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  • Geoff Cordner

The Game Goes On

Updated: Dec 30, 2020

Ben’s death on 26 January 2019 occurred on the very eve of the commencement of the tour to Australia by Norton Oakes ‑ North Ryde RSL’s affiliated cricket club from Sheffield in the UK. I had previously been selected to play in two of the six tour matches, and given the tremendous honour of captaining the North Ryde RSL team in the 3-day “Test Match” against the Oakes, scheduled to commence on Tuesday, 5 February 2019.

It was a matter of even greater pride for me that the North Ryde team named for the Test Match included both my boys ‑ Tim (making his third consecutive Test Match appearance over five years) and Ben (making his Test debut – an honour that, I am confident, meant more to him than anything previously achieved in his cricket career).

I knew very quickly after Ben’s death that I was in no fit state to play in the Test Match, let alone shoulder the responsibility of captaining the home side in that game. I also doubted that I could or should play in any of the 50 over-a-side fixtures that had been scheduled. But I had not counted on the extraordinary tribute that would be paid to Ben by the North Ryde RSL and Norton Oakes Cricket Clubs within days of his death.

The rivalry between these two clubs stretches back almost 35 years to the mid 1980’s, when North Ryde first made the journey to Sheffield to take on “the Poms” – with no-one knowing then whether the concept would extend beyond that inaugural tour. Fast forward to 2019, and the tradition of reciprocal tours every two and a half years has become firmly entrenched in the calendars of both clubs; with each such tour consisting of three 1-day matches, a 3‑day Test Match, and a T20 game to finish.

The first of the 2019 1-dayers took place, under a cloud of course, but with our family’s blessing, on Monday, 28 January. The second 1-dayer was due to be played on Sunday, February 3. By Thursday, 31 January both participating Clubs had reached agreement to the effect that the second 1-day match, not only of the current tour, but all future series, would be played for the Ben Cordner Cup.

To say we were profoundly moved is an understatement. And to think that by the day of the match a magnificent trophy had already been struck, bearing Ben’s name, face and mantra “How Good’s Cricket”; well, if ever there was a testament to what can be achieved in a short period of time with sufficiently large amounts of goodwill and co‑operation, this was it.

It had also been determined during the intervening period that the North Ryde RSL team for the match would consist of those players closest to Ben and/or who had played with him on the 2016 tour of the UK. This selection method of course necessitated a commitment to play from both Tim and I.

For Tim it was a simple choice. What better way to honour his brother than to play for the trophy bearing Ben’s name (and in the Test Match scheduled to commence two days later). For me the decision was less clear-cut. The world as I knew it had been turned upside-down this past week, and I wasn’t at all sure that I had the strength of mind necessary to get through a game of cricket, albeit one as significant as this one.

In the end though, after discussion with Linda, Tim and a few key members of the Club, it was decided I would play, notionally as captain, but that Cam, our tour captain from 2016, and successful First Grade captain over many seasons, would step in to the role as and when required on the day.

The match itself exceeded all expectations. More than 200 people were in attendance by 10am, almost certainly the biggest crowd ever to watch a North Ryde RSL cricket match - many of them friends of Ben who had never seen a game of cricket before in their lives. That they were present for the pre-match speeches and the toss may not have been a complete surprise, given the emotion surrounding the preceding week’s events, but that they should have remained in large numbers throughout the entire day, with many still enjoying the atmosphere and each other’s company more than an hour after the result had been determined, gives some idea of the groundswell of support the event had generated in just 72 hours.

The day was especially notable, from my point of view, for four things.

The first was the palpable outpouring of love and emotion that my family and I experienced as I addressed the assembled crowd at the beginning of the match to thank them for their attendance. I was at pains to express my gratitude to our opposition, who had done everything we could have hoped for, and much much more, to support the cause. I also thanked Norton Oakes for their part in providing Linda, Tim and I with some of the most treasured family memories we will carry forward in our lives after Ben – those accumulated during North Ryde RSL’s UK tour of 2016, when the four of us shared the greatest of all possible adventures together.

The second enduring memory is the apprehension, verging on terror, that I felt whilst walking out to open the batting with Tim after losing the toss, and being sent in by our opposition. There was nothing I felt less capable of doing at that moment, and in those circumstances, than facing our opposition’s opening attack. But I knew that Tim and I, and we as a family, owed it to all those people who had turned up to honour Ben, and to support us, to do so. As a tribute to our lost son and brother we needed to step up; simple as that.

The third moment I doubt I will ever forget is the hush that enveloped the ground during the 50th and final over of North Ryde’s innings as Tim attempted to negotiate his way to a thoroughly deserved century – his innings a masterclass in how to deal with conflicting emotions ‑ only to be dismissed from the penultimate ball for a superb 98 (comfortably eclipsing his Dad’s paltry seven runs!). I have rarely experienced such tension around a ground at a game of cricket played at any level; and, as Linda will verify, I have watched a lot of cricket over the years. The hug shared with Tim as he walked through the gate on departing the field at the end of his innings was truly special.

And the remaining moment that will linger forever followed immediately after the final ball of the match, delivered by me (at the insistence of our on-field skipper, Cam), had secured the opposition’s final wicket. As the number eleven’s bails were dislodged I experienced what I can only describe as a bolt of electricity shooting through my entire body, from the tips of my fingers and right hand outstretched above me, down into my head and shoulders, and from there into my chest, heart, gut and beyond.

I have never felt anything like it before, and I certainly can’t explain it. But I believed at that moment with complete and utter certainty that Ben was not only with me, but inhabiting my very body and soul in what I still regard today as the most extraordinary and memorable sensation of my entire life.


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