3 May, 2012, Australian Cricket Society, toast to cricket
Thanks to you Ken and the Cricket Society for the invitation to give this toast to a game we love. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Cricket is a brilliant game.
I can’t touch my toes, I have a gnarley finger that won’t bend in the cold, a liver which was enlarged by lingering in sticky-carpeted clubhouses throughout the 80s - and has never settled down – and, despite the therapy, I still wake screaming in the night as I re-live the dropping of the steepler which cost us a grand final…. yet I still believe that this great game has served me well. That grand final was just 26 years ago now, and, besides, it was the keeper’s catch.
No, cricket has served me well.
And it was always going to. Because of the many, many fine things my father did for me and for my three brothers, teaching us to love the game of cricket was one of the finest. He really loved it, and he helped us to really love it.
After I left home to go to university, I looked back on my childhood and I started to realise that my father had cricket in him. He had been an opening bowler with a classic Lindwall action and was sent in to bat at No 3. “to knock the shine off the ball”.
He played with us in the backyard, as did my mother, who had a wicked arm from hoicking spuds. She’d grown up on a potato farm in the Lockyer Valley.
Dad took time to teach us: to use our feet, to play the late cut “out of the keepers gloves”, to bowl leggies.
But I really knew Dad had cricket in him when I looked back at those Saturday afternoons when we would be driving around Toowoomba. We’d pass a cricket match at Newtown No. 1, or Godsall Street. Dad was one of those blokes who felt compelled to stop the car and watch for a while. “We’ll just get out and see what the opening bowler’s doing,” he’d say.
So he’d bundle us out of the car and we’d walk to one end and watch for a few overs, and having worked out the batsman’s style he’d take us to that spot where the cricket ball was most likely to cross the boundary. And there we’d stand. I can remember as a tiny boy the rock-hard ball coming towards us, and we’d collect it, an under arm it back to the fieldsman whose heavy boots thundered across the ground towards us. He’d turn and throw a massive throw, over the moon. And jog back as the batting side continued to applause and yell things like “Shot, Macca.”
How would we ever hit the ball so hard? Or throw it so far?
No, my father could not pass a cricket match.
Nor could he pass on the opportunity to watch great batsmen. He was a clergyman; a pastor in the Lutheran church. So on Saturday afternoons he’d be busy preparing his sermon in his study with the radio on, Alan McGilvray describing the Test Match. Often it would get the better of him and he’d wander in to the lounge room to “see how the Australian batsmen were getting on”. Sometimes he’d stay.
I remember vividly Boxing Day of 1981 – it was a Saturday. He stayed all of that afternoon, to watch one of the great Test innings – the famous century from Kim Hughes (who will follow me to the lectern).
I should also mention that I rang my cousin Chris Harms today, who played for South Australia. Chris also has a therapist - from bowling at K.J. Hughes – whom he describes as “the scariest batsman he ever bowled at”.
Dad thought that was one of the great innings.
My father is no longer with us. He was a loving man; yet, for all of his capacity for love, and his pleasure in the aesthetic of sport and in fair play, he hated the Collingwood Football Club. He didn’t handle the loss to the Pies in the 2010 preliminary final too well – he died just after midnight.
But he left us with many memories. And he has left his children and his children’s children with a love of the game, and a respect for the game.
Our Theo, named after my father, is the oldest of our three. When I stand before him saying, “Watch the ball. Watch the ball,” I hear my father’s voice.
I only hope I can instil in my children the same depth of appreciation of this wonderful game: the game of cricket.