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  • Geoff Cordner

When Stumps Are Drawn

Updated: Jan 5, 2021

In mid-September 2019 North Ryde RSL Cricket Club had decided to open its 2019-2020 season with a fundraising event in aid of the McGrath Foundation. It is a cause we have supported over a number of years, although traditionally Pink Stumps Day - as this particular event is habitually known ‑ has been held towards the end of the season rather than at the beginning.

Because it was, on this occasion, the opening event of a new season, my arrival at the Club’s home ground was my first opportunity for quite some time to catch up with many other players and members. When I last saw most of them at our Club’s Presentation Night, held during the off-season, Ben’s death had been fresh in everyone’s mind, and was acknowledged in various significant ways during the course of the evening.

But whereas at Presentation Night the Club and its members were focussed on the events of the previous season, at Pink Stumps Day most people’s thoughts were turned almost exclusively to what lay ahead. On reflection, I should have realised that would be the case, and I should have been prepared for it. But I wasn’t. And with Linda and Tim having competing commitments, and being thus unable to accompany me, I found myself like a row of tired old paperbacks without the bookends I needed to keep myself emotionally upright ‑ on a day that would prove far far more challenging than I could ever have anticipated.

In the first few minutes after my arrival at the ground the general chat amongst the group was about all the usual pre-season things:

What do you reckon’s going to happen in the footy finals?;

How was your off-season?;

You look like you’ve been in a pretty good paddock champ;

What team do you think you’ll be playing in this season?;

Have we recruited any new players?

And so on.

Ordinarily that would have seemed absolutely normal and natural to me, and I wouldn’t have thought twice about it. But in 2019 this harmless good-natured banter was one of the most sobering reality checks I had experienced in a long time. “The world has moved on” I was being told. Not explicitly of course, but effectively nevertheless. And yes, it may well be your first season without Ben around, but you can’t expect everyone else to be feeling quite the emptiness that you are. Wake up to yourself.

I could feel the emotions starting to well up and overwhelm me. Hastily I excused myself from the group to do a lap of the oval, ostensibly to remove a few fallen branches from the perimeter of the playing surface. A circuit that would normally have taken a couple of minutes took a quarter of an hour, with a number of lengthy stops along the way. And for virtually the entire time I sobbed mournfully.

If you had asked me at any point during the course of that painstaking lap whether I was going to continue playing cricket I would have given you a categorical NO in response.

Without question, without hesitation.

And at day’s end, as I bowled the final over of the match, and conceded the winning runs to our opposition in what was, after all, a charity match, nothing had changed. I was ready to pick up my gear, head home, and never lace up a boot, or strap on a pad again.

As I contemplated my departure from the ground, and my retirement from the game, alone in my own self-pitying world, a good friend approached to ask me how I was going. She told me I looked “shattered”. With moistening eyes, and through wavering lips, I confessed I was, and explained why. She hugged me silently, and gave me a look that said

“There’s nothing I can do to ease your pain, but I think I understand”.

That brief moment of compassionate sensitivity was enough to encourage me to stay around the group for a few minutes more; a few minutes that somehow extended to an hour and a half; an hour and a half that led ultimately, and fortunately, to another season of cricket with the Club to which I owe so much, and to which no thanks will ever be enough for the incredible opportunities and memories that have been gifted to my family and I. A season I will always remember, and treasure, albeit for the most conflicted and tortuous of reasons.

The truth is I came so close that day to drawing a curtain forever on my participation in the game I love. With the benefit of 20 months’ hindsight I am sure now that I will forever remain thankful I didn’t.


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