cricket dad 1984 – David Strange

cricket dad set an early alarm, sat bolt upright and raised his index finger at dawn, giving out the rep batsman from the other team before johnny had even marked out his run and bowled a ball.

he switches on electric light and takes on the mirror, the old daily glass that refuses to lie, sprays on deodorant to mask his wind after steak and kidney pie (the flies always seem to buzz around him at square leg). he navigates his ugly face with razor and comb. a few more greys since that narrow loss to dapto.

johnny didn’t eat his chops last night, muttering in fear about the new fast bowler, victanator, the kid with a killer in-swinger and big smile opening for balgownie magpies.

cricket dad told johnny not to worry, he’d be umpiring at the bowler’s end. warned him to get to the pitch of the ball, don’t play inside out, find the middle of the bat, hit the gap and call on the turn, play the first twenty in the v, nothing streaky, and above all else, enjoy yourself. no pressure, no pressure at all.

cricket dad packs away his ball counter, menthol cigarettes, terry-towelling hat and cream, cuts up a sandwich with a slice of devon in-between triangles of stale white bread. he lumbers the kookaburra kit into his wagon for the eight o’clock team chat, but none of the kids use the kit anymore, you can thank harry solomons for that.

cricket dad steps outside and whirls his head around beneath the sky, like allan border emerging from chicken sheds to face the windies on day five. he sucks in the big ones but can’t find the air.

you see, cricket dad’s oxygen is johnny’s success, and when johnny bowls down the wicket in his fourteenth over of the afternoon, cricket dad leaps up like a boy at the end of a helium balloon, and it won’t be too soon, it won’t be too soon, before johnny will don his flannels for the new south wales blues! if only his cricket dad can keep up with the new shoes!

and the other parents remark behind their sunglasses and sideward stares, leaning back slowly on outstretched banana chairs, that cricket dad hates all cricketers better than his son, which on the evidence of the scorebook is pretty much everyone.

cricket dad knows that winter is when lazy coaches sleep and future baggy greens catch their high balls in the deep. he once launched fly catches from an electrified machine and its yellow dimpled balls when johnny was only eight years old and barely three feet tall. and his winter bombs were raining down from on high, like the messerschmitt in the wartime london night sky.

cricket dad was arrested by constables in the hospital waiting room and formal charges were due to be laid, but the detectives who turned up were cricket dads too and the men in blue decided to stay, laughing at the boy with white bandages on his head, wrapped up so high that he resembled Tony Greig (six stitches for six stitches – he’s bound to get the itches!)

cricket dad felt a lump inside his ribs one day and was told he had a cricket ball growing inside of him.

he went under the knife and the surgeon asked him as the anaesthetic took hold: what does your johnny do? bat or bowl? as cricket dad counted backwards and his eyeballs began to roll.

other patients on his ward ate pumpkin soup and toast for tea but the operating doctor was a cricket dad too, so they served him up porterhouse steak and a chef-prepared stew. with a tea towel tucked up high into his neck, he chomped on the ligaments with tidy knife and fork movements and cradled an aeroplane jelly which refused to succumb to a spoon.

on saturday afternoon dot the nurse broke him the news when he was still faint and groggy and reclining on a drip: johnny, lbw the victanator, zip.

there was no way that johnny could have been trapped leg before on only his second ball, what with his new gray nic pads and all, and when cricket dad gets out of hospital he’s going to let down the balgownie coach’s tyres.

cricket dad had a transistor radio and binoculars placed into his coffin when the cricket ball returned and got big on him.

johnny wore his club jacket and looked down into the box to say a quick goodbye, gave a eulogy and spoke a few white lies about how cricket dad was now coaching him from the big cricket sky. the team couldn’t all make it to the funeral and cricket dad’s hair was parted neatly down the middle. a flower was thrown onto the casket as it slid behind the curtain, like last season’s scorebook, no longer a burden.

and a soldier from the rsl turned up to play the last post on a portable cassette recorder, but cricket dad never went to war, unless you call losing to port kembla on the final ball of a semi final a kind of cricket war.

now cricket dad hovers around the old scg, wanders beneath the canopy of a moreton bay fig, and whenever he is thirsty, bends down and drinks from the kippax lake spring. by day he tends to hang around the same old spots, because he hasn’t mastered the teleporting caper and literally lost his plot.

cricket dad talks to anyone who happens to wander along. asks if they know the score on the synthos down in wollongong. he once tried to board a day-train at central station to the ‘gong, but the carriages passed right through him as he edged off the platforms. he fell asleep near a bin after scrounging steak and kidney pie, but floated away on a newspaper over bondi night sky.

the air is wafer thin and cricket dad struggles to breathe. the old daily glass shows him nothing but hair, bones and teeth. as cricket dad tunes his radio dial to catch another wave, he tells anyone who passes that johnny will soon come along. it won’t be long now. it won’t be long.