappells, Waughs.

    A tough school.

  3. Great read, Dips.

    As a kid, I used to pull my collar up in the back yard and adopt the stance of Kim Hughes.

    This goes a long way to explaining why I cried like a little bitch after being dismissed just short of a maiden backyard half-century.

  4. Skip of Skipton says

    Where Riverside Dve, Field St and Lynch St intersect in Narooma was our ‘backyard’ cricket pitch. A good acre or so of land that was nice and flat with a mown strip in the middle for a pitch. (it’s still there, Google Street View it). In the summertime around ’78-’82, that was were it was at. Not just local kids; their parents too. Three 20-something dope-smoking dole-bludging hippie dropouts who lived in a house up near the marina were keen participants also. The only con was a drainage canal up one end that was full of slime and sludge and stunk. You’d occasionally have to fetch the ball out of there. This was a golden era for cricket, and backyard cricket. To think it was 30 years ago!?

  5. Thanks Dips.
    I am sure I am not the only one to read this
    and have the memories come flooding back.

  6. Funnily enough I have also explained away the phenomenom of hastening years using the same logic in the past. Makes sense to me!
    As for backyard cricket, it would be fair to say that Crio would have benfited from the advanced technology on display these days in regards to LBW calls.

  7. Budge,
    These days we’d have practised spot betting and set spread margins. Doubt we’d have got around to starting before lunch!

    Great when family names are generational…look at the Bulls from Wednesday night. Billy the Kid’s boy, Alistair McDermott, played. So too did a Gannon and a Paulsen…are they the lads of Sam and Bob from yesteryear? There were other great sporting names, too, in their side that I know were not “relative” – Broad (not Stuey), Dunk (not Billy) and (ahem) Reardon.

  8. Great read, Dips.

    Heading back home from my university lodgings this weekend and I look forward to reliving my childhood backyard games with my slightly more testosterone-filled brothers.

    We used to write out our favourite XI and we’d have to bat with each batsman’s mannerisms as the wickets fell. My favourite was Gilly. It wasn’t Mum’s (had much to do with Gilly’s long handle and the line of windows at cover and point).


  9. Keiran – I remember my university days……………………..just.

    Good luck this summer.

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