Andrew James Whalan

Poet Blogger Writer

Tag: Cricket

The Longest Match

I saw white. I’m supposed to see stars. Not me! Not now! White light, sound and impact merged into a wall of noise and pain. I didn’t feel myself fall. No, I feel myself float. I saw myself glide to safety. And there in the calm and silence I slept.

I then woke up and I slowly look around. I’m sitting on a bench. Behind me are lockers. Sporting equipment is scattered all around. I’m dressed in white. So are the others around me.

I slowly start to make sense of it all. My mind is foggy. The world is grey-white. I know these people. Now I understand. I’m in a dressing room. I’m in heaven with my cricket mates. What?

But none of them could be angels. I’m sure of that.

I look down. Attached to both legs are bulky cricket pads. A bat is leaning across my knees. Cricket gloves inhabit the bench next to me. Why are we expected to play cricket in heaven? Are we in hell? I must have said it aloud as I hear the reply, “That’s where opening batsmen go to.” Another adds “…that’s where they are now!” Grim laughter. We have a match to win.

And then began the interminable waiting. I wish for something to happen to break the monotony. Then I hope the monotony returns so maybe I’m not needed. One thought and then another only make me more and more nervous. In the meantime, I listen to the other conversations. I hear the radio with the commentary. Perhaps it’s my teammates talking about the game. As for me, I prefer to suffer in silence. I finally decide that it would be easier being out there batting. And just when I relax, it happened.

A moment of quiet. The game stops for a millisecond. A shout from the middle of the field. Yeah-that! I know what that means. Everyone goes quiet. The commentary stops. My teammates stop what they were doing. And look at me.

“You’re next,” the captain said to me. I check that I’m ready. I’ve got my pads on. I have my bat nearby. I reached down for my gloves. I stretch down and reach out for them. Found them. Then I put them on. I had to push one finger through at a time. Am I nervous? Not at all. I’m too worried. I’ve never been this slow before. I almost forget my helmet and tuck it under my arm.

Even more slowly. I open the door. The heat slams into me. I stop and almost step back. I duck my head as I slowly walk my way down the steps. I don’t look to my left or my right. I steal through the gate and out to the wicket. There’s no crowd or perhaps a silent one. I start to worry. If I take too long, they’ll send me back. Which would be terribly embarrassing. But they wait for me. Very patient they were. Or maybe it was time standing still in crisis. I somehow fumble and put my helmet on. My head is now in a hot plastic cell with a steel grille for a door.

I reach the crease. I look at the wicket. It’s a white grass carpet with too many flecks of green. I stand still. I lean down and tap my bat. I look up and ask the umpire for centre. He just nods at me. I scratch out my mark with my foot. Then I place my bat there. I look around me. I only see one fielder. He’s on my right halfway down the wicket. I look to my left over my shoulder. A helmeted fielder is crouched close. I turn my head further to my left. In the distance is another white suited fielder. I know where the rest are. So I wait. And wait. And wait.

I could hear the commentary in my head. “One down for eighteen. The new batsman has just arrived. He’s taken strike. He looks a little nervous to me this morning, don’t you think? Let’s see how he shapes up to the first delivery.”

Nervous? I know so. I look beyond the umpire. In the distance is the bowler. He seems to be pawing the ground like a bull ready to charge. He starts his run towards me.

I hear the scrape of his right toe on the ground. I hear the whoosh of his arm. The clump of the ball hitting the pitch. The fizz as it instantly appears near me. Lead-footed and lead-armed, I pull my bat away. I feel like I’m walking through molasses. Except I don’t see it at all.

“Swift ball first up. He steps back and across. He shoulders arms and lets it go. Lovely judgement there.”

And the next ball. I feel like I’m stumbling and falling in slow motion. And no-one knows but me. And more nervous. One false move and I’ll be gone.

I hear the ball after that. I know that it’s closer. I just see its outline in time. I move my foot towards it in slow motion. The bat even more slowly follows. I hear the hollow clunk as ball hits bat. A thud and the ball rolls forward a little. My arms jar slightly at the impact. My hands start to sweat. Whether it’s from the heat or fear I cannot tell.

“He jams down the bat. He’s just managed to get hold of that one. This boy’s a few yards quicker than last match. He’s really worked up a lot of pace. He’s really putting the batsman under pressure.”

I am a thin man in a fat suit. I’m not playing cricket. I’m waving a match stick at bullets. I think that if I don’t get through this game, it will be my last. And that really scares me. But it also comforts me somehow. I get to finally find out after all the uncertainty. And then slowly ever so slowly the game gets better.

I can see the ball now. It’s still dull. It’s vaguely shaped. But I know better where it is. I still feel that I inhabit another body. A body borrowed from another sportsman who vaguely remembers the game.

“And he’s just starting to get his eye in now. The new boy is showing some more confidence after a pretty torrid spell here.”

And then the commentary stops. There are no more balls to be bowled. I have to know what’s going on. I try to speak and ask, “Have we declared? Has the skipper called us back in and closed the innings?”

Somewhere in the distance, I hear the commentary resume. I hear another voice, “He’ll find it a comfort in his condition.” At that moment, I assume it’s my mind saying that. But why are there footsteps nearby? They fade away.

The game continues. I even smile a little in between balls. I hear a shout and my heart sinks. The fatal rattle of the stumps falling. It’s over. I look up and my batting partner is out. He looks up at me. I just look back as he turns and ashamedly leaves the ground.

The new batsman arrives. He’s sprinted onto the ground. But then he’s out. He looks like he has played and missed, but then there’s a shout. I turn and look at the umpire. He’s raising his arm and one finger is outstretched. Out. Another one. How many is that?

And then it’s a procession. One in, another out. And I’m standing there as my team falls away in front of me. Yet I still keep going. I’m still there. Until they turn their attention to me. They call back the swift fast bowler.

The game becomes a blur. He’s quicker than I remember earlier. I have to force myself to relax to keep playing. I start playing and missing. I get more and more nervous. I’m hounded by the recurring thought, if I go, we all go. I stop and catch my breath. I become more insistent on calming myself.

And then it happens. I see the ball leave his hand. I see it hit the wicket. I see it fly towards me like a whiplash. I move back and then pivot. I start to play the shot. The ball hits the bat. I’m hit by an uppercut. I see white.

I lie there on the ground. I resolve to myself that I will never ever play cricket again. It’s all too difficult. And then a voice interrupts. “We’re yet to find out if he will continue. He’s taken a pretty nasty knock there, but he’s come back before. Let’s see if he does this time.”

I decide that I would like to find out too. I lean forward and grasp my knees. I pull myself to my feet. I wander around a little. I stretch my arms and kick out my stiff legs. I feel some warmth return.

I start again. Now I have nothing to lose. Now it doesn’t matter if I get hit. If I’m hit I’m hurt. Now it doesn’t matter if I get out. That’s enough to ensure I relax. I see the ball clearly now. I even can pick out the scuffs and cuts on it. I hear the ball coming towards me. I hear the sound of the bat. I hear silence as I hit the ball. Silence now means perfect timing.

At last, after so many years of waiting, I’m having fun. I’ve discovered that this is a game that can actually be enjoyed. I wish for it to last forever.

The afternoon sun stretches into twilight. Finally, the night comes down: the umpires are asked to adjudicate on the light. They accede and I trudge off.

“Welcome back to the second day’s play. It’s a beautiful day for watching cricket.”

I slowly feel I’m not a wooden marionette anymore. I hear the ball tossed to me. I bend forward and just catch it.

“Looks like they’re giving the all-rounder a trundle.” I didn’t know I was an all-rounder! I’m just a batter who bowls or a bowler who bats a little.

I take my few steps back. I hold the ball in my hand. It’s not a cricket ball. It’s a red grapefruit ripe and ready to fall out of my hand. I grip it tightly enough so it doesn’t slip and loosely enough so it might spin. It still feels more difficult today. But I slowly spin it, toss it in the air and catch it even more slowly. Why is everything taking so long?

But now I feel the spongy grass under my feet. My feet scuff as I start my run up. I hear the slow swish of my arm. Then the slow bubbling fizz of the ball as it spins towards the batsman. Then the almost silent thud as it hits the pitch. Then the drawn out whoosh as it flies a little higher and quicker than expected. A soft click of wood against leather. The extra-long silence as the ball flies high, higher than even the fielder expects. The endless silence of fingers stretching and falling short. The softest thump as the ball hits the ground. I walk back to bowl again.

“Well, he’s got that to bounce and spin more than the batsman expected. Too bad the fielder grassed it. Remember catches win matches and a dropped one is an extra batsman.”

Ugh! I don’t need to re-read the coaching manual. In the meantime, I am slowly turning from a human scarecrow into a bowler. But the pains and aches are so real. The exhaustion starts to set in. I start to flag a little. But then I know from past experience if I push through, it will become easier. And so it does.

And then I hear the shout. All go up as one including me. Howzat! We turn and look at the umpire. Well? I say to myself. There’s an eternal pause. Up goes the arm and he raises his finger. Out!

“And he’s given him. Took a while for the umpire to make up his mind. Smart bowling that.”

And then it all stops. I open my mouth to protest and say, “Skip, I was just getting into it. I’d got my length and line right. I even got the top spinner to work (which was unusual).”

Then I hear the commentators start to wrap up their description of the game. Then from a distance I hear other voices. They grow louder. “We decided to leave the radio for you. We thought it would help you get better.”

I wake up. I’m in a room. I’m wearing white. I’m not in heaven. I’m in a bed in a hospital. I slowly recollect what happened. But all I remember is the near-fatal blow. I open my eyes and say, “Long match that was. But I got there in the end.”

Fire In Babylon : Attitude is Everything

Fire in Babylon is the best cricket documentary ever! And now the book is out too!  I was lucky enough to see it at the Melbourne International Film Festival a few years ago.

The documentary traced the rise and dominance of the West Indian cricket team from the mid 1970s. That dominance was due to a never-ending supply of fast bowlers, the occasional spinner supplemented by a flamboyant batting side overseen by aggressive captaincy by Clive Lloyd and Vivian Richards. But as this documentary shows that was not enough.

For decades, the West Indies always had flamboyant batsmen, the occasional fast bowler but lacked that extra aggressive captaincy. Often they would nearly win and fall down under pressure. They would start to perform consistently but never continue the job : the tied Test of 1961 being an exception!

And they languished until they were soundly beaten in Australia in the ’75-76 Test series. I was lucky enough to see the opening day of the Sydney Test.  Lillee and Thomson were too fast to even see from the ground! Up until then the West Indies had started a path of improvement. And again it had led nowhere.

From that point, the West Indies effectively began again. Firstly, they took their cue from the Australian test team. At that time, the Aussies had the best fast bowling attack in the world, a strong batting side, good spinners and a never say die captain, Ian Chappell.

The West Indies then modelled their team similarly. They brought in fast bowlers, a spinner and found the best batsmen under the astute captaincy of Clive Lloyd. But critically, they realised that wasn’t enough. Secondly, they adopted a new attitude. They gave up the idea that they were pure entertainers or so-called calypso cricketers. They embraced the idea that they were resilient and could win under any and all circumstances.

And their success was extraordinary and long-lived.  They put together a side the likes of which may never be seen again. Four fast bowlers, any of whom could turn a match : Roberts, Holding, Croft, Garner, then Marshall, Clarke, Ambrose, Walsh coupled with some of the best batsmen in the world : Richards (Smokin’ Joe), Lloyd, Lawrence Rowe, Lara.

They were still entertaining : so-called calypso cricketers but with that self-belief and resilience that wouldn’t and didn’t entertain defeat.

And in cricket, that’s all the difference.

 

Michael Clarke : Three Moments

Michael Clarke is about to play his last cricket Test. Sadly, he will leave the game as an Ashes losing Test captain regardless of the result.

For many people that will be his legacy. For some, this is the time to criticise and to bring up the past.  But not for me.

Here are the three moments of Michael Clarke that I will treasure in ascending order.

First was that magnificent innings of 329. Apart from the score, he never looked like getting out.  But there was more. He never looked like he would stop batting.

Second was his beautiful and sad eulogy to his little brother Phillip Hughes. There was in that moment, a man who had lost but showed also how much he gave.

Third and most treasured was the first time I ever saw Clarke captain a side.  It was at Perth and he was suddenly placed in charge of the Australia T20 side. I had the sound turned off (it’s the best way to watch cricket). I have no idea what he said to his players so I relied on the body language. But everyone he spoke to stood a little taller and played a little better.

And that’s what cricket and leadership is all about.

Michael Clarke : Three Moments

Michael Clarke is about to play his last cricket Test. Sadly, he will leave the game as an Ashes losing Test captain regardless of the result.

For many people that will be his legacy. For some, this is the time to criticise and to bring up the past.  But not for me.

Here are the three moments of Michael Clarke that I will treasure in ascending order.

First was that magnificent innings of 329. Apart from the score, he never looked like getting out.  But there was more. He never looked like he would stop batting.

Second was his beautiful and sad eulogy to his little brother Phillip Hughes. There was in that moment, a man who had lost but showed also how much he gave.

Third and most treasured was the first time I ever saw Clarke captain a side.  It was at Perth and he was suddenly placed in charge of the Australia T20 side. I had the sound turned off (it’s the best way to watch cricket). I have no idea what he said to his players so I relied on the body language. But everyone he spoke to stood a little taller and played a little better.

And that’s what cricket and leadership is all about.

Go for the Zac : Goodbye Phillip Hughes

Cricket is at times a lonely and solitary game. At least I thought so.

You bat by yourself.  You bowl by yourself. You stand in the field waiting for a catch, then run after the ball and throw it back. By yourself.

Waiting for a catch or the chance to run after the ball can seem like an eternity meaning fielding is the longest waiting game. As a parent said to me during an under 16s game, “Cricket is a team game played by individuals”. True but there’s more to it than that.

And certainly with the tragic death of Phillip Hughes (who remains 63 not out forever), I felt that cricket is a lonely and solitary game.

I didn’t want to pick up a bat or bowl or field anymore. I didn’t want to watch or listen to the latest T20 or one day or test match. I didn’t even want to put my bat out. But I did. FullSizeRender (1)

I felt I had lost another who knew the storms and sunshine that is cricket.

Then I listened to Michael Clarke’s eulogy at Phillip Hughes’ funeral. It opened my eyes and my heart and my memory.

Cricket isn’t a lonely and solitary game at all. I remembered that for too short a season, with a mate, I coached an under 14s boys side.

Some were exuberant, some were talented, some were sorely disappointed and then rewarded. I went through it all with them. I knew what it was like. I had experienced the same myself. In that season, I realized that that cricket wasn’t a game of physical ability or talent but a game of heart and mind.

And extraordinary fun. I can remember being on the sideline as the fast bowler from Croatia encouraged the batsman from Vietnam to “Go for the zac.” (Hit six runs).  Which he did! And I laughed and laughed.

What I had forgotten and what Phillip Hughes and Michael Clarke together reminded me was this.

Everyone who picks up a bat or bowls a ball or fields or ‘keeps are part of  a band of brothers and sisters. We’ve all been through the same storms and sunshine and we all know what it’s like for anyone else who plays.

We all know what its like to go for the zac and succeed or fail.

That is Phillip Hughes’ legacy. Thank you for rekindling my love of cricket. Rest in Peace but go for the zac!

The Hidden Game Of Cricket (Thoughts On Phillip Hughes)

The terrible injury to Phillip Hughes gives some small insight to the hidden game of cricket.

Cricket is seen so often seen as played in a village green. Players just seem to be standing around suspended in a state of ennui. Then the spell is broken. The quiet tap of bat and ball followed by quiet applause.

Or cricket too is seen as baseball on steroids. Our radio and TV is so dominated by the hit-a-thon of T20 or one-day cricket or even indoor cricket. All we see is an action packed blur of players bowling, batting, catching, throwing and running.

Or cricket too is seen through the lens of Test cricket the ultimate physical and psychological long march.

Yet the Phillip Hughes incident as revealed by Malcolm Knox shows cricket has its hidden physical dangers. As anyone who has played the game even casually knows, even a tennis ball hurts and leaves its mark. And even despite the improved protective equipment, players still get hurt.

As Russell Jackson mentions, there’s a psychological impact. Perhaps this thought experiment may suffice.

Imagine someone gives you a piece of wood or a stick. Then he or she runs about 30 or 40 or 50 metres away. Then they run towards you. At about 20 metres they throw a ball at you.  You’re meant to hit the ball and not let it hit you.

In essence and in spite of physical and mental fitness, technique and judgement, protective equipment or rules, cricket is a scary game.

One false move and you’re out or hurt or worse.

The hidden game of cricket is to accept the risk and setbacks and continue to play on. Knowing full well what happened before or could happen again.

Which is why Phillip Hughes is braver than you’ll ever know.

My sincere wish as a former player of virtually no note is that he recovers quickly and returns to the game. And be courageous than he was before because he will have to.

And continue to play the hidden game of cricket.

 

 

Australian Institute of Sledging?

As a cricket lover I’m following the current Test series.

Cricket picture

Cricket picture (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My hope is that one more Aussie win will return the Ashes to us.
Yet cricket is not a predictable game. And it can be overshadowed by outside issues. Such as sledging.
Sledging is sustained verbal banter (truthfully outright verbal abuse) designed to unsettle an opponent.
All players have encountered it. It is more pervasive than admitted. I rarely indulged in it. In all honesty I saw sledging as a waste of time.
Sledging is verbal abuse in cricket

Sledging is verbal abuse in cricket (Photo credit: absentbabinski)

Cricket is both physically and mentally adversarial. It was a complete surprise to hear opponents calling your names and saying they wanted you out. That’s why they did more than turn up for practice!
And most of the insults (sorry misdirected advice) were of a very poor standard indeed. Usually just silly sexist names and insults. Most (nearly all) weren’t funny.
So I rarely replied and only then to give coaching advice! “I’m just trying to keep him interested (after playing and missing at a wide ball)”. Apart from that I never really repeated much of what was said to me.
And I had an expectation that first grade, first class and international cricket would have a higher standard of verbal banter (sorry sledging). So with an hour to spare I quickly thumbed through Crickets Greatest Sledges. And finished it in 10 minutes.
Nope most of them I had heard before in under 16s and third and fourth grade. The best was a batsman telling a bowler to go fetch the ball after it was hit. I was told that at practice all the time !!
How disappointing !
And this highlights the problem with sledging. The standard just isn’t good enough. And it needs to be improved. In fact, Australia should aspire to be a world class country of sporting sledgers.
And starting with cricket, there should be more emphasis on improving this skill from junior cricket through first grade and into international cricket. A sporting program should be put together to train and educate cricketers to sledge better. An improvement in these skills would improve it as a spectacle.
But in my humble opinion, the best way to improve sledging is not for it to rely upon insults. There are only a limited number of insults (see above!).
The best way to improve sledging is to educate and train our sports people in the fine art of humourous verbal banter.
Why?
It’s obvious!
  1. Firstly, sportsmen and women will enjoy the game more and deal better with the games ups and downs!
  2. Secondly, their opponents will have to deal with the off putting effects of on field humour.
  3. Thirdly, all sportsmen and women will have a clear post game career path post sport as after dinner speakers, stand up comedians and authors.
  4. Fourthly and most importantly, the stump microphones can be left on ALL the time!

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