It will come as no surprise to regular readers of this space that I have had, in fact still maintain, a passionate affair with what others mistakenly call a game.
Cricket is no game.
In reality, if I allow myself to experience candour for even just a moment, it’s not really life either. I only convince myself it is on the basis of my near incurable dalliance with romanticism - a condition I have more or less been continually subject to since those early fairy stories my mother extolled during the last minutes of every day. Life is also about bad things like war and poverty and conservative politicians. I know this - on some level at least, perhaps that one which reminds me of my age and my impending admission to the grandparents club. Such things insist on reality and responsibility and accepting the gifts of passing years … gracefully …
… but entertain me for a few minutes. What if Peter Pan was right? What if the Lost Boys are out there, just looking for a place to go bangarang?
Just random thoughts and random thoughts have not always treated me well, let alone with respect, so I usually hold them at bay and only entertain them when others are distracted.
Until this morning.
This morning, I packed my cameras in the car and equipped with a schedule, a water bottle and the sunscreen my wife made me put on fifteen minutes before leaving the house, I went off to the sporing fields in Tamworth to do a job with benefits. After all, the first day of four watching cricket and better still, having a licence to record it in those digital moments that rush through the lens and wait on the sensor screen for someone to recognise them as momentous … well, that’s definitely work with benefits.
It was sunny. A cool breeze was keeping the early morning sun under control. It was a lazy, country Sunday morning which one can only appreciate when Saturday night has not run crazy from the room, acting like a lunatic. Nice day. Nice job.
Then the Lost Boys started to arrive and I spent the day in Neverland.
I gave up playing cricket - I mean finally gave up, as in, for the last time - about four years ago. It was a reunion with old mates and heroes and five overs at the crease resulted in no runs, much embarrassment and me insisting I should leave the field. Being out three times will do that sort of thing to a broken ego. There was also the bit about trying to chase a ball and discovering I had a turning circle that was wider than the Titanic and just as effective. My two adult sons, wondering from what particular well of my imagination the tales of my glorious, very past deeds had sprung from, were an effective set of icebergs and I sank with all hands. Last year, I even threw out my kit bag, although my favourite blue cap and that magic wand I had known as a bat, survived, to live a lonely, dusty life in the corner of my office.
Therefore, the various invitations to return and play alongside fellow ‘tragics’, have remained something for my conditionally deaf ears to deal with.
Oh … you’re wondering about the Lost Boys?
Well I met about 180 of them today. They were in the various stages of physical decline men prefer to call experience, whilst some of their caps were just plain old. They proffered the usual stories of what Paul Kelly refers to as “these little aches and pains”, bragged about getting to bed late and complained about the cause.
Right up until a coin was tossed and they crossed the boundary’s edge - some all together, others in pairs - and all responsibility melted into the welcoming grass and they morphed, ever so slightly, into the little boys that have been packed away in those disgracefully convenient places called memories. They laughed, they encouraged, they clapped each other on the back. I’ll swear I saw one or two of them gambolling (yes, I spelled it correctly!).
To the initiated, these were surely just old men in colourful clothing, using colourful language but that assumption would not only miss the point but it would also condemn the assumer to miss a wonderful thing. For out there, on the fields of my country town, old grey men, gathered in the supportive company of peers and with no example needing to be set, suddenly replaced fading tones with rich colours.
I could tell you it took my breath away but a few quick singles and all present would have been suffering similarly, but bloody hell, it didn’t half warm some of the cold places that life’s tourniquets have placed about the heart.
From the rebellious yet realistic call that went up after the last opening speech was finished - ‘okay boys, let’s get into it before the Voltaren wears off’ - to the laughter at the day’s photos flashing on a big screen past a few beers in the twilight, it was a glorious day.
I often bang on about the spirit of the game. My old coggerness makes it almost inevitable that the game is not as good as it was when Adam’s dad first let him out to play with the other kids in the streets of Eden; or even later when a telegraph pole was our wicket and a dirt patch had long lost it’s grass from boys’ feet scratching their mark, turning up their collars and really believing they were Chappelli.
Today, I had lots of company.
In between photos, I had conversations with my cohort. McGilvray was right: the game is not the same. Here was the proof.
It’s not as if quality couldn’t be found. At least one Test player will go around this week, as will many others who played to a fine standard; still do, considering. The cover drives are still there; the sweet glances to leg; the late cuts. Only the dab to cover and quick singles were lacking but some concession to previously stretched hamstrings which abhor shock loading, must be given. It was the first day, after all. These bodies might still be perfectly oiled but the sumps are now generally larger and naught to twenty speed isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
However, to look for achievement in stats is the game of youth. The real satisfaction of what has been well done, lies in half centuries of love, not runs. These men have known the game longer than their girlfriends, much longer than their wives and an eternity longer than their sons. They have talked with her and about her; they have danced with her on days when their feet were light and cavorted into the perfect spot for the sweetest shot; they have sweated for her under the sun and wear the scars from having its damage removed; many can show you bent fingers; some even current bruises.
This conundrum called cricket still brings them back, for although it’s a game which lends itself so readily to the recording and regurgitating of statistics of individual brilliance, that’s not the real attraction. Ask any player of their greatest moment in the game and it will almost always be a premiership or at the least, a win against all the odds. Some may be reminded by mates of a hundred or a bag of wickets that was their contribution to that victory but all will tell you - from those who climbed its loftiest peaks and wore a Baggy Green, to those who still treasure the club cap - it was doing great things with your mates that mattered the most.
It was obvious from the first handshake today. Blokes who might have met a few times at like carnivals greeted each other as boys do on Monday morning before the first bell. There were nice blokes and good blokes and funny blokes and dopey bastards. They talked about the missing - temporary and permanent; they showed off new gloves and old bats; looked at the sky to threaten the rain into hiding; some even walked to the pitch to prod and admire and sate their desire, even if only until the first ball …
… but they did all these things together … because that’s what mates do … mates who love cricket …
… and cricket loves them back, ignoring faded hair, and bent backs and bandy legs and slower reflexes but noticing how quickly the whiff of leather or sound of it on a bat can turn their head or keen their eye.
So I wandered about and captured more moments to be remembered at a later date, deleting the unflattering and always keeping digital compliments to share with them later when talk overtook deeds and belonging was the most important thing.
I don’t play anymore but my adult sons have suggested a net on Tuesday. Just the three of us. Bit of a hit. Maybe some throw downs … so … I think I might go.
After all, I still have a bat … and a cap … and a scrapbook head full of memories.