Seasons in the Sun (Part 8): Gathering Clouds

I will not go down under the ground
‘Till somebody tells me that death’s coming round
And I will not carry myself down to die
When I go to my grave my head will be high
Let me die in my footsteps before I go down under the ground.

‘Let Me Die In My Footsteps’, Bob Dylan

Of course cricket is only a game. You don’t need to tell that to the mighty Lower Plenty Thirds.

But the fact that it’s a game doesn’t diminish it’s scope of possibility or what it means to so many people.

Consider this: in Australia’s recent history the outpouring of emotion and empathy following Phil Hughes’ death has exceeded that of any politician, actor, celebrity or musician. A young man has died and millions of people around the world have rallied around his family and friends, doing their best to ease their grief and shock. How many families suffer on their own when they lose a family member?

I listened to Michael Clarke’s heartbreaking press statement as I drove to Mill Park on Saturday morning. It was true, inspiring and courageous and captured the feelings of a country. Wonderfully, people have all looked to find their own way of paying their respects to Phil Hughes. The #putoutyourbats campaign was a fine gesture that allowed people to offer their thoughts to the Hughes family. The North Eltham players of the Under 16s match I umpired on Friday night made the number 63 with their bats and both sides stood around it for  a minute’s silence. Truck, the captain of Mill Park, asked The Benevolent Leader if he wanted to have a second minute’s silence at the 63rd over, to which he instantly agreed.

As we stand silently with our heads bowed, Truck takes the duties of making a quick speech.

“We’re gathered here to play cricket, which we all love. Phil Hughes played cricket with passion, heart and integrity and he played it to the highest level in Test cricket.

“I would like to see this game played with aggression, as Phil played it, but with enjoyment and fun as well.

“I saw a photo of Phil batting with Don Bradman yesterday. I’m sure that somewhere he is continuing that innings and that he’s looking down on us today.”

Truck is right: Phil Hughes’ death is a tragedy but perhaps the best way we can pay our respects is by demonstrating the love of cricket that we shared with him.

The Leader wins the toss and elects to bat. The Charmer and Wellsy pad up while the rest of us quietly file over to the boundary fence and lean our bats upon it, caps resting on top of the handles. Everyone does so without the slightest reminding – it’s a genuine gesture. Cricket gives us an outlet in which we can display unity in the face of tragedy.

We all silently help each other put on the black tape that Bronty had brought.

“I need a fair bit of tape these days,” chuckles AT as the tape pushes his immense biceps.

Today, the Thirds have lost Mantis and Steansy to the Twos and Jacko to Stereo. Replacing them are Maestro and Josh, 14 and 16 year olds who hit 101 and 61 respectively with the Fourths, and Syed.

Syed brings the final important piece to the bowling line up of the mighty Thirds – a hellfire fast bowler who can take wickets quickly and repeatedly. He is also another example of cricket’s importance outside of merely being a sport. Syed and Amin, who is playing in the Twos, came out to Australia from Afghanistan. Amin had never played with a hard ball and was more used to dusty streets than synthetic pitches but he soon made the Firsts.

Apart from The Charmer being given out lbw unceremoniously by Bronty, our innings sails on with ease. Wellsy and The Benevolent Leader toil to put on 179 before the Leader edges a slog to fall short of his maiden century – you can see the hurt in his eyes as he comes off.

“You dickhead,” laughs an unsympathetic Bronty. “You had the chance to get the monkey off your back…”

“Ooh, am I going to cop it at the clubbies,” sighs the Leader sadly.

Despite winning the competition batting award in 1994 as an opener, the Leader has never cracked the ton. Ex-teammates often greet him with, “Made a century yet? Oh wait…”

“I was surprised that bloke bowled,” says Charmer. “He said he was injured.”

“Well, he got me out,” grumbles the Leader.

Charmer pauses. “Oh. Sorry.”

The Leader’s mood isn’t improved by the news that Heata brings via the Team App. “Catesy’s taken seven!”

Catesy – the man that the Leader forgot on selection night last match – will be sure to remind him of his blunder again tonight.
“Apparently Catesy captained once when it was 40o. He won the toss, decided to bowl and they went for 360.”

That cheers the Leader up a bit.

With a pull through midwicket Wellsy reaches his ninth century with Lower Plenty and his seventeenth overall. DK and Heata, two of the showier umpires to ever take the field, get down on one knee and execute a synchronised four signal as we all stand and cheer for him. He continues to hit the ball to all spots of the ground, looking as unruffled and at ease as ever. AT’s first five scoring shots race away to the boundary– he’s making the most of his brief breaks from being CEO of the Magistrates Court. He reaches his second fifty in two innings just as Mrs Maestro arrives.

“Is that Wellsy?” she exclaims.

“Yep,” replies Maestro as Wellsy finishes a hard run two.

“Has he got heatstroke?”

We’re all a bit confused by this and inquire further.

“Looks like he thinks he’s 17!”

Finally, Wellsy pushes a drive to cover and is out for 165, his second highest score.

“Hey Wellsy,” I call as he stiffly walks through the gate. “Are you up for the Twenty20 tomorrow in Vets?”

I’m quickly treated to a re-enactment of the ‘How-many-ways-can-Dr-Cox-say-no’ scene from Scrubs.

Wellsy can thank his doctor for his sudden increase in batting stamina.

“He got me cutting down on drinking for a month and a half,” Wellsy grumbles. “And he said he wanted to improve my liver rating.

“So I went in and he took the test and I was at a rating of 60, and he says, ‘We want to get it down to 55.’ I asked him what number he would be worried at…. and he said, ‘300’.

“A month and a half, I cut down for…”

Bronty makes a late entrance and scrounges two before stumps.

“I wanted to central umpire for you,” grins Charmer.

“Sure,” replies Bronty. “I’ll shuffle around the crease and not come forward.”

We post 351, but the focus of the day is still on Phil Hughes. We’ve all felt the shock and sadness of his death. But we got out there and played with the enjoyment that cricket is about. We live in a culture that treats sport very seriously. Sometimes, it makes us lose sight of what is really important. But sometimes it helps us all to realise what is important. That’s something to be thankful for.

Lower Plenty 4/351
Wellsy 165
AT 82
The Benevolent Leader 79

About Callum O'Connor

Here's to feelin' good all the time.


  1. Good one Callum. I always liked the idea that you compete ‘with” your opposition, not ‘against’ them. I remember an article about a US major league baseballer who went to the Japanese pro leagues at the end of his career. He hit a grand slam home run in the first innings, and the Japanese manager took him out of the game. The manager reasoned that a 4-0 lead was enough, and the corporate owned teams wanted to ensure that both groups of fans enjoyed the day.
    He said it took him a season to adjust from the competitive to collaborative mindset, where a 4-3 win was better than 10-0.

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