School cricket, strawberry milk and floppy green hats

The Ashes begin tomorrow, I’ve always enjoyed watching cricket, and playing it, although I was never overly good at it.

The one and only season of club cricket I played in the mid 2000s was enough for me, and I don’t think I was ever enamoured with the prospect of standing in the sun every Saturday for my local team.

I also got hit in the head by a ball when bowling in the nets one time, I would’ve been about ten, I think my chances at making it as a decent cricketer were dashed pretty swiftly.

Rather than trying my hand at becoming the next Simon Katich (childhood idol), I restricted my exploits to school lunchtime and backyard cricket with friends, much more fun and I was at least a chance at opening the batting, despite the pull shot being the only trick in my arsenal.

At school, we used to start drawing up the lunchtime batting order mid-lesson, someone would take the initiative, and of course, jot their name down first, and then it was a simple matter of first in best dressed as the piece of paper was aggressively tossed around the classroom.

There were groans and grimaces from those who got the paper last, resigned to the fate of nine or ten on the batting list.

In earlier years, some would deploy the tactic of “It’s my bat, I’m opening” or “You never got me out at recess”. I hated when kids said that. A heated argument soon to follow.

Everyone wanted to open the batting, or at least be as high as three or four, you never knew if you were guaranteed to get a bat or not as schoolyard politics reared their head.

There was always a teacher on the prowl too, and we all made a mad scamper for a hat when their dreaded presence arrived on the bitumen courts we called a cricket pitch.

‘No hat, no play’.

No one wants to wear a hat when they are playing cricket, especially when you are bowling. How can you try and imitate Brett Lee or Mitchell Johnson when you’re wearing a wide brim floppy hat with a draw string on it?

Although, the hat was baggy green in colour.

Finally, it’s my turn to bat, and more often than not it was short-lived.

Anything outside off stump made me nervous, I don’t keep my eye on the ball, I don’t use my feet, and if it was bowled at the stumps, even worse.

Occasionally however, I’d latch onto a short one and send it to the other side of the courts, the pull shot at its finest.

I swivel on the back foot, I needn’t bother to run I’ve hit it that well, I feel like Ricky Ponting, except I’m wearing a stupid floppy green hat.

I knew enough about cricket to know I wasn’t very good, but I still loved every second, and sometimes it was even fun just to resort to commentating the game instead.

I loved bowling leg spin, I felt like I knew how to do that, except for one minor detail, I couldn’t get the ball to spin, so it wasn’t leg spin at all, it was just me bowling a slow, hopeless pie.

Another pivotal moment in the lunchtime cricket proceedings was the canteen run, if you wanted to go to the canteen at lunch, you better get there early, because you sure as hell won’t be getting a bat until at least half lunch.

It was almost an unwritten rule that you had to field for an extended period of time before getting a bat, you certainly can’t be rocking up with a Pura Classic strawberry milk and expect to be handed the blade straight away.

Stop some boundaries, then come back and talk to us.

I remember one Maths lesson, we were all on computers googling cricket bats, it was almost as though there was this period in time that we all assumed we were going to make it as professional cricketers.

We haven’t, and won’t.

The Kookaburra Beast was the hottest bat, ever. Slazenger was the new kid on the block, and the fact that Michael Clarke used it made it desirable.

One friend brought an English Willow bat to school that was heavier than any piece of sporting equipment I had ever seen, we quickly named it the ‘lump of wood’.

It was almost a two person lift, remarkable.

There’s so much I’m forgetting and I’ll no doubt kick myself when I remember, but I’ll probably smile as well, memories like this have that effect on me.  

It’s clear that the arrival of the Ashes yet again has got me reminiscing. I miss those days at school but I’m just grateful that they ever happened.

I’d love to do it all again, just one more time, I’d even wear the floppy hat and bat at number eleven.

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