So we were up at sparrow’s fart,* heading to Low Head for a cricket match. Most of my friends here in Tasmania think I’m nuts. Why does a Canadian, who grew up watching winged ice-men chase a puck, want to waste a perfectly good Sunday watching boring old cricket?
Before coming to Tasmania, I’d had three experiences with cricket. One was at my kitchen table in October 2009, watching Pete search The Guardian for cricket scores (sheer futility). The second was drinking beer and eating oysters with Pete and Lobie Daughton at Lobie and Marilyn’s loft in Charlottetown. For those of you who don’t know him, Lobie is the sole soul of cricket in PEI; until he came to the Island, I don’t think there was ANY. So when Pete was jonesing for cricket, Lobie brought out his cricket bat… and an orange. No juice was spilled that night. The third was a few days later, at a poetry reading at the Haviland Club. Lobie brought along his favourite cricket ball for Pete to hold (he still had a couple weeks to go in PEI...). When Pete got up to read, he passed it to the fellow from India who was sitting next to him to hold. The fellow must have thought it was a gift. Apparently he beamed beatifically, then disappeared seamlessly into the night. With the ball. Never to be seen again on the Island. Pete felt so bad that when he got home to Tasmania he arranged to have author Richard Flanagan’s daughter take a brand-new expensive cricket ball to her soccer game, and she gave it to David Boon's daughter to take home to have the (Tasmanian) “great one” sign. The package arrived in my mailbox, which I dutifully took to Marilyn and Lobie’s 20th wedding anniversary party last August. You’d have thought it was his first-born - Lobie held it reverently before stashing it in his bedroom. Locking the door. He still tells the story at the Farmers’ Market.
Okay, so I admit the first game I went to in Branxholm was, well, boring. Akin to watching paint dry. Eleven blokes out on the field standing around with their thumbs stuck up their arse. I almost went for a walk.
|The field in Branxholm|
|The field at Low Head - next to the golf course (fore for a six!)|
Lunch was great – mothers of the local netball team put on a great old-fashioned country spread with sandwiches and pies and a flotilla of cream cakes. In the end, though, Pete’s team, the Thylacinians' 11,** had lost. Afterwards they drowned their sorrows in beer in the clubhouse, while the opposition celebrated, and I got to match faces to the names I’d been hearing: Spread and Eddo, Fish and Robbo, Blakey and Boyler, Roo and Prickle. (Pete is Hayzy.) The best part was the piss-up later at Prickle’s pub in Scottsdale: Robbo found a guitar and we sang and drank beer til the wee hours.
|Prickle and Laurie|
|Young Boyler (Peter Boyler, Warren's son)|
|Blakey and Hayzy|
|Young Boyler, Boyler, Sebo, and Prickle|
|Guess... nice outfit, what?|
|Entertaining Robbo entertaining|
|Sebastian sampling the wares at Prickle's Pub|
|Laurie doing the same|
Next game was on Bruny Island. As with most travel to islands, there was a bit of “ferry panic” - it was touch and go that everyone would make the boat. A few of them had to park their cars and walk on, much to Captain Hayzy’s relief. At Alonnah, my job was to keep Flossie, Pete’s slipper of a dog, from beating up Milky, Roo’s dalmation. With Flossie on my lap I watched while Pete and then Warren “Boyler” Boyles (publisher of the magazine Forty° South) fussed over the Thylacinians’ score book; both kept a running commentary on my behalf, telling me there were six bowls to an over, 40 overs to an inning, and two innings to a match, with lunch in the middle. Lunch was great. But the Thylacinians lost. Again. Afterward, the beer and barbecue were great. The party at Pete’s shack was great. Cuffy cracked a bottle of champagne, and Roo contributed a bottle of Southern Fire Tasmanian single malt whisky. Both went down just fine.
|We don't mess around with Roo|
My third game was in Hobart. This time we walked the dogs around the field while Pete told me the names of batting swings: a forward defensive shot or push, a backfoot cover drive or cut, a late cut, an offside drive, a straight drive, an on drive, a pull or a hook, or a leg lance. All these to defend the wicket from being bowled off the stump, which means the batter has been bowled out. And if you have ten out, you lose. Period. With the ball coming at you at a pretty good clip, I just thought it was a miracle that the bat got in the way of the ball. We won that game.
|Eddo crying in his beer on Bruny|
|Listening to "the speech"|
My fourth game was, appropriately, in Forth. The night before had been magical: we’d stopped at the Thylacinians’ home pub (the Mole Creek Pub sponsor their team shirts and hats) in Mole Creek, near Deloraine, where Robbo was holding court with his guitar. Australia’s singing legend Ted Egan happened to be there, too. Songs traded back and forth, lubricated by Tassie Tiger beer. Eventually we had to drag Robbo from the clutches of an adoring young female fan; having 11 able-bodied cricket players the next day took precedence over scoring that night.
Just after we arrived the next morning, a fellow came up to me in the parking lot and handed me a huge block of famous triple cream brie cheese from King Island (worth, I found out later, about $200). The guy from the opposing team handed me their scorebook. I looked around desperately for a fridge, and for someone to keep score. The lunch ladies pointed me to the fridge, and Boyler ended up with the book. I followed his every pen stroke, like a batter watching the ball leave the bowler’s fingertips. After lunch, I took a deep breath, and asked if I could give it a try. I must say I was pretty nervous – I mean, I’d watched a total of 3½ games and an orange. I was grateful for the guys from the opposing team who talked me through the dot balls, the wickets, the wides and the byes. At the end I was in a bit of a daze… from knowing nothing about cricket to being able to keep score was nothing short of a miracle. We also won. Boag’s Draught (and King Island cheese) never tasted so good.
I now attribute my enthusiasm to my compulsion to want to put things in boxes – especially when not much else of what I do will fit. (My mom reminded me that this is what I did in high school, too, with all the sports I was hopeless at: basketball, volleyball, softball… always the manager, never the player…)
|Sebastian Baglole's run, for posterity...|
In keeping score I’ve come to understand the nuances of the game. That it’s not the win but the journey. It’s the elegance of Vishnu’s ballet as he whizzes in his fast bowl, or the eloquence of Hayzy’s lob that drops right in front of the batter, making it well nigh impossible to hit. It’s watching Blakey getting 40, a dogged 1 and 2 runs at a time, and Robbo’s grace behind the wicket. It’s the great bare-handed catches in the field - and the spectacular misses. The guys might get pissed off if the umpire calls an LBW, but mostly it’s annoyance at themselves – not too many of them “have a tantie and spit the dummy.” It’s the occasional 6 over the boundary – bringing cheers and honks from both teams. It’s the cap ceremony for the new players. It’s not yelling at the rookie (Sebastian Baglole from PEI, who batted his first game and even scored a run in Low Head!) when he forgot to run the next time, meaning game over for the Thylacinians’ 11. It's the brothers playing with brothers, and fathers playing with sons (and sometimes they're on opposing teams). It’s beer in the clubhouse… and the after-match speeches full of jokes and jibes… as the captain of the team we played at Low Head called it, it’s the “sociability.” And even though Hayzy admits he says the same thing each time, we don’t even notice because we know it’s from the heart.
|Scorer in action|
So that’s why I get up at sparrow’s fart on Sunday morning. And why I’m thinking I’ll change my PhD topic to cricket.
**named after the extinct Thylacine or Tassie Tiger
**named after the extinct Thylacine or Tassie Tiger
|"O Captain! My captain!"***|
***Blog posting photos by Laurie and Robbo**** (including this one of Hayzy)
****aka Paul Roberts... Thank you, Robbo!