Backyard Cricket

Cricket has always been my favourite sport. I played it as a schoolboy, and after I left school, I was a member of teams in various places I lived. As an adult, as well as playing social games, I took my turn over the years as scorer, umpire and coach. My career never amounted to much. I played with far more enthusiasm and energy than skill and technique. But, on the subject of technique, I have a suspicion that my prospects of becoming a star were thwarted at the very earliest stage of my development. I blame our backyard.

Backyards can be real nurseries for budding cricketers. Street cricket, at least in the city, has given way to oncoming traffic, and beach cricket thrives at family holiday time. Suburban back yards were less tree covered in days gone by. Push mowers prepared grassy pitches which, over time, flattened out enough to be free of major ridges and potholes. By the time my two brothers and I had reached double figures on the scoreboard of age the home pitch was considered a minor sacred site even by my parents and my sisters.

Four or five kids from the neighbourhood would join the regular games on our wicket which ran slightly uphill in an east west direction. Batting in the late afternoon was a definite advantage as the bowler had to bowl into the sun, as well as negotiate the normal hazards of the lemon tree, the wire fence and the upward slope. This makes it sound as if batting was easy on our version of the famous ‘Gabba. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Fortunately, as far as I can recall, none of our regular players was left-handed. We all suffered the same restrictions. The house with four sets of windows lay on the leg side of the wicket, so woe betide any batter who top edged a pull shot. Added to that, the fibro wall of the laundry was brittle enough to be harmed by a good on-drive. The only shot on that side of the wicket that could please the striker was a delicate leg glance along the ground beside the house. There was added joy in the fact that around there lay a permanent bindi-eye patch that made the barefooted fieldsman’s task of retrieving the ball more enjoyable for everyone to watch.

Shots on the off side of the wicket were, on the other hand just what budding Bradmans and Millers were only too ready to pounce on. The concrete garden edges, the wire of the chook yard and the door of the outhouse could cope with the hammering of off drives, cover drives and square cuts with little fear of any damaging consequences.

We took it as a matter of pride that our games were played with a real cricket ball, a cork composition ball of the type we used in school matches on concrete pitches. The only time that rule was relaxed was when a ‘family’ game was organised. This meant the presence of girls and grown-ups in the line-up of players and, by dad’s and mum’s decree the use of a tennis ball was mandated. Another rule that was amended was that girls were allowed to ‘peg’ (throw) the ball rather than bowl it. These, to us boys, were games in which we were willing to ‘go easy’ with good grace because, although our sisters were girls, we knew that one day they would be ladies and it was definitely advisable for us to treat them as such.

The only time my confidence as a potential century maker was dented during these family games was when I faced the deliveries from my cousin, a girl nearly three years older than I. She would run in and hurl the ball with unerring accuracy and blinding speed at the base of the stumps time after time. Unfortunately, the laws of the game were already set. Girls were allowed to ‘peg’.

The permanent damage done to my career as a cricketer, however, has less to do with being bowled by a girl, than by the fact that I failed to master those hooks and drives and pulls that could have made me another Norm O’Neill or Doug Walters. But I’m sure my parents were grateful that the casualties of a decade of backyard cricket were just two broken windows and only one cracked fibro panel. At least, that is how I choose to remember it!

Michael Goodwin