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  • Geoff Cordner

For Wicketkeepers Everywhere

Updated: Jan 4, 2021

During the winter of 2019 the North Ryde RSL Cricket Club Presentation Night was conducted; an event at which team and individual performances during the summer of 2018-2019 were recognised and celebrated. In a stellar effort, the Club’s four teams had won three premierships between them during the preceding season, including a trophy-winning effort by its 2nd Grade side - the team in which Tim, Ben and I had played together over the preceding two years. Our side, which had been running fifth just a week before Ben’s death, would continue through the remainder of the season undefeated, with Ben’s older brother, Tim, almost single-handedly dragging his team across the line to achieve the most unlikely of Grand Final victories.

I will never forget the emotion I felt as I stood together with the rest of our squad in a circle in the rain at the conclusion of that match, tears welling in every eye – so collectively proud of what we had done in honour of our lost teammate, but so unspeakably sad he could not be there to share it with us.

Many Clubs profess or aspire to be about families rather than individuals, about enjoyment rather than success, about making everyone feel they are an integral part of something bigger than themselves. On statistics alone our Club has some genuine claim to being a family Club. In recent years up to half a dozen of our roster of players have been the father of at least one other player, and currently almost one in three of our players has at least one sibling who is also a member of the Club. Perhaps even more notably, for many years we have been the only cricket Club I am aware of that can boast a husband and wife amongst its playing group.

Of course statistics can sometimes deceive. The real test of a Club comes when one or more of its members, or the Club itself, are facing acute loss, or serious adversity. By that measure, and based on my family’s experience over the past two years since Ben’s death, North Ryde RSL is an exceptional Cricket Club. The way it has wrapped us in its collective arms and held us tight during that period is something we as a family will never forget, and for which our thanks alone seems quite inadequate.

As I have said elsewhere, grief you can share is grief you can bear – and the members and supporters of the Cricket Club have never left us in any doubt that our loss is their loss too. Witness the way the members rallied around us to make the first anniversary of Ben’s death ‑ Ben’s Big Australia Day Carry On ‑ the resounding success that it was. Their efforts in keeping a crowd of more than 250 people fed, watered and entertained for more than eight hours on a day of sweltering heat, and afternoon rain, whilst maintaining high spirits and good humour throughout, was nothing short of remarkable.

And to discover, as we did at that Presentation Night back in August 2019, that “BC 2019” had been embroidered on every single one of the 40+ premiership caps distributed to the proud recipients – not just those presented to the 2nd Grade side in which Ben had played, but those received by members of our 1st Grade and 6th Grade sides as well – was almost overwhelming. It was a beautiful, and completely unexpected gesture, and a tangible and permanent reminder of Ben’s place as a much-loved and highly valued member of the Club.

During the course of the night I was also presented with Ben’s premiership cap, which retains pride of place, along with my own, in my office at home. Never has a valued prize felt so helplessly hard-earned.

Another poignant moment of the Presentation Night followed the awarding of the trophy for the Club’s Wicketkeeper of the Year – a trophy that had been presented to Ben on the coinciding evening 12 months earlier. The 2019 recipient, Muzza, is a witty and clever stalwart of the Club, who has repeatedly proved himself one of its most outstanding gloveman over many years. Ironically his late inclusion in our Club’s touring team to the UK in 2016 had put paid to Ben’s prospects of playing in the “Test Match” against the Norton Oakes Cricket Club on that tour; and Ben’s death just ten days before the commencement of the 2019 Test Match, after having been selected to make his debut (alongside his older brother and father) now means this is an honour that will forever elude him. In accepting the trophy Muzza acknowledged those who had won it previously, and dedicated his win to “wicketkeepers everywhere”. I am not sure how many people picked up on the significance of that comment at the time, but to my mind it was a perfect, subtle tribute to his admiring apprentice.

During the course of the evening I also presented, for the first time, a trophy that had been struck during the off-season, after discussion with Linda and Tim, for donation to the Club by our family. Known as the Greatest Partnership Award, it is intended to recognise the highest batting partnership for any wicket in any team within the Club during the season just passed. In presenting the trophy to two of the senior players from our 4th Grade side, for an opening partnership of 175 runs, I did my best to explain to all the members present how much it had meant to us as a family to look down the other end of the pitch during the most challenging time of our lives, and to see the entire Club looking back at us, and letting us know, through their words, and their actions, that they would be there for us through thick and thin.

I was at pains to emphasise this was a trophy that was available for any person in the Club to win, whether they opened the batting in 1st Grade, or batted number 11 in 6th Grade, and I expressed the hope that everyone would aspire to do so in the future.

One of the ladies within our Club, whose three teenage sons and husband have all represented North Ryde RSL over the years, told me later in the evening that one of her boys and his best mate, who were great fans of Ben’s, had already been discussing in her hearing that they were intent on winning the trophy during the season ahead to honour their lost friend and Clubmate.

I, for one, will be delighted if they do. And so, I am sure, will Ben.


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