Not just cricket – a new life of writing

This is my last post on this blog. I hope you will follow me on my new writing site at yvettehollings.com instead, where I will be sharing stories on a broad range of topics and building on my freelance portfolio. Below is the first post from that site.

A new journey begins.

I’ve got a plan. That doesn’t sound like anything so very extraordinary: millions of people around the world have plans, and thousands of them will be far more successful than I in executing them. But for me it is a big thing, as I approach my mid forties, that I finally have a plan for my life. True, it’s pretty vague – my aim is to help grow the sport I love so that the lives of more people across the planet can be enriched by it. Writing is one of the tools in my armoury, so I’m on a mission to improve my skills, get published, build networks and raise my profile.

To be clear – it’s not as though I’ve been sitting miserably in a dark closet for the whole of my life to this point. I’ve done many rewarding and enjoyable jobs. I’ve volunteered with some wonderful not for profits and community groups. I’ve lived in and travelled to many different and inspiring places. I’ve been moderately successful and learned so much along the way and met hundreds of great people. But I didn’t really plan any of it or have an idea of what I was aiming for – I drifted to wherever the current whim took me and made the best of what I found.

In my forty-first year, I discovered the thrill and joy of cricket and a new love affair began. Like billions of people in the world, I used to think cricket was boring: Test cricket in particular was a waste of five good summer days. I can’t explain precisely what happened to transform me into a cricket tragic, or why it happened; but I can pinpoint the exact moment I hit the point of no return.

It was July 2013, the start of the back-to-back Ashes series. Australian debutant Ashton Agar, who was a surprise addition to the team for the first Test and chosen for his spin bowling, scored 98 runs with the bat when his country was on the way to an embarrassing innings total and he was the last batsman onto the field. Supported by the late Phillip Hughes at the other end, nineteen-year-old Agar punished England’s best bowlers, who had just made a mess of Australia’s most experienced batsmen.

How could this sport be boring? One relative nobody turned an international sports match on its head. One unforeseen saviour raised the hopes and spirits of his broken team and their despondent fans. This was something that demanded my closer attention. I set about learning more about cricket after that – read, listened, watched, wrote, volunteered for a club, talked about it with anyone who could tolerate my incessant questions, and even eventually learned to play.

Then in early 2015 I read Tim Albone’s book Out of the Ashes: the remarkable rise and rise of the Afghanistan cricket team. When Taj Malik returned to his native Afghanistan post-9/11 from the refugee camp in Pakistan that had been his home for decades, he had two ambitious goals: to establish a national cricket team, and for that team to reach the Cricket World Cup. He’d learned to love cricket in Pakistan but the sport was practically unknown in Afghanistan, it certainly wasn’t organised or structured. The message he used to gain political support for his ambition, and which has subsequently inspired the team, is that cricket is a way to rebuild the nation’s identity. Albone writes: “The players know Afghanistan has a reputation centred on war, drugs and violence, but they want to play their part in changing minds. They want to show the world that Afghans are civilised, can play by the rules, can integrate and can compete.”

By the time I was reading the book, it was clear that they had succeeded and I was about to see the proof with my own eyes – I had tickets to watch their match against Australia in the 2015 World Cup at the WACA. This extraordinary story completely changed my view of the value of cricket, and was the catalyst for me deciding that I want to play a part in sharing, or even helping to create, stories of similar belief, courage, hope and transformation through cricket.

Along the way, I will be writing about things other than cricket too. My eclectic life til now is reflected in my interests: the outdoors, travel, music, reading, sport, keeping physically and mentally healthy, nature conservation, social enterprise, volunteerism, regional development, and anything that helps to make the world a better place. Everyday people with inspiring stories that demand to be shared are a particular passion.

I’m looking forward to this journey, and I hope you will join me.

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The summer I learned to love 20/20

BBL|01 was not even remotely on my radar.

When BBL|02 came along, I was barely in my cricket-tragic infancy.

By the time BBL|03 hit, I was so Ashes-infused and excited about finally understanding the appeal of Test cricket that I struggled to get excited about ODIs, let alone some ridiculously short pretend version of the game for the attention-span-challenged who wouldn’t or shouldn’t call themselves real cricket fans. Yes… I was that snobbish.

So what changed in the summer of 2014-15?

IMG_5626It started really with becoming a WACA member, and then learning that Beck, a good friend of mine, was keen to join me there for a match. The first occasion we could manage was Boxing Day – a BBL|04 Scorchers v Renegades showdown.

We had both felt deeply affected by the death of Phillip Hughes a month earlier, and thought it might prove a healing experience – a chance to get back to enjoying our cricket without fear. Plus with Beck being from Melbourne, and me a proud West Aussie – it seemed a sound basis for a good day out.

IMG_5622Although the run chase was less than inspiring, because Renegades were never really in with a chance, I did come away from that game with a whole new appreciation. Being part of the jubilant crowd that cheered on Klinger as he smacked a six from the last ball of the Scorchers innings, to launch himself over the magic ton mark, particularly imprinted itself upon me. The presence of more families and kids than I’d ever seen at a match before, and the Scorchers’ commitment to sign as many autographs as were needed and to pose for endless photos at the end of the match, also told a compelling story. It was clearly fan and family orientated – a real treat.

On my return home, I didn’t really think that much more of it. I made more of an effort perhaps than I would have ordinarily to catch subsequent games on TV, aided by the fact my housemate was away for the next fortnight and there was no competition for my attention or the remote control.

And before I knew it I was hooked! It helped having Beck and her hubby Craig on the other end of a near constant sms stream most games, as we marvelled at the close run chases, rued missed opportunities and revelled in the success of favourite players. And once my housemate returned, she also got drawn into the web of BBL|04 appreciation.

I even grew a soft spot for KP, thanks to his frequent appearances in the commentary box and his inane giggle. I felt strangely compelled to buy his book after one particular game where he famously had a little chat with Punter… And the fun and antics of the fabulous Freddie Flintoff – well, what’s not to like?

I’m still mightily fascinated by the extraordinary ratio of pink shirts among the male media commentators. Not that there’s anything wrong with pink. There was clearly a very strong directive from wardrobe on the colour palette that was acceptable for the commentary room – pastels all the way, unless you were wearing a pink shirt in which case any shade would do.

As the pointy end of the competition approached, I found myself thinking that I didn’t actually care too much who would win, so long as the remaining games were close and hard fought matches. Scorchers were still top of my list, with Stars a close second, but if a good team was to beat either of them I wouldn’t have been too disappointed, so long as it was a good match. And I wasn’t disappointed in any case.

When the Scorchers earned a home semi, I made a last minute decision to head down to Perth and take my brother Damon to the game – he’s not particularly a cricket fan, but he didn’t mind a day out doing something different.

Such a photogenic family!

Such a photogenic family!

I hadn’t thought he’d really taken that much in on the day beyond how impressive the technology powering the big screens was (he’s an electronics tech wizard!) – it was more of a chance for us to catch up over a beer or four – but when the final rolled around I discovered he was watching it too with his workmates at the local pub. The experience really seemed to be a bit contagious – helped no doubt by Scorchers’ exciting back to back victory.

So I find myself wondering is 20/20 the dumbing down of cricket for a modern audience or essential updating? In some ways, it can be seen as the equivalent of a Twitter version of Pride and Prejudice, or setting Beethoven to a nifty drumbeat. I haven’t worked out whether these fusions are destined to attract an audience that will never really understand the beauty and art of the original classic version; or maybe, just maybe, they could in fact be the hook that inspires a whole new journey of discovery and appreciation of the traditional genre. For cricket’s sake, I’m hoping it’s the latter.

But I haven’t spent too much time thinking about it to be honest. For now what matters is I’m a fan, and happy to shout it out loud. BBL|05 – bring it on!

Raw cricket

IMG_5907Raw. That’s the only way I can describe domestic first class cricket.

Played in the same major grounds that host international matches, but with only the tiniest number in the stands to soak up the action and compete with the sounds of the middle, you hear and feel everything so much more keenly.

Every grunt of exertion, every shout or clap of encouragement or groan of disappointment, every slap of ball on bat, or thud of ball hitting pads, guards or helmet.

Even great performances feel all the more raw for the inevitably modest recognition from the small crowd.

I love it.

For a newbie to the world of cricket like me, it offers a much better opportunity to watch and analyse and try to understand the game. There’s less distraction, from fans and big match theatrics alike. Less likelihood of feeling overwhelmed by the occasion and finding the action passes in a blur. Plus I’m 100% more likely to be able to get a seat end-on to the wicket where my dodgy eyes have a much better chance of following the ball.

My first experience of live professional cricket was a Sheffield Shield match at the MCG in 2013. My latest and current is one of the same series in the current season but at the much more modest WACA ground. Both equally enticing and enjoyable.

Even rain breaks have their charm. It gives some time out to reflect, catch up on other concurrent matches, do some writing or reading or just go for a walk and stretch the legs.

I love it how the birds take over when the rain sets in at the cricket. They started poking around the western end of the field as soon as the ground staff came out to cover the pitch and square this afternoon. Once the humans’ work was all done, the birds descended on the white square themselves to inspect the work of the ground crew.

It reminded me of my first match experience at the MCG and my great surprise at the audible bird life within the stadium right throughout play. I was later to learn that even at the Boxing Day Test you can hear and see them – they’re a hardy bunch over in the cold state.

As a proud Western Australian, of course I would love for the Western Warriors to win this match against the NSW Blues and gain a home final. But if I’m totally honest, I don’t actually care too much.

It’s not that often that I get to travel down from Geraldton to Perth to enjoy first class matches. So I ask only for a good match, a close match, with plenty of interest. And not too much rain.

I hope the cricket gods are listening.

More than a Warnerist moment

“… not sure what the guy’s name is, but he got up to about 140/145 clicks and was bowling yorkers, and um, it surprised Smithy a bit, but I thought he bowled pretty well towards the end of the power play …”

Another example of David Warner in full flight, this time in the press conference following Australia’s game against Afghanistan in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015. To be followed up shortly afterwards by a half apologetic but mostly dismissive “look I can’t say his name, I don’t know it – it’s too hard to pronounce.”

It would be easy to just dismiss it as another Warnerist moment, shake ones head, and move on. However the reaction of his captain sitting beside him – always telling I find when duos tackle press conferences – underlines why Associate teams are always going to be pushing the proverbial uphill as they battle to improve their performance and prospects.

Credit to Clarkey – it can’t be easy sitting next to Warner at times like this. Clarke knew how wrong his words were, but the shake of the head and smile and show of embarrassment to me had a subtext of “we’re all thinking that mate, but you can’t just go ahead and say it, not here”.

Why should Australian players know the names of a team they played once previously, in 2012; who they might play once more in another 2-3 years? There simply is no imperative for a team like Australia to spend too much brain space on a team like Afghanistan. Lucky for Warner.

It’s symptomatic of the amount of exposure that up and coming, ambitious and deserving Associate teams like Afghnistan get to top performing international teams – the kind of exposure that could help them to lift their game, raise their standard, and to feel more comfortable in arenas like the World Cup. 

More regular exposure to top tier teams would surely result in more competitive games, more followers for those Associate countries, and the growth of international cricket. What’s not to like about that?

It seems however that it’s all just a bit too hard. Like pronouncing foreign names. What a shame for the world of cricket.

Making sense of it

I’m not sure I have any right to be so profoundly sad. It’s not as if I knew him, or even knew that much about him. I can’t even say I watched him play very much. But the injury to and death of Phillip Hughes whilst playing cricket has affected me more than I can understand.

It made me feel physically sick when I first learned of his injury. And that’s without seeing any video footage, which I decided I simply didn’t need or want to see.

On learning that he had passed away, I cried: not in floods, but there were tears I couldn’t hold back. That’s more than I did when I learned that my nanna had died in 2012, or when a close friend of the family died after a protracted illness a couple of years before that. And the tears have returned each time I read more of Phillip’s story, or the cricket world’s reactions.

Perhaps it was the sudden-ness. The shock. The sense of injustice that someone so young with everything to live for could be gone in a split instant through a freak accident. No fault to be laid at anyone’s feet. No time for goodbyes. No time to prepare.

The ripples have already spread far and wide. I am clearly not alone in this. I can’t remember hearing before – even on the death of Princess Di, and I was living in England at the time – so many people (men particularly) openly talk about crying following the death of a public figure.

As many others have observed, I suspect what’s at play here is the stark reminder of our own mortality, and our relative lack of control over when or where or how our time is up. If someone so young, healthy, talented, determined and gritty as Phillip Hughes, living in a relatively safe country and surrounded by good people, can still be beaten by a freak accident, so can we all.

It gets you thinking…

Do I tell the important people in my life often enough that I love and care about them?

Am I making the most of my time here on earth, both for my personal sense of achievement and for making the best contribution I possibly can to the local and global community?

How am I going with those dreams I had as a child?

I reckon I’ve got some work ahead of me.

If any good can come from this, perhaps it is that there will be a heck of a lot more people thinking more carefully about their lives, and perhaps making some conscious changes that could improve their own happiness and benefit the broader community too. And hopefully a lot more people, men especially, willing to openly grieve and to support each other in that.

putoutyourbatsI have never been more than a backyard or beach cricketer, and I don’t even have a proper cricket bat to my name, but here is my #PutOutYourBats contribution.

Vale Phillip Hughes. RIP.

Feeling like I belong – the magic of membership

And I’m back!makes me smile

Bit of a break from the writing about cricket while some other stuff was going on, but now the Aussie season is getting back into swing I’m all fired up again.

It may have just a little something to do with recently becoming a WACA member and having just tripped down to Perth over the weekend to spend a couple of days in the members stands for the first Sheffield Shield match of 2014-15 season.

What a win for the WACA boys over the Tassie Tigers! I’m very sad for the lovely George though. Not a good start to his bid to make it back into the Aussie test team.

The lovely George wondering what to try next...

The lovely George wondering what to try next…

Saturday was just balmy – a beautiful warm day for my good friend Mel and I to spend having a beer or three, checking out a few different spots for cricket viewing, and a visit to the WACA museum too. Nice break from the kids for Mel, and nice change for me to have company at the cricket!

Sunny, 29 degrees, beer, wine, kicking back watching some cricket - could it get better?

Sunny, 29 degrees, beer, wine, kicking back watching some cricket – could it get better?

We both felt pretty chuffed to be there for Cameron Bancroft’s maiden first class ton – what a great job he did. Concentration did wane a bit in the second session, when it seemed like Tassie might never get another batsman out. But the third more than made up for it, with a steady tumble of wickets once the dominant Bancroft – Voges partnership of the second session was broken. So by the end of the day, although WA was clearly in the box seat, it did feel like there was a fight on at least.

As we were leaving, we shared the stairs down from the members’ bar with none other than WA coach and ex Aussie batsman Justin Langer. He even smiled and offered us a “Nice day for it” greeting. I tried to be cool about that and make a half decent reply, but suspect I failed!

It’s actually the second time I’ve had a close encounter with Langer on those very stairs – the first being when I did a really enjoyable guided tour of the ground in March this year. On that occasion, he and I did that little dance where we both tried to step out of each other’s way, only to get more in each other’s way. To be honest, it was only afterwards I realised who he was.

Later in the tour we had checked out the players rooms, only to encounter the boys just come in from a final training session before they headed to Queensland for their day-night Shield match, one of the last of the season. They were really friendly and we had a decent chat with one of the young guns, and with Captain Adam Voges.

And that is my overriding impression so far of the WACA team and scene – lots of friendly people, and very down to earth. The folks in the membership office were great. No one got grumpy with me (well not that I noticed!) for moving about a lot – I was a bit restless and keen to check out as many different areas as I could. I’m afraid I only remembered part way through about the etiquette of cricket spectating!

The bar was a little bit lacking unfortunately – super friendly staff, but disappointing that a good number of things on the menu weren’t available. I wonder is it so hard to put out a special menu for the smaller matches when, understandably, it makes sense to offer fewer choices?

Post cricket cocktails - perfect end to a gorgeous day out.

Post cricket cocktails – perfect end to a gorgeous day out.

Anyway, that aside, it was a great day. So much so I decided to go back Sunday to catch another couple of sessions before I had to start the long drive home.

I suspect that’s going to be the flavour of my summer from here on in.

That winning feeling – and inspiration

Intoxicated.

It’s the only way I can describe the way I feel since I became a die-hard cricket fan.

There are moments where I grin broadly for no reason that would be apparent to anyone around me – I’m sure many have thought I must be a crayon short of a box at times.

There has also been many a sleepless night, plenty of distraction from what I should have been doing at work, inexplicable energy for all things cricket at moments when I would normally be feeling destroyed, and I’ve driven everyone I know mad by talking about cricket incessantly.

I guess it’s a lot like being in love…

It’s not even all about the winning – I’ve been feeling odd in this way on and off since Ashton Agar’s record-making Ashes debut innings in July, all through that challenging Ashes series in England and it hit full swing by the Gabba Test in November. I’ll admit it’s intensified since then with the extraordinary success of our boys.

Taking a break from the heat day 3 to check out the view from the MCG rafters - watching Milo Kids girls doing their thing.

Taking a break from the heat day 3 to check out the view from the MCG rafters – watching Milo Kids girls doing their thing.

Only now, at the ripe age of 40 do I finally understand the joy of being a sports spectator, of  getting caught up in the fortunes of a favourite team and captivated by the complexities of the game.

If I’m honest, I’ll recognise it as another form of my favourite pastime, which til now had mostly presented in the form of obsessively watching and re-watching favourite period dramas, or devouring historical documentaries.

I speak of course of escapism.

Mitch Johnson takes time between balls to sign countless signatures for fans young and old.

Mitch Johnson takes time between balls to sign countless signatures for fans – what a come back he’s made! Super inspiring.

Going crazy in the MCG crowd on Sunday when Chris Rogers achieved his maiden test century on Australian soil – and at his adopted home ground no less – will be a moment of joy frozen in time that remains with me for many years to come, a moment when I thought of nothing else.

It will probably inspire countless crazy-woman random grins as I recall that excitement, the charge in the air and my completely unguarded happiness at witnessing first hand this achievement by one of my favourite players – and ideally this life-affirming recollection will return to me again and again at times when I most need it. That achievement of a hard fought goal by a grafting, modest and down to earth person is particularly special to me.

Similarly I imagine I’ll also recall the memory of those English wickets falling steadily to Lyon to give him his first 5fer on Aussie soil Day 3 – amidst the madness of rubbish flying around the great cauldron after the abrupt cold change swept through, whipping up the on-field tempers in the process; and that final boundary shot by Watson to seal the eagerly anticipated win at the end of Day 4. I even found the spectacular fall of Aussie wickets on Day 2 strangely enthralling: the way a long form game can shift so suddenly is a great revelation to me.

We all need something to smile about. And I seem to have found cricket, finally, and made it a key part of that armoury that provides a source of joy and escape from the everyday.

Early on in 2nd session day 4 - Rogers waits for yet another long Cookie conference between overs. But the ton still came!

Early on in 2nd session day 4 – Rogers waits patiently for yet another long Cookie conference between overs. But the ton still came!

I’d be lying if I said it was all smiles and happiness. There are moments that have made me angry or frustrated – the poor behaviour of some of the crowd; time wasting such as in the last session of this Boxing Day Test when Cookie tested everybody’s patience with his lengthy conferences between overs, which only delayed the inevitable; learning the uncomfortable truth of the brutal sledging which is apparently common on field. Frankly, I’d rather just not know! Turn off those stump mikes. Call me a girl…

Aussies in the nets before the start of day 4 - inspiring hundreds of families there as well.

Aussies in the nets before the start of day 4 – inspiring hundreds there as well.

At the end of the day though, the intoxication of being so inspired to learn, to grow and have new experiences is a state of being that I wouldn’t give away for anything.

Who knows, it may even inspire me to start playing sport. Now that would be even more life changing.