WHY DO I BOTHER?
I stand in front of the mirror in this bleak suburban dressing room. A weary-looking man stares blankly back at me. A man wearing long, grass-stained white pants, a baggy white shirt and a wide-brimmed cricket hat. A man whose face is lathered in sunscreen, flourishes of zinc covering his nose and cheeks. His shoulders are slumped; his eyes, once sparkling and alive, are now dead. This is a man collecting his thoughts ahead of yet another long, painful afternoon in the harsh Australian sun.
This is me. And this is what I’ve become.
I slowly pull away from the mirror and slink over to my usual corner position in the dressing room. As always, I scan the room to assess each of the 10 misfits with whom I’ve chosen to spend my weekend. Directly to my right is our brash, 22-year-old wicketkeeper, Timbo. Timbo has some of the worst chat I’ve ever had to endure. His hair is long and his hands are poor, but his confidence is something to be admired. Timbo wears a short-sleeved shirt, which is essentially his way of telling the batsman that he hasn’t performed a stumping since 2007. This morning, when he entered the dressing room and put his cricket kit down next to mine, my heart instantly sank. I was hoping Nuggsy would get here first and claim his usual spot by my side, but if his text message at 4.25am is anything to go by — ‘Where are you mate? We’re kicking on to Lounge Bar! YIEW!’ — he definitely had a massive night. In fact, it’s nearly 1:30pm and he still hasn’t turned up. Must have got a chop, in which case all is forgiven.
Next to Timbo is the new bloke. I don’t actually know his name and hopefully I won’t need to. I think it might be Darren, but I’ll condescendingly refer to him as ‘champ’ until he proves himself. A quick glance at his kit reveals a luggage tag, which suggests that he’s spent time playing in the UK. This could just be from a school cricket tour seven years ago, but I’m instantly intimidated, regardless. He has played cricket overseas and is therefore a threat to me.
One seat over from Timbo is Swampy. Swampy’s a pretty solid bloke, but he’s going through what seems like a painful divorce. Since Suzy walked out on him, Swampy has become increasingly prone to bursts of extreme fury. Last week, he absolutely destroyed the dressing room door after being given out caught behind when the ball flicked his thigh pad. The club has charged him $800 to fix the door, but Swampy’s a bit low on cash now, so he’s appealing the decision. On the upside, his drinking has increased four-fold since the separation, which means he’s always good for post-match beers. He’s usually knocked back seven before he gets out of the showers. Classic Swampy.
Wazza sits in the corner opposite me. He’s definitely the best looking bloke in the team. I feel like he doesn’t even know I exist, yet I know his batting average to the third decimal point. I’d really love to be mates with him one day; to bask in his reflected glory. I’d also love to know what hair product he uses, because whatever it is, it’s working. Incredible volume.
John, who’s sitting next to Wazza, is the smartest bloke I know. His cricket kit is impeccably maintained: pad straps all done up to keep their shape, bat placed inside its cover, training gear folded neatly away. I wish I had that kind of self-respect; my cricket kit looks like someone threw an IED in there. John’s definitely a virgin, but he logs the scores into the online portal at the end of the day and he’s handy with a crossword, so John’s alright.
I briefly snap out of my malaise to catch a few words from our skipper, Robbo. ‘Let’s just fucking work hard and get these cunts out!’ he implores us, for the fifteenth time this season. Robbo, all 5’8” of him, arches backwards to project his voice, the nasal tones echoing around the poorly insulated dressing room. Robbo is yet to put his pants on. I suspect this impassioned team talk might be more effective if he were actually wearing pants.
Robbo, a 39-year-old chartered accountant who still lives at home, turns up to every training session wearing a suit. I presume this is the only reason he was given the captaincy — the bloke set a 9-0 field last week for our part-time leg-spinner. Wearing a suit to training is an intelligent ploy when trying to establish political capital at any club. It indicates that other people think you are smart — or at the very least, have chosen to employ you. It’s basic consumer confidence. In reality, Robbo had been unemployed for the best part of 14 months and was applying for interviews near the training ground.
Robbo’s had many problems over the course of his life. I’d estimate he drinks 10-12 schooners after each game before driving home. No one ever thinks to stop him because he says some pretty funny things after about six or seven. Nothing funny after eight beers, though. I don’t think he’s ever paid his registration fees at the club, but I’ve seen him blow $400 on the pokies after training a couple of times. He also seems to have discovered ecstasy quite late in his life. He played first grade for half a season, though. I know this because he somehow manages to work it in to every conversation.
Bretty is our Chop King — and he’s about as interested in the captain’s fire-up talk as I am. I love it when Bretty asks me for a lift to the game because he’ll always divulge, in sordid detail, his sexual escapades from the night before. For a bloke who works part-time at Target, Bretty’s got a real knack with the ladies. I think he’s slept with over 20 women this summer, which is significantly higher than his batting average, but that’s mainly because I’ve never seen him play sober. It’s fair to say that I live vicariously through Bretty. His chat is first class, his rig is excellent and his hair is something I’ve envied for a long time. He’s got a great set of hands in the cordon too, which is funny because he never holds onto a girlfriend for more than 15 minutes. It’s a shame my own catching is shit because I’d love to spend a day standing next to Bretty at second slip, feasting off his impossible sexual conquests and later retelling them as if they were my own.
Damo is the lucky bastard who’s managed to burgle a spot next to Bretty. He’s in his forties now and has played cricket for over 20 years, including a bit of first grade in the late 1990s. I’m not a psychologist, but I suspect that Damo’s still playing because it’s all he’s ever known and he has a deep-seated fear of change. I think the bloke just needs other things in his life — a girlfriend or a hobby, at the very least — but he’s the closest thing I’ve got to an idol so I’m pleased he’s still around.
Sitting in the opposite corner are two private school kids, Nathan and Chris. They must be in the 4-6 percent body fat category; their skin folds are absolutely amazing. I too once boasted a rig of similar stature, back in the days when I could look at a dumbbell while eating a cheeseburger and still lose three kilograms. These kids have no idea how good they’ve got it.
Then, there’s our scorer, Ronald. Ronald’s a lovely bloke, but I sometimes wonder why he chooses to spend his Saturdays dutifully recording the fourth grade results with an HB pencil. I think it’s because he hates his wife. Ronald’s best known for passing around jelly-babies and snakes to keep our blood sugar levels up, which is still something I get ridiculously excited by. To summarise, Ronald’s key function, for which he receives no remuneration, is to record our results and to ply us with jelly treats. He must really hate his wife.
Our home ground is located right next to a tennis club. Polite shouts of ‘nice shot, Meryl’ and ‘I think that one hit the line, Albert!’ can be heard from our dressing room; the sounds of seniors competing in friendly social games under beautiful blue skies. Meanwhile, we huddle together in this grim, indoor setting, as Bretty regales us with the filthy details of his latest seduction story.
At this point in my career, I’m clearly torn. I was once like Nathan and Chris, blessed with a ripping rig and a bright future. Now, I’m just a couple of years and a failed marriage away from being a Swampy or a Robbo. Once upon a time, I’d have breathed in every single word, every ounce of energy that our captain — our leader — would impart on us during the pre-game speech. Now, I’m wondering whether I should have gone a bit harder on the circuit last night. Wondering what it would be like to go to the beach on a Saturday for the first time since 1995. Pondering the pros and cons of this life that I have chosen for myself.
But deep down I still reckon I could play ones or twos anywhere else. Because inside every grade cricketer is a persistent voice telling you that a change of club is the answer. It doesn’t matter that you haven’t made a tangible contribution to any cricket team since you were 16. At a new club, you can start again.
I snap back into the present. Robbo is still talking. The way he’s going, you’d think we were three wickets away from victory. I think he’s forgotten we got bowled out before lunch.
Suddenly, I receive a text from Finn:
‘Hey mate, is your game over yet? We’re thinking of hitting up the beach this arvo...’
It’s a gorgeous day outside. 29 degrees, faint breeze, not a cloud in the sky. My mates are heading to the beach, but I’m paying to play cricket against 11 terrible blokes who laughed when I got out.
‘Sorry mate. We’re just about to go out and defend 136,’ I write back hastily.
I throw my phone back in the kit and allow myself a brief sigh. I tell myself I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, but the cold, hard reality of the situation sinks in. Sure, Nuggsy scored 730 runs last year and took 35 poles with a bowling average of 19.4, but my mates went to the beach twice so I’m not sure who had the better summer. The only woman at the ground today is Nathan’s 59-year-old step-mum. I’m not even sure what a ‘beach’ is anymore; it’s been years since I felt the sand between my toes.
Then, a knock on the door. It’s the 74-year-old umpire with crippling arthritis in his knees. He wobbles into the dressing-room, face lacquered in 50+ sunscreen. ‘We’re on our way, lads.’
Fuck. Another Saturday. How did I get here?
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