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How Good's Cricket?

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This month marks exactly 50 years since I first fell in love –

with the game of cricket.

The summer of 1970-71 saw the English cricket team (or the MCC as they were confusingly known back then) touring Australia, and putting our lads to the sword.  But that didn’t diminish the pleasure I derived from seeing it all unfold.

I was watching the TV at home on December 13, 1970 when the man who would become my first sporting idol – Greg Chappell; a cricketer who not only shared my initials, but an older brother called Ian as well – strode to the crease in a Test match for the very first time, with his team under considerable pressure, only to peel off an elegant and apparently nerveless century.

I sat wide-eyed alongside my father at the majestic Melbourne Cricket Ground on January 22, 1971 when Bill Lawry unexpectedly declared Australia’s first innings closed with Rod Marsh (another of my early heroes) just an agonizing eight runs shy of what could well have been the first ever Test century recorded by an Australian wicketkeeper.  

And of course, later in that same series Dennis Lillee ‑ like Marsh, R. and Chappell, G. before him ‑ would commence his career in the Baggy Green, a career throughout which he consistently thrilled youngsters and seasoned followers alike with his prodigious talent and charisma.  (I was lucky enough to be at the MCG again a number of years later when Dennis, having taken a couple of early wickets in the late afternoon sun against Pakistan, sent the adoring crowd into raptures as he pushed off the wheel of the sightscreen to run in and bowl his first delivery to the newly arrived batsman – what theatre!).

I can also still fondly remember drifting off to sleep whilst listening to the 1972 Ashes series, broadcast live from England, and featuring commentary by the late great John Arlott, on my new pride and joy; a portable transistor radio acquired for my ninth birthday.


As exciting as those early experiences as a devoted cricket follower were, it wasn’t long before playing the game matched, and perhaps even surpassed watching it as one of the great joys of my life.

Now I know better than to try and convince those of you who have no interest in, or love for the game of cricket that you should.  But from my perspective – at a time in our collective history when the path to manhood is so often poorly marked, and dimly lit – a team sport that allows young males to pass through a rite of passage in the company of (hopefully) good men from an earlier generation has a lot to commend it.

I had my first insight into this phenomenon during the summer I left high school - when I was invited by my father to play with him for the Mosman Veterans, a team that regularly featured one or more ex-first class cricketers (as well as Allan Border’s father-in-law).  Dad was himself one of those in the team who could boast (though he rarely did) first-class cricket experience; having been selected as a left‑arm fast bowler for Victoria, albeit briefly, in the early 1950’s, as well as earning a game for the English county, Warwickshire, against the Indian team during its 1953 tour of the UK.  And I knew, from personal experience, that he was a bowler who still warranted respect - even though he had celebrated his 50th birthday more than 18 months before we first donned the whites together all those summers ago.

It remains a source of great pride for me that I was able to record my first ever century whilst playing with Dad in that season of 1980-81: in a game ultimately decided on the final ball, bowled by my father to the Nawab of Pataudi.  Although the Nawab - scorer of six Test centuries, and who, barely five years earlier, had captained India against the mighty West Indies in the last of his 46 Test Matches ‑ lowered Dad’s colours that day (just), I acquired newfound admiration for my father, as a cricketer and as a man, watching the way he went about things that afternoon, on and off the field.  I owe him so much for the example he set me throughout his life, on both counts, and always will.

Nearly 30 years later, less than a year after my father’s death, I would experience even greater cricket-related excitement and joy as I charged headlong down the pitch to hug my elder son, Tim, on the occasion of his own first century; a day on which the two of us shared a blissful partnership (for me at least) of 208 runs.

As a cricket-loving Dad there is simply no greater thrill than to take the field with your sons.  To do that in England – the home of cricket – as Tim, Ben and I were able to do with the North Ryde RSL Cricket Club, in Linda’s company, and with her unwavering support and encouragement, on the Club’s 2016 tour, was almost too much to have wished for.  And that the three of us would consecutively win Man of the Match awards gifted to us by our opponents at the conclusion of each of the first three matches of that tour?  Well, not even the most optimistic of scriptwriters could have written that sort of fanciful stuff.

I would have had little hesitation in saying that we were yet to see the best of Ben, the cricketer, when he played the game for the final time on Saturday, January 19, 2019 – a match in which both Tim and I also played, and which concluded in an outright win for our side.  But Ben's love of, and enthusiasm for the game was, from my perspective, at an all-time high during that final season, and in particular on that day.  As our team reflected, in the warm early evening, upon an unexpected, but thoroughly welcome victory, Ben made his way from player to player, clapping his wicketkeeping gloves loudly together, wearing the biggest and most infectious smile you can imagine, and repeating over and over – “How good’s cricket boys?  How good is cricket?!” 

I am so proud to report that in the months following his death this mantra of Ben’s was formally adopted by North Ryde RSL Cricket Club as its official motto.  I sincerely hope it holds the same level of mystical inspiration for all those who play in the Club’s colours today, and into the future, as it does and will for me.

But in the meantime, there are so many stories the game of cricket has thrown up which relate significantly to Ben’s life, and his passing, and to our time as a family, that it seemed I had no choice but to collect them here under the most appropriate banner I could possibly have conceived of.

I very much hope you enjoy reading them.


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