PLAY­ING A GOOGLY

My fam­ily’s love of the Aus­tralian re­li­gion put me on a sticky wicket

Bangkok Post - - B MAGAZINE - By An­drew Biggs

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.

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