No one was more surprised than I at my recent selection in the 17-man Ashes squad. Whilst my grandfather was fond of declaring ‘better never than late’ there are, I think, exceptions to the rule. Whilst your late thirties may seem an odd time to start your career as an elite sportsman, there’s no good reason for this. Whilst I accept that some options are no longer available to me – it’s too late to be a member of the Young Talent Team and my application for Junior MasterChef was not so much resisted as it was flat out rejected – my inclusion into the Australian Cricket Team is simply well overdue. It is a moment for which I have been waiting my entire life.
Cricket is a funny game. For decades, we have taken for granted our ability to beat all-comers. That time, of course, is now over. As a result, our nation has been reduced to naming a squad so unfathomably large and populated with complete strangers that it may have been quicker and more efficient to name which of our citizens were to be left out. Not that I will let this take the gloss off my selection.
We had our own cricket pitch. In truth, it was not so much a pitch as it was a piece of strategically placed concrete. Inspired both by the poultry shed and a desire not to have to go trawling through the paddock for lost balls, my father constructed a tall wire fence around the pitch. Whilst we referred to this structure as ‘the nets’, a more suitable term could well have been ‘the chicken coup.’
I was decidedly average at every aspect of the game, whether it was batting, fielding or bowling. Even at reasonably straight-forward elements such as appealing to the umpire, I was extraordinarily ordinary. Whilst some of my classmates at primary school would make their appeals with all the enthusiasm of winning ‘the lot’ on Sale of the Century, the best I could manage was a half hearted shrug of the shoulders. None of this deterred my father.
Nobody took a game of back yard cricket as seriously as Pete. Not for him the compromise inherent in using a tennis ball – only the real thing would do. He believed that without the very real risk of injury or mild disfigurement, cricket was just about getting sunburned. In truth, cricket is not a sport to be measured in wickets or runs so much as it is in giant welts that take a week or more to subside.
To be a decent fast bowler, you need a good run up. My father’s run up was such that he needed several marathon style drinking stations positioned en route to ensure that he made the distance. As he thundered in like a runaway truck, your thoughts turned not so much to defending your wicket as to something much more personal and private in nature. That’s the great misconception about cricket. It’s got precious little to do with protecting your stumps as it does preventing the family jewellery from being shattered into a thousand tiny pieces. Were this anything other than a so-called sport, all kinds of precautions would be taken. Instead, cricket offers only the protection of a ‘box’ when, in the circumstances, a missile defence system would be more appropriate.
When I was growing up, cricketers were a pretty butch lot. In the 1970s and 80s, to be a professional cricketer, you needed only two things: access to a near-unlimited supply of Sard Wonder Soap to remove stubborn grass stains and a moustache big enough to entangle an antelope. It was, dare I say it, a very macho kind of sport. Australian Cricketers didn’t bother much with buttons – they’d be happy to have their shirts more than half open, exposing to all the world the kind of chest hair that can only be groomed by a whipper – snipper. Even the most cursory of glances at the current Australian Cricket team makes it plain that there’s not a decent moustache amongst them, despite the fact that it’s ‘Movember’, to say nothing of a chronic shortage of chest hair.
Upon being named, I sprang into action. I began by hitting a golf ball against a water tank using a stump just as Don Bradman had done all those years ago. After several minutes of losing golf balls, I then upgraded to one of those posture balls you sit on. I also spent many hours in my laboratory, installing a laser-based missile defence system to my cricket trousers. Granted, there were some early teething problems in which my new pants mistook next door’s cat for a cricket ball and nearly blew it to pieces, but I had almost ironed all the kinks out before receiving the bad news.
When they named the starting line up, my name was conspicuously absent. As I slowly removed my gold necklace, buttoned up my shirt and shaved off my moustache, it occurred to me that perhaps it was time to let go of some of those childish ambitions. Folding them neatly, I packed away my cricket whites, perhaps this time for good. Standing in the old wire nets, I can only rue my cruel elimination from the squad. It’s a pity. To have been included could have been quite a chicken coup.