Sport Cricket The joy of club cricket: Why nearly half a million Aussies play each year

The joy of club cricket: Why nearly half a million Aussies play each year

Club Cricket
The popularity of school and club cricket see it remain one of our most successful sports. Photo: Getty
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‘Mad Mick’ weighs 116 kilograms bone dry and is constantly on the cusp of a diabetic coma.

His off-season is the definition of an off-season: full of pints, cigarettes, fish and chips and failed Saturday quaddies at Australia’s major racecourses.

If you saw him, you wouldn’t pick Mick – who got his nickname for his particularly vociferous appeals – as a sportsman.

But come the first Saturday in October, you can, without fail, find him in his whites, suiting up for yet another season.

And somehow, his gentle out-swingers just keep getting wickets.

Characters like Mick are the heartbeat of club cricket – a great Australian institution that involves close to half a million of us each year.

That’s a big number given that, on the face of it, cricket has a few things going against it.

Matches are long and can run for up to eight hours on a Saturday or Sunday – more than 12 times longer than the Anglo-Zanzibar War of 1896.

Cricket is often played under a scorching sun, too, when the appeal of cold beverages and shade increases tenfold – at least.

But those who play cricket love it. And they love it for many reasons.

For many, it’s that warm feeling you get from being part of a team. From being part of something.

Cricket is a social game, with many a friendship forged at the crease or in the pavilion.

But the beauty of cricket lies in its quirks.

In what other team sport do you take a mid-match break to share egg-and-lettuce sandwiches and freshly brewed tea with the opposition – the same team you resume a fierce battle with just 20 or 30 minutes later?

In what other team sport can boys play with their fathers, uncles or brothers?

Senior cricket features players of all ages, ranging from spotty 13-year-olds to the old guard who, well into their 60s, retire every March only to return six months later.

Club Cricket Appeal
Club cricketers plead for a wicket. Photo: Getty

For those cricketers lucky enough to have had a father play, it is almost a rite of passage to play at least one season with the old man – a scenario that sees lower-grade teams stacked with talent that certainly belongs higher.

“My Dad wasn’t a cricketer … but my uncle loved cricket and it was great to play alongside him,” Australia legend Glenn McGrath told The New Daily.

McGrath’s entry into senior cricket was with his uncle, Mal, at the Backwater Cricket Club in country northern New South Wales, where, like everyone else, he had to earn his stripes.

It seems unfathomable that a man who snared 563 Test wickets – no paceman has taken more – struggled for a bowl, but initially he did.

“There were a few stalwarts there who had played for years,” he said.

“You had to show them respect because they knew the game so well and they were there to help.

“It was pretty special [playing with my uncle]. I know a lot of guys in grade cricket who have come out of retirement to play with their sons, who might be coming through the ranks.

“Cricket is one of the few sports in which that can be done and I really like it.”

McGrath, initially “too erratic” to be trusted with the ball, worked tirelessly on his skills, leading to a quick ascension through the ranks of local, district and state cricket before he made his Australia debut in November 1993.

But for a man who did it all in the international arena, McGrath credits his formative years playing club cricket for triggering his “love” of the sport.

“Some of my fondest memories are from the grounds we used to play on,” he said.

“We only had one turf wicket in the competition at Dundas Park – most were synthetic.

“[Elsewhere] there was a crack in a concrete wicket and if you hit it, the ball would come back at you, while one of the grounds at the racecourse, you had to walk through 20 or 30 metres of high grass to get onto the ground.

“You’d see all sorts – black and brown snakes were common and would liven things up a bit.”

They are the sort of imperfections you miss the higher you rise in the cricket pyramid.

Glenn McGrath Australia
McGrath took 157 Test wickets against England. Photo: Getty

All clubs have them (okay, maybe not the snakes).

The phone that barely (or never) works, the patchy run-up in the second net, the dodgy bar stools, the helmets in the club kit that have seen better days.

But grassroots cricket clubs are not professional organisations, usually run on the smell of an oily rag by tireless volunteers who are aided by contributions from generous sponsors and local businesses.

It is these people that make every player feel their club is ‘special’ and has that missing ingredient others don’t.

This writer is no different.

There’s ‘Laney’, who gives up countless hours to meet with the association and the council to keep the show on the road and apply for grants and Dave, who manages the financial side of things.

The supporting cast includes Paul, who organises every training session, provides lifts and picks the teams, his parents, Dave and Sue, who make the fantastic sandwiches every week, and a committee who go beyond the call of duty to keep the club ticking over.

And it would be remiss to overlook the veterans, like ‘Houghtsy’, Bert and ‘Greggy’, always on hand to help, and our club enigma, ‘Gobby’, who is virtually uncontactable through the week but is a constant behind the barbecue on Saturday evenings.

“Without the volunteers, the playing just wouldn’t happen,” McGrath said.

“The ones who play have the fun and easy job but the success of a club is because of its people – not just the cricketers. The volunteers do everything and are incredibly important.”

McGrath’s message to club cricketers across Australia is to really cherish their time playing the sport and said the post-match celebrations are what he misses most about cricket.

“They are my best memories,” he said.

Glenn McGrath Australia
Australian bowlers Michael Kasprowicz, Jason Gillespie and Glenn McGrath celebrate a victory. Photo: Getty

“Sure, it’s nice to have individual milestones and team achievements, but if there’s anything I miss, it’s celebrating with my teammates.

“I just loved the team nature of cricket. Mateship and bonding were big parts of it.

“Having a win and celebrating with your mates was the most special thing … I just think of some of the places we sang the team song [after wins for Australia].

“As we got older as a team, often we’d still be in the change rooms well after midnight, and they are special times.

“It’s when you learn the most about cricket, too.”

McGrath has recently signed on as an ambassador for big and tall menswear brand, Johnny Bigg.

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