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.

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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.

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.

Turning English: learning to love live Ashes

I’ve always been fascinated by England. Well, as long as I can remember anyway.

Thinking super carefully, I can probably trace it back to my first day of grade seven, when Peter arrived at my primary school – new to town, tall dark and handsome with a cute English accent and brown leather sandals. I was smitten, and (nearly) all things English have caught my attention ever since.

I did eventually go out with Peter by the end of that year. But the start of high school after our blissful summer holiday saw us head off to different schools, cruelly divided by the major highway that runs through my home town and the school catchment areas dictated by it. Within a short time I was distracted by a crush on an older guy at my new school, and Peter and I eventually became virtual strangers.

Sadly my new crush – whom I never had any chance of even remotely being noticed by anyway – turned out to be a bit of a knob. (Actually, come to think of it, he reminds me a bit of Shane Warne – physically at least.)

But by then, it was too late. Peter had moved on. He’s now married to an older girl who lived down the road from my childhood home, who I was friends with through school. So for me the lovely Peter remains the proverbial one who got away…

And what has this got to do with cricket I hear you ask?

Well, I’m wondering whether the knob of an Aussie jerk who distracted me from that lovely English boy is my childhood crush equivalent of the Aussie Army compared to the Barmy Army.

Let’s just say that my first experience of live Ashes cricket at the MCG on the second day of the Boxing Day Test on Friday fell a little short of expectations!

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View from Day 2 seats… when Australia tumbled, and the Aussie Army rumbled.

Having bought the cheapest tickets possible and therefore ended up in a bay a little too square on, in a seat too far back and a lot too close to the Aussie Army bays, by the end of the day I was thoroughly embarrassed by the behaviour of that green and gold throng.

The number of people ejected from those bays (even if some probably were for dubious reasons) and the obnoxious and totally unnecessary chanting and taunting of the England players really upset me. As did the constant distractions from the on-field action – there were apparently fists flying on and off in that section for much of the third session, which I tried studiously to ignore but it was hard at times when there were so many rows of people in front standing up to have a gawk.

Call me a traditionalist, but I went to watch the cricket – not the police and security officers trying to control yobbos.

By comparison – although the Barmies are famously vocal and bullish about supporting their team, and do have some cheek about their taunts, I haven’t seen or heard them be anywhere near as insulting and obnoxious as the Aussie supporters.

And at least they show signs of some talent and culture. The Aussies don’t appear to manage anything more creative than changing the name in their “X is a wanker” chant. Charming.

I find it an interesting reflection of the respective cultural capital of the opposing team captains… but perhaps the less said the better on the posh school boy vs mongrel argument.

Anyway, so it’s no great surprise that by the end of that day, I was ready to turn English and get behind the Barmies instead.

To be fair, it wouldn’t be that much of a surprise to anyone who knows me. I have been sending a card of encouragement to the English team ahead of each game since Adelaide in this series after all. I really want them to do well! (just not well enough to win!). Plus, having loved living in England myself from 1997 to 2005 and maintaining a strong affinity with the country of my ancestry, I’ll always have a soft spot for all things English.

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Day 3 seats panorama – yes they are a bunch of smurfs at left!

But never fear, after much better experiences on day 3 (row 4 from the turf, less square on, further from the obnoxious green and gold mess) and day 4 (upgrade to bronze, 1st bay next to sight screen, well away from the AA with the Barmies happily just the other side of the sight screen!) of the Boxing Day Test I can now happily spread my love uncomfortably across both teams again, and am even now planning a trip to the 2015 series in Blighty for more live Ashes experiences.

Watto hits the winning boundary to seal a 4-0 result!

Watto hits the winning boundary to seal a 4-0 result!

So the biggest lesson of my first Ashes experience? It’s well worth paying the upgrade price to get away from the yobbos in general reserve.

And more particularly as far away as possible from the Aussie Army! Then I can swing both ways as the mood takes me.

The MCG crowd goes wild after the win.

The MCG crowd goes wild after the win.

Joining the Club

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA couple of months ago I joined the Wendouree Cricket Club as a social member after being introduced to them through a work colleague who is a life member.

I was welcomed warmly by President Ivan Pyke, and after negotiating the initial potentially awkward moment of explaining that no, I wasn’t enquiring because I have a son who wants to play – but that I just want to get involved, help out and learn more about the game – I have been equally welcomed by other committee and club members I’ve since met.

I joined just in time to go along to the club’s 70th anniversary celebration dinner in late October, where they were to present their Teams of the Decades to honour their most successful players, and was asked to write an article about the night for the club’s newsletter.

So I thought I’d share it with you – I really enjoyed finding out more about the club and the game from some of the players and administrators who have made this club the success it is. (last year the club just about did a clean sweep of all senior levels of the Ballarat Cricket Association, and they’re tracking pretty well this year already; and their junior programme is extraordinary – check them out here).

Recipe for success – celebrating 70 years

With just five key ingredients, Wendouree Cricket Club has cooked up a winning recipe that has resulted in seventy years of sporting achievement and a club history to be proud of.

The recent gala dinner to celebrate this notable milestone and induct seven Teams of the Decade brimmed over with reminders of those five vital elements.

And what are they? In no particular order … enduring friendships, strong family bonds, excellence in club administration, a commitment to junior development … and the desire to win.

Which made for a fabulous night of celebration for all concerned!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe night started with an entry table laid out with guest badges, with more than a few family names dominating the display – a theme that was reinforced as the night progressed! As the table gradually emptied, the chatter, hand shaking and reminiscing of past and present members, friends and family in their suits and fine dresses promised a night to remember. Some had travelled from as far away as Queensland to be a part of the night, others from all parts of Victoria.

MC for the night, Channel Ten’s sports presenter Brad McEwan who is currently based in Sydney but studied in Ballarat, did a fabulous job of keeping the night rolling – with seven separate presentations to announce each honorary team, there was certainly a lot of talking to be done!

But Brad as anchor and the seven club members who each took a turn to introduce a team, all did a great job of striking the right balance between information, entertainment, key stats / facts and funny anecdotes to keep it interesting right through. What a multi-talented bunch our club members are!

There was much to celebrate in the club’s performance on-field over the past 70 years – many notable achievements by individual players and teams. And although only 12 players were able to be recognised for each decade, it was acknowledged how hard the decision was in so many cases, and how many excellent players missed out on selection simply because there was such a depth of talent to choose from. What a fabulous position for the club to be in!

It was particularly notable in the later decades just how many of those recognised for their contribution were products of the club’s junior development programme. It’s clear this commitment and strength in the club is well and truly paying dividends.

While a core part of the night was about recognising club players who have excelled, the administrators and volunteers who have also played a vital role in the club’s development were certainly not left out of the limelight.

All of the Club’s Life Members were introduced, and throughout the night the extent of many of their contributions to creating the successful club we see today was made clear.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAParticular recognition was given in regards the contributions of three towering figures in the club’s history: Ron Sarah, who was the first club captain, President for 19 years and Secretary/Treasurer for many more, and who laid the foundations for the club we know today; Geoff Cunningham who took on the role of President from Ron and continued his great work in that position for many years, overseeing a fabulous period of growth in team numbers and dominance on field; and Geoff McRae who was the chief architect of the junior development program that today is credited with so much of the club’s success. But of course there are many more, as you’d expect of a club with 33 Life Members.

The dedicated teams behind the gala dinner and Teams of the Decades induction were also recognised and thanked for their hard work. With over 170 guests, and all the associated invites, payments, catering, travel and entertainment arrangements, team selection and commemorative plaques and more, it was no mean feat to pull together this celebration. Three committee members in particular carried the weight of the event organisation, and the efforts of Jessica Sewell, Kathryn Kosloff and Belinda Macdonald were recognised.

Trying to track down up to 800 past Club members was probably one of the biggest challenges, and it is hoped the connections that have been re-kindled through this celebration will grow the network of club supporters and keep the WCC family stronger than ever.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA commemorative book celebrating the past seventy years of club history will now be finalised and produced over the next couple of months – make sure you get in touch to order your copy.

The following will of course capture only a tiny number of the stories that could be told from the night, but together they provide a valuable insight to the experiences of club members over the years.

Life Members Barry and Bev Leach were recognised during the nineties for their many years of dedicated service in administrative and support capacities. Barry only ever played one game, but served as President for four years, having become involved with the club after his sons Andrew and Peter started playing. Bev reflected happily on the fabulous friendships made through the club, ones that have endured many decades, and on playing team “Mum” during junior team trips to Melbourne for competitions.

Graham Gladham opened my eyes to a part of Australia’s sporting history of which I was totally unaware – the dominance of baseball in the 50’s. Graham came to cricket via baseball – playing cricket in the baseball off-season to “keep his eye in” – and in the process becoming proficient enough in cricket also to win a place in the 1952/3 – 1961/2 team of the decade!

Bruce Shuttleworth continues the story… he too played both baseball and cricket as did many of the club’s cricketers at that time – at one point, 9 of the Club’s first eleven team were also baseballers. When Bruce first came to Ballarat there were 32 baseball clubs… how times have changed!

Val Minter, who with husband Derek had travelled up from Melbourne especially for the function, reflected on the club’s great strength in administration. She feels they’ve always known how to give the players a very welcome pat on the back for a job well done, and has been incredibly impressed with the club’s organisation and attention to detail – particularly in pulling together the Teams of the Decades 70th anniversary function. Val also reflected on the many strong friendships formed during hers and Derek’s time with the club – friendships that have endured despite them having left Ballarat more than 40 years ago.

Colin Feltham played for an extended stretch during the seventies and into the eighties, serving with pride as captain of the seconds for 5-6 years.  In that role, he particularly enjoyed bringing on the juniors, helping them to develop their skills, ability and confidence to create the next generation of club champions. Colin has always recognised and valued the strong club culture, with a strong competitive spirit ruling on field but always underpinned by integrity and fairness.

The outsiders view of the Club that I heard from Mick Ellis (stalwart of the Smythesdale Cricket Club, and father of the current first eleven captain, David Ellis) was enlightening – Mick was quick to point out that anyone coming into the club from elsewhere can’t help but be impressed by the excellent organisation evident within the group, the sharing of responsibility, and how welcoming and friendly the club is.

And perhaps the story of Damien Green is as instructive as any about the Club’s strengths. Damien starting playing for Wendouree as a junior in 1984; 29 years later, he’s still playing for the Club! And I get the feeling this isn’t an isolated incident.

It’s a club that folks stick with. It’s a club that has invested heavily in its junior development programs and is rightly proud of its dominance at that level. It’s a club where family names can stick around in the record books for many decades as fathers, brothers, sons and grandsons follow in the footsteps of their forbears.

And as for the effectiveness of the Teams of the Decades celebration and gala dinner – Damien told me that in spite of having been involved with the club for nearly thirty years, he still learned so much that he hadn’t heard before – and particularly enjoyed learning about the formative years of the club and those early flag bearers who established the culture and passion that has persisted through seven decades.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASeventy years of sporting club success doesn’t just happen by accident. It takes scores of dedicated individuals with the ability to work as a team both on and off field, a strong club culture and commitment to development.

Wendouree Cricket Club has it all, the ultimate recipe for success.

If cricket were a Jane Austen adaptation…

Test cricket would be the venerable 6-part BBC series of Pride & Prejudice – all six hours of it, with plenty of time for plot and character development, meaningful scene setting and satisfying anticipation, climax and denouement moments over and over again.

One day cricket would be the still enjoyable but breathless film of Pride & Prejudice with Keira Knightley, where it feels like some characters have to talk faster than normal to squeeze in all they think they should, and whole sub-plots are thrown out for the sake of the highest of rollercoaster ride dramatic moments.

And Twenty Twenty? The film trailer – over-exposing all the best bits, with a total disregard for how we got there or what it means…

(so yep, when there’s no cricket on TV I’m mostly watching and re-watching my favourite DVDs..)