The banker who'd played the gentleman's game

'Cricket', by Chris JohnstonAs the executive director of a small community service organisation, I recently received an invitation from a bank to attend a free seminar (in the city) to help me run my operations (in the outer suburbs) more efficiently. Hmm. I am already spending too much time thinking about banks and their efficiency.

My favourite banker was Peter May, graceful batsman and cautious captain of the English cricket team in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He once broke his umbrella on the way to work, playing an imaginary cover drive at an imaginary fast bowler. I assume he was a banker, though all he said was that he worked 'in the city', which is code for London's financial sector.

Peter May had a job and cricket was a game. Which brings me to reflect on the summer game here in a country town. Things were looking ominous for top-order batsmen this coming season. Maybe it wasn't enough that the town won the first and second grade district premierships last year.

My suspicions were aroused in mid-winter on an early morning walk with Maddie the dog before the sun was fully awake. We were wandering along the path by the creek at the edge of the local cricket ground, Maddie jumping in and out of the long grass and sniffing here and there for whatever it is that dogs sniff for, when I noticed the electrician's van parked beside the practice nets.

This was not entirely odd. You need to know that the junior electrician, his name is Luke, is also the town's opening bowler. Luke installed the new lights in our kitchen and garage. He's a handy height for an electrician: he doesn't need a ladder. He's also a handy height for a fast bowler. I went over to say hello, as you do in a country town.

On this particular winter morning, with sunlight just starting to spread across the pastures, there was Luke, head down, pegging some wooden formwork in the ground. He was, he explained, adding an extra metre to the practice wicket, which consisted of synthetic grass on concrete and was only half a pitch long. His activities looked very clandestine, but, as he explained it to me, he had been having trouble last year getting his bouncer to land on the practice wicket: "This should do the job," he said, wiping his hands with satisfaction.

Having once opened the batting, I felt pain. I didn't particularly like the idea of Luke bowling short of a length in the nets. But he was going to be a much more serious proposition on the centre square, which at the moment was gullied with rain and turreted with weeds.

A week later, and things looked even worse for batsmen. The local cricket ground is surrounded by trees and has unusually tall sight-screens: white painted trellis, with another white trellis on top of that, and then, as an afterthought, another white trellis on top of that. All the better to see Luke by, you would think, but at the same time it was self-evidently a very unstable structure.

On this particular morning both sight-screens lay on the ground like fallen soldiers, their top sections bent and broken. Maybe it was the August westerlies - strong enough to blow our wind-vane sideways - but the sight-screens faced north-south and therefore sideways to the westerlies. This was odd.

And then a few weeks later, would you believe it, I spied the light roller hidden and abandoned in the scrub by the creek. It was still winter. Luke's pre-season preparations seemed to be going too far. Maybe this wasn't cricket after all.

But now it's spring and I'm delighted to report that my suspicions were unfounded: the centre square has had a generous layer of black soil scattered over it; the sight-screens have been repaired and set back upright; and the practice wickets look pristine.

Luke and his mates have jobs. They attend to cricket matters in the early hours of the morning or as the sun sets in the evening. Not only that, they may have to miss a game or two this summer. As members of the local Rural Fire Service, they keep close to our big red fire engine. Summer is bushfire season.

I won't attend the bank seminar, but I hope to watch some real cricket this summer. If you close your eyes, there is even some resemblance between our cricket ground today and Fenners in 1956, which was Peter May's favourite oval in Cambridge, a small country town in England.

John HonnerJohn Honner lives on the south coast of New South Wales and in 1956 his favourite reading was Peter May's Book of Cricket. Beryl the lame chook appreciated your many letters of support and now insists on being carried back home after her day's foraging.



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Existing comments

just a lovely piece, similar in tone, and sensitivity to the story of Beryl, please..............more.

helen m donnellan | 12 November 2008  

Another charming countryside tale. I much appreciated the subtleties and nuance.
It has been said that imagination is more important than knowledge.
Hmmm, now let me close my eyes...
As for Beryl, perhaps she is just exhibiting a little oppositional behavior.
Also Chris Johnston's image was most engaging.

J I Myers | 24 November 2008  

cool site

Pat Williams | 03 January 2009  

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