PLAYING A GOOGLY
My family’s love of the Australian religion put me on a sticky wicket
Thursday was day one of the first test cricket match of the Australian summer.
It’s Australia versus India at the Adelaide Oval. Australia is still reeling from the ball tampering scandal in South Africa last year, and they face the world’s No.1 test-playing nation, India, who have never beaten Australia in a series here.
Australia’s two leading batsmen are not on the team, having been banned for 12 months after the ball tempering scandal. One is the captain, and since that controversy Australia has lost heavily in all forms of the game.
On top of this, just last Tuesday there were allegations against the brother of the sole Muslim member of the Australian side, who was arrested when it was discovered he was involved in a terrorist plot against Australian politicians and landmarks in this country.
OK, let’s stop right there.
All that above information I gleaned from my little brother, who now sits transfixed before the TV set as the cricket test begins, a microcosm of the entire country of Australia. I did happen to ask him: “So, what’s this cricket test?” And I was met with a stony silence until the ad break, when he turned and imparted the knowledge I used at the top of this column. Once the ads were finished, I returned to my invisible state and any attempt at verbal communication was sacrificed for cricket.
I’m in my hometown of Brisbane for a week. People often ask me what Australia’s national religion is. I answer: Sport. Forget Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary. We worship cricket. There aren’t many things that drive red-blooded Aussie men to the brink of orgasm.
I am Australian in so many ways, but my confession is I can’t stand cricket. Try as I might, I cannot get myself aroused at the sight of 11 men dressed in white spending five days — yes, my American readers, five long days — on an oval playing one single game.
I was born into a family of stark raving mad cricketers. My childhood was a mix of worshipping Jesus Christ and some obscure New South Welshman named Donald Bradman, while my mother went weak at the knees at Max Walker and the ubiquitous Chappell brothers. My older brother Stephen had a shrine to Dennis Lillee in his bedroom while younger brother Egg spent hundreds of hours on his bed poring over cricket book statistics in an era long before the internet threw them up in your face in a millisecond.
Then there was Andrew. Strange, dark Andrew, the Wednesday child, full of woe, disinterested in cricket and favouring writing short stories and reading books.
“He’s a strange thing,” it was whispered behind the melanoma-spotted palms of my extended family.
It was perfectly OK for Egg to hole himself up for hours in his bedroom deciphering cricket statistics. Woe betide wacko Andrew who wanted to while away the hours reading Charles Dickens and Somerset Maugham.
Let me tell you it was hard being the literary one in a family that put streamers up when Kepler Wessels announced he would bat for Queensland. Later I became a journalist writing feature articles for the Queensland Courier-Mail, even picking up an award, but on a scale of 1 to 10, my career rated a 3 next to brother Egg when he was selected for the Queensland Second 11 for one brief week back in the early 1980s. He never went out on the pitch to play, but if I mention that I am accused of “always wanting to spoil things”.
When we were barely out of nappies, my father registered our three names on the waiting list for the Melbourne Cricket Club. The MCC is the most hallowed of clubs to belong to for any Australian, with a waiting list of 30 years.
“Just think,” my father would say during our primary school years. “In another 25 years you’ll be able to enjoy matches from the Long Room at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.” Any reply from me such as “but we live 2,000km away from Melbourne, Daddy”, was greeted with a clip around the ears.
“Not long now,” my father would say as we hit senior school. “Another 15 years or so and you’ll have that coveted membership in your hands.” We had hit puberty so my brothers were able to get a tingle in their loins at that thought. For me it remained the equivalent of erectile dysfunction.
“Almost within reach,” my father would say in our college years. By this stage I was writing short stories and even novels, not that anybody knew. Meanwhile my family could recite Egg’s latest score on the field as his cricket career blossomed.
I cannot get myself aroused at the sight of 11 men dressed in white
Then, a terrible turn of events. In 1984, I was sent down south as Melbourne correspondent for The Courier-Mail. It was a two-year posting and I had to send stories 2,000km back to Queensland. It came with a number of perks, such as free cab fares, subsidised rent …
… and free membership to the MCC. Upon hearing the news, my family went ballistic.
The irony did not pass over them that the one family member who loathed the game was the only one who was able to saunter in and out of the MCG whenever the mood took him.
“Had a good night in the Long Room last night,” I would say on one of my many infrequent calls to my brothers and parents. “Spoke to one of the Chappell brothers, not that I knew which one it was.” More heretically, I was using the pass to fulfil my new-found interest in Aussie Rules — salt in the wound in my family’s eyes.
Suddenly my brothers took an interest in me. Egg, who, had he been on the Titanic would have packed his favourite cricket ball and groin protector before going off to save women and children, was down visiting me in a flash.
“Where is it?” were his first three words upon my greeting him at Tullamarine airport, hand outstretched. I obediently placed the membership badge in his hand and didn’t see him for the rest of his visit, except on rest days.
Two years later my time was up and I moved to Sydney. The MCC badge was handed on to the person who replaced me, and I was non-compos-Andrew once again in my family.
In 1989, I moved to Thailand and it was around then I got the call from my father.
“Just to let you know your MCC membership has come up.” Then, a little sadly, he adopted his father-to-10-year-old tone with me. “And you know I think you should take it up. You never know when you’ll be in Melbourne and- “
“— and what, Dad? Suddenly develop an interest in cricket? It ain’t gonna happen, Dad. You have to face it … I just won’t ever turn. Please. Understand that.”
And then, really pathetically, I added: “I’m sorry.”
Family dynamics can be trying things. Just when I think mine is the most dysfunctional on the planet, I learn that just about every other family feels that way about their own. For me, I may continue to perform, write, host and produce things of quality and distinction, but because I lack that all-important gene, I may as well just sit at home scratching my cricket balls. If I had any to scratch.