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  • Geoff Cordner

Batting With Ben

Sunday, 20 October 2019, marked the first day’s play of the 2019-2020 cricket season for North Ryde RSL Cricket Club’s First Grade team following the abandonment of Round 1 ‑ scheduled to be played on Saturday, 12 October ‑ due to wet weather. It also marked my first day as captain of that side.

Just four days had passed since Ben’s 22nd birthday, and much of the emotion associated with that anniversary had remained with me. Shortly after 9am on the morning of 20 October I received notification that one of the players selected to play in our team that day was no longer available. No‑one wants to start the new season playing one short, let alone the newly appointed skipper. I shot off a couple of panicked texts and Facebook messages to potential replacements, all of whom responded to me reasonably quickly, but in the negative.

A short time later I was sitting in the backyard of our house, reflecting on the week just passed, and it dawned on me that this was just the sort of situation I should be entrusting to the Beniverse. If we are meant to play with ten players today then we will; and if we aren’t, then we won’t. And I also reminded myself that playing one short in a Round 2 game of cricket is not much to get uptight about in the big scheme of life (and death).

A few seconds later I looked at my phone in order to check how much time I had left to get myself organised for the game. It was 10.03am. I was now resigned to the fact that we would be playing that afternoon with 10 men. So be it.

At 10.08am I received a text from one of the potential replacements that I had communicated with nearly an hour earlier. Within the last five minutes his circumstances had apparently changed, and he was now available to play. I smiled and shook my head.

Later that day I arrived at the ground a little earlier than usual. There were very few players from either team in attendance at that time, as I headed out to inspect the pitch. One of those players, from the opposing team, was doing some heavy-duty stretching on the far side of the wicket square. I had never played this opposition before, so I didn’t give him any particular attention. Having looked at the pitch I turned to head back to where my gear, and a couple of my recently arrived teammates, were located. It was at this point that I heard a friendly voice calling out “Cords!”.

As it turned out, the player who had been doing stretches nearby was an old teammate of mine from days spent playing grade cricket at North Sydney in the early 2000’s. When I last played with Tom he was Ben’s age, whilst I was then in my (very) late 30’s – ie the age that Tom is now. Tom was and is almost young enough to be my son, but I remember with great fondness the excellent relationship we had all those years ago when I was a big fan of his, not just as a cricketer, but as a well-rounded, intelligent young man with a keen, but dry sense of humour. He obviously has similarly fond memories, because he embraced me warmly, and immediately expressed his condolences for the loss of Ben earlier this year.

Tom then proceeded to ask me how I was coping, a question delivered in a way that convinced me the answer was important to him. I gave him a condensed version of what had been happening these past months. Perhaps he detected a degree of recently acquired optimism in my voice, and my story; in any event, he confided in me his firm view that the universe generally delivers adversity to those who are best equipped to deal with it.

It was an unexpected comment; but I respected his forthrightness, and found myself comforted by his words, which I am sure was his intention. Encouraged by his empathy and honesty, I explained to Tom my concept of the Beniverse. He appeared to completely understand what I was on about. He responded that he is himself a firm believer in the idea that what a person gives out to the world around them will be reflected in what it delivers back to them.

We suddenly realised that many minutes had passed whilst we had been chatting, and that the time for writing up teamsheets, and tossing the coin, had now arrived. We departed the playing surface together, our friendship firmly renewed.

Soon after the opposition’s captain and I convene with the umpires for the toss of the coin. The other skipper is named Ben. After the toss, which I win, allowing our team to bat first as we had intended, I mention to Ben and the umpires that our Club’s newly adopted motto is ”How Good’s Cricket” – a motto which, in my view, compels our team to aspire to the highest possible standards in the way we play the game. I ask them all to let me know immediately if they believe we are falling short in any way in meeting those standards.

Ben’s response is immediate – he tells me he heard me speak at the Northern Cricket Union’s Captains’ Night, conducted some weeks earlier, about the origin of “How Good’s Cricket”, and that his Club has accepted my invitation to adopt that same motto in their dealings with one another, and in the way they approach the game on the field. I shake his hand warmly and thank him. I am nevertheless confident he has no idea just how much it means to me to hear what he has said, and to know that my Ben’s legacy has already spread beyond my own Club.

The day proceeds in a somewhat unusual fashion, bookended by the opposition’s opening bowler tearing his quadricep in the first over of the day, after bowling just three deliveries, and their opening batsman advising us as we depart the field at day’s end that he won’t be playing next week, and is therefore effectively out without having been dismissed. In between these two events our side has compiled a competitive total of 198; a pretty sound effort after having been 4 wickets down for just 27 runs early on, and 8 for 116 soon after the tea break.

At the close of our innings, following our number 11’s dismissal for a score of 35, and a last‑wicket partnership of 57, I reflect on the Beniverse’s apparent influence on the day’s proceedings to that point. In particular, I cannot help but feel that I have batted the past three hours or so in some kind of benevolent fog.

Having come to the centre at the fall of the fifth wicket, with the score at 62, I have found myself joining a 21-year-old named Ben at the crease (one of two young Bens with whom I still regularly play, notwithstanding the loss of my own Ben). Ben and I will bat together for half an hour or so, adding a modest 17 runs before he is dismissed. During the early stages of our partnership I clip a fullish delivery, pitched around leg stump, just behind the square leg umpire; a reasonably well‑struck shot, but in the air long enough to carry directly to the fieldsman placed in that position. The ball dips a little as it reaches him, but it is a relatively straightforward chance that any fieldsman in this competition would expect to catch.

However this fieldsman, whose name is also Ben, inexplicably spills it.

Remarkably, I feel almost nothing at all. No relief, no sense of good fortune. Nor is there any sense of a need to make the opposition pay for their error. I just accept what has occurred, and continue my innings. And from that point forward I rarely play another false shot. I certainly don’t dominate the bowling - that has never been my MO as a batsman ‑ but neither do I find scoring difficult. It is one of those rare days (very rare in my case!) when I have no fear of getting out.

And I don’t.

At age 56, and having played competitive cricket for over 45 years, you would think there is not much left to learn or experience in the game. But I can honestly say I have never felt as calm or as still whilst batting as I did that day. My old North Sydney teammate, Tom, an astute observer of the game, and someone who has seen me bat plenty of times in the past, notices something is different, and he comments on it as we make our way to the carpark at day’s end. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you bat better Cords” he says.

And I am sure he probably hasn’t. Because there is something remarkable about today that simply cannot be explained. Unless, of course, you believe in the Beniverse.


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